Skepticism and Value in the Zhuangzi

(Posted 1 December 2008)

This article appears in International Philosophical Quarterly 49.4 (2009): 439–57. I’ve posted a preprint here.

Abstract: The ethics of the Zhuangzi is distinctive for its valorization of psychological qualities such as open-mindedness, adaptability, and tolerance. The paper discusses how these qualities and their consequences for morality and politics relate to the text’s views on skepticism and value. Chad Hansen has argued that Zhuangist ethical views are motivated by skepticism about our ability to know a privileged scheme of action-guiding distinctions, which in turn is grounded in a form of relativism about such distinctions. Against this, I contend that the Zhuangzi‘s skepticism and its ethical stance jointly rest on a metaethical view of value as inherently plural, perspectival, heterogeneous, and contingent. This view provides grounds for moral consideration toward others and for political liberalism. It also explains how the psychological qualities valorized in the Zhuangzi contribute to the value of our individual lives, by showing what their absence costs us.

Download here.

Keywords: Zhuangzi, skepticism, ethics, value