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Kim‐chong Chong. Zhuangzi and the Issue of Human Nature
2023, Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 22, 237–254
, Contributed by: I Xuan Chong
The issue of human nature or xing 性 was a major philosophical topic of the mid- and late-Warring States period of ancient China. It was famously discussed, for example, in the Mencius. Zhuangzi 莊子 lived around the same time as Mencius and one might expect that he, too, would have discussed it. Surprisingly, the term xing is absent from the Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi. There have been different responses to this, namely, that Zhuangzi: used different terms equivalent to xing; believed that human nature is bad (despite not mentioning xing); was deliberately silent on xing as an oblique way of criticizing others such as Mencius. I review these claims and pro- vide an analysis of how xing was mainly conceptualized during the Warring States period in essentialist terms. I shall read Zhuangzi’s philosophy as transcending this conceptual framework. Instead of a theory of human nature, Zhuangzi provides sto- ries and descriptions of the different facets of human behavior and their psychologi- cal and other complexities. These often have an epistemic focus that stand indepen- dently of any theory of human nature.

Comment: A useful discussion of Zhuangzi's views about human nature. Best read together with Wai Wai CHIU's "The Debate over Xing in the Outer Chapters of the Zhuangzi". Prior knowledge of the Zhuangzi is helpful.

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