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.

What follows from the assumption that the world is bad?

What follows from the assumption that the world is bad?


I. Misery (Passive, Individual)

1. The world is bad.

2. Here is an instance of its badness.

3. It applies to me, adversely affects me.

4. Therefore, I shall complain.

II. Accusation (Active, Individual)

1. The world is bad.

2. Here is an instance of its badness.

3. It applies to me, adversely affects me.

4.  The event is caused by some agent.

5. Therefore, I shall accuse him.

III. World-Changing (Active, Political)

1. The world is bad.

2. Here is an instance of its badness.

3. It applies to certain others.

4. Therefore, I shall change it such that it no longer applies to these others.

IV. World-Saving (Active, Political)

1. The world is bad.

2. Here is an instance of its badness.

3. It applies to everyone.

4. Therefore, I shall save the world so that the world is no longer bad.


But if the world is not bad but rather good and beautiful provided it is perceived in the proper light, then it does not follow that one would ever think to complain about it, accuse another, change it, or save it. A good and beautiful world does not need saving.

Coursing Meditations

How to present a flowing day? ‘Coursing’: A philosophical life moving in pictures, in turning holding pictures. Look: 


What is the beautiful course of a day? How does one follow nature’s course? A line, drawn by hand, drawing the day, is both extensive and intensive. Extensive: flowing through time without resistance. Intensive: expressing the degree of energetic power manifested in any activity. A day inspirits or inhibits. A beautiful day–meaning: the highest expression of goodness–is nothing save a wellspring of fecundity.


Course: another name for the Dao, itself unnamable. Also: itinerary, or Way. Whisper and follow.


There are modes of becoming, each with extension and intensity. Proper intensity. Eating, for instance. Conversing philosophically, for instance. Each mode of being is followed, in turn, by its complement. Sleeping, therefore, by ​meditating; meditating by eating; eating by conversing; conversing by gracefully moving; and so on. More literally this: the ‘and so on.’


In Awakening to Philosophical Life  (2013), I write,

‘The “basic questions of living” occur to me but transcend my finite existence; they emerge in my time but go beyond my years; they shape my moral character but the nature of my character is poured from a general cast of mind. They enliven me-this is true-yet only by dint of coursing through my being; and while their beginning is contingent, their reason for being is necessary.’


We are thinking, as thinking, in verbs. Hence, cours-ing. In other words: moving, meditating, thinking, acting energetically, eating slowly. I see I am starting to add in the adverbs in order to speak of the manner or the way of doing something. The course of the way. I note, ‘The verb solicits the aid of the adverb, the adverb fully expressing the verb’s power like an unfolding pleat.’


Marcus Aurelius writes, ‘All that is in tune with you, O Universe, is in tune with me.’ To live in accordance with nature was the Stoic’s ultimate aim. Sometimes rather than accordance, one reads of agreement, of concord. Can one find a beautiful word that says the same only in the right key, in the key of praise? Harmony? Attunement? I am still searching for the word to describe the being-in-touch I sense.

Beauty of Soul: Course Schedule

My  Short Course at Schumacher College, ‘Beauty of Soul, According to Nature,’ has now been posted on Schumacher College’s website. The course is set to run from November 4-8. I’m including an early draft of the Course Schedule below.

Opening Talk

‘The Beautiful Life of the Virtues’

What would modern moral philosophers make of the following example: The mother stroked her sick child’s forehead with a touch of grace? A utilitarian would consider whether this act, among all the acts available to the mother, could be regarded as bringing about the best possible state of affairs: the most good or least evil overall. A Kantian would conclude that compassion–if that is indeed the mother’s motive–is the not the right reason for anyone’s acting morally. Yet neither camp would have much, if anything, to say about the beautiful manner in which the action is performed–that sense of lightness, that caressing softness–and their silence about the manner of the mother’s touch would, by my lights, be revealing.


Continue reading “Beauty of Soul: Course Schedule”