Suggesting Without Recommending: Relativism in the Zhuangzi

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Alex Tiempo


At first glance, one sees an apparent contradiction upon reading the title of this article. This
is due to the fact that when one suggests, the implication is that one is at the same time pushing
for a certain course of action or, perhaps, is trying to endorse some product. It would be quite
absurd if one says “You do this” and then tell this same person “You do the opposite of what
I tell you”. This notion of suggestion, nevertheless, is not to be equated with the way we
understand the thoughts of the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi whom one day dreamt that he
was a butterfly and upon awaking no longer knew whether he was a person dreaming that he
became a butterfly or vice versa, that he was a butterfly traveling in a dreamland as a man.
The Zhuangzi is a protean text which meansthere is certainly more than meets the eye in
the entire text. Thus, to read the Zhuangzi from one point of view only or to interpret it
according to a limited perspective is to altogether miss its entire message. For Zhuangzi, man
fails to distinguish between reality as seen in nature and man’s way of describing it through
language. Obviously, for him, the constant use of metaphors betrays a hidden thesis in which
he accepts that man's best guide or, should we say, the best chance of finding the way lies in
the things surrounding him – practically anything that has already existed even before he came
into this world.

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