The use of paradox in uroboric philosophies
By John Visvader

Philosophy East and West
V. 28:4 (1978)
pp. 455-467

Copyright 2000 by University of Hawaii Press
Hawaii, USA



John Visvader is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado.




There is a kind of philosophy, familiar to students of Eastern and Western thought, that has the peculiar characteristic of having as one of its goals its own demise. It is easy to construct a philosophy that refutes itself through self-contradictions or self-referential paradoxes, but it would be difficult to convince anyone of its profundity. These philosophies that I wish to explore to a small degree do more, however, than merely refute themselves. They seem to transcend themselves in a profound way and leave the student in a place he was not in before. Philosophy is used as a means for putting an end to itself in a nontrivial way. The symbol in Buddhism of the raft that must be abandoned when one reaches the other shore, or the suggestion in Sextus Empiricus and early Wittgenstein that one must throw away the ladder after climbing to a higher level, are common representations of the goals of these philosophies.

    Wittgenstein, for example, says at the end of the Tractatus:

    My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands them finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)

    He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.

    Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. [1]

    I have used the term "uroboric" to designate these philosophies in accordance with a similar symbol used by the Gnostics and the medieval alchemists. Some of the drawings remaining from these schools depict a serpent, Uroboros, bent in a circle swallowing its own tail. Sometimes Uroboros is shown transforming itself into a salamander, and in this representation are portrayed two important aspects of uroboric philosophy. The first is the swallowing of one's tail, the throwing away of the raft or ladder, the erasing of one's footprints, and the second is the transformation into a salamander, the achievement of a state that is often discontinuous with and profoundly different from one's original philosophical stance. This is philosophy of exorcism and is fundamentally therapeutic in nature. It is philosophy of cure; it loosens life-knots and relieves intellectual cramps. It creates a road to a peak that produces a new vision then erases both road and peak.

    Uroboric philosophies are a subset of therapeutic philosophies and both these kinds of philosophies can and often do, by means of self-referential assertions, lead to contradictions and interesting kinds of paradoxes. In fact, some uroboric philosophies deliberately use these contradictions and paradoxes to erase the path over which they have traveled. This article will be concerned with the examination of some of the dialectics of self-erasure and various ways of handling what I shall refer to as uroboric paradoxes.

    Most philosophies tend to be therapeutic in some sense or at some stage




of their program in their having to correct or exorcise supposedly mistaken views of other philosophies. But those philosophies that are generally therapeutic in nature take a skeptical stance about the very nature of philosophy itself. In other words, their view is that there is not just something wrong with a certain part of a particular philosophy but that there is something mistaken about the nature of philosophy in general. This sweeping view, of course, involves us in the threat of a self-contradiction or self-refutation, for if the view that expresses general skepticism about the nature of philosophy is itself treated as a philosophical view, then it must include itself among the condemned enterprises. Suppose, for example, that such a therapeutic or skeptical view were to assert that all philosophical statements were mistaken. If this view were itself taken to be a philosophical statement, then we would be involved with some unfortunate logical difficulties reminiscent of the so-called liar paradox.

    A statement is paradoxical if its assertion leads to the consequence that, if it is true, then it is false, and, if it is false, then it is true. A modern version of the liar paradox illustrates this property: "This sentence is false."

    The traditional liar paradox is not a full paradox in the same sense, for its falsity does not imply its truth. If I make the statement. "Everything I say is false" and if that statement is allowed to be taken as an example of something I say, then if it is true, it is false, but if it is false, it does not imply its truth. Its falsity, at best, implies that there is at least one thing I say that is true, and unless I only say that one sentence, we cannot infer that the sentence is true. It does have the unfortunate consequence, however, that to say "Everything I say is false" implies that there must be something I say which is true, and this does seem to be paradoxical in some sense. It also grates against whatever Humean sympathies we might have concerning the a priori determination of truth value of some one of a set of matter-of-fact propositions which I might utter. Statements like "all generalizations are false" and "all philosophical statements are mistaken" would seem to be similar in consequence to the limited form of the liar paradox, and we might expect to derive equally unfortunate particular propositions of the form "There is at least one generalization which is true" and "There is at least one philosophical statement which is not mistaken." These statements could be considered limited paradoxes or simply self-refuting. There are numerous other propositions playing important roles in philosophical systems which undermine themselves in a parallel manner if they are allowed to refer to themselves. The statement of the verification criterion by the early logical positivists, "a statement is factually meaningless unless it is verifiable," when applied to itself produced, if not a contradiction, grave difficulties of a similar kind.

    In general, of course, this kind of paradox or self-refutation is not a desirable property for a philosophical system. One way to avoid this problem is to employ some sort of theory of types and treat one's own statements as being




radically different than those one is criticizing or characterizing. Therapeutic philosophies tend to be metaphilosophical theories for this reason.

    Wittgenstein's later philosophy, while tending to be therapeutic, did not have the uroboric elements displayed in the Tractatus. In that book he was concerned with the relationship between language and the world. Like most uroboric philosophies, his was concerned to sketch out the limits of what could be said and then to point, in some sense, to what lay beyond expression. Of course, the difficulty is that the pointing is done in language, and the language, if understood in the ordinary way, cannot point beyond itself. This is the reason the language has to be cancelled at a certain point. In the Zen sense one focuses on the finger pointing at the moon and misses the moon itself. The pointing finger, once it attracts the attention, has to disappear from sight. Wittgenstein was rightly annoyed by Russell's comment in the introduction to the Tractatus that what was not expressible in one language perhaps could be expressed in terms of a metalanguage, for that would make it appear that everything could be said -- which went against the primary intuition of the book. That would make it seem that philosophy could have the last word.

    In the Philosophical Investigations he sees his philosophy as dissolving problems, of giving "reminders," of unloosing "intellectual cramps," but not of leaving anything behind.

    What is your aim in philosophy? To show the fly the way out of the fly bottle. [2]

    Philosophy simply puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything. [3]

    Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can only describe it.

    For it cannot give it any foundation either.

    It leaves everything as it is. [4]

    While Wittgenstein expresses a generally skeptical attitude concerning the nature of philosophical problems and tries to undo the skein of various problems he comes across, he still attempts to avoid developing a metaphilosophical stance.

    One might think: if philosophy speaks of the use of the word 'philosophy' there must be a second-order philosophy. But it is not so: it is, rather, like the case of orthography, which deals with the word 'orthography' among others without then being second-order. [5]

    It seems that for Wittgenstein, to make a type distinction between his own propositions and those that he was concerned to examine, would be to erect another kind of system or theory that would be susceptible to similar kinds of criticisms. Though one might avoid direct self-refutation by means of a theory of types, some system would be left behind which could serve as the focus of additional philosophical storms. It would be as some Zen masters say -- wiping off blood with blood. In his earlier work he tried to avoid this,




perhaps unconvincingly, by just saying that his philosophy should be thrown away like a ladder whose use had been exhausted. But, except for his comments about the limits of what could be said, he gives no convincing reasons for doing so. In his later works, he tries not to erect a system of any kind that would need to be discarded. Instead of presenting a theory or a metaphilosophy, he strives to remind us of "things which are open to plain view," and tries to develop an art or method for seeing things as they are -- in Bouwsma's sense, he tries to teach us to develop an ear for the queer. [6] By means of a series of reminders and neutral descriptions we are given a vision of the way language normally operates that frees us from certain intellectual and conceptual tangles. If one could point neutrally to the facts that would free the understanding without leaving at least the impression of a new system then the uroboric dialectic would not be necessary. It is only because some philosophers think this is not possible for logical or practical reasons that they set up a system that is to be dispensed with at a later time. In this sense, Wittgenstein's latter work, if successful, is an improvement over his earlier work by making the uroboric dialectic unnecessary.

    Many other linguistic philosophers, both of the so-called ordinary language and ideal language schools, have had to face similar problems concerning the nature of their remarks and have not seemed to feel uncomfortable about embracing some sort of type distinction. For example, John Austin has tried to construe his therapeutic remarks about philosophical language as a new science of language, while other language philosophers have tried to anchor their tenets in the roots of logic or some empirical science and have often characterized their remarks as being metalinguistic.

    The end of skepticism as presented by Sextus Empiricus is the attainment of quietude (ataraxia) by means of suspension of judgment concerning the real natures or virtues of things. The ordinary person and the philosopher feel that they have sure or certain knowledge about things and this, according to Sextus, leads them into a kind of double suffering. We may suffer once from some difficulty which is unavoidable -- and the sceptic is not immune from this kind of suffering -- but the dogmatist suffers once again because of his evaluation of the suffering.

    ...whereas ordinary people are afflicted by two circumstances -- namely, by the affections themselves and, in no less a degree, by the belief that these conditions are evil by nature -- the Sceptic, by his rejection of the added belief in the natural badness of all these conditions, escapes here too with less discomfort. [7]

    The arguments of the skeptics are designed to bring into question all knowledge claims so that a general suspension of judgment is attained. Of course, some grounds of action are needed and these are provided by following, in an undogmatic manner, the "guidance of nature," "the constraint of the passions," the "tradition of laws and customs," and "the instruction of the




arts." Regarding the problem of the nature of the skeptics' arguments and whether the arguments refer to themselves, Sextus takes a clearly uroboric position:

    If then, while the dogmatizer posits the matter of his dogma as substantial truth, the Sceptic enunciates his formulae so that they are virtually cancelled by themselves, he should not be said to dogmatize in his enunciation of them. [8]

    The analogy of the ladder is used by Sextus when he is trying to prove that proof itself is nonexistent:

    Just as, for example, fire after consuming the fuel destroys also itself, and like as purgatives after driving the fluids out of the bodies expel themselves as well, so too the argument against proof, after abolishing every proof, can cancel itself also. And again, just as it is not impossible for the man who has ascended to a high place by a ladder to overthrow the ladder with his foot after his ascent, so also it is not unlikely that the Sceptic after he has arrived at the demonstration of his thesis by means of the argument proving the non-existence of proof, as it were by a step ladder, should then abolish this very argument. [9]

    With Sextus we get a clearer view of the salamander into which the serpent changes after swallowing itself. The salamander is a person who has been "cleansed," in some sense, of certain ways of regarding the world, certain kinds of temptations have been put aside and a new innocence has been embraced. Sextus, unlike Wittgenstein, felt that the ordinary person made the same sorts of mistakes as the philosopher and that if there was a difference between them it was only of degree and not of kind. Yet in practice, the Pyrrhonian skepticism of Sextus was revived by the counterreformationists and used against the Protestants and eventually against the knowledge claims of the new sciences. It was used in a conservative fashion to guard the ordinary person's beliefs against new challenges. It became the rational basis of the Fideist movement which championed faith at the expense of reason and defended the religious believer against the attacks of the philosopher. This use of Sextus' arguments would seem to belie his intentions and to constitute only one-half of his program, for he was against any dogmatic belief structures, regardless of its ground, and would not have felt that the religious believer had attained ataraxia. It may be of interest to note that Wittgenstein's skepticism against philosophy has provided a similar defense against philosophical attacks on religion and that his notion of the conceptual autonomy of "language games" combined with the philosophy of Kierkegaard has provided grounds for some philosophers to embrace a modern day fideism.

    The usual import of uroboric philosophies, whether implicit or explicit, is to change not only the head, but the heart, and to point out the limits of reason in the guidance and analysis of life. There are many different kinds of limited paradoxes and self-refutation which are used with skill to bring about these goals. Paradoxes of an interesting kind can be formed in the imperative as well as the declarative cases.




    The liar paradox, which was stated as "Everything I say is false" does not produce a self-contradiction if expressed in the imperative -- "Treat everything I say as false" -- for the imperative form is neither true nor false and thus cannot refer to itself. Other imperative forms can, however, lead to self-referential problems. Take for example:

Disregard all instructions, or
Don't take advice from anyone.

    If I disregard the first instruction then I am regarding it, but if I am regarding it, I am disregarding it. If I take the advice then I am not taking the advice and if I do not take the advice I will be taking it. Of course, there is a practical way out of this kind of imperative paradox if I disregard the original instruction or advice and then follow or not subsequent instructions and advice. There are other kinds of imperative statements which are problematic in similar ways but which need not involve self-reference. Some are infelicitous because they are logically or practically self-contradictory, others because they are vague or difficult to do because they cannot be done intentionally. The statement "Try not to try" may or may not be problematic, depending upon the intention of the adviser and the kind of activity in question. "Try to relax" and "Try to forget" may be impossible to carry out if I try too hard. I know in some sense how to try to relax, but I cannot directly try to forget. In the latter case, I would probably try to become absorbed in something else. "Raise your hand without intending to," unlike "Neither raise your hand nor not raise it," is not a contradictory instruction, though it places us in grave difficulties if we try to carry it out. We can, to be certain, remove ourselves from the difficulties of these instructions by ignoring them but if we are given binding reasons for following them we will be stuck with their consequences. These kinds of infelicitous imperatives, as well as outright contradictory or nonsensical statements, are often used by uroboric philosophies as practical adjuncts to achieve their goals. The Taoists, for example, speak of "doing not-doing" (wei wu wei [a]"). Meister Eckhart says that one should give up one's will to do the will of God (to do the will of God is usually understood as the way to give up one's will), and there are numerous examples of infelicitous imperatives from the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. The following koan can stand as a representative example:

    Master Shuzan, taking a bamboo stick, said to the people "If you call this a stick, you fall into the trap of words, but if you do not call it a stick, you oppose the fact. So what will you people call it?" [10]

    Both Hinduism and Buddhism try to deal fundamentally with the problem of human desires and either their extinction or transformation. Buddhism, for example, takes as its goal the cessation of suffering, and since desire is the cause of suffering, the means toward the goal is the extinction of desire. But




here, of course, are the makings of another paradox, one, in fact, which is actually used to advantage by some schools of Buddhism.

    The statement "Give up desires" raises difficulties of a similar kind as does the intention paradox of "Raise your hand without intending to" (or the instruction of the Zen school to act from no-mind). To raise my hand in attempting to obey the instruction I must intend to do so, yet if I do it with intentionality, I will not be obeying the instruction. If I forget about the instruction and raise my hand in the course of doing something else, then I will not be following the instruction. I cannot begin or even try to give up all desires unless I first have the desire to do so, and if I take the statement seriously I should give up that desire as well. So even if it was clear what was meant by giving up desires, I must begin by adding to them. I could begin by getting rid of that desire, but then I would not go onto get rid of the others. Some people, when faced with this kind of self-contradictoriness, reject the injunction and merely go on in the usual way, but they will have rejected the important therapy that Buddhism has to offer. This kind of statement in Buddhism is made paradoxical, and not merely contradictory, by its analysis of the causes of suffering. The heart of Buddhism lies in its four noble truths, the first of which reminds us of the all-pervading nature of suffering, the second noble truth describes the source of suffering as desire or craving while the third and fourth tell us that suffering can be overcome and describe the means to do it. The realization of the first is, in a sense, the most important, for without seeing the omnipresence and subtle layers of the suffering one is caught in, one does not generate enough concern to try to get out of it. The ordinary person is constantly trying to escape suffering and the first truth makes this explicit; it is the connection by which the person clambers upon the Buddhist raft. It is this desire to escape suffering that fills out the paradoxical quality of the desire to give up desires, for if I give up the desire to give up desires, I will still be locked in suffering, while if I try to give up desires, I will only add to the cause of it. From the point of view of some schools, it is the desire to get rid of suffering that is at stake here, and if the person could give that up, they would be in a similar position to the skeptic, who no longer suffers twice through opinion as well as event. Whether the end point of skepticism and Buddhism are similar, whether ataraxia is of a kind with, satori, wu or ming [b], whether the dialectic of Sextus parallels that of Naagaarjuna are interesting questions which have hardly been explored. In any case, the very concern to get away from suffering is seen to be an expression of that very craving-mind that gives rise to the suffering. And here the suffering that is problematical should probably be understood as the double suffering of Sextus. If one thinks that the mission of the Buddha was to do away with "unavoidable suffering," then he would seem to be poorly equipped. It would have been better if he became a medical doctor or a social reformer!

    It is at this point that the Buddhist doctrine of upaaya or skillful means




becomes important, and it seems to depend on some sort of type distinction. A distinction is made between the desire to give up desires and the other desires one is to be freed from. It is almost impossible for the person to give up his attitude toward suffering without working through it or with it in some way. The problem is handled by regarding the Buddhist program as being motivated by a meta-desire which will eventually be eliminated when the Buddhist program swallows itself.

    There are several ways in which Buddhism tries to help students overcome this practical paradox. Two ways that are of interest here might be called "easing over" and the "uroboric leap." With "easing over," the paradox is ignored and the desire to be relieved from suffering is taken as unproblematical. The emphasis is not on dialectic but on practice. The student is encouraged to keep all the precepts and do the meditational practices. Special mental spaces are aimed at in which the craving or desiring mind no longer has relevance and ceases, at least for a time, to function. This alternative mode of using the mind begins to develop its own momentum and gradually expands to cover activities outside the meditation room. The more this kind of space expands in the students' life, the more the desiring mind is worn away. Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Tantric teacher, describes this approach to eliminating the desiring mind-associated with the ego-in the following way:

    Ego is, in a sense a false thing, but it isn't necessarily bad. You have to start with Ego, and use Ego, and from there it gradually wears out, like a pair of shoes. But you have to use it and wear it out thoroughly, so it is not preserved. [11]

    The great edifice of Buddhist philosophy and psychology provides an analysis of self-action and experience which aids one in developing a nonclinging or nondesiring mind. The self which is clung to by the ordinary person is shown to be empty of selfhood or reality, as are the numerous objects that the clinging mind attempts to use to satisfy its thirst for reality. These doctrines help to loosen one's attachment or clinging, and encourages a stepping back into alternative spaces.

    But even while the clinging mind is being pried away from these illusory realities with the help of the doctrines and practices, these doctrines and practices themselves will often become another refuge for the clinging of desire.

'... Where there is love of the ego, there is also love of, for (this idea of) [given by the doctrines] is hidden in the love of the I....'[12]

    To insure that the student does not cling to the doctrines some schools rescind the type distinction at a certain stage of practice so that the desire with which the student began will now be seen to be problematical. The Buddhist development of the uroboric paradox does not take place directly in terms of desire, but rather indirectly in terms of the doctrine of emptiness ('suunyataa).




Three stages in this dialectic of emptiness can be distinguished: the first is the emptiness of the self and the potential objects of clinging which is spelled out in terms of Buddhist philosophy and psychology. In the second stage the emptiness of the doctrine is asserted, while the third stage points out the emptiness of emptiness itself. The first stage swallows the ordinary mind and sets up a Buddhist mind in which the erasing of the self is begun; the second stage swallows the Buddhist mind and sets up the mind of emptiness. Once the emptiness of the doctrine and practice are asserted, then the craving mind does not have anything to cling to and thus its latest stronghold is exposed. This is where one is confronted with the desire to give up desires. In the last stage the dialectic neatly swallows itself and the mind of emptiness leaving behind the world is seen clearly through a salamander's eye. This last stage makes sure that there is nothing whatever left behind and that the student is not holding on to or dwelling in an emptiness that is separate from things that leaves one outside the reality of concrete existence.

    Logically speaking the stages are contemporaneous, and ideally a person ought to be able, like Hui-neng, the sixth patriarch of the Ch'an school, to pierce the dialectic immediately and reach the state beyond words and doctrine. But therapeutically, it seems necessary to take the stages one at a time. There are some teachers who specialize in the later stages of the dialectic and become meta-Buddhists or uroboric teachers. Huang Po, one of the most famous teachers of the Ch'an school, spent most of his effort in trying to knock long-standing students of Buddhism off the raft of doctrine and practice.

    Enlightenment springs from Mind, regardless of your practice of the six paramitas and the rest. All such practices are merely expedients for handling 'concrete' matters when dealing with the problems of daily life. Even Enlightenment, the Absolute, Reality, Sudden Attainment, the Dharmakaaya, and all the others down to the Ten Stages of Progress, the Four Rewards of virtuous and wise living and the State of Happiness and Wisdom are -- everyone of them -- mere concepts for helping us through sa^msaara; they have nothing to do with the real Buddha-Mind. [13]

    There are several other philosophies that might be called uroboric or at least are said to have uroboric elements in them, and I want to choose one of them, Taoism, for a brief examination.

    One of the most important concepts in Taoism, and also one of the most difficult to understand, is that of wu wei [c], not-doing or nonaction. Sometimes it is stated as wei wu wei or doing not-doing, and immediately presents itself as one of our imperative paradoxes. But the concept has different layers of meaning, some of which are straightforward and unproblematical. In some cases wu wei or nonaction means precisely what it says. One takes no action, one allows things to develop on their own without the pushes and pulls of our would-be directorship of them. In this sense, it means noninterference, non-meddling or nonstirring up. But even in these cases there are often suggestions




of a subtle form of action, a deeper form of nondoing that is not merely the negation of action. The man of Tao acts like the Tao itself and is able to bring things to their completion with the aid of his te [d] or power of the Tao. He is able to nurture things by being fully who he is. Yet even the sage has to act in the world in the ordinary sense, and when he acts he acts by not doing. But here his not-doing cannot be understood as not doing anything, for this would indeed be a contradiction, but by not doing some things as opposed to others. The Lao Tzu, which has been cited by Creel as an example of purposive Taoism, [14] is full of recommendations for different kinds of doings, but these doings do not go against the grain of things, these doings follow the contours of the world and do not arouse things to oppose one's actions by the various laws of reaction that things follow when they are stirred up against their natures. In this sense, not-doing implies a kind of natural doing or a cooperative doing, drawing things out toward the direction they are inclined to move through their own natures. But as I have remarked, Creel calls the Lao Tzu purposive Taoism and Holmes Welch has referred to Lao Tzu, [15] for some of the same reasons, as the Dale Carnegie of the Taoist world, because it seems conceivable that a shrewd schemer could be enticed away from his unsubtle attempt to manipulate the world by discovering Lao Tzu's prescriptions, and will learn to set more gentle traps to cause things to fall into his lap. A schemer's reasoning might be like the following:

He who grasps things loses them. [so in order to hold them don't grasp them]
He who takes action fails, [so in order not to fail don't act] (Ch. 64)
...the sage never strives for the great and thereby the great is achieved, [so in order to achieve the great don't strive for it] (Ch. 63)
He who shows himself is not luminous....
He who boasts of himself is not given credit.
He who brags does not endure for long. (Ch. 24)
To have little is to possess. (Ch. 22) [16]

    You can, if you wish to be such a schemer, follow many of the laws of things as sketched out by Lao Tzu, because this is part of the broadness of the Taoist way. But your success at winning your heart's desire will not go smoothly unless you are able to give up those very desires. Almost all the additions which the schemer puts on Lao Tzu's sayings are bound to produce paradoxes of a familiar kind. The schemer is only able to succeed when he has fundamentally ceased to be a schemer, and what he will have succeeded at will not be what he set out to do. Would-be Taoists cannot merely act on the world with the Taoist tenets but must also act on themselves. "The Sage," Lao Tzu says, "desires to have no desires." One cannot try to act naturally, except on superficial levels, without generating some of the difficulties met with when discussing the intention paradox. This kind of paradox seems to sit in the heart of Taoism as it did in the core of Buddhism. The later Taoists did develop skillful means like the Buddhists for easing one over this paradox, but they




did not develop the dramatic means for using the paradox as did part of the Ch'an school. There is a form of meditation the Taoists use called tzo wang [e], meditation or sitting in forgetfulness, which is similar to the "easing-over" meditation of the Buddhists. There again one learns to develop spaces in which the concept-purposive mind, the schemer's mind, is absent. One learns not-doing in artificial situations so that not-doing spreads out and engulfs the doing. Other forms of Taoist meditation developed under the influence of the Taoist religion and became permeated with elements of spiritual alchemy and concerns for immortality. These sometimes bizarre practices have the same goal but approach them through somewhat devious means. They often hoodwink a person having self-concerned desires into a practice that results in his giving them up.

    The early Taoist works, particularly the Chuang Tzu and to some extent the Lieh Tzu, provide other means for easing one around the paradox. The central fact remains that trying to achieve wu wei would be like, in Chuang Tzu's words, beating a drum to catch a fugitive, but if one cannot try to achieve wu wei then perhaps one can be eased or relaxed into it. The Chuang Tzu is like a philosophical comic book, filled with stories and jokes leading one out on paths that refuse to continue and often turn back on themselves. It is full of sayings and unsayings, and from our point of view constitutes a series of therapeutic gestures. Words themselves are not to be trusted and thus held on to; one is not given, as in Buddhism, a doctrine that later has to be exploded, for as in the later Wittgenstein, there is hardly a raft to clamber onto in the first place.

    The fish trap exists because of the fish; once you've gotten the fish, you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit; once you've gotten the rabbit you can forget the snare. Words exist because of the meaning; once you've gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can have a word with him? [17]

    Words are not just wind. Words have something to say. But if what they have to say is not fixed, then do they really say something? Or do they say nothing? People suppose that words are different from the peeps of baby birds, but is there any difference, or isn't there? [18]

    When Lao Tzu writes that "He who speaks does not know. He who knows does not speak," there are some people who feel that he either did not know or he contradicted himself when he sat down, according to the story, to write his book of eighty-one verses. But perhaps we can get Lao Tzu off the hook by amending his statement in the spirit of Chuang Tzu: "He who speaks seriously does not know. He who knows does not speak seriously." The language, and to a large degree, the doctrines, are meant only as a gesture, an easing over and easing into. Like most mysticism, Taoism is a philosophy of plenitude, an attempt to remind people who are living with a scarcity mentality and whose actions are calculated to overcome that deficiency, that they already have that for which they are seeking. Their deficiency actions only




increase the sense of deficiency and serve to hide the plenitude that has always been there. When they call the Confucian moralists schemers, it is this sort of thing they have in mind. Confucian moral principles are a deficiency-producing response from an already confused state in which one feels that a certain kind of knowledge concerning human nature and purpose is necessary before one can act.

    When Tao is lost, only then does the doctrine of virtue arise.
When virtue is lost, only then does the doctrine of humanity arise.
When humanity is lost, only then does the doctrine of righteousness arise.
When righteousness is lost, only then does the doctrine of propriety arise.
Now, propriety is a superficial expression of loyalty and faithfulness, and the
    beginning of disorder. [19]

    The formulations of the virtues arise only after their roots have been covered. Chuang Tzu sees the Confucian as being "tattooed by humanity," that is, by the doctrine of acting humanely. If you need the doctrine you are already lost, and following the doctrine will not return what you have thrown away but will in fact prevent you from finding it.

    Taoism can be seen to have therapeutic elements such as those that were mentioned earlier in the article. One cannot give a good answer to a bad question. When the Confucians and Moists ask what the grounds of action should be, the Taoists, especially in the Chuang Tzu, are not prepared to give an answer of the same kind as theirs. Saying that one should follow nature does not take one very far. There can be no general answer to the question concerning what I should do or how I should act. The only thing is to act according to my specific nature and in so doing, I will join the circle of the ten thousand things. Taoist literature provides us with a series of reminders concerning the adequacy, plenitude, and nature of the action of the Tao and serves not so much as instruction on how to act but as a demonstration and display that the question about action, posed in the abstract manner in which it is, is misleading and unnecessary.

    The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem. [20]




    1. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico Philosophicus (London: Kegan Paul, 1922), p. 189.

    2. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (New York: MacMillan, 1950), 309, p. 103.

    3. Ibid., 126, p. 50.

    4. Ibid., 124, p. 49.

    5. Ibid., 121, p. 49.

    6. O. K. Bouwsma, Philosophical Essays (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1965), pp. 187ff.




    7. Sextus Empiricus Vol. I, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), Book I 30, p. 21.

    8. Ibid., I-15, p. 11.

    9. Sextus Empiricus, Vol. II, Against the Logicians (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), Book II 480-481, pp. 487-489.

    10. Yoel Hoffman, The Sound of One Hand (New York: Basic Books, 1975), p. 141.

    11. Chogyam Trungpa, Meditation in Action (Berkeley: Shambala, 1970), p. 57.

    12. Sutra of Complete Enlightenment, Charles Luk, Ch'an and Zen Teaching, Series 3, (London: Rider, 1962), p. 253.

    13. John Blofeld, The Zen Teaching of Huang Po (New York: Grove Press, 1958), p. 69.

    14. H. G. Creel, What is Taoism? (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1970).

    15. Holmes Welch, Taoism -- The Parting of the Way (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966), p. 22.

    16. All quotations from the Lao Tzu are from Wing-Tsit Chan, The Way of Lao Tzu (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963).

    17. Burton Watson, Chuang Tzu (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), p. 140.

    18. Ibid., p. 34.

    19. Chan, Lao Tzu, Chapter 38.

    20. Wittgenstein, Tractatus, p. 187.

    a. 為無為


    c. 無為


    e. 坐忘