Comparison Of Plato's Dualistic Metaphysics And Rational Epistemology With A Daoist Metaphysics

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Comparison of Plato's dualistic metaphysics and rational epistemology with a Daoist metaphysics


The puzzling similarities between Plato's esoteric teachings and the principles of Dao seem fragile as if they were standing upon weak foundations. Despite the strong analogies between yin-yang and the supreme Principles of Being in Plato, where could we find something like Dao in the esoteric thought as well as in the unwritten doctrine of our ancient Greek philosopher? Wouldn't it be contradictory to talk about a potential Daoism in Plato without any Dao?

I hold it possible to explain these questions by considering the following figures represented by two triangles. In the first one, the vertex points towards the bottom. It symbolizes Plato's esoteric idea as it has been presented by the new paradigm, showing that Being is the result or mixture of the supreme Principles (Girardot, 89).

Tradition treats as Daoists those thinkers who addressed what we might call the metaphysics of Dao. I endorse that tradition with some qualifications about the appropriate implications to draw from it. My argument will support the orthodox view that Daoists are appropriately distinguished from earlier moral philosophers (Confucius and Mozi) by their more metaphysical uses of the term Dao. However, this traditional way of fixing the reference of philosophical Daoism need not entail that that be a separate Daoist meaning for the word Dao. Daoists could be said to address the metaphysics of Dao—but the same Dao that is in dispute in moral philosophy. It needn't have separate metaphysical and moral meanings. Indeed, a careful account of the metaphysics of Dao removes the motivation to postulate a separate, Daoist meaning. Precisely because their concept of Dao is the same, these reflections will be relevant to how Daoist met ethics informs their criticism of the Confucian-Mohist moral debate. We can explain the full range of Daoist usage, including its metaphysical use, without postulating a separate meaning (Spitzer, 79).

Discussion and Analysis

In return, Daoism's supreme principles—in a way—present the “vertex” at the top. What is stated in 25 of the Daodejing (“there was some process that formed spontaneously / Emerging before the heavens and the earth . . .”) could be illustrated in the following way:

The inconsistency could be expressed with another model:

The query has been discussed in Tübingen some years ago (1996) during a congress organized by the most eminent scholars of the German School. Hans-Georg Gadamer was invited on that occasion and illustrated what ought to be considered one of the most consistent critiques of the new paradigm. “We were previously talking about the anypotheton, i.e., the unconditional, which Plato discusses in the Republic: well, I believe that, according to Plato, this Principle is in se unreachable, ungraspable, although present at all times, precisely because it's the condition for all other principles. We never grasp the first Principle, even if we are always looking for it. In this sense, Plato's philosophy is open, it always stretches further. So I do not believe that the main problem is whether the doctrines of the Principles ...
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