Confuscius Asked Lao Tzu About the Ultimate Way…
with Stephen Walker
Kibbitznest Liberal Arts Discussions are a collaboration with The University of Chicago Graham School to host presentations and discussions of original research.
What is Daoism, and what are its central ideas? What is the famous “Way” that Daoists speak of, and how does it compare to concepts like “reality” or “God”? Is “the Way” something like “the flow” in the phrase “go with the flow”?
Tonight we’ll examine and discuss an ancient dialogue between Confucius—the paragon of conventional morality—and Lao Tzu, the paragon of…well, something else entirely. This dialogue is essentially a work of fiction, and its two characters are mouthpieces for ideologies rather than flesh-and-blood historical people. The dialogue hails from the Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu), often considered the second most important work of Daoist thought but in fact far exceeding the more famous Tao Te Ching in philosophical and narrative richness.
In order to understand what the Way is for Lao Tzu, we need to follow him through several stages of reflection and imagination. With him as our guide, we’ll behold the bright growing from the dark and ordered things from chaos. We’ll situate ourselves in the vast stretches of a boundless world, and ask whether there’s any way for things to be except exactly as they are. Lao Tzu’s Way is the basis of all things, having therefore no characteristics of its own. It underlies all our paltry ways of doing things, and is deeper than any value or objective we hold dear. Therefore, he argues, it’s only by relying on something we neither seek nor wish for that we can seek or wish for anything.
Sponsor: Kibbitznest Books, Brews & Blarney
About Stephen Walker:
STEPHEN WALKER is a PhD candidate at University of Chicago Divinity School studying philosophy and the history of philosophy across multiple traditions. His main research focuses on classical Chinese thought; his dissertation, Boundless Ways: Navigating Norms in the Zhuangzi, examines that text's pragmatic and pluralistic critique of value.
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