Dao

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 57–79 | Cite as

Who Does the Sounding? The Metaphysics of the First-Person Pronoun in the Zhuangzi

Article

Abstract

In classical Chinese wu 吾 is commonly employed as the first-person pronoun, similar to wo 我 that retains its use in modern Chinese. Although these two words are usually understood as stylistic variants of “I,” “me,” and “myself,” Chinese scholars of the Zhuangzi 莊子 have long been aware of the possible differences in their semantics, especially in the philosophical context of discussing the relation between the self and the person, as evinced by their occurrences in the much-discussed line “Now I have lost myself” (jin zhe wu sang wo 今者吾喪我) in the chapter “Discussion on Making All Things Equal” (“Qiwulun 齊物論”). In this essay, I first provide an exegesis of the proffered explanations of the semantical differences between wu and wo as an introduction to two ways of understanding them in the Zhuangzi literature, viz. the single-reference view and the double-reference view. Then I shall argue against these two views in favor of the no-reference view, meaning that both pronouns in “Now I have lost myself” do not function referentially, given the peculiarity of the verb “lose.” I believe the no-reference view has not been explicitly articulated and defended in the literature, although some scholars who want to read the no-self view into the Zhuangzi might have implied it. My argument is supported by a close reading of the targeted passage in the Zhuangzi, premised on the assumption that the part on the “piping of Heaven” (tian lai 天籟) immediately following the discussion of losing oneself is an indirect explanation rather than a digression. My explanation is framed within a similar discussion of “I” by the British philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. This comparative interpretation, I believe, not only provides the grounds for understanding Zhuangzi’s ideal of attaining the state where “the ten thousand things are one with me,” but also demonstrates how metaphysics and the philosophy of language are two interwoven threads in Zhuangzi’s reasoning.

Keywords

Zhuangzi 莊子 Anscombe Self Language Reference 

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kellogg CollegeOxford UniversityOxfordUK

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