PPIG: Philosophy, Psychology, and Informatics Group

This event is co-organised by PPIG and the World Philosophies Lecture series.

Speaker: Lilith W. Lee (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

Title: An Enactive Approach to Zhuangian Critique

Abstract: Some recent scholars have advanced critical-theoretic readings of passages in the early Daoist text of the Zhuāngzi, arguing that, given the sociopolitical context of the text, such passages should be read as critiquing the “Imperial Reason” of a nascent imperial discourse in Warring States China (Kwek 2019, cf. Wenning 2011). However, it is unclear how the text’s often abstract critiques would “[overcome] the one-sidedness that necessarily arises when limited intellectual processes are detached from their matrix in the total activity of society” (Horkheimer 1986). In this paper, I propose that recent sociopolitical developments in enactivist approaches to agency (e.g. Di Paolo, Cuffari, De Jaegher 2018, Maiese & Hanna 2019) can illuminate the material bases of these Zhuangian critiques. Enactivist agency, broadly conceptualised, comprises biochemical, sensorimotor, and intersubjective layers that mutually constrain and enable each other, according to which an autonomous organism delimits and makes sense of its world. Such an organism’s sense-making would be dynamically coupled with other organisms’, from which sometimes emerges autonomous social organisations in which they participate. Such participatory sense-making take on complex and asymmetrical configurations in sociopolitical contexts.

I argue that certain critical-theoretic passages of the Zhuāngzi, aiming at ‘nourishing life’ (yǎngshēng 養 生), are interventions into the participatory sense-making dynamics of the intersubjective layer. That is, these passages are instances of zhīyán 卮言 [trans. ‘goblet words’ or ‘tipping-vessel words’], which I interpret here as utterances that characteristically aim at not only the preservation of their speaker’s natural lifespan (qióngnián 窮年), but that of the other coupled participants within a given sense-making complex. The Zhuangian ‘critique of Imperial Reason’ thus addresses maladaptations of participatory sense-making—that is, they target second-order pathologies of reason that hinder the operations of the biochemical and sensorimotor levels of its audience, as well as others coupled within the sense-making complexes they asymmetrically influence as sociopolitical elites.

Further information

We are a group of researchers from diverse backgrounds in the above-mentioned groups (and beyond) who aim to gain an interdisciplinary yet deep understanding of the threads that bind the human mind and the world. In particular, this seminar series focuses on the nature of cognition, metacognition and social cognition. We’ll be tackling questions such as, what does it mean to think? What does it mean to think about thinking? And, what does it mean to think about one’s own thinking versus thinking about the thinking of other people? Please come along!

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Contact details

Tillmann Vierkant

May 03 2023 -

PPIG: Philosophy, Psychology, and Informatics Group

2023-05-03: An Enactive Approach to Zhuangian Critique

Room 1.20, Dugald Stewart Building, 3 Charles Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9AD