Chuang Tzu and His Classics
Chuang Tzu along with Lao Tzu, is a defining figure in Chinese Taoism. Chuang Tzu probably authored only parts of the first 7 chapters of the present text, the so-called Inner Chapters. The others were written either by followers of thinkers of related but different theoretical orientations. They often expand on themes in the "inner" chapters.
The relation between the two founding figures of Taoism is a growing puzzle. Tradition treats Chuang Tzu as following Lao Tzu. We know of Chuang Tzu's life only what we can surmise from the text, which hardly confirms that traditional story. On the contrary, along with recent archeological discoveries, the text makes it as plausible that Chuang Tzu was the original Daoist. Chuang Tzu used Lao Tzu's voice because he could "talk down" to Confucius. The message Chuang Tzu placed in Lao Tzu's mouth shared enough with the popular but anonymous text that people subsequently came to identify it as The Lao Tzu.
This article will treat the Chuang Tzu without assuming he "followed" or inherited Taosim from Lao Tzu. This is only partly because of the textual issues complicating the traditional story. Using that story also complicates the interpretive task in requiring settling all the interpretive questions surrounding Lao Tzu's text. These are at least as stubborn as those in the Chuang Tzu. This article will simply treat Chuang Tzu as a philosophical discussant dealing with the central philosophical issues in his context. He shares both terminology and background assumptions with the other major philosophical figures. In particular, we will not presuppose that Taoists change the meaning of tao from its usual ethical sense to a, distinctively Taoist, metaphysical sense. Any metaphysical properties of a tao will, I assume, be those plausible to attribute to a guide to behavior.
Chuang Tzu's familiarity with and confident handling of the technical language of ancient Chinese semantics make it probable that he had the ancient Chinese equivalent of analytic philosophical training. It is, thus, no accident that even philosophers skeptical of the general philosophical quality of Chinese thought hold him in the highest regard. The more likely candidate as Chuang Tzu's mentor (or philosophical colleague and friend) may be the inclined dialectician Hui Shih (370-319 BC). Chuang Tzu mourns Hui Shih's death as depriving him of the person on whom he sharpened his wits. Chuang Tzu's key strategy for combating the ancient Chinese version of realism seems to come from Hui Shih. This article will therefore start with Hui Shih's theses. In any case, our only source of information about them is The Chuang Tzu.
Chuang Tzu, despite his obvious affection, is ultimately critical of Hui Shih's monism and his optimism that debate and analysis would resolve philosophical issues. Chuang Tzu appears as a language theorist par excellence.