After introducing the idealized ancient dao, it implies a “fall,” then lists a series of groups of thinkers, each striving for impartial objectivity, leading eventually to a Laozi group and then to Zhuangzi.
The list takes key thinkers to be motivated by goals of neutrality, universality, freedom from bias and natural “spontaneity” in action. The list starts with a group that includes Mozi (universal, impartial utilitarians), then discusses anti-conventionalists headed by Song Xing, third came Shen Dao's group (metaphysical anti-knowledge stoics), then Laozi and Zhuangzi. Its last topic however is not Zhuangzi but his friend and frequent philosophical debating companion, Hui Shi, who along with other members of the school of names, is introduced mainly for condemnation as if (contrary to all other evidence) he were irrelevant to the motivation and understanding of Zhuangzi's thought. Clearly, we can use this history only with some caution. It does serve as a “manifest history of thought” that helps us appreciate the philosophical agenda of the writer. We, however, must blend this internal Daoist history with external information about these groups and their thought to get a plausible explanatory justification for the classic Zhuangzi position.
Initially, it is a surprise to see Mozi listed as a “forerunner” of Taoism since in many respects, passages in the Zhuangzi take the Mohist dispute with Confucianism as a critical target (examples of question-begging rival first-order theories of dao). However, in both our theoretical senses, Taoism could be said to have roots in the anti-Confucian Mozi (5th Century BC). First, his early challenge to Confucianism initiated higher level philosophical reflections on dao, its role and the kind of thinking it involved. Mozi, for example, theorized that a dao should be constant, not a matter of a special history or arbitrary social convention. He supported his use of a utilitarian standard to evaluate social daos on grounds of the impartiality and constancy of the benefit-harm distinction. He taught this “constant” feature of utilitarianism was evidence that it was tiannature's standard. He thought of this as an objective fastandard for making shi-feithis-not this distinctions.
Mozi's challenge to Confucianism focused on his crucial insight that the fact that traditional norms are our own, do not warrant taking them as correct. Mozi thus launched the meta-search for a way impartially to select a first-order dao. He formulates the initital version of the goal of unbiased, constant universality in morality. Both of these results, further, involved important theoretical insights into the concept of dao. The Mohists developed much of the terminology of analysis that other Chinese thinkers, including Mencius and Zhuangzi, adopted. (See Concepts.) Zhuangzi deployed this language with considerable skill in his skeptical undermining of all claims to special moral authority.
However, Mohism did advocate a first order normative dao and followed Confucianism in the assumption that an orderly society needs to follow a single constant dao. Though they developed an account of how to justify a dao and first formulated the standard of dao adequacy (constancy). What they did not notice was that those standards constituted a meta-dao— a dao for selecting and interpreting a first-order dao. This reflects their failure to reflect on the nature of dao, and then to address whether and how such a dao was knowable. They disagreed with Confucianism mainly on the content of the daoguide to be imposed on society by authority while addressing only from their own perspective how that disagreement should be resolved. Theoretical Taoism focused on the insolubility of this ru-moConfucian-Mohist debate.
We know far less of the doctrine of the next figure cited in the development — Song Xing. Our main sources are the Zhuangzi description here and a lengthy attack on Song Xing in the Xunzi . He is said to have specialized in a theory of the xinheart-mind and to have argued that socialization in conventional attitudes injected destructive values into the heart. The qingpre-social yudesires are relatively few and easy to satisfy. Socialization creates a plethora of desires for “social goods” such as status, reputation, and pride. Song Xin suggested that the conventional values, because of their social, comparative nature incite competition and then violence. The way to social order is for people to eliminate these socialize ambitions, which create attitudes of resentment and anger. Hence his slogan that being insulted (conventional value) is no (qing real) disgrace. The slogan aims to eliminate the violence occasioned by “honor and moral rectitude.” In effect, names do not harm me.
Mozi had also seen different daos as a source of conflict, but advocated unifying the social dao rather than abandoning it. The abandonment theme is developed with some skill in Laozi's Daode Jing. It has roots in the search for impartiality and universality that also motivated Mozi since it contrasts changeable social values with pre-social or natural ones. The theme, however can have both elitist, dogmatic and supernatural elaborations. We might treat the ability to forget social conditioning (returning to nature) as something only some are capable of, ignore the self-rebutting threat of the attempt, and romanticize the abilities or moral purity that would result from removing socialization.
Zhuangzi built on a related view — that people develop different moral attitudes from different natural upbringings and each feels his own views are obvious and natural. But his version treats all as equally natural, not regarding some as more able than others to avoid being “blinded by socialization.” Zhuangzi also adopts a closely related view of how xinheart-mind is shaped by socialization. So there is a role for Song Xing, along with Mozi in the motivations for Daoist theorizing. However, again we find little hint that Song Xing reflected on the concept of dao itself and how it is involved in this analysis of how society injects attitudes into xinheart-mind.
The first plausible candidate for a theoretical Daoist comes next in the Zhuangzi historical survey. We will pick Shen Dao as the best-known representative of this group of scholars. He is sometimes included in the list of Huang-Lao thinkers and cited as a source of Legalist thinking. We will not attempt here to reconcile this latter with the essentially Daoist view presented in the Zhuangzi history. Shen Dao's theory (perhaps unwittingly) lays the foundation for Taoism's rejecting the authority of tiannature:sky in favor of daoguide:way. (In religious language, we can describe this as worshipping daoguide rather than tiannature:sky.) The key insight here is that (like God and Nature) appeal to tiannature:sky is normatively empty. All authority presupposes some daoguide. (God's moral authority presupposes we accept a dao of “obey God.”) The Later Mohists dialecticians also noticed this problem. They even more clearly argue that the appeal to tiannature:sky could justify the thief as well as the sage.
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