PHIL2450 Zhuangzi

(Second semester, 2018–2019 Academic Year)

(Time and Location: TBA)

This course is devoted to interpreting, analyzing, and evaluating the philosophical views presented in the early Daoist anthology Zhuāngzǐ 莊子 and to exploring the relevance of these views to contemporary epistemology, ethics, and political thought. Class meetings will be divided between lectures on and discussion of the primary source text and discussions of a range of secondary sources.

Learning Objectives and Outcomes

After completing this course, students should be able to:

  • Describe selected issues pertaining to metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and psychology that arise from study of the Zhuangzi

  • Critically examine a range of positions on and approaches to these issues and identify their strengths and weaknesses

  • Demonstrate interpretive, analytical, and argumentative skills in oral presentation and writing by discussing these issues in written assignments and tutorials

  • Demonstrate appreciation of the distinctiveness and complexity of Zhuangist philosophy and how it relates to the broader classical Chinese philosophical discourse

Course Outline

Introduction (week 1)

1. Critique of Knowledge and the Human Predicament  (weeks 2–4)

Primary sources: Zhuangzi Readings 1—selections from Book 17 "Autumn Waters" 秋水 (sect 1) and Book  2 "Discourse on Evening Things Out" 齊物論

Secondary sources: Fraser, “Skepticism and Value in the Zhuangzi”; Sturgeon, "Zhuangzi, Perspectives, and Greater Knowledge.”

(Note: Fraser, “Skepticism and Value,”  is difficult reading, so some students may prefer to instead read the following two papers: Fraser, “Zhuangzi, Xunzi, and the Paradoxical Nature of Education” and Fraser, “Daoism and the Heterogeneity of Value.”)

2. The Good Life: Resilient Wandering (weeks 5–7)

Primary sources: Zhuangzi Readings 2—selections from books 1 "Meanderingly Wandering" 逍遙遊; 3 "The Key to Nurturing Life" 養生主; 4 "In the Human World" 人間世 (sect. 2); 5 "Signs of Full Virtuosity" 德充符; 6 "The Great Ancestor-Master" 大宗師; 21 "Tian Zifang" 田子方 (sect. 4); 22 "Knowledge Wandered North" 知北遊 (sect. 4)

Secondary sources: Puett, “‘Nothing Can Overcome Heaven’: The Notion of Spirit in the Zhuangzi”; Fraser, "Wandering the Way"; Kupperman, “Spontaneity and Education of the Emotions in the Zhuangzi.”

Assignment 1

3. Ethics and Politics (weeks 8–10)

Primary sources: Zhuangzi Readings 3—selections from books 7 "Fit for Emperor-Kings" 應帝王; 4 "In the Human World" 人間世;  6 "The Great Ancestor-Master" 大宗師 (sect. 7); 22 "Knowledge Wandered North" 知北遊 (sect. 5); 14 "Heaven's Revolving" 天運 (sect. 4); 13 "Heaven's Dao" 天道

Secondary sources: Fraser, “Daoism and the Heterogeneity of Value”; Wenzel, “Ethics and Zhuangzi: Awareness, Freedom, and Autonomy”; Huang, "The Ethics of Difference in the Zhuangzi."

Assignment 2

4. Practical Training (weeks 11–13)

Primary sources: Zhuangzi Readings 4—selections from books 19 "Mastering Life" 達生; 20 "The Mountain Tree" 山木 (sect. 1); 3 "The Key to Nurturing Life" 養生主; 4 "In the Human World" 人間世 (sect. 1); 6 "The Great Ancestor-Master" 大宗師 (sect. 9); 2 "Discourse on Evening Things Out" 齊物論

Secondary sources: Fraser, “Psychological Emptiness in the Zhuangzi”; Fox, “Reflex and Reflectivity: Wuwei in the Zhuangzi.”

Coursework and Assessment

Class participation, including online discussion (20%), short writing assignments (40%), term paper (1500 words, 40%). Each of units 2–5 will include two lecture meetings followed by one class meeting devoted to discussion, in which each student will be assigned a question to discuss with the group.


Primary Sources

The full text of Zhuangzi 《莊子》is available in Chinese, accompanied by the James Legge translation, at the Chinese Text Project here.



郭慶蕃,《莊子集釋》,三冊,中華書局, 2004 (1961)。

Graham, A., tr. Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters. Hackett, 2001. (English translation.)

Watson, B., tr. The Complete Works of Chuang-tzu. Columbia, 1968. (English translation, available on line.)

Ivanhoe, P. J., and B.  Van Norden, eds., Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy. Hackett, 2005.

Ziporyn, B., tr. Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings. Hackett, 2009. This edition is especially helpful because it includes partial translations of many traditional commentaries. 

Secondary Sources


王博,《莊子哲學》,北京大学出版社, 2004

王博无奈与逍遥—庄子的心灵世界》, 华夏出版社出版社, 2007

牟宗三,莊子齊物論義理分》,中華書局, 1998

唐君毅,《中國哲學原論導論篇》,學生書局,1986,頁 120–131。

唐君毅,《中國哲學原論原道篇》,卷一,學生書局,1986,頁 343–402。

徐復觀,《中國人性論史》,先秦篇,臺灣商務印書館,1969,頁 358–414。

陳少明,《齊物論及其影響》,北京大学出版社, 2004


馮友蘭,《中國哲學史》,增訂本,上冊,臺灣商務印書館,1994,頁 277–306。


Angle, S., and J. Gordon. "'Dao' as a Nickname." Asian Philosophy (2003), 13:1: 15–27.

Chong, K. "Zhuangzi’s Cheng Xin and its Implications for Virtue and Perspectives." Dao 10 (2011): 427–443.

Connolly, T. "Perspectivism as a Way of Knowing in the Zhuangzi." Dao 10 (2011): 487–505. 

Coutinho, Steve. An Introduction to Daoist Philosophies. Columbia University Press, 2014.

Crandell, Michael. “On Walking Without Touching the Ground: ‘Play’ in the Inner Chapters of the Chuang-tzu.” In Experimental Essays on Chuang-tzu, V. Mair, ed. (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983), 101–124.

Fox, Alan. “Reflex and Reflectivity: Wuwei in the Zhuangzi.” Asian Philosophy 6.1 (1996): 59–72. Also in S. Cook, ed., Hiding the World in the World: Uneven Discourses on the Zhuangzi (SUNY, 2003): 207–25.

Fraser, C. Heart-Fasting, Forgetting, and Using the Heart Like a Mirror: Applied Emptiness in the Zhuangzi. Forthcoming in J. Liu and D. Berger, eds., Conceptions of Nothingness in Asian Philosophy (Routledge).

Fraser, C. "Wandering the Way: A Eudaimonistic Approach to the Zhuangzi." Forthcoming in Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy.

Fraser, C. “Emotion and Agency in the Zhuāngzǐ.” Asian Philosophy 21.1 (2011): 97–121.

Fraser, C. “Skepticism and Value in the Zhuāngzǐ.International Philosophical Quarterly 49.4 (2009).

Fraser, C. “Psychological Emptiness in the Zhuāngzǐ.Asian Philosophy 18.2 (2008): 123–47.

Fraser. C. “Wú-wéi, the Background, and Intentionality.” In Bo Mou, ed., Searle’s Philosophy and Chinese Philosophy: Constructive Engagement (Brill, 2008): 63–92.

Fraser, C. Zhuangzi, Xunzi, and the Paradoxical Nature of Education.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 33.4 (2006): 529–42.

Fraser, C. “Daoism and the Heterogeneity of Value.”

Graham, A. “Chuang-tzu’s Essay on Seeing Things as Equal.” History of Religions 9 (1969/70): 137–59.

Hansen, C. A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought (Oxford, 1992): 265–303.

Hansen, C. “Guru or Skeptic? Relativistic Skepticism in the Zhuangzi.” In S. Cook, ed., Hiding the World in the World: Uneven Discourses on the Zhuangzi (SUNY, 2003): 128–62.

Hansen, C. “Daoism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2003).

Huang, Yong. "The Ethics of Difference in the Zhuangzi." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 78.1 (2010): 65–99.

Huang, Yong. “Respecting Different Ways of Life: A Daoist Ethics of Virtue in the Zhuangzi.” Journal of Asian Studies 69.4 (2010): 1049–1070.

Ivanhoe, P. J. “Zhuangzi on Skepticism, Skill, and the Ineffable Dao.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 61.4 (1993): 639–54.

Kupperman, J. “Spontaneity and Education of the Emotions in the Zhuangzi.” In Learning from Asian Philosophy (Oxford, 1999): 79–89.

Nivison, David. “Xunzi and Zhuangzi.” In Virtue, Nature, and Moral Agency in the Xunzi, T. C. Kline III and P. J. Ivanhoe, eds. (Hackett, 2000), 176–187.

Olberding, Amy. “Sorrow and the Sage: Grief in the Zhuangzi.” Dao 6.4 (2007): 339–359.

Puett, M. “‘Nothing Can Overcome Heaven’: The Notion of Spirit in the Zhuangzi.” In S. Cook, ed., Hiding the World in the World: Uneven Discourses on the Zhuangzi (SUNY, 2003): 248–62.

Robins, D. "'It Goes Beyond Skill.'" In C. Fraser, D. Robins, and T. O'Leary, eds., Ethics in Early China (HKU Press, 2011).

Slingerland, E. Effortless Action (Oxford, 2003), 174–216.

Sturgeon, D. "Zhuangzi, Perspectives, and Greater Knowledge." Philosophy East and West 65.3 (forthcoming).

Velleman, D. “The Way of the Wanton.” In K. Atkins and C. Mackenzie, eds., Practical Identity and Narrative Agency (Routledge, 2008).

Walker, S. “The Unity of Dao: Ethics and Metaethics in the Qiwulun" (unpublished handout).

Wenzel, C. “Ethics and Zhuangzi: Awareness, Freedom, and Autonomy.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 30.1 (2003): 115–26.

Wong, D. “Zhuangzi and the Obsession with Being Right.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 22 (2005): 91–107.

Wong, D. "Dwelling in Humanity or Free and Easy Wandering?", in Technology and Cultural Values, P. Hershock et al., eds. (University of Hawaii Press, 2003), 400–415. 

Yearley, L. “The Perfected Person in the Radical Chuang-tzu.” In V. Mair, ed., Experimental Essays on Chuang-tzu (Hawaii, 1983): 125–39.

Yearley, L. "Zhuangzi's Radical Virtue Ethics." Forthcoming.