The idea of nature in the Daoist classic of Liezi

Submitted by James Miller on Wed, 05/14/2014 - 16:39
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TitleThe idea of nature in the Daoist classic of Liezi
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsChen, Y. - C.
Corporate AuthorsCai, Zong-qi
Academic DepartmentProQuest Dissertations and Theses
Date Published2012
PublisherUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Place PublishedAnn Arbor
ISBN Number9781303219726
Keywords0305:Asian literature, 0318:Religion, 0392:Environmental philosophy, 0422:Philosophy, Asian literature, CHINESE literature, Daoism, Environmental philosophy, Environmentalism, Language, literature and linguistics, Liezi, Philosophy, Philosophy, religion and theology, Religion

The Liezi is regarded the third of the Daoist classics following the Laozi and the Zhuangzi. Dating from the pre-Han period (ca. 4-5 century B.C.) to the Six Dynasties (229-589 A.D.), the Liezi constitutes a rich collection of more than a hundred and forty parables, mystical accounts, and philosophical treatises. This dissertation explores the Liezi 's idea of nature in four aspects: (1) cosmology; (2) view of life; (3) the way to attain harmony and union with nature; and (4) social and political view of human-nature relations. Chapter one explores the Liezi 's cosmology, which presents a holistic and organic worldview based on the theory of qi. This chapter first explores the meaning and concept of qi , which is the common medium of all beings in nature. Life begins from the gathering of qi and ends in disperse of qi. As the dispersed qi gathers again, new life is born. Accordingly, different forms of lives, based on their common endowment of qi , are interrelated in a chain of metamorphoses. The Liezi thus presents a holistic and organic worldview in which the boundaries and categorizations of human, animals, plants, and matters, dissolve. Chapter two analyzes the Liezi 's view of life, which supports an anti-anthropocentric and egalitarian view of all beings in nature. Since all lives are formed by the common medium of qi , they have no difference in nature and are equally noble and vile. Accordingly, humans are not superior to other species, but all beings have equal value. Be it humans, animals, plants, or mater substances, all are indispensable in their participation in the metamorphoses of qi , and thereby are equally meaningful in their existences. Chapter three discusses the Daoist ethics of life that is nature friendly and sustainable. Regarding practical way of life, the Liezi not only inherits Laozi and Zhuangzi's ideas of simplicity, frugality and humility, but also shows an intriguing connection to certain mystic beliefs and practices. The notions of faith and belief in the correspondence between human and nature reflect the Liezi 's mystical and religious approach to the ultimate goal of union with the Way. Chapter four explores the Liezi 's political thought and its implication to environmental policy. The Liezi 's political thought synthesizes various theories of Confucianism, Legalism, and the Huang-Lao school, with the Daoist ideal of non-action as its most basic principle and ultimate goal. It is noteworthy, however, that "non-action" does not means doing nothing literally. In fact, the Daoist idea of non-action, or non-interference when applied to environmental policy, requires humans to attentively observe, understand, and follow the way nature works. Only when people act according to what is opportune and expedient can they live and prosper together with all beings in nature. The concluding chapter summarizes the key points and central ideas of the Liezi in comparison with major principles of environmental philosophy to evaluate the Liezi 's potential contributions to contemporary ecological thought.