Inverting Reality: Zhuangzi on Self and Personal Identity
Kai-Yuan Cheng (National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University)

April 4, 2023, 11:00am - 12:00pm

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Description: Issues of self and personal identity touch upon some of our fundamental concerns: Who am I? If this “I” refers to someone who seemingly exists in the innermost realm of some subjective experience, what is the nature of that someone? What will happen to me upon the biological death of my physical body? Will I survive that? These are the questions that used to intrigue ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates who saw the most important task of philosophy as “knowing yourself” and that later on have received extensive treatments by early modern philosophers such as Hume and Locke in the Western tradition up to the present day.

The purpose of this talk is to lay out the outline of a book project on the view of Zhuangzi, an ancient Daoist philosopher, on self and personal identity in the Eastern tradition. I shall begin by demonstrating how an analytically rigorous reconstruction of a no-self view can be given based on a close reading of the original text of the Zhuangzi (Cheng, 2014), and proceed to show how a transformation-based conception of personal identity can be developed in the philosophy of Zhuangzi. A set of basic presuppositions held in the Western tradition represented by Locke, Parfit, and Johnston will be contrastively exposed, on the basis of which Zhuangzi’s alternative account will be illuminated and reconstructed. In this process, some of the representative theories of personal identity will be re-characterized and re-appraised through the lens of Zhuangzi’s philosophy. By doing this, I hope to show the contemporary relevance and significance of the philosophy of Zhuangzi on self and personal identity.

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