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Optimal States and Self-Defeating Plans: The Problem of Intentionality in Early Chinese Self-Cultivation

Optimal States and Self-Defeating Plans: The Problem of Intentionality in Early Chinese... Abstract: Whereas Western moral philosophy has mainly accounted for recurrent failed or irrational actions through the concept of weakness of will, many early Chinese texts on self-cultivation, notably the Zhuangzi, stand for a philosophical position that explains our frustrations and failures as an “excess of the will.” Leaving aside external factors such as accidents or mistakes, this essay explores the sources of thwarted plans and frustrated expectations that are due to factors internal to the individual—more precisely, to the nature of intentional conscience. Such a view was generally inadmissible in Western moral philosophy, which revolves around the paradigm of a causal agent endowed with a ‘muscular ethics’ for which all that is desired, and indeed all that is achieved, may only be a direct effect of the will. In striking contrast to this orientation, the Zhuangzi presents a variety of situations in which things do not happen as planned because we were too aware of the plan that guided us. Here, I will use Jon Elster’s concept of by-product states in order to explore this contrast between two contending models of action that, far from being culturally rooted, express an inner criticism in both traditions, European and Chinese. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Philosophy East and West University of Hawai'I Press

Optimal States and Self-Defeating Plans: The Problem of Intentionality in Early Chinese Self-Cultivation

Philosophy East and West , Volume 59 (4) – Oct 25, 2009

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Publisher
University of Hawai'I Press
Copyright
Copyright © University of Hawai'I Press
ISSN
1529-1898
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Abstract

Abstract: Whereas Western moral philosophy has mainly accounted for recurrent failed or irrational actions through the concept of weakness of will, many early Chinese texts on self-cultivation, notably the Zhuangzi, stand for a philosophical position that explains our frustrations and failures as an “excess of the will.” Leaving aside external factors such as accidents or mistakes, this essay explores the sources of thwarted plans and frustrated expectations that are due to factors internal to the individual—more precisely, to the nature of intentional conscience. Such a view was generally inadmissible in Western moral philosophy, which revolves around the paradigm of a causal agent endowed with a ‘muscular ethics’ for which all that is desired, and indeed all that is achieved, may only be a direct effect of the will. In striking contrast to this orientation, the Zhuangzi presents a variety of situations in which things do not happen as planned because we were too aware of the plan that guided us. Here, I will use Jon Elster’s concept of by-product states in order to explore this contrast between two contending models of action that, far from being culturally rooted, express an inner criticism in both traditions, European and Chinese.

Journal

Philosophy East and WestUniversity of Hawai'I Press

Published: Oct 25, 2009

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