PHIL 219: Daoism

3 credit hours

Whereas modern Western ethical theories and philosophers spend a great deal of time focused on understanding what kinds of actions people ought to perform, ancient Eastern thinkers focus instead of what one should be, and on the kind of overall life that a person ought to live. In other words, ancient thinkers tend to focus more on developing character (or virtue) than on foregrounding action. Of those ancient Eastern philosophies, the most well- known are Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. In this course, we will concentrate closely on Daoism, focusing on understanding the kinds of people that this philosophy seems to suggest that we ought to embrace becoming more like (the “sage”). As we will see, Daoist writings place a great deal of emphasis on naturalness (ziran), a way of achieving a state of ‘flow’ (or harmony) with the natural world that rests on developing a number of key virtues or character traits such as emptiness, receptivity, and compassion. In this course we will strive to understand how the philosophical Daoists understood (in different ways) these key aims by centering on the two most famous Daoist texts, the Daodejing (~500 B.C.E) and the Zhuangzi (~300 B.C.E). As we proceed through these difficult and challenging texts, you will be expected to use these ancient philosophies as a springboard for thinking critically your own beliefs regarding the constitution of a truly authentic lifestyle.