Death, Self, and Oneness in the Incomprehensible Zhuangzi

Eric Schwitzgebel

forthcoming in P.J. Ivanhoe, O. Flanagan, R. Harrison, H. Sarkissian, and E. Schwitzgebel, eds., Oneness in Philosophy, Religion, and Psychology (Columbia University Press).

[Earlier Chinese version: “Death and Self in the Incomprehensible Zhuangzi”: translated by R. Wang as 《庄子》中的死亡与自我 (2015), Journal of Shangqiu Normal University (商丘師範大學), 31 (2015), issue 11, 29-34.]

The ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi defies coherent interpretation. This is an inextricable part of the beauty and power of his work. The text – by which I mean the “Inner Chapters” of the text traditionally attributed to him, the authentic core of the book – is incomprehensible as a whole. It consists of shards, in a distinctive voice – a voice distinctive enough that its absence is plain in most or all of the “Outer” and “Miscellaneous” Chapters, and which I will treat as the voice of a single author. Despite repeating imagery, ideas, style, and tone, these shards cannot be pieced together into a self-consistent philosophy. This lack of self-consistency is a positive feature of Zhuangzi. It is part of what makes him the great and unusual philosopher he is, defying reduction and summary.

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