Zhuangzi and Early Chinese Philosophy: Vagueness, Transformation and Paradox, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Zhuangzi and Early Chinese Philosophy

Vagueness, Transformation and Paradox, 1st Edition


208 pages

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The Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi (also known as Chuang Tzu), along with Confucius, Lao Tzu, and the Buddha, ranks among the most influential thinkers in the development of East Asian thought. His literary style is humorous and entertaining, yet the philosophical content is extraordinarily subtle and profound. This book introduces key topics in early Daoist philosophy. Drawing on several issues and methods in Western philosophy, from analytical philosophy to semiotics and hermeneutics, the author throws new light on the ancient Zhuangzi text. Engaging Daoism and contemporary Western philosophical logic, and drawing on new developments in our understanding of early Chinese culture, Coutinho challenges the interpretation of Zhuangzi as either a skeptic or a relativist, and instead seeks to explore his philosophy as emphasizing the ineradicable vagueness of language, thought and reality. This new interpretation of the Zhuangzi offers an important development in the understanding of Daoist philosophy, describing a world in flux in which things themselves are vague and inconsistent, and tries to show us a Way (a Dao) to negotiate through the shadows of a "chaotic" world.


'This is comparative philosophy at its best. It is an object lesson in its own thesis, challenging the closure of exclusive interpretive judgments with the ingenuity of more productive, insights and discernments. From the purchase of a range of familiar Western interpretive strategies, Coutinho goes beyond dichotomy to promote a third position: penumbral thinking. In a word, penumbral thinking is an attempt to exploit the always attendant indeterminacy that honeycombs determinate vocabularies as an open and bottomless source of increased meaning.' Roger T. Ames, Professor of Philosophy, University of Hawaii '… what makes Coutinho's book a most significant contribution to contemporary Zhuangzi studies and what distinguishes it from other, previous writings on the Zhuangzi is its thought-provoking discussion of Zhuangzi's deconstruction of boundaries and his celebration of Otherness..' China Review International ’… and interesting and useful read… This would be a great book to have students read along with the Zhuangzi to get a better sense of some of the peripheral issues.’ DAO

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface; Vagueness: 'east' and 'west'; Zhuangzi: text, author, context; Interpretation: problems and methods; Xiao Yao You: wandering beyond the boundaries; Mohism: clarity and dichotomous evaluation; Vagueness and the Laozi; Vastness, imagination and penumbral cases; Qi Wu Lun: anomalies and the grindstone; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.

About the Originator

Steve Coutinho is a professor of Asian and Comparative philosophy. His area of research is early Chinese philosophy, on which he has published several articles, critical reviews, and encyclopedia entries. He was trained in analytical philosophy at University College London, where he also completed an M. Phil. in Husserl’s phenomenology. He developed his expertise in Chinese philosophy and classical Chinese language at the University of Hawai’i with Roger Ames, David McCraw, and Cheng Chung-ying. He has taught at the University of London, the University of Hawai’i, and is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy Muhlenberg College, USA

About the Series

Ashgate World Philosophies Series

Ashgate World Philosophies Series
The Ashgate World Philosophies series responds to the remarkable growth of interest among English-language readers in recent years in philosophical traditions outside those of 'the West'. The traditions of Indian, Chinese, and Japanese thought, as well as those of the Islamic world, Latin America, Africa, Aboriginal Australian, Pacific and American Indian peoples, are all attracting lively attention from professional philosophers and students alike, and this Ashgate series provides introductions to these traditions as well as in-depth research into central issues and themes within those traditions. The series is particularly designed for readers whose interests are not adequately addressed by general surveys of 'World Philosophy', and it includes accessible, yet research-led, texts for wider readership and upper-level student use, as well as research monographs. The series embraces a wide variety of titles ranging from introductions on particular world philosophies and informed surveys of the philosophical contributions of geographical regions, to in-depth discussion of a theme, topic, problem or movement and critical appraisals of individual thinkers or schools of thinkers.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
RELIGION / General