the way

We’re talking about classic Chinese philosophers in Intro today, Confucius (the sage, not the biopic that bumped Avatar), Lao Tzu and many others whose names  can be harder than Greeks’ to keep straight.

But The Tao of Pooh should be simple enough

Owl of course is the opposite of Pooh, the Knowledge for the sake of Appearing Wise, the one who studies Knowledge for the sake of Knowledge, and who keeps what he learns to himself or to his own small group, rather than working for the enlightenment of others. That way, the scholars can appear Superior, and will not likely be suspected of Not Knowing Something. After all, from the scholarly point of view, it’s practically a crime not to know everything. But sometimes the knowledge of the scholar is a bit hard to understand because it doesn’t seem to match up with our own experience of things. Isn’t the knowledge that comes from experience more valuable than the knowledge that doesn’t?

Oh, yes. Ask any pragmatist. Or ask Bob Solomon: For the Confucian, the personal is the social. For the Taoist, the personal is the relation to nature. For both, the goal is harmony in human life and a larger sense of the “person” than the mere individual. Experience preferred.

Or ask Simon Critchley, who reports this Socratic jab from Confucius (aka Kongzi): “You do not understand even life. How can you understand death?” His rival Lao Tzu thought he understood his body to be the source of all his suffering. That’s blaming the victim, if you ask me. Both are now asteroids, nominally at least. Presumably their suffering (and understanding) is no more. Same for Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi), who– like Freddie the Leaf— saw death as “just like the progression of the four seasons.”

“We all fear what we don’t know, Freddie. It’s natural,” Daniel reassured him. “Yet, you were not afraid when Summer became Fall. They were natural changes. Why should you be afraid of the season of death?”

“Does the tree die, too?” Freddie asked.

“Someday. But there is something stronger than the tree. It is Life. That lasts forever and we are all a part of Life.”

“Where will we go when we die?”

“No one knows for sure. That’s the great mystery!”

“Will we return in the Spring?”

“We may not, but Life will.”

“Then what has been the reason for all of this?” Freddie continued to question. “Why were we here at all if we only have to fall and die?”

Daniel answered in his matter-of-fact way, “It’s been about the sun and the moon. It’s been about happy times together. It’s been about the shade and the old people and the children. It’s been about colors in Fall. It’s been about seasons. Isn’t that enough?

The Japanese Zen  monk haiku masters (like Mabutsu) would say it is, if they said anything propositional at all. You never know just when the bottom will fall out. So true.

It was enough for Walt Whitman, too, who sang of “the beautiful uncut hair of graves” and would not be “contain’d between my hat and boots.”

Pooh, for a bear of very little brain, has sure made his mark amongst academics and intellectuals. In Pooh and the Philosophers John Williams says Whitehead got it wrong: all those post-Platonists were really annotating our ursine hero. In Pooh Perplex and Postmodern Pooh, Frederick Crews discovers a humanist role-model and skewers the pretensions of literary critics in the process: two acts of public service we can all be grateful for.

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3 Responses to “the way”

  1. D. Hall Says:

    Due to the lively discussion yesterday in A&S I didn’t get a chance to bring up several points made by Dawkins’s in chapter two of “Unweaving the Rainbow” regarding truth. Here are several examples taken from the text:
    “Is it true that you were in Oxford on the night of the crime?” is not in the same category of difficulty as “Is it true that a quantum has a position?”
    “Yes, there are philosophical difficulties about truth, but we can get a long way before we have to worry about them.”
    “Premature erection of alleged philosophical problems is sometimes a smokescreen for mischief.”
    The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy expounds upon several theories of truth e.g. neo-classical, correspondence, coherence, pragmatist, etc. The author of the encyclopedia entry maintains that Peirce would qualify truth as “an end of inquiry,” and both Peirce and James hold the notion that “Truth is satisfactory to believe.” It seems that we may, or may not, have several accounts of truth. This is in light of Moore’s “here is one hand,” Descartes’s “evil demon” of deception, or even the metaphysical certainty of religious dogma. Perhaps you could touch on the trouble with truth and its qualifications in terms of philosophy, science, and religion. What responsibility do we have to truth in relation to spirituality?

  2. osopher Says:

    “Truth” is one of those concepts we all think we have a handle on, until we listen to philosophers expounding alternative theories about it. I’ve never quite trusted the pragmatic approach (“truth happens to ideas, they’re made true”) though I’m entirely in sympathy with the proposal that we defer to pragmatic criteria when it’s not clear how else to verify a claim. But I’m also sympathetic to the skeptical scruples of a Clifford: rather than leaping to judgment, let’s just refrain from claiming more than the evidence allows. Live in doubt and uncertainty about those big questions we can’t “verify” until doubt and uncertainty become untenable. When do they? Isn’t that largely an individual and personal matter? I seem to do nicely without asserting the truth of religious propositions, others’ experience leads them to a different conclusion. But surely we can agree: the fact that an idea “works” doesn’t make it true in any but the pragmatically-tricked out sense in which the definition of truth collapses into its conditions and criteria of verification.

    So the short answer, for me: we have a huge responsibility to truth. We also have an obligation to recognize that waiting for verification can be like waiting for Godot. Some are not that patient.

  3. Michael Aldrich Says:

    The text explains that Zhuangzi believed not necessarily in “nonaction,” but more in letting things occur naturally. Although I understand Zhuangzi’s philosophy and agree with him to a partial extent, It’s very easy for me to see why many were opposed to his beliefs. He had a very humanistic and optimistic way to view life and, proven with his reaction to the death of his wife, death.
    Some may have mistakenly seen this practice as apathetic, or an excuse to be lazy, or a means of invoking an undeserved constant feeling of peace. To me, this philosophy that everything should be allowed to behave according to its nature calls for an incredible amount of faith that’s hard to retain when we see so much tragedy and suffering. It seems that this version of Daoism can prevent people from looking deeper into situations, whether positive or negative, by simply saying, “well, as long as it occurred naturally…”
    At first glance it kind of seems like an easy way out to things that may call for further exploration and may result in signifcantly more wisdom.

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