Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Daoism? Bu haoism?

[Props to D.J. Skull-fog for the title]

A reader objected to certain points in my mini-fulminations against Daoism. I proposed a Jakian "'philosophy of adequate means' ... [saying it] signals Daoism's chief flaw, namely that its own claims cannot account for the means by which those claims are made." To this the interlocutor said:

Does Daoism seek to do that?

Also, no philosophy can account for the means by which its claims are made, since none that I know of gives a robust account of human cognition.

Daoism's flaw is not that it doesn't seek to account for its own so to speak "means of production" but that it basically denies any adequate means for producing itself.

This is different from a philosophy, such as Christian realism, that at least entails its own means of production in its world view. A Christian realist may not be able to account for mental reality as such, in a rigorous demonstrative manner (i.e., from an ultimate, God's-eye perspective), but it is perfectly coherent to use mental operations to discuss mental operations. By contrast, anyone denying the reality of a mind eo ipso negates the reality of mental concepts, and, in turn, verbal claims. In this light, I am willing to modify my definition of (what I'm calling) "Jakian adequacy" by saying any philosophy, to be coherent, should at least "tolerate" and expect the means of its own articulation within itself.

A philosophical system may not explain its material causes adequately, in the eyes of my interlocutor, but I think we can at least recognize the basic coherence of writing books that admit books into one's ontic menagerie, in contrast to the basic incoherence of writing books (on, say, idealism) that deny the reality of books. Can a solipsist remain a solipsist by arguing with others? Can a Daoist remain a Daoist by pondering and verbalizing the illusory nature of ideas and words?

I must ask my interlocutor, in any case: What might a "robust" account of human cognition mean for him?

I am assuming he is an eliminativist, which, if true, not only shows he has a high tolerance for epistemological incoherence to begin with, but also seems to provide the robust account of cognition he seeks -- albeit by ultimately dissolving "cognition" as a coherent aspect of reality ... all the while using cognitive means to destroy cognitive ends! Also, assuming my interlocutor is a physicalist (the metaphysical foundation for eliminativism), I wonder, does not such a view simultaneously "explain" and "explain away" cognition? Handy trick, that.

Physicalists claim to provide an absolutely (numerically) robust account of cognition -- physical operations in pure physical notation -- but, as Victor Reppert argues in C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea, that's a Phyrric victory. Cutting Gordian's knot to "solve" the riddle of mental reality is not a solution, precisely because that knot is what we use to do the cutting.

In Daoism Explained, Moeller notes how Feng Youlan admitted the ultimate silence into which consistent Daoism would sink. Daoism does not even bother with the language games of dialectical statement and refutation. As we read in chapter 56 of the Dao De Jing, "知者不言,言者不知 (Those who know, speak not; those who speak, know not)." It is, *ideally*, an unexpressed, unthought philosophy -- and until it literally ceases to be (in mentis et in communicatio), Daoism is internally incoherent. Daoism thus considers verbal pronouncements (even mental ideas) as aberrations from its more basic philosophical commitments. Christian realism, by contrast, considers words and books and other people and minds as perfectly consistent, indeed, consequent, on its basic assumptions.

What makes Daoism so peculiar (indeed, so freakin' weird!) is how seriously it is taken by adherents when it's entire ethos is to take nothing seriously. It's fine for my interlocutor to protest on behalf of Daoism, since, assuming he is not a Daoist, Daoism, coherently at least, has no one to protest for it. As we read in chapter 81 of the Dao De Jing:

信言不美,美言不信.
善者不辯,辯者不善.
知者不博,博者不知.
(Words we can trust are not beautiful; beautiful words are not to be trusted.
A good man does not argue; he who argues is not good.
The wise are not erudite; the erudite are not wise.)

This is why Daoism has by and large become either a religion or a technique (as in Taiji and Qigong). The religious got the message loud and clear that Daoism is not meant to enlighten them -- indeed not for them at all -- and have simply borrowed from its cosmology in a more humane, livable way. As we read in chapter 65:

古之善為道者,非以明人,將以愚之.
民之難治,以其多智.
以智治國,國之賊;不以智治國,國之福.
(In ancient times, those who knew the Dao did not use it to enlighten the people, but kept it hidden.
The difficulty of ruling people stems from their cleverness ['much knowledge'].
Rulers who use cleverness cheat the country; when rulers lead without much knowledge, the country profits greatly.)

Meanwhile, Qigong masters practice based on the principles of balance, opposition, inner wholeness, hidden power, etc. as a reflection Daoist tendencies in nature. But as for making it a full-blown way of life? No. Daoism, like any one of its consistent adherents, is self-erasing. The more it is expounded and defended, the less it is the Dao. As we read in the famous first chapter:

道,可道,非常道;
名,可名,非常名.
(The Way that can be taught is not the eternal Way;
The Name that can be named is not the eternal Name.)

Suits me being one who does not know (不知者); at least I can enjoy my ignorance with a clear philosophical conscience.

As much as I have said in criticism of Daoism, I want to make it clear I actually enjoy reading the Dao De Jing. I enjoy memorizing lines of it in Chinese. I enjoy pondering its images and allegories. I enjoy seeing "clever" applications of its opaque wisdom (玄) in my daily life. I am very sympathetic to its many aphorisms and insights into a well balanced life. But, because it is an inherently naturalistic view, I reject it as a whole world view. Hopefully, the crucifixion of critical analysis can promote a resurrection of Daoist wisdom in the ambit of Christianity. It should be no surprise my motives are so flagrantly pro-Christian, so spare me the rolling eyes and gasps of open-minded indignation. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, the true Name of God at the center of the many-spoked wheel of creation, through which all things are made. As we read in chapter 1 and then 11 of the Dao De Jing:

無名,天地始;有名,萬物母.
常無,欲觀其妙;常有,欲觀其徼.
此兩者同出而異名,同謂之玄,玄之又玄,眾妙之門.
(The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one sees the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name; this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.)
[Trans. by Gia Fu Feng]


三十輻共一轂,當其無有,車之用.
埏埴以為器,當其無有,器之用.
鑿戶牖以為室,當其無有,室之用.
有之以為利,無之以為用.
(Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.)
[Trans. by Gia Fu Feng]

And then, as we read in Colossians 1:15-20:

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation;
for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.
For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

2 comments:

Michael Turton said...


I am assuming he is an eliminativist, which, if true, not only shows he has a high tolerance for epistemological incoherence to begin with, but also seems to provide the robust account of cognition he seeks -- albeit by ultimately dissolving "cognition" as a coherent aspect of reality ... all the while using cognitive means to destroy cognitive ends! Also, assuming my interlocutor is a physicalist (the metaphysical foundation for eliminativism), I wonder, does not such a view simultaneously "explain" and "explain away" cognition? Handy trick, that.


No, I'm an adherent of Giere's evolutionary naturalism, and of evolutionary psychology. I deny the eliminativist views on folk psychology and on the non-existence of intentions, etc. Humans have built in devices for recognizing intentions -- which in fact form the ultimate basis for religious belief -- and thus, it would seem that the critiques of eliminativism that argue that things like Intentions are higher order arrangements of lower order phenomena are quite likely correct.

A robust account of cognition can't be a "numerically" robust one -- you're thinking like a philosopher, not a psychologist. Evolutionary accounts coupled with neurophysical accounts offer more promise as robust explanations.

You are right that I am not a Daoist. But it always amuses me to read religionists accusing each other of not being "coherent." Rather like two drunks arguing over who is drunker.

Michael

PS:
Why are all the links in your blogposts blacked out with bars?

the Cogitator said...

Hey Michael,

Thanks for the clarification. I'm glad to hear you're not an eliminativist. But are you not a hardcore determinist? (In which case, I'm always amused to see determinists determined to change people's opinions, sort of like two rocks bickering over who's got less theletic power.) Pardon me for thinking like a philosopher haha!

I black out the links intentionally to give FCA a declassified-CIA feel. I posted about it here:

http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2006/10/pop-culchure-at-large.html

Cheers, stay well!