Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Changchi Hao

Changchi Hao
"Wu-Wei and the Question of the Other"

Dissertation directed by Merold Westphal, Ph.D.
                   Summary of the Dissertation


    One of the questions asked by contemporary philosophers is “Who comes after the subject?”[1] The subject, as I understand it, means the subject of representation, the subject of consciousness or the metaphysical subject.  This subject is autonomous, universal and transcendental.  It is the embodiment of reason. This subject is essentially aesthetic. The end of the (metaphysical) subject is my starting point.  The central theme of my present study is that an ethical subject is possible only on the condition that it is first a situated subject.  However, this does not mean that a situated subject is necessarily an ethical one.  After the death of the subject as a result of the deconstruction work in critical skepticism and relativism,[2] a human being is essentially a situated subject.   But there are at least two possibilities of being a situated subject, the aesthetic one and the ethical one: for example, the Nietzschean subject in early Derrida and the Levinasian subject in later Derrida respectively.

    In the first part of this dissertation I present a critique of aesthetic subjects; in the second part, an exposition of theories of ethical subjects.  The dissertation is correspondingly divided into two parts: “Part I: Aesthetic Subjects,” and “Part II: Ethical Subjects.”[3]  In Part I one can see that in Lao-Zhuang[4] there is a tranquil poetic-religious-aesthetic subject, in Heidegger a heroic-existential-aesthetic subject (Dasein) and a poetic-aesthetic subject (the essential thinker), and in Confucianism a metaphysical-moral-aesthetic subject.  In Part II, one can see that in Derrida there is an ethical-religious subject, in Foucault, an ethical-political subject, and in Levinas, a pious religious-ethical subject.


    In Part I, I have tried to demonstrate the philosophical or ontological fictions about Dao in Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi, Being in Heidegger, and Humanity (ren) in Mencius and Tu Wei-ming. All these philosophies belong to what I call the “butcher’s philosophy.”  In Chapter Three of the Zhuang-zi, there is a famous story about the killing art of a butcher or cook. This story has always been understood as telling people how to achieve Dao, about how to achieve an inner eye with which no sense organs can compare.  The inner eye is a “spiritual” eye which can see what is invisible.[5] The story reads,

    Prince Wen Hui’s cook [ butcher] was cutting up a bullock.  Every blow of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every tread of his foot, every thrust of his knee, every sound of the rending flesh, and every note of the movement of the chopper were in perfect harmony—rhythmical like the dance of “The Mulberry Grove,” simultaneously like the chords of the “Ching Shou.”[6]


    “Ah, admirable,” said the prince, “that your art should become so perfect!”


    The cook laid down his chopper and replied: “What your servant loves is Tao [Dao], which is more advanced than art.  When I first began to cut up bullocks, what I saw [were] simply whole bullocks.  After three years’ practice, I saw no more bullocks as wholes.  At present, I work with my mind [shen, the spiritual eye],[7] but not with my [flesh] eyes.  The functions of my senses stop; my spirit dominates.  Following the natural veins [li, normally meaning “laws, principles or structures], my chopper slips through the great cavities, slides through the great openings, taking advantages of what is already there.  I did not attempt the central veins and their branches, and the connectives between flesh and bone, not to mention the great bones….Now my chopper has been in use for nineteen years; it has cut up several thousand bullocks; yet its edge is as sharp as if it just came from the whetstone. At the joints there are always interstices, and the edge of the chopper is without thickness.  If we insert that which is without thickness into an interstice, there is certainly plenty of room for it to move along….Nevertheless, when I come to a complicated joint….I move slowly.  Then by a very gentle movement of my chopper, the part is quickly separated, and yields like earth crumbling to the ground.  Then standing with the chopper in my hand, I look all round, with an air of triumph and satisfaction.  Then I wipe my chopper and put it in its sheath.[8]


The result of the butcher’s work is the disappearance of the particular individual bull. The butcher’s art is similar to philosopher’s wisdom: in philosophical systems what is missing is the singularity of the singular. After accomplishing a philosophical system a philosopher can also enjoy the beauty of the ontological or logical system with “an air of triumph and satisfaction.”

    What both the butcher and the philosophers see without seeing are particular individuals who consist of “flesh and bones.” Their achievement of the inner eye (or ear) is to cut off any relation with flesh and bones. The inner eye is different from all sense organs in that it cannot see the suffering of the animal or the suffering of other sentient beings.  The philosophical search for deeper laws or overarching principles, a reduction of particulars to universal or ontological principles, is similar to the butcher’s focusing on what is under the skin, the anatomic structures.  In both cases, the particular individual is lost.  The beauty of Dao that the butcher has reached is the result of aestheticization of the feeling about the pain animals suffer.  Philosophical systems, of which their practical counterparts are social-economical-political structures,[9] can be achieved only on the condition of neglecting singularities, of deafness to the cry of the poor and the marginalized. Philosophical systems are, essentially speaking, aesthetics. In this respect, despite the differences between the philosophy of Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi and that of Heidegger, on the one hand, and Confucianism on the other, there is the same kind of blood circulating in their veins (Dao, Being and Ren or Humanity).[10] Even though Lao-Zhuang and the philosophy of Heidegger emphasize the finitude of human existence, their views that the essential thinking is to respond to the call of the impersonal Dao or Being are not far from the Confucian metaphysical view that selfhood is the identification of the individual with Humanity (Ren).  The situated subject who is hard-wired to Dao in Lao-Zhuang and Being in Heidegger, and the universal subject who is the embodiment of humanity in Confucianism, are on the same boat, the aesthetic one. For what is ethical is the concern for the situated other, the poor and the powerless.

    In the first two chapters I argue that in both Lao-Zhuang and the philosophy of Heidegger there are two contradictory views: on the one hand, they all see the fact that human beings are essentially trapped in time and space, and human knowledge is perspectival; on the other, they quickly jump out of the temporal world and claim that Dao or Being is the ultimate secret they found to which they are related.  For Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi, wu-wei means that we humans should not add our human fabrications onto the work of Dao.  If there is a human nature, it is essentially passive.  For Heidegger, there is another form of wu-wei which means that the human world is the unconcealment of Being, the splendor of Being.  For Heidegger our thinking is essential only when it responds to the call of Being.  And our actions are great only when they are done on behalf of Being, which is also the Confucian wu-wei. For Confucians, what Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi do not realize is that our morality is the essence of the universe, and what we humans do is the culmination of the process of qi (see below). Humanity (Ren) is the highest stage that qi can achieve.  Here it is worth noting that metaphysics, representational thinking, is also a philosophy of wu-wei: its ideal is to represent the world without being contaminated by any finite prejudices. Human knowledge is the mirror of nature, a mirror whose existence is a shame.   Only as something non-existing can human beings achieve the objective view of the world.

    In chapter 1, I argue that the relation between wu-dai (the unconditioned) and you-dai is the central philosophical theme of Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi, and that their philosophical method is wu-wei which should be understood as reduction or bracketing or neutralization. The aim of wu-wei or reduction is to reveal the fundamental relation between wu-dai and you-dai, the relation between Dao and the ten thousand things (the world or worlds).  It is to deconstruct the human fabrications about Dao. Therefore, in this chapter, before the illustrations of wu-wei and their views on Dao, I have shown that three interpretations of Daoist philosophy represented by Feng You-lan, Robert Allison, and Guang-ming Wu are exactly what wu-wei tries to deconstruct. For their views, whether it is to achieve an absolute point of view (Feng), to identify oneself with Dao in unspeakable union (Allison), or to achieve a subjective freedom (Wu), are humanistic in the sense that the human subject is the center of the relation between Dao and the world or worlds. For Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi, the crucial thing here is not how the human subject thinks, but how Dao thinks.

    Wu-wei consists of two steps: reduction and reduction of the first reduction. In the first reduction, Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi try to demonstrate: 1) nothing, whoever or whatever it might be, can achieve absolute knowledge because all knowledge is constrained by the world in which the being lives; 2) the difference between qi and the ten thousand things indicates that our ontic knowledge has no absolute certainty as it seems to be, for example, life and death seems to be absolutely different, but from the point of view of qi, life is death and death is life. Wu-wei in its first step is not to try to prove that all perspectival knowledge is wrong, but rather to neutralize them. In western philosophical language, what the first step shows is that all beings, including human beings, cannot occupy the privileged point from which all other things are judged or known.

    This is not the end of the story.  For Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi, the reduction must be carried out to the extremities. Therefore, there is a second reduction in which the simple form of relative skepticism and the ontological knowledge of qi are reduced to the category of wu (no-thing) and you (being).  The goal of the second reduction is to show “the saying of silence,” or Dao. For Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi, if we cannot know things or beings in our knowledge, this does not mean that we should live with skeptical relativism or assume that ontological knowledge of qi has more truth than ontic knowledge. What is ontology of qi? For most Chinese philosophers, a thing does not seem to be what it shows itself to be to us. All things consist of yin and yang, and yin and yang always mean yin qi and yang qi. Qi is that which makes everything possible, but it is not something in itself. This is the end of the story for most Chinese philosophers.

    However, for Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi, we should go a step further: to reduce the ontological notion of qi. Lao-zi says, “Dao produced the One, the one produced the two, the two produced the three, and the three produced the ten thousands things, The ten thousand things carry yin and yang, and harmonize in the empty of qi.”[11]  If we analyze things, we will find that each thing consists of yin and yang (the two), but since yin and yang always mean yin qi and yang qi (the three), there is a fundamental concept, qi (the One). Where does qi come from? It is from Dao. Why? Here there are two crucial concepts which are the bridge between Dao and qi (or the ten thousand things).  For Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi, if a skeptic denies our knowledge of this thing or that thing (part of the first reduction), he cannot deny that there is a totality of things, “the ten thousand things.”  What is the totality of things? It is the One for which nothing is outside of it. The One is qi as it is usually believed to be. What is qi? Qi is that which makes all things appear, but it does not show itself. In a certain sense, we can say that qi is the most abstract notion because it does not refer to anything. It is you, or to use the western philosophical language, it is being, or the Being of beings. Since it says nothing to us, it is wu (“the empty of qi”) or nothing.  Therefore, from qi we can draw two fundamental concepts: You and Wu.  Because of you and wu, there are yang and yin.

    Therefore, in analyzing qi, or the totality of things, two more fundamental concepts appear to us: wu (no-thing) and you (being). At the beginning of the Lao-zi, we are told that the movement of wu and you are the concealment and unconcealment of Dao. Dao (is) neither you (being) nor wu (nothing). It is prior to wu and you. In my own translation and interpretation of the first chapter of the Lao-zi, Dao is “saying” which cannot be understood according to the category of nothing (wu) or being (you). It is beyond or otherwise than nothing or being. The relation between wu-dai and you-dai, or the relation between Dao and “the ten thousand things,” is a relation between calling and responding, a relation between naming and being named. For Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi, it is Dao or Saying that makes a thing what it is.  Saying or naming as a human action is not primordial. All things are namable not because we can apply our human language to things from outside as a result of our perception of them, but because they are inherently named things.

    Here one can see that there are certain similarities between Lao-Zhuang and later Heidegger to a certain degree. Heidegger says, “Only where the word for the thing has been found is the thing a thing.  Only thus is it….[No] thing is where the word, that is, the name is lacking.”[12] In chapter 2 my focus is on the thought of later Heidegger. In Lao-Zhuang, the primordial function of our human language is to respond to the prior saying or naming.  This, in later Heidegger, is expressed as our mortal thinking or language being an answer to a claim or a call from Being itself.  Man is understood as the listener who has the ability to answer the call of the Saying of Ereignis.  In Ereignis, man or the human language is used to bring the presence of Being. In the second section of chapter 2, I state that there is a basic difference between Lao-Zhuang and Heidegger’s philosophy: There has never been a history of Dao as there is a history of Being (the First Beginning or the Coming Dawn).  Because of the Daoist unhistorical perspective, Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi would not understand that the early Greeks saw the glory of Being, or that after the age of the Ge-Stell there is Ereignis in history.

    In the third section of chapter 2, I discuss the affinities between early Heidegger and Confucianism and between later Heidegger and Lao-Zhuang on the issue of ethics. In early Heidegger, death is the principle of individuation: Nobody can substitute for the other to die. To be able to die is for Heidegger to realize that one is dying.  To die is not an event that happens at a certain point of the future; it is the way to be. It is inherently in every Dasein.  In appearance, Heidegger in Being and Time proposes an individualism. In facing death, “all [Dasein’s] relations to any other Dasein have been undone.”  This is the ownmost non-relational possibility.” [13] However, I argue that the relations to other Daseins that have been undone in facing death are inauthentic ones; in Dasein’s authenticity, the relations to other Daseins are re-established as part of the structure of Being-in-the-world.  It is in this sense that authentic Dasein is starkly similar to the Confucian subject.  The Confucian notion of sociality as the essence of human being is an ontological structure. The similarity between early Heidegger and Confucianism lies in that the way to be a self is an immanent principle: The selfhood is the actualization of what is good inherently in human nature.  For Confucians, just as a bud is not yet a tree, the good nature in the individual is not yet the selfhood.  It is the potentiality of “to be a self.” The ontological knowledge of who I am is not some kind of essence that is, to use Heideger’s words, “present-at-hand.”  The selfhood is essentially yet to be realized; it is a “not yet.” For both early Heidegger and Confucianism, ethics is ontology.

    In later Heidegger, man’s subjectivity consists in his relationship to the truth of Being: “the essence of ek-sistence derives existentially-ecstatically from the essence of the truth of Being.”[14]  This is Heidegger’s originary ethics. The essential thinking that thinks the truth of Being is in itself the originary ethics.  Such thinking does not care about food, clothing, sheltering, or sickness.  It concerns about “dwelling,” but in the sense of dwelling in the nearness of Being. For Heidegger, the miserable living condition of the industrial workers can be neglected  because the most important thing is that man has to first learn how to dwell in the truth of Being. Similar thought can also be found in Lao-Zhuang. For Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi, the great joy is to liberate oneself from the shackles of this finite world and to forget oneself in the movement of Dao. Zhuang-zi says, “When the springs are dried up, the fishes crowd together on the land.  They moisten each other with the dampness about them, and keep one another wet by their slime.  But it is for them to forget each other in rivers and lakes” (CT, 94-95).

    However, for us who do not have an ear to hear the Saying of Dao, the caring we give to each other is most important. The conclusion of chapter 2 is that in Heidegger, neither the tragic-heroic Dasein nor the poetic thinker is an ethical subject in the sense I will expose in Part II.

    Chapter 3 is an answer to the question raised at the end of chapter 1: Can Confucians challenge Daoists on the issue of ethics?  This question has been briefly answered in part of the third section of chapter 2 in comparing early Heidegger and Confucianism. In chapter 3 my argument is that Confucian ethics is a form of ontology which is in turn aesthetics.

    In the first section of chapter 3, I give an exposition of Confucian moral philosophy in the line of the thinking of Mencius. Mencius’s contribution to Confucian philosophy is that the selfhood is not only an achievement of the individual’s identification with society (Confucius), but also a union of the self with the whole universe. For Confucians there is a basic difference between the individual and society, which is also a difference between the natural self and the social self. Furthermore, they consider that a human being is essentially a social being.  Since we are not alone in the world, it is a pre-given fact that we are always already involved in relationships with others.  Ethics is about my relation to others.  The self is the center of the relationships, and others are part of the self’s spiritual development as I have said in chapter 2 on the similarity between early Heidegger and Confucianism.  The other has meaning only in its relation to the open system of self-development. Confucius stops at this level.  Mencius goes a step further: The self is the ultimate criterion for all other things because self-knowledge is also a knowledge of the whole universe or Heaven. If, for Confucius, the metaphysical heart, the heart of “compassion,” “shame,” “respect,” and “right and wrong,” is what is shared by the elite group of human beings, for Mencius, it is also the heart of the universe. Mencius says, “For a man to give full realization to his heart is for him to understand his own nature, and a man who knows his own nature will know Heaven.  By retaining his heart and nurturing his nature he is serving Heaven.”[15]  An ideal and full realization of the self is an achievement of the self as the embodiment of the universe and of the universe as the enlargement of the self.

   If the question of the self is an ethical question, the Confucian answer is an ontological one: To be a self is that the self becomes an all-embracing system of the whole universe. For Confucians, the highest level that one can reach is to regard Heaven, Earth, and the myriad things as one body (the Great One). The One is qi. And there are two kinds of qi: yin qi and yang qi.  The movements of these two kinds of qi produce the ten thousands things. In the second section of chapter 3, I present an argument that what a Daoist would say is that Confucians should realize that in seeing qi as the One, the One is you (being). Since you (being) is nothing determinate, is not a thing, you (is) wu (nothing). Yin and yang come from wu and you, wu and you from Dao as I have shown in chapter 1.

    In the Zhuang-zi, there is a dialogue between Confucius and his disciple Yan Hui about self-cultivation, which reveals that self-cultivation is a process of reduction of all worldly concerns to the relation between the self and the infinite. At the highest level, Yan Hui says, “My limbs are nerveless and my intelligence is dimmed.  I have abandoned my body and discarded my knowledge.  Thus I become one with the infinite” (CT, 104). That is, in becoming one with the infinite, all things in this world have been neutralized. This is very similar to Daoist reduction.

    My conclusion to chapter 3 is that Lao-Zhuang and Confucianism are strikingly similar in the sense that in them there is no obligation to the others.  Care and compassion for the others are neutralized in the relation to Dao or the identification with qi. The subject, whether as a situated subject who is related to Dao (Lao-Zhuang) or Being (Heidegger), or as a metaphysical subject who identifies oneself with the One (Confucianism), is essentially aesthetic in the sense that it does not have an eye or ear to see the tears or to hear the crying of the widow, the orphan, and the poor.

    Here it is worth mentioning that in reading chapters 1 and 3, I hope one can keep in mind that I do not want to give an impression that Chinese philosophy can be translated and interpreted into the western conceptual structures without compromising. The fact is that in Chinese culture there is a unique conceptual system which can be regarded as the so-called “philosophy” in the western world. If for western philosophy, the difference between essence and existence or the difference between universality and particularity is the fundamental question, then in Chinese thinking the relation between yin and yang or wu and you is the fundamental theme. Yin and yang can not be seen as universals or particulars. There are philosophical reasons about the difficulties in translating Chinese characters into English. As we saw above, when the butcher says that he uses his shen rather than his eyes, the character “shen” should not be understood as “mind.”  In classical Chinese, the western word “mind” is “xin”(heart). However, in most cases, “mind” is only part of the meanings of “xin” (heart).

    However, despite the difficulties in comparative study of western philosophy and Chinese thought, and the differences between the two cultural perspectives, my presupposition is that there is something missing in both western and Chinese philosophical systems. That is the singularity of the singular individual. In Part I, I try to show that Confucian ontology is similar to western traditional metaphysics while Lao-Zhuang is similar to Heideggerian essential thinking.  In the third chapter I argue that from the ethical point of view, regardless of the difference between metaphysics in Confucian philosophy and post-metaphysical thinking in Lao-Zhuang and Heidegger,  compassion for and obligation to the other have no place in their philosophy.

    At the end of Part I, I point out that there is an ethics which is different from both the originary ethics in Lao-Zhuang and Heidegger and metaphysical moral theory in Confucianism.  The central concern of this new ethics is the misery and privation of others.


     In Part II, I argue that to accept the fate of being mortal, of living in between two darknesses (the past and the future), does not necessarily mean that anything goes, or we are not bound to anything, or we have no ethical responsibility.  The Nietzschean version of the facticity of the world is not factical enough.  It neglects the fact that the calls of “the widow, the orphan, and the poor” are also part of the situation that we are in.  Here the heroes are Derrida, Foucault and Levinas, to name a few. An ethical subject implies that it is also a situated subject.  However, a situated subject does not necessarily mean that it is an ethical subject as I have demonstrated in the cases of Lao-Zhuang and Heidegger. Another case is that the Nietzschean subject is the one who enjoys the eternal returning, the endless changing of the temporal world.  The Nietzschean subject is an aesthetic subject who presupposes that what happens in the world is the result of conflicting forces, and the suffering of the poor and the marginalized is just a cosmic yawn.  There is no good or evil from the point of view of the whole of the cosmos. Nihilism is the unconditional affirmation of what is. Both Nietzsche and Hegel reach the same point that the suffering of the individual does not matter because it can be neutralized in the innocent whole of cosmos or the History of Spirit.

    In choosing these three contemporary French philosophers, Derrida, Foucault, and Levinas, I do not mean that the ethics I defend here can only be found in our age and in a certain cultural group. Mo-zi (479 – 438 B.C.), an ancient Chinese philosopher, is the first person who criticizes Confucian ethics, and preaches and teaches an ethics of Saints.[16]  In Mo-zi, there is an ethics in which the other is seen as a singularity. Mo-zi says, “To kill one person in order to save the whole world is not to benefit the whole world at the expense of one person.  But, to sacrifice one’s own life in order to save the world is to benefit the world at one’s own expense.”[17]  It can never be justified to sacrifice the other for the sake of the majority, or for the sake of humanity.  For Mo-zi, the other, as a singularity, is the central concern of ethics. While Confucians love the principle of ren or humanity, Mo-zi loves the other as a singularity.  This ethics is not hypocritical because I can only require myself to sacrifice for others.  To say that for the sake of humanity or the majority, a few should be sacrificed is not only a hypocrisy, but also an ideology of “the strong, the many, and the rich” to sacrifice “the weak, the few, and the poor”(SBCP, 214). In Chinese Buddhism, there is also a tension between the philosophy of care and compassion for others and the ontology of the One (the emptiness or the void).  It seems to me that the major contribution of Buddhist religion to philosophy is its understanding of existence as suffering.  The themes of living as suffering and compassion for others have always been neutralized in philosophical systems.

    In chapter 4 and 5 my argument is that in both Derrida and Foucault, on the one hand, there is a Nietzschean perspectivism, and on the other, there is an ethics in the Levinasian sense. There are two possibilities which are consistent with Nietzschean perspectivism: To be an aesthetic-heroic subject or to be an ethical subject. The notion of the aesthetic subject can be found in the writings of early Derrida and in Foucault’s writings on the subject as a work of art. However, in later Derrida and some of Foucault’s writings we can also find discussions on the notion of the ethical subject.

    From the point of view of early Derrida, there is nothing outside of a certain context, and there is no absolute context. This means that if meaning is universal, it is the result of constant repetition, and endless interpretations. There is no fact but interpretations. The human subject is essentially a situated subject. First, there is no meaning outside of a certain context. Philosophical concepts, for example, are inseparable from the cultural and linguistic contexts from which they emerge. Derrida says, “That philosophy is written and written in an idiom, was for a long time disavowed by the philosopher….The philosopher has indeed recognized that philosophy does not take place outside of a natural language.  The so-called fundamental concepts of philosophy were tied to the history of certain language, the Greek language, the German language, the Latin language; and there comes a moment in which one can no longer dissociate the concept from the word in some way.”[18] That is, the concept, the universal, or identity, is produced in the repetition of words in natural languages (particulars and differences). Meaning or universality has always already been related to a context.

    Second, there is no absolute context. For Derrida, if a sign has meanings because of its repetition or iterability, because it is in a certain context, then, no context can arrest the repetition of a sign.  That is, there is no fixed meaning and there is no absolute context. There is always a possibility of recontextualization in different context. Meanings are not stable.  They are always open to be deconstructed. It is on this point that I made a comparison between Derrida and Zhuang-zi. It seems to me that in Derrida to say that there is no absolute context is to say there is no eternal point of view. Zhuang-zi would agree with this, but with a certain reservation. For Zhuang-zi, each being has its own world, which means that for all beings, no world is the World. However, this does not mean that there is no absolute World or Horizon. Certainly, it is not for us, but for Dao. The difference between Dao and the ten thousand things is the difference between the absolute point of view and the relative point of view.

    If in early Derrida, there is an “affirmation of a world of signs without fault, without truth,”[19] which is the view of the Nietzschean-aesthetic subject, then, in later Derrida, there is an ethics which affirms the inescapability of the responsibility of the situated subject. The call of the other and justice is what motivates deconstruction. In the second section of chapter 4, I show that like Kierkegaard, for Derrida, singularity is higher than universality. Language or meaning is inherently universal: a sign is a sign because it can be repeated.  Meaning is the result of iterability. However, a singular event, an “irreplaceable and irreversible” event, is in uncontrollable slippage.[20] Language or system unavoidably left the singular outside. The other or the singular always slips away.  Deconstruction’s attention is to the unrepeatable individual; it is a call for justice for every particular.  Since there is always a gap between totality and the singular individual, there is always a gap between justice and the law, and a gap between the democracy to come and all existing democracies.

    For Derrida, since “tout autre est tout autre,” every other is a wholly other to me and I am infinitely responsible to every other.  The whole other could no longer refer to God alone. The dilemma Abraham faces between his responsibility to God and his ethical love to Isaac would be the undecidable we have to experience in our daily life between the claim of the singularity of the other and the claims of the other others.  Since every other is an absolute other, in addition to God, my relation to all the other others are religious as well as ethical.  God, as the absolute other, has an infinite demand on me.  The other others also have infinite demands on me.  Each other is a God to me. Therefore, for later Derrida, the subject is an ethical-religious subject.

    In chapter 5 my position is that in Foucault there is a Nietzschean Kantian perspective of knowledge: on the one hand, the conflicts of interpretations are the struggles of powers (Nietzsche), on the other, interpretation is violent because there is something resisting being interpreted (Kant). In Focault, it seems to me that one can have two kinds of “ethics” that correspond with the view of the contingency of things: 1) a Nietzchean “ethics” or aesthetics that sees the human subject as a work of art; 2) a political ethic which emphasizes radical criticism and transformation of society.  In both the case of Derrida and that of Foucault, one could see that simply to affirm the finite situation of the human subject does not necessarily lead to an ethics which concerns the suffering of the other and justice of society.

    In the first section of chapter 5 Foucault’s notion of “the games of truth” is illustrated according to his archaeology and genealogy. For Foucault, his works are to determine under what conditions someone can become a knowing subject and something can become an object for a possible knowledge.  The conditions of the emergence of subject and object are called by Foucault as the games of truth. These conditions or rules “constituted the historical a priori of a possible experience for a period time, an area and for given individuals.” [21] These conditions “open up a field of experience in which the subject and the object are both constituted” (AME, 462).  That is, the subject is essentially constituted rather than constitutive. Contrary to Husserl’s reduction of objects to the transcendental Ego, for Foucault, “One must…reverse the [transcendental] philosophical way of proceeding upward to the constituent subject which is asked to account for every possible object of knowledge in general.  On the contrary, it is a matter of proceeding back down to the study of the concrete practices by which the subject is constituted in the immanence of a domain of knowledge” (AME, 462).

    The archaeological task is to describe how the rules or regularities in discursive discourses and practices form an “internal regime of power.” The rules or regularities in discursive practices define a field of experience or a space which determines or prescribes the possibility of the subject, the object and concepts in a possible knowledge. What underlies the most abstract philosophical discourse in the ivory tower, for example, is the positive space of power in which subjects (professors and students), objects and concepts of discussions are invented and transmitted. The central concern of the archeologist is the question of “power/knowledge.”  For Foucault, theory itself is a practice in which there is a form of power.  The relation between knowledge and power is not a relation between discursive practices and non-discursive practices.

    The archaeologist does not deny that there is a relation between discursive practices and non-discursive practices. The study of this relation is the task of the genealogist. If the archaeologist focuses on the structural analysis of the conditions of knowledge, the genealogist excavates the historical “origin” of morals, values, truth, and knowledge. What is found at the historical beginning of things is not their identity, but that accidents or petty malice accompanies every beginning. Rules, laws, duty, and obligations are masks.  They are signs to be interpreted. However, signs have already lost their functioning of signifying being.  Each sign is already an interpretation of interpretation, which means that a sign is a signifier of another signifier, and there is no end to this incomplete chain of signifiers. What the genealogist finds in history is not a linear teleological process, but a series of changes in power relationships which correspond to layers of interpretations upon interpretations. For Foucault, genealogy is to account for the constitution of the subject within historical frameworks.

    In the second section of chapter 5 my interpretation of Foucault is that in Foucault’s works there is a political ethic. For Focault, everything is contingent.  There are no facts but interpretations.  However, this does not in any sense reduce our obligations.  Focault’s philosophy is not a philosophy of wu-wei (non-action), but a philosophy of active involvement. Our task is not to passively accept what is happening, but actively improve or change the current situation. The concern of this ethics is about justice or injustice in the society in which we live. For Foucault, like Marx, the power of philosophy is not its theoretical criticism, but its practical transformation of the world. On this point, I made a comparison between the Daoist subject, who neutralizes the concern of the human world in its relation to Dao, and the Foucaultian subject, whose duty is to deconstruct the established order, is to shake any form of totality.  The responsibility of an intellectual is not to show what is eternal truth, which is impossible, but to engage in the changing of the regime of truth, to show that there is a possibility of another notion of truth which cannot be contained by the hegemony of the present social, economic, and cultural structures.  This is a battle motivated by the passion for the other which cannot be defined by the current power-relations. Since power relations are always in a dispersed and indefinite field, what an individual can do is local resistance.

    To realize the fragility and contingency of the current social structures is to have faith in something different and new to come. Therefore, the Foucaultian subject is not only a critic, but also reformist. In my view, Foucault’s political ethic consists of criticism and transformation.  However, I argue that in Foucault’s political ethic, the situated subject is also a revolutionist. There is an ethico-political imperative in Foucault’s thought. Criticism is motivated by the demand of justice, by the urgency of responding here and now. A social reformist without hope for a complete just society in the future is a pessimist who does not truly believe in justice. Revolution always means something new that cannot be contained by the present situations.  A reformist is also a revolutionist because he or she does not improve or finish an incomplete system or totality.  Rather the task is to challenge the assumption of the present situations, to overhaul the whole system in the name of the marginalized individuals. Because of faith in the revolution (to come) and in a society of justice, the movement of social reform is possible.  A just society is not a society which takes its root in existing democracies in which reform takes place. My conclusion to chapter 5 is that the Foucaultian subject is an ethico-political subject as a critic, reformist, and a revolutionist.

   Chapter 6 is a concluding chapter to the whole study of the dissertation.  In this chapter I have tried to make clear how Levinasian ethics is different from Confucian ethics and the originary ethics in Lao-Zhuang (and Heidegger). At the heart of Levinas’s philosophy is the face to face relationship with the other, which is an exegesis of the God relationship, the in of the Infinite as non-indifference of the Infinite to the finite. That is, the ethical relation to another human being is the positive content of the religious relation to God.  For Levinas, the human relation, the social relation, which is a relation of one singular to the other singular, should not be reduced to relation of beings, which is always universal.  The surplus of the social relation is its ethical meaning, which bears witness to God.

    This indicates that Levinas is different from Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi in that, first, formally speaking, the religious relation should not neutralize and relativize the social relation, and second, the ethical relation is essentially religious, which means that without the ethical relation there would be no meaning in talking about God or Dao.[22] Without the ethical relation, for Levinas, there would be no other way to have a relation to God. There is a fundamental difference between Dao of Lao-Zhuang and Being of Heidegger in the philosophical traditions on the one hand, and the God of Levinas in the biblical tradition on the other. This difference results in their difference about the concern for the other. We might say that the difference between wu-dai and you-dai in Lao-Zhuang or the ontological difference between Being and beings in Heidegger is only a philosophical abstraction of the religious difference between God and the human being.

    Therefore, structurally speaking, that is, regardless of the difference between Dao and God, the path from the difference between wu-dai and you-dai in the first chapter to the difference between the Infinite and the finite in the last chapter is a path that our worldly existence is an essential part of the ultimate relation, the religious relation. To exist is to be a situated subject, a subject who is essentially related to other situated beings. The appropriate way to understand the subjectivity of the subject is not to reduce the subject’s worldly relations, social relations, to some kind of abstract philosophical relations. As we have seen in Derrida, Foucault and Levinas, it is not in knowledge but in ethical responsibility that the subjectivity of the subject is constituted.

    However, that Levinas emphasizes sociality as “the ultimate event” [23] does not make him have an agreement with Confucians because they have different understandings of “sociality”: For Levinas, sociality means a relationship between one singular human being (me) and the other singular human being (the Other), while for Confucians, it is a relationship of one to society as a universal system, which in Levinas is a political relation. From the point of view of Levinas, in desiring the universal, one particularity is assimilated to the universality of the social system. In Levinas, the relation of a singularity to another singularity is higher than the relation between particularity and universality.

    It is in the ethical context that both the religious relation and the political relation find their meanings.  

    As we have seen in the first three chapters of the dissertation, in both the cases that “ethics” is understood as “originary ethics” in the forms of wu-wei (Lao-Zhuang) and the essential thinking (Heidegger), and as a relation to the universal (Confucian philosophy), the concern for the other is neutralized. The question of the Other can be properly understood only in Levinasian ethics. In the dissertation, I have argued that the challenge of Confucians to Daoist or Heideggerian philosophy is not a real challenge. It is in Derrida and Foucault that we find that to come back to this world does not mean to enter into a totality.  The responsibility one has in this world is to care for the other, for the poor and the powerless.  In Levinas, we find that the ethical relation is connected to the relation to God.


    I also want to point out that even though the religious subject (or religious subjects) is not the central concern of the present study, whenever it is related to the topics of the aesthetic subject or the ethical subject, I provide some discussions about the relationships, which can be found in some of the footnotes in Part I as well as Part II. There are certain affinities between the aesthetic subject and the religious subject.  A critique of the aesthetic subject can also be seen as a critique of the religious subject. This can be seen in the critique of the thinking of Dao and the thinking of Being.

    However, the religious subject can also be an ethical subject. In Part II, especially in the chapters on Derrida and Levinas, it can be seen that there is no clear border between the ethical subject and the religious subject. One has absolute obligations to one’s neighbor just as one has absolute obligations to God. There is an ethical dimension in the religious subjectivity.  A dilemma that the ethical-religious subject could face is the situation in which one’s responsibility to God, the wholly Other, conflicts with one’s responsibility to one’s neighbor, the situated Other. In Derrida, since “tout autre est tout autre,” this dilemma of choosing between God and the neighbor is essentially an ethical one which we face in our daily life. In this view, there is a tendency of assimilating the religious to the ethical.

    In Levinas, there is no such dilemma because God is not the other, even the Wholly Other.  One’s ethical responsibility to the other is one’s responsibility to God because God commands one to serve one’s neighbor. God tends to disappear, to be confused with the there is. Thus, God-relation would be similar to Dao-relation in Lao-Zhuang. My interpretation of the similarity between Lao-Zhuang and Levinas on this point is that there might be a possibility that my relation to God cannot be exhausted by my relation to my neighbor. Even though for some people, Derrida’s and Levinas’s views on the relation between the ethical and the religious are not totally satisfactory, their discussions still indicate that the ethical is an essential part of the religious subject.

    In conclusion, if “the subject” in the question “Who comes after the subject?” is a knowing subject, an abstraction, a worldless subject, then, the subject in the Levinasian sense is an ethical subject, a social subject. The present study tries to demonstrate that the responsibility for the other, the caring for the poor and the powerless, is an essential dimension of the meaning of the human subject as a situated subject.




[1] See Who Comes after the Subject? ed. Eduardo Cadara, Peter Connor and Jean-Luc Nancy (New York & London: Routledge, 1991).

[2] Skepticism and relativism are only a preparation for or prolegomenon to, for example, in the case of Lao-Zhuang, philosophy of Dao.

[3] Here the “aesthetic” does not mean something related to art. It refers to a philosophical attitude, an amoral position.  Both the Nietzschean affirmation of the eternal return and the Hegelian System, for example, are aesthetic. In the dissertation, what I mean the “aesthetic” is in the Kierkegaardian sense, and the “ethical” in the Levinasian sense. In Kierkegaard there are three stages of existence: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. For Kierkegaard, existence is the synthesis of the temporal and the eternal.  To live religiously is to live in the tension of the temporal and the eternal. Kierkegaard criticizes the Hegelian system for being aesthetic because ethics is essentially concerning  existence, which is forgotten in the System.

  However, the central theme of the present study is: An ethical subject is the one who cares about the suffering of the needy and the powerless; any subject who lacks the ethical dimension is an aesthetic subject. Since there is a plurality of both aesthetic subject and ethical subject, I use “Aesthetic Subjects” and “Ethical Subjects.”

[4] I will use “Lao-Zhuang” as a fixed term (singular noun) referring to the philosophy of Lao-zi (Lao-tzu) and Zhuang-zi (Chuang-Tzu), unlike in the Chinese tradition where “Lao-Zhuang” is used as a fixed term referring to Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi and/or their philosophy. In the dissertation, regarding the translation of Chinese names into English I follow the pin-yin system with two exceptions, Confucius and Mencius, known to the West by their latinized names.

[5] The “invisible” means different things in different philosophers: In Lao-Zhuang it means dao and qi; in Confucian philosophy it means qi and ren (humanity); and in Heidegger it means Being.  Of course, the philosophies I deal with in Part I are different from the traditional philosophy in the West: In metaphysics, the fundamental question is the relation between existence and essence, and in epistemology it is the subject/object relation.

[6] “The Mulberry Grove” and the “Ching Shou” are two pieces of the ancient Chinese music. Here it indicates that the butcher has reached the highest spiritual level: His movements are harmonious with the rhythm of Dao.

[7] The Chinese character that is rendered as “mind” in English is “shen.”  Here the translation is not accurate.  Shen usually and originally means “ghosts” or “spiritual beings.” Here it means that the butcher’s art is so perfect that he can see without using his flesh eyes and what he sees is not the particular individual bullock but the anatomical structure of bullocks.

[8] Fun You-lan (Fung Yu-lan), Chuang-Tzu: A New Selected Translation with an Exposition of the Philosophy of Kuo Hsiang (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1997), p. 59-60, hereafter CT.

[9] Beggars, for example, have always been a scandal to society, a scandal about which the society should be shamed of itself.  A certain society even tries to eliminate the phenomenon of begging through the way of criminalizing begging.

[10] In chapter 1 and chapter 3 I argue that there is a fundamental difference between Lao-Zhuang and Confucianism: the central theme of Lao-Zhuang is the relation of one to the singular and unique Ultimate (Dao), while in Confucianism it is the relation of one to society, which is a relation between particularity and universality. In Lao-Zhuang, to be aware of the Daoist difference is a leap, while in Confucianism, it is socialization, a gradual and cumulative process. Feng You-lan misses the point in thinking that what Daoists and Confucians are concerned about are the same question, but they have different ways of approach to it. From my point of view, what Lao-Zhuang and Confucianism have in common is the ontology of qi which is a bridge between the thinking of Dao, which could not be found in Confucian philosophy, and Confucian ethics, which is missing in Daoism. My presupposition is that if Confucians want to build their ethics upon the ontology of qi, they have to accept the Daoist argument about the neutralization of ethics.  There are two possibilities: either Confucian ontology of qi is contradictory to Confucian ethics or Confucian ethics is part of Confucian ontology of qi. My argument is the consistency of Confucian ontology and ethics.

[11] See Wing-tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton University Press, 1963), p. 162, hereafter referred as SBCP.

[12] See Martin Heidegger, On the Way to Language (HarperSanFrancisco, 1982), trans. Peter Hertz, p. 62-3.

[13] See Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson (Basil Blackwell, 1962, 294).

[14] See Martin Heidegger, “Letter on Humanism” in Basic Writings, ed. David F. Krell (New York: Harper & Row 1977), p. 212.

[15] See Mencius, trans. D. C. Lau (Penguin Books, 1970), p 182.

[16] The lives of Mo-zi and his disciples can be interpreted as belonging to the category of “saintly existence.”  See Edith Wyschogrod, Saints and Postmodernism: Revisioning Moral Philosophy (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1990), xviii.

[17] I quote from Tseu, Augustinus A., The Moral Philosophy of Mo-Tze (Taipei, China: China Printing, Ltd., 1965), p. 272

[18] Jacques Derrida, Points…Interviews, 1974-1994, ed. Elisabeth Weber, and trans. Peggy Kamuf, et al (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995), p. 374.

[19] Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978), tr. Alan Bass, p. 292.

[20] See Jacques Derrida, Speech and Phenomenon and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Sign, trans. David Allison (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1973), p. 50.

[21] Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, ed.  James D. Faubion, and trans. Robert Hurley, et al (New York: The New Press, 1998), p. 460, hereafter referred as AME.

[22] I do not think that the God of the bible is similar to the Dao of Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi. However, the religious relation to God in Levinas is similar to the relation to Dao in Lao-Zhuang in the sense that these relations are higher than other relations: for Levinas, God commands me to have obligations to another human being, while for Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi, ethical relation can be neutralized in the relation to Dao.

[23] Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1969), p. 221, hereafter TI.

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