ZHAUNGZI, LINJI, & EPISTEMOLOGY BY LIAM Q

Zhaungzi, Linji, & Epistemology


    Zhaungzi's tendency to transition from thoughtful consideration to seemingly meaningless strings of arbitrarily selected terms  can be understood as a form of argument. Zhaungzi critiques the prevailing conceptions of his time by constructing short excerpts where he emulates the reasoning process he opposes, but does so using arbitrary strings of terms to emphasize the absurdity of the conclusions or the arguments one can logically derived. Zhaungzi's method is an approach to critiquing arguments that are based on faulty logic and semantics, where it is possible to dismiss the validity of the conclusion by utilizing its own reasoning to arrive at an obviously absurd conclusion or argument. In addition, Zhaungzi deploys this method in response to a variety of different patterns of reasoning, and in the process demonstrates just how prevalent lapses in logical reasoning or semantic meaning is. Additionally, Zhaungzi's method reveals  how common it is for individual's to perceive certain propositions as being absolutely true or necessary that are in actuality undetermined assumptions. For instance, in one case Zhaungzi states, "there is a not-yet beginning to be a not-yet beginning to be nothing. Suddenly there is nothing. But then I don't know whether nothing is or isn't" (Ivanhoe et al 219). Following this, Zhaungzi asserts that he's said something but that he isn't sure if it meant anything (Ivanhoe et al 219). This illustration serves as a specific critique likely pertaining to the variety of metaphysical arguments from his time. Such arguments commonly begin with a basic premise or claim related to physical reality , this is followed by a series of "logical statements" that are said to be entailed by the preceding statements, and then a conclusion is arrived at that is typically very vague or ambiguous. The statements gradually become more and more ambiguous but they are logically justified by asserting their logical relation is that of consecutive entailment. Zhaungzi through example shows that logical entailment and conclusions based on logical structure do not necessarily map onto reality; their logical form can be valid, while their semantic meanings or relations are vague or unknown. Such conclusions then cannot be taken to be true solely because they were arrived at through careful consideration. Consideration of meaningless or ambiguous variables in a thoughtful manner does not produce thoughtful conclusions but rather produces assertions where their "meaning" is essentially independent of the "meaning" of the assertions that precede it, but are nonetheless interpreted as truths due to a perception of logical structure and reason as being the absolute form of truth.
      Zhaungzi at one point declares that people have no "essence", which results in the listener being confused (Ivanhoe et al 234). When asked how people can be called people without an essence, Zhaungzi responds by asserting that the question is actually how one could claim they aren't people (Ivanhoe et al 234). This is important; this depicts Zhaungzi's perception of  prevalent philosophical concepts and his belief that they are non-sensical. Zhaungzi's faux-metaphysical argument servers as a demonstration of how such meaningless or ambiguous conceptions could come to exist and continue to exist. Most importantly, one can interpret Zhaungzi's writing as a demonstration of his perception of truth (in the common sense) as being largely misunderstood, and how the body of information associated with truth consists mostly of ambiguous concepts and meaningless conclusions. This then poses the question of how the collective body of human knowledge could have become so flawed.
   When we pose such a question, by the mere the fact that it arose , we demonstrate why the problem persists, and we unknowingly demonstrate why Zhaungzi's peculiar method is actually extremely valuable. By proposing the question, one implicitly asserts their belief that a meaningful answer exists. For instance, If one was to assert and demonstrate that a body of data was largely corrupted and then they were to dwell on the reason for this, then that would mean that they believe that the cause can be determined and that it is also meaningful. If that were not the case, and one believed that no answer existed, then the question wouldn't even arise in thought; the data sample would be perceived as non-representation or random and it would be cast aside as meaningless. Zhaungzi does not propose alternative theories to those which he critiques, but instead he largely rejects their possibility and the designation of their conclusions as meaningful. His focus on rebuttal, and his use of illustrations that depict the absence of discrete semantic meaning, serves to illustrate how our implicit assumption that order exists absolutely, and how it is of the highest value often misleads us.This segment of Zhaungzi's thought demonstrates the point from which his thought greatly deviates from the majority. Zhaungzi's deviation is largely the consequence of a perception of certain aspects of physical reality as beyond the scope of representation, and in particular the perception of people projecting abstract ideas onto the world, rather then derive them from it (Ivanhoe et al 208).When people engage with the world from the assumption that it can be absolutely be represented, they fail to grasp the distinction between mind and body, and as a consequence they believe that everything that occurs must have some explicable meaning and explanation. This assumption results in individuals regularly adopting conceptions of reality without ever critically assessing them, and even more problematically these individuals often end up overly concerned with meaningless or superficial pursuits or questions. They are entirely cut off from reality; engulfed by their internal models which they perceive as reality in itself. Zhaungzi indirectly demonstrates the alternative perspective  on his death bed. He dismisses the importance of his students following the traditional rites associated with funerals in their culture by proposing an alternative (Ivanhoe et al 250). In response to his students proposing to bury him lavishly, Zhaungzi instead expresses, or jokingly expresses, his desire to be buried straight in the ground (Ivanhoe et al 250). In that instance, we can see the consequences of Zhaungzi's philosophy and what the alternative path it proposes ; his philosophy discards much of human thought as superficial or misguided concern,  and it instead embraces reality as chaotic & unknown and man as free,
 
    By virtue of its form, language is a medium of expression that is fundementally limited. More importantly, human's are limited by the characteristics of the physical world, and expression is in itself a fundementally difficult task that each and every individual must contend with daily. For every two people, between them is the entirety of the physical world in that given moment, the entirety of their past experiences, the level of success they achieved in translating those experiences into the form of a reliable memory, the possibility of differences in cultural and childhood experiences, and the least obvious aspect of all: the bridge from thought to language (or any other communication medium).  Attempting to ensure the same interpretation is maintained between people, in particular the meaning associated with each word or detail involved in communication, is a notoriously difficult task. If one was to truly attempt to ensure mutual understanding, and they maintained strict standards for this, then the difficulty of communication would be far too great and the burden of its inefficiency would likely result in them choosing a life of seclusion. Yet, rather than accepting the existence of a limitation, and the possibility that certain instances cannot be overcome, people often disregard the gap between mind and the external world all together. Consequently from their blissful ignorance, they believe their internal representations & their symbolic models to be reality in themselves, and when faced with contradiction, they adopt any thought pattern which fills this gap no matter how absurd. While many have recognized this feature of existence and have sought to overcome it through logic and reason, others chosen to instead abandon the mental model of a coherent and orderly world capable of absolute representation. The Chan Buddhist Monk Linji was an example of such an individual. From his teachings, one can see that not only did Linji reject the notion that one should attempt to express all things in a structured representational manner, he also implicitly proposed that in certain instances the most effective approach to expression and achieving mutual understanding may not involve reason or discreteness at all, but instead may depend on the intentional use of ambiguity or modes of expression that do not involve representation at all.
   When referencing an important lesson Linji asserted that if he were to attempt to express the lesson while simultaneously believing that he had to express it exactly, then he'd surely fail to speak or express anything all (Sasaki 3). This view rejects the notion of effective expression as necessitating an absolute need to explicate things discreetly. Additionally, it implicitly asserts that cases exist where expression by means of a discrete representational method is an impossibility. This contrasts greatly with modern lines of thinking which often regard rationality, logic, strict order, and clear structure/relations as the only appropriate way to approach expression in a manner that values truth. Such measures are often portrayed as the effective way to deal with expression, and as a consequence this commitment methods or conclusions beyond this scope are disregarded as they pertain to objective reality. Linji's perspective and its distinctness reflects a central feature of Chan Buddhism that contrasts greatly from other Buddhist lines of thinking; rationality is not the primary means of realizing oneself, and ignorance is not in itself  negative (Hershock Chan Buddhism ). This conception results in an alternative conception of language, logic, and rationality, where these methods are framed as tools with no inherent value or significance when compared to alternatives in the absence of context or a specific case. This contrasts greatly with the modern conception, where these methods or patterns of thought are considered aspects of the larger reality independent of us, and are perceived as higher abstract higher truths. The characterization of these methods as the optimal foundation for thought or as capable of functioning as objective universal languages if mastered is rejected by Linji, and this rejection is depicted by the Chan Buddhist belief that rationality and reason are not appropriate or useful mental tools for overcoming suffering (Hershock Chan Buddhism). Thus, one can think of Chan Buddhism and Linji's line of thinking, as adopting a view of truth where the variety of methods are tools of thought with no hierarchical relation between one another. One tool may be superior for expression in a specific context but in the absence of the problem the value is not retained; this relativist characterization is most prominently featured by Linji's use of hitting as a means of expression and the perception of it as appropriate (Sasaki 9). Linji's use of hitting a medium for expression additionally depicts the rejection of claims that one must attribute absolute values or moral judgements to particular actions in the absence context. By utilizing a method of expression that many thinkers have attributed negative judgements absolutely regardless of context, Linji not only expressed his judgement in the given moment, but also his distinct epistemological view that rejects absolute mediums of truth and absolute judgements in the absence of context. 

Works cited
Sasaki, Ruth Fuller. The Record of Linji. Edited by Thomas Yūhō Kirchner, University of Hawai'i Press, 2009. 

Hershock, Peter, "Chan Buddhism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2019.

Ivanhoe, Philip J., and Bryan W. Van Norden, editors. "Zhaungzi", Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy. 2nd ed., Hackett Publishing, 2005.