Asian Philosophy, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2002
Wu-Wei: Lao-zi, Zhuang-zi and the aesthetic
ABSTRACT The concept of wu-wei (nonaction) has undergone signi. cant changes from
Lao-zi to Zhuang-zi. This paper will argue that, while wu-wei in Lao-zi is a utilitarian
principle, wu-wei of Zhuan-zi represents an aesthetic world-view. The aesthetic nature of the Daoist nonaction will be illustrated through Kant’s concept of ‘purposiveness without purpose’.
Scholars have given several, not necessarily competing, interpretations to the Daoist concept of non-action (wu-wei). Non-action is, according to Wang Bi and Fung Yu-lan, natural action or action restricted to what is necessary (‘never over-doing’) . For
instance, in the matter of clothing, the principle of nonaction enjoins one against overdressing. Duyvendak thinks of wu-wei as having no ‘conscious effort’, no ‘set
purpose’ . Creel deems wu-wei a paradox: it means doing nothing when it is
‘contemplative’ and doing something when ‘purposive’,  Recently, David Loy has
written that non-action (wu wei) is ‘nondual action – that is, action in which there is no
bifurcation between subject and object: no awareness of an agent that is believed to do
the action as being distinct from an objective action that is done’ . He means that the
principle of nonaction collapses the objective side of the action into the subjective side – the ‘action’ in ‘I perform the action’ is being de-objecti. ed or denied.
Acknowledging some ambiguities, I think that all of these interpretations are sound, but there is room for improvement since none of these interpretations have adequately dealt with the following issue: is the principle of non-action the same in Lao-zi and
Zhuang-zi? If it is different, what is the signi. cance of the change? Aiming at these two issues, this paper is divided into two parts. Comparing Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi, Sections
1–8 delineate the fundamental differences in the two works with regard to non-action. I will argue that wu-wei is in Lao-zi a utilitarian principle, a means that serves the social, especially political, purpose of winning the world, but in Zhuang-zi, wu-wei is an
ultimate philosophical attitude toward the world, and it becomes an end in itself instead of a means to something beyond. Sections 9–11 dwell on the meaning of the thematic
change from Lao-zi to Zhuang-zi, the evolution of wu-wei from a social-political formula
to an aesthetic and philosophical ideal of human existence, by using Kant’s theory of
the aesthetic judgement to explain Zhuang-zi’s theory of non-action. It is no coincidence
that, as the paper intends to show, there is a parallel between Kant’s purposiveness
without purpose and Zhuang-zi’s wu-wei-wu-bu-wei (doing nothing, but leaving
nothing undone). Zhuang-zi’s Daoism is a poetic philosophy in the sense that it
expands a person’s aesthetic experience, like that described by Kant, into a metaphysical
experience of man and the world. ISSN 0955-2367 print/ISSN 1469-2961 online/02/010053-11 Ó 2002 Taylor & Francis Ltd DOI: 10.1080/09552360220142252
54 Rui Zhu
1. Three Meanings of Wu-Wei in Lao-zi
In Lao-zi, wu-wei or its kindred concepts occur in 17 chapters, all of which use wu-wei in the context of government by sagehood . Wu-wei means a policy of
non-interference adopted by a generic sage–ruler to manage his country. It is only in
one place, chapter 37, where wu-wei takes on its metaphysical dimension – non-action
is an attribute of Dao: ‘Dao never acts, but leaves nothing undone.’ This textual
disproportion heavily tilted toward the social-political dimension is by itself suf. cient to justify this point: wu-wei, a political thesis derived from a metaphysical principle of Dao, is not intended to undermine politics, as it is meant to do in Zhuang-zi, but support
In Lao-zi, as the way to govern, the meaning of non-action is triadic. First, a sage does not act, but lets nature take its own course. It is a belief common to all Daoists that things will take care of themselves as long as we do not interfere with them. Lao-zi
calls this kind of self-suf. ciency of things ‘zi-ran’ (chapter 17: ‘wo-zi-ran’, I am
self-suf. cient). In the agricultural, fertile land of Chu, where Lao-zi was from, evidence for this natural self-suf. ciency abounds. Trees and plants grow on their on their own. People lead their lives in peace and order, as long as the government leaves them
alone. In this regard, Daoism stands opposed to Confucianism, which thinks that the world is in a mess and wants a top – down recti. cation. Confucius said, ‘The virtue
of a gentleman is like wind; the virtue of a common man, grass’ . A common
man should submit to the commands of a gentleman, in the way grass submits to the wind, but Daoists believe that the Confucian recti. cation programme amounts to an unnecessary, extravagant imputation of human will onto the great transformation of Dao, and is doomed to fail. Consequently, a sage does not act, and dares not to act either .
The second of the triadic nature of wu-wei refers to a utilitarian principle, focusing
on the utility of nothingness (wu), that favours nothingness over something, lack
over ful. llment, or non-being over being. As observed in Lao-zi, many practical goals
are accomplished by the way of non-being, a phenomenon that, although it is common, takes Daoist wisdom to understand. The utility of a cup depends on its lack of water. A house is inhabitable because it is empty within. Windows are also useful in virtue of their lack or nothingness. Dao itself is even more of nothing than something – we feel its presence by its absence, observe its function by its non-performing. A person who models himself after Dao understands that non-action achieves more than action and that lack of desire garners more than being full of desire. This utilitarian understanding of wu (lack or nothingness) is unique to Lao-zi: ‘thirty
spokes are united around a hub, on whose nothingness depends the utility of a wheel;’ ‘that nothingness penetrates the seamless, in virtue of which I understand the
utility of nonaction’ . This ‘utility of wu’ differs from the later famous Daoist
formulation ‘the great use of no-use’ (wu-yong-zhi-da-yong). In Lao-zi, nothingness or
non-action is not useful because it is useless, but because it is more useful than being or
The third aspect of non-action is a recurring theme in Lao-zi. Non-action is to yield,
act without arrogance or ? amboyance, or accomplish one’s job without fanfare. The
most effective ruler is, according to Lao-zi, the one who keeps his people in the dark
about his intention or activity. He makes sure that his people are simple-minded, do not travel and have no desire to see the world. He keeps everyone’s life primitive, so there
Wu-Wei: Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi 55
will not be much competition. He does not show his treasures, so no one desires them, to the extent that ‘a sage is clad in rags but carries jade in his pocket’ .
This theme of crafty policy of early Daoism permeates the book of Lao-zi: ‘The
ancient ruler who understands Dao does not enlighten, but stupe. es his people.’ If he
wants to rise above them, he instead talks about serving them from below; if he wants to use others, he lets them take the lead . This art of trickery is not only key to a king’s success, but also to that of the state. If a country wants to absorb another
country, it puts itself ‘below’ that country. The surprise factor is paramount in war, so
a country would not show off its weaponry before it strikes.
2. Wu-Wei is Based on ‘Return’
The utility of nothingness or the way of overcoming others by submitting to them is based on the Daoist
principle: ‘The movement of Dao is to return’ . This means
that the strong at its peak always reverts to the weak, or that success is a hotbed for disaster. Therefore, if the end is to be strong, a wise man will choose to appear weak. He will not put himself in a position of competition, but choose to yield to others. But his purpose is not yielding. He thinks it best to have his way by yielding his way. ‘The
sage follows others and, as a result, leads others.’ He appears altruistic, therefore is able
to accomplish his private agenda .
It is now obvious that non-action in Lao-zi is a means. The sage lets nature and his
people take care of their own business for the sake of stability. The utility of nothingness is the utilitarian justi. cation of nonaction. The movement of Dao is always to return. By appearing weak, one becomes strong. By following, one leads. By serving, one masters. Hence, one does not act, but in the end leaves nothing undone (wu-wei-wu-bu-wei). Wu-wei (doing nothing) is a means to wu-bu-wei (leaving nothing
undone). Wu-wei and wu-bu-wei are conceptually separable because the latter is the
teleological cause of the former.
3. Wu-Wei in Zhuang-zi: Be Gone (Qu) vs. to Govern (Zhi)
In Zhuang-zi, the theme of wu-wei as a way to win the world is replaced by a nonchalant
attitude toward politics in general. In Lao-zi, one’s passivity toward worldly affairs
belies a purpose of control and manipulation, but in Zhuang-zi, there is no ulterior
motive beyond non-action in political governance. If the choice one is urged to take in Lao-zi is to govern by non-governing, one is now expected to turn away from governance all together and take up the task of life nurturing (yang-sheng). Zhuang-zi
relegates the issue of governing to an issue of branch, dealing only with externality (zhi-wai), and calls people’s attention to maintaining their internal spirit, an issue of
According to Zhuang-zi, to deal with externality, while oblivious to the internal nature of things, is as impossible as ‘digging a river in the sea, or asking a mosquito
to carry a mountain’ . Zhuang-zi inherits the belief, from Lao-zi, that everything
is self- suf. cient, but has shifted its focus to that on which a thing’s self-suf. ciency
depends: the nature of a thing. A thing’s nature is perceived in Daoism as a
manifestation of Dao in individual things. People can rely on their own nature as much as on Dao itself. Even humble things know how to manage life in terms of their nature; for instance, birds know how to avoid an arrow by • ying high, and rodents dig deep to escape danger. Thus, is there any need to govern at all? The 56 Rui Zhu
attitude of Zhuang-zi toward politics is an absolute rejection, differing from the secret politiking of Lao-zi:
[When asked by Tian-Gen about the matter of governing the world,] the nameless man retorted: ‘Be gone! (italics mine) You worthless man, why ask
such a boring question! I am just about to befriend the Great Creator; if bored, I will ride on the remote, high-soaring bird, go beyond the six extremes, wander in the never-never-land and limitless realm of the world. Why do you disturb me with such a question?’ 
Be gone to the question of governance! One need not be concerned about running the world at all. The implausibility of caring for things from outside, the way of externality, instead of trusting things to their own nature, is illustrated by a fable in which the Count of Lu wasted the life of his pet bird by caring for it in a non-birdly, but humane, way . What is good for a man is not necessarily good for a bird. What is good for me is not necessarily good for others. Zhuang-zi wants people to stop
worrying about things that they do not need to worry about, calls for abandoning any normative way of thinking, and recommends leading a natural, unbounded way of life by following nature only. As a result, governance, a way of externality, gives way to life nurturing, the way of internality. Zhuang-zi’s philosophy is an interesting turn from that
4. Wu-Wei in Zhuang-zi: To Forget (Wang) vs. To Hide (Cang)
Action (wei) in Zhuang-zi also means inauthenticity (wei). Everything has its own
self-suf. cient nature; whatever adds to or subtracts from this nature is a violation, therefore, a deviation from the truth. A thing’s nature comes from Dao and can do no
wrong, according to Zhuang-zi. Earthworms like to inhabit a damp area, but men like
the dry land. Men eat meat, but owls eat rat. There is no right or wrong about these things. Things are just different, therefore, all equal . The great wrong a man can do to nature is imposing his own petty vision of the good and the preferable to things of a different kind. Man’s enlightenment comes as he relinquishes his small ego and
. nds home in the transformation of the ? ux of the universe. Forget the man’s way and
follow the way of Heaven. ‘To be driven by man is easy to lose authenticity, to be
driven by Heaven is dif. cult to lose it’ . ‘A cow and a horse have four legs; that is
of Heaven. A halter on the horse’s head and a string run through the cow’s nose are of
man’ . Purposeful action should be avoided, not because it is a hindrance to
reaching the goal, but because it is always an act of falsi. cation. In Lao-zi, non-action is a way to hide: one obscures his illuminance, and recedes into the background. But, in Zhuang-zi, non-action is a way to forget. Outwardly, man is
free from the entanglement of worldly things; he forgets the distinction which he draws between himself and the rest of the world by acting on the will of his petty ego – he does
not hide from the world, but is united with it. Inwardly, his calculating mind and burning . re of desire come to a rest. His true, original nature is illuminated through his mindless mind and non-active action. Any designed action violates the ‘four-legged’
nature of things. To remain true to one’s own nature, or stay unde. led by arti. cial
purposes, is the metaphysical meaning of Zhuang-zi’s wu wei.
Wu-Wei: Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi 57
This new dimension of wu-wei in Zhuang-zi is a spiritual advancement over the
practicality of Lao-zi. The utilitarian aspect of Lao-zi, a philosophy based on the
‘return’-movement of Dao, now yields to a spiritual understanding of the inherent harmony of man and the world, and it becomes a philosophy based on self-suf. cient nature of individual things. The cook Pao can effortlessly steer his knife inside a cow with his eyes closed; senses coming to a stop, but his mind and spirit keep • owing. After the whole cow comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground, he stands holding the knife and looks all around him, ‘becoming completely satis. ed and
reluctant to move on’ . Pao’s satisfaction is not about grati. cation over his skill, but
an aesthetic appreciation of his spiritual oneness with Dao. For Pao, the dissecting of the cow is a vicarious dissection of himself – he smashes up his body and limbs, drives
out perception and intellect, casts off form, and does away with understanding. To speak in Yan Hui’s words, that is the spirit of sitting in forgetfulness .
5. Wu-Wei in Chuang-zi: To Wander (You) vs. To Retain (Shou)
In Lao-zi, non-action is the best means to retain what you already have. A sage – ruler
keeps himself unknown, so no one can take the world away from him. In Zhuang-zi,
non-action is no longer a means, but the mode of authentic existence itself. Wu-wei is
freedom, a life of non-bondage and limitless possibility of creativity. The ideal person in the spirit of Zhuang-zi is anything but passive, but, using the poetic language of Zhuang-zi, swims deep in the ocean like a Kun-. sh and soars high above the clouds like a Peng-bird. He follows the patterns of nature, controls the transformation of the six ethers and wanders in the land beyond the horizon . By comparison, Lao-zi’s
person pursues the small and low, but the person of Zhuang-zi pursues the great and
high. To remain small and low is a way to retain what you have, but to soar high and be one with the world is freedom itself.
The difference between ‘to wander’ and ‘to retain’ lies in the fact that ‘to wander’ is
an internal way of cultivating the mind, while ‘to retain’ is an external way of cultivating
behavior. The change of action to non-action in Lao-zi is a change of approach, with
the scheme behind the approach remaining unchanged. In Zhuang-zi, non-action is a
mental transformation, a liberation of mind from the con. nement of ego and the bondage of things, and, ultimately, an act without a ‘formed mind’ (cheng-xin).
According to Zhuang-zi, things endlessly transform themselves. We would isolate
ourselves from this great • ux of transformation if we tried to hold . xed opinions (formed mind) toward things. That is the biggest danger in our lives. We become easily mislead by super. cial differences, hold on to ill-founded judgements, and • are up in ridiculous emotions. We make fools of ourselves by acting like those monkeys, who are furious at ‘(being given) three (nuts) in the morning and four (nuts) at night’ but
ecstatic about ‘four in the morning and three at night’ .
Opposed to a formed mind, a free mind should be like a pipe (lai). Being hollow
inside, a pipe produces sounds whenever blown. It follows the blowing wind – in a
gentle breeze, it answers faintly; but in a full gale, the chorus is gigantic.When the mind is empty, spontaneity • ows.
6. Wu-Wei in Zhuang-zi: The Great Use of No Use (Wu-Yong-Zhi-Da-Yong)
vs. The Use of Nothingness (Wu-Zhi-Yong)
As the absolute freedom of mind, wu-wei is an end in itself. Usefulness as a norm of
58 Rui Zhu
action is rejected by the upstart Daoist worldview. No-use is the great use, as stressed throughout Zhuang-zi. One should not think that this is still a utilitarian view of non-utility, for this ‘great use of no use’ is not directed to any end beyond itself.
Zhuang-zi does not preach the principle of no-use because it is practically more useful than use, but because the utilitarian philosophy, a stronghold in people’s minds, will
inevitably bring harm to the true nature of things.
In the chapter ‘Mountain Tree’, there is an interesting exchange between Zhuang-zi
and his student, which will help illustrate the point of the use of no use. Zhuang-zi and his student were having an outing in the mountains when they saw a tree whose texture was such that the loggers did not want it. Useless for any practical purpose, the tree
escaped the axe. Zhuang-zi was happy about what he saw and began to comment on the use of no use. On the way home, they dropped by a friend’s house. Out of
hospitality for his guests, the host decided to kill, of the two geese he had, the one that did not cackle, since a non-cackling goose was useless to him. The student was puzzled by the fate of the luckless goose, for while no use was good for the tree, no use meant a death sentence for the goose. Zhuang-zi’s explanation shows that his student’s
utilitarian thinking entirely missed the point:
I will choose a place between use and no-use. But, even in that place, men are not yet free from being harried, though it appears to offer some comfort. The situation will be different if we follow our own nature and wander freely. Ensnared by neither glory nor disgrace, now as a dragon, now as a snake, we • ow with the transformation of time and are not set on doing anything . Only because humans are too willing to judge things based on their usefulness, Zhuang-zi values no-use. Since use is our disease, no-use is our cure; but if one is . xated on no-use, the danger is just as grave as if one is . xated on use! The real point of the use of no-use is to urge people to follow their nature and respond to situations with spontaneity. It is a goose’s nature to cackle; how pathetic it is for a goose not to
cackle and want to escape the kitchen knife!
7. Zhuang-zi: Wu-Wei and Wu-Bu-Wei (Leaving Nothing Undone)
As shown before, in Lao-zi, wu-wei is a means to achieve wu-bu-wei (leaving nothing
undone), but in Zhuang-zi, wu-wei is wu-bu-wei – the two concepts are no longer
separable. We could better understand the signi. cance of the philosophical evolution from Lao-zi to Zhuang-zi by giving the enigmatic phrase, ‘wu-wei-wu-bu-wei’, a structural
In Lao-zi, ‘leaving nothing undone’ (wu-bu-wei) is achieved by the subject’s refraining
from action and letting nature do its own work. In Zhuang-zi, ‘leaving nothing undone’
is a part of the meaning of non-action itself. Non-action is not yielding the privilege of action to nature, but acting on the behalf of nature and in the way of nature. Non-action should be understood in Zhuang-zi in terms of the absence of a
formed mind or a normative way of thinking. In fact, even in Lao-zi, the unity of
wu-wei-wu-bu-wei is noticed, but recognised only with regard to nature. Nature does not act but gets everything done, as Lao-zi said. In urging man to model himself after
nature, Lao-zi has left intact the last wall between man and nature – the human habit
of purposeful thinking. The wall is taken down by Zhuang-zi which expresses the
equality of all things and the inherent harmony between man and nature. Related to Wu-Wei: Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi 59
wu-wei, this philosophical advancement means that man does not defer to nature by not acting, but does everything by becoming a part of nature.
8. Wu-Wei: A Pure Aesthetic Experience
The unity of wu-wei and wu-bu-wei is dif. cult to explain in logical terms, for it is
not a conceptual state of understanding but a state of living, encompassing the meaning of a person’s whole existence. As a metaphysical ideal of human existence, wu-wei-wubu-
wei . nds its root, not in the intellectual exercise of mind, but in a person’s aesthetic
experience of nature. Therefore, one should examine the nature of the aesthetic state in order to understand the secret meaning of wu-wei-wu-bu-wei. Fortunately Kant’s
elucidation of the beautiful and sublime in many interesting ways parallels the Daoist state of wu-wei-wu-bu-wei. According to Kant, the aesthetic judgement is possible only in the form of purposiveness without purpose. As freedom, wu-wei should also be
understood in the same spirit: one converses with Dao of the universe only in the form of acting without purposeful action. Just as purposiveness without purpose represents an immediate immersion of the subject into nature, wu-wei-wu-bu-wei is oneness with
9. Beauty (or the Sublime)  as Immediate Delight
For Kant, beauty is an immediate delight. Beauty must please, so an object which we take no pleasure in seeing is not beautiful. A beautiful object, for instance, a • ower, does not please different people in the same way. A ? orist may like his ? owers’
commercial value and take pleasure in thinking of their pro. tability. A disinterested bystander may not think of anything but leaves his mind free to enjoy beauty. Between the • orist and bystander, only the latter has truly appreciated beauty. If delight is
preceded by any interest, as it is in the case of the • orist, it ceases to be pure, and beauty is lost. Pure aesthetic experience must be so direct that it does not allow anything else to come between the mind and its object. As a consequence, beauty has two necessary elements: delight and immediacy.
In general, two kinds of interest could precede delight . One is the utilitarian interest, as illustrated by the • orist. The other is the moral interest – what pleases a
person is derived from a particular quality of the object that the subject thinks is good. For instance, a subject may . nd a person likable because that person’s character . ts the
subject’s moral desire. According to Kant, neither of these interests should precede a
person’s judgement of taste; otherwise, it would become impure. Beauty can only be
appreciated by taste, a spontaneous free ‘play of the cognitive faculties’ .
The immediate delight presupposes harmony. What makes beauty metaphysically possible lies in the fact that there are forms of nature we would . nd agreeable to us. The agreeableness is again attributed by Kant to the factor that both the phenomenal world and its supersensible substrate are determinable by human mental faculties. The factor represents a transcendental a priori principle that justi. es Kant’s viewing man as
the law-maker for nature . Based on this transcendental principle of harmony, beauty is on the one hand not contingent upon any personal sensations and therefore universally communicable; on the other hand it is not contingent upon any conceptualisation of the objective quality of an object and therefore purely intuitive and subjective. Beauty as delight is the kind that neither grati. es our senses nor meets the expectation 60 Rui Zhu
of our will. Sensual grati. cation presupposes a private preference that is not universally communicable. Moral elation over a particular quality of a thing is too dependent on the cognisance of what the object is, but from which beauty is rather independent. One’s ignorance of an object’s particular qualities in no way lessens his sense of its
We are now in a position to introduce Kant’s de. nition of purposiveness without
purpose. ‘The concept of an object, so far as it contains the ground of the actuality of
this object, is the purpose; and the agreement of a thing with that constitution of things which is only possible according to purposes is called the purposiveness of its form’
. In Kant’s philosophy, the purpose comes from human understanding and reason,
for they prescribe laws with regard to nature. Objects that can be found agreeable to our cognitive faculties based on our concepts (purpose) of them display their purposiveness. According to Kant, beauty is purposiveness without purpose in the sense that a person who is cleared of any cognitive or conative purpose could experience the purposiveness of the object with immediacy, i.e. the pure delight of taste, that is, in Kant’s view,
10. Wu-Wei as an Aesthetic Experience
In a manner of speaking, Zhuang-zi’s freedom is also an immediate delight, but of a
metaphysical nature. The delight of freedom amounts to the comfort that is derived from the harmony between Dao and man, on the presupposition that man follows his nature. The immediacy of the delight of freedom lies in the spontaneous, free play of a man’s mind (an unformed mind). The oneness experienced by the subject after
tearing down the wall of purpose between himself and the world is the meaning of freedom itself. In this metaphysical worldview, a person’s aesthetic experience blooms
to its fullest so as to encompass the whole meaning of his existence. The aesthetic nature of wu-wei could be shown in the following three aspects.
First, both the aesthetic judgment and wu-wei are activities of intuition. According to
Kant, the ground for aesthetic judgement, of the beautiful or the sublime, is only a subjective purposiveness. The agreeableness the subject feels does not in any way depend on the existence of an object or ‘what sort of thing it is to be’ . The subject
just feels the delight, a feeling derived from a spontaneous play of a mind that is not . xated on any de. nite quality of an object. Knowledge, or a de. nite concept, taints the purity of experience and ought to be excluded. Likewise, emotion or desire should also be excluded, for they con. ne the taste to a private realm of personal choice – speaking
in Zhuang-zi’s term, desire ‘forms’ a mind – and personal prejudice is never contributory
to the aesthetic satisfaction. The impartiality of beauty is not just a methodological stand toward beauty, but the experience of the beautiful itself.
With regard to Zhuang-zi, what we have there is a vehement rejection of intellectual understanding and personal choices prompted by emotion. Abandon knowledge, be rid of desire, so one can be identi. ed with the Great Thoroughfare, Dao. While Lao-zi’s
stand against knowledge means only against Confucian knowledge, and its stand against desire only one against the exposure of desire, Zhuang-zi rejects any type of
intellectual categorization of things, or any sort of desire in servitude of a petty ego or ‘formed mind’. Zhuang-zi urges people to stay free both from external (from things) and internal (from desire) conditions, follow their nature, and act with spontaneity. Wu-wei is thus an intuitive action, for in intuition lies the call of nature and Dao. Wu-Wei: Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi 61
Second, both wu-wei and the aesthetic judgement represent a state of mind in which the unity of the subjective and objective, man and the world, comes into being. In Zhuang-zi, a person of wu-wei asserts his own being in an absolute way such that there is nothing he has to rely upon (wu-dai). He does whatever he wants to and meets no
obstruction at any place or at any time. Such a person has his way all the time because his subjective way is also the objective way, the way of the world. In this harmony between man and the world, there lies the authenticity of life – a person leads his life
of freedom but does not clash with things; the ef. cacy of Dao is lived out in its full vivacity.
Kant describes the unity in a person’s pure aesthetic experience in terms of the
universal validity of his aesthetic judgement. According to Kant, a person’s aesthetic
judgement is purely subjective but also valid to everyone else; his taste must be universally communicable. We can illustrate the feature of the aesthetic judgement of beauty by comparing it to the judgements of sensation and intellect. The judgement of sensation, ‘The rose is pleasing to my eyes,’ is valid to the judging person, but
not always valid to other people. The judgement of intellect, ‘Roses are in general
beautiful,’ is universally valid but lacks the subjective characteristic of an aesthetic
According to Kant, only the judgement of beauty is purely subjective and absolutely objectively valid at the same time. It is subjective because it does not refer to the concept of any object. It is objective because this judgement is not tainted by any private emotion or preference. When a person . nds a rose beautiful, he just says, ‘it is
beautiful,’ not ‘it is beautiful to me.’ ‘The judgement of taste does not postulate the
agreement of everyone; it only imputes this agreement to everyone.’ A person judges the
rose by using his intuition, but acts as if the beauty is ‘a characteristic of the object
which is determined in it according to concepts, though beauty, without reference to the feeling of the subject, is nothing by itself’ .
Although Kant is only directly addressing the unity of aesthetic judgement of all men, this unity is in fact also a unity between man and the world. In Kant’s philosophy,
whatever is universally valid among men, in virtue of a transcendental a priori principle,
would also . nd agreement in forms of nature, for man is the legislator. So, out of this account, we can use the Daoist idea of oneness to paraphrase the unity of the universal and singular quantity in Kant’s pure aesthetic judgement. When one is immersed in his
aesthetic moment, his experience is the evidence of the harmony between man and man, and man and the world. When one lets his mind function freely and unobstructed by concepts and his private desire, what is his is also ours; what is ours is also the world’s.
If both wu-wei and the pure aesthetic experience are activities of intuition and represent a harmony between man and the world, it is not dif. cult to see the conceptual af. nity of wu-wei-wu-bu-wei and purposiveness without purpose, as the former is a
metaphysical expansion of the experience of the latter kind.
As was said, the harmony between man and nature is the ground of purposiveness, but in order to experience this harmony aesthetically, one has to abandon the purpose, as it is the concept of an object. In the pure aesthetic moment, a person . nds that an object is agreeable to him without knowing beforehand what it is that the object actually agrees to. The delight is experienced without a person’s expecting the delight. Harmony
comes into being without a person looking for the harmony. If we expand this aesthetic principle into a much broader worldview, we would have something like this: things would be done only if we are not making an effort in doing them.
62 Rui Zhu
11. Beauty and Truth
We have used Kant’s theory to illustrate the meaning of wu-wei and the signi. cance of
the philosophical change from Lao-zi to Zhuang-zi, but our exegetical practice does not
commit us to the thesis that a Daoist in the spirit of Zhuang-zi would approve Kant’s
theory of aesthetics. In fact, there are a few signi. cant differences between Daoism and Kantian aesthetics.
Although a Daoist would agree that the reason a person can accomplish a purpose (. nd delight in nature), without having a purpose in mind, consists in the universal harmony between man and nature, the harmony is grounded in Dao for a Daoist, but in the transcendental cognitive principles of the human mind for Kant. Due to this fundamental difference, Kant thinks that purposiveness could also be understood by the intellect (as objective purposiveness) without using the aesthetic faculty. If one fails to appreciate the harmony in the aesthetic way, he loses beauty, but not truth. However, for a Daoist, purposiveness is experienced only if one abandons purpose (only through nonaction could everything be done). At no time is intellect able to understand the harmony of all things under the great principle of Dao. If a person fails to appreciate the beauty of the world, he does not lose just beauty, but also the truth. From the Daoist perspective, beauty is truth. That is all.
Rui Zhu, Philosophy Department, Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, TX 78666, USA
NOTES  For Wang Bi, see Lao Zi, ch. 2; FUNG, TU-LAN (1948) A Short History of Chinese Philosophy (New York, Macmillan), p. 101; both are also quoted by CREEL, HERRLEE G. (1975) What is Taoism (Chicago University of Chicago Press), p. 52.  DUYVENDAK, J.J.L. (1954) Tao Te Ching (London, J. Murray), pp. 10–11; also quoted by CREEL, op. cit., note 1.  CREEL, op.cit., note 1, ch. 4.  LOY, DAVID (1985) Wei-wu-wei, Philosophy East and West 35(1), pp. 73–86.  The kindred concepts of wu-wei are non-doing (wu-shi), doing without competing (wei- er-buzheng), doing without attachment (wei-er-bu-shi) and other similar concepts. The 17 chapters are: 2, 3, 10, 11, 29, 37, 38, 43, 47, 48, 51, 57, 63, 64, 75, 77, and 81.  CONFUCIUS, Analects, 12.  See Lao-zi, ch. 64: ‘[the sage] respects the self-suf. ciency of things, and dares not to act’.  Ibid., chs 11, 43.  Ibid., ch. 70.  See, Ibid., chs. 65, 66, 67, 68, 61, 36, etc.  Ibid., ch. 40.  Ibid., ch. 7.  Chuang-zi, 7.2. The chapter and section numbers are based on CHENG, GU-YING (1983) Chuang-zi Jin Yi Jin Zhu (Beijing, Zhong Hua Shu Ju Press).  Ibid., 7.3.  Ibid., 18.5.  Ibid., 2.  Ibid., 4.1.  Ibid., 17.1.  Ibid., 3.2.  Ibid., 6.9.  Ibid., 1.1.  Ibid., 2.4.  Ibid., 20.1.
Wu-Wei: Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi 63  Hereafter we will use ‘beauty’ to mean both ‘the beautiful’ and ‘the sublime’. For the purpose of this paper, we ignore the differences between the beautiful and the sublime.  See KANT, IMMANUEL (1972) Critique of Judgment, trans. by J.H. BERNARD (New York, Hafner), pp. 38 ff., 58 ff.  Ibid., p. 34.  For reference, see ibid., p. 33.  Ibid., p. 17.  Ibid., p. 63.  Ibid., pp. 51–53.