"The Way Comes about as We Walk It": The Huainanzi and Classical Daoist Ethics

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Overview

Title
"The Way Comes about as We Walk It": The Huainanzi and Classical Daoist Ethics
Contributors
Duperon, Matthew Lee (creator)
Roth, Harold (Director)
Rosemont, Henry (Reader)
Lewis, Thomas (Reader)
Cladis, Mark (Reader)
Bush, Stephen (Reader)
Brown University. Religious Studies (sponsor)
Doi
10.7301/Z0K64GCN
Copyright Date
2013
Abstract
This dissertation is a detailed study of ethics in the second-century BCE text Huainanzi, and its implications for our understanding of classical Daoist ethics in general. Like other examples in the tradition based in classical Daoist contemplative practices, the Huainanzi finds that the best kind of human life is chiefly a matter of individuals disabling or deactivating certain habitual ways of interacting with their environments and adopting habits of thought and action that allow them to interact in mutually beneficial ways. <br/> When sages conduct themselves in these ways, the norms that guide their actions arise organically from the interaction between their total personal endowments and the total circumstances of their environment. Ethical norms in Huainanzi are thus not purely subjective or relative, since they necessarily take stock of all the factors in a situation, but neither are they objectively fixed and immutable, arising as they do from personal experience as it happens. In this sense, classical Daoist ethics provides a model for how reliable, context-based, non-subjective ethical norms can be framed.<br/> However, the Huainanzi authors often leave implicit the details of the practical methods whereby one acquires transformed habits, utilizing instead an explicit cosmological terminology to describe the process of ethical self-cultivation. To more easily make these ideas explicit, I read Huainanzi along with the work of John Dewey, who also espouses what I call an "ethics of participation" between individuals and their environments. I argue that noting the explicit structure of Dewey's ethics" particularly with regard to experience and habit" can provide a "positional advantage" from which we can more easily make connections between the often implicit elements of practical ethics in Huainanzi.<br/> I conclude that even some of the most abstract cosmological concepts in Huainanzi, like the Way (dao) and natural patterns (li), can be understood as features of sagely experience. Through careful analysis of relevant passages throughout the text, I find that the cultivated habits of sages transform experience so as to embody characteristics of continuity and organic order that come to define central cosmological concepts like dao. <br/>
Keywords
daoism
huainanzi
Dewey
Taoism
Ethics
Huainan zi
Notes
Thesis (Ph.D. -- Brown University (2013)
Extent
ix, 272 p.

Citation

Duperon, Matthew Lee, "'The Way Comes about as We Walk It': The Huainanzi and Classical Daoist Ethics" (2013). Religious Studies Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library. https://doi.org/10.7301/Z0K64GCN

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