Landscape and Travel in Daoism

“Landscape, Travel, and a Daoist View of the ‘Cosmic Question.'” This paper is to appear in the anthology Landscape and Travelling East and West: A Philosophical Journey, edited by Hans-Georg Moeller and Andrew Whitehead (Bloomsbury Academic, 2014).

The paper is based on a talk I gave at “Landscape and Travelling—East and West.” Académie du Midi, Alet Les Bain, France, May 28–June 1, 2012. The original abstract for the talk was the following:

This talk will sketch how, for the Zhuangzi, landscape and travel provide central metaphors by which to understand the conditions of human existence, the nature of agency, the source of normative guidance, and even our identity as individuals. The concept of “landscape” is a fitting metaphor for dao 道 (way), the field of structures and influences that provides the setting for agency and exerts normative pressure on agents. “Travel” is a prominent facet of the concept of you 遊 (wandering), for the Zhuangzi the core activity in the ideal exercise of agency and the key to a good human life. The metaphors of landscape and travel help to highlight the conception of self that emerges in the Zhuangzi, namely of an indeterminate, unfixed, and hence not fully knowable nexus of activity that is constituted and sustained through interaction between the agent’s de 德 (virtuosity) and the dao 道 (ways) the agent encounters and performs. This picture of the self and its relation to the world suggests a distinctive and plausible response to Thomas Nagel’s “cosmic question” about the place of human existence in the cosmos. For the Zhuangist, we are in effect “travelers” who constitute and disclose ourselves as what we are through interaction with the “landscape” in which we inevitably find ourselves journeying.

The full text of the author’s manuscript can be downloaded here.