How the Daoist philosopher lives in a good and beautiful world: A brief overview

This series of reflections begins with the post entitled ‘The World does not Need Saving’ (September 17ff).


Dear Philosophical Friend,

In reply to your puzzlement, there’s a larger argument that I’ve been canvassing over the past couple of year, an argument that’s become clearer to me over time. I’ll try to sketch a part of that larger argument here:

1. There’s no such thing as a Philosopher-King. One is either a philosopher (self-cultivation) or a king (a statesman). (In what follows, put aside the question of the king.)

2. The philosopher seeks to perceive the world as being good and beautiful. This is the work of a lifetime.

3. The final aim of his life is to live in accordance with nature.

4. The philosopher is not a Sage. He is always on the path to wisdom but is not himself wise. He becomes less unwise over time.

5. The philosopher dwells in a realm between this-worldliness (social conventions) and other-worldliness (godliness). Not governed by the cares and desires of most people, he is not tempted to try to transcend the bounds of this human world. Rather, he seeks to love the world when it is properly perceived.

6. When he acts, he does so not out of the No (as the early Marx writes somewhere: not ‘to diminish needless suffering’) but out of the Yes (in order to cultivate and prolong the kind of life that matters most). He acts (and thinks) out of the Yes: joy, lightness, reverence, etc.

7. The Daoist philosopher is a particularist. He thinks and acts in the case by case. He does not resort to a ready supply of principles. Sometimes X is the case, sometimes Y is the case.

8. The Daoist philosopher is a parochialist. He cultivates philosophical friendships, i.e., friendships of virtue. He curates his thoughts and avoids contact, as much as possible, with those who are not friends of virtue. He does well by those he cares for so that they too might live–or continue to live–good and beautiful lives. He remains agnostic toward strangers living halfway around the world. E.g.,

9. The Daoist philosopher does not intrude or intervene. He comes when he is called and invited. On such an occasion, the other makes plain to him that he is open and ready. The philosopher comes in the spirit of inquiry and leaves when it is time.