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International Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 53, Issue 4, December 2013

James Giles
Pages 435-451

The Metaphysics of Awareness in the Philosophy of Laozi

This paper shows that a careful reading of Laozi’s The Way and Its Power enables one to come up with a metaphysics of awareness. This is done by rejecting those accounts that paint Laozi as a mystic or cosmologist and by arguing for the human-centeredness of his approach. It is shown that three central ideas in Laozi’s work can all be understood as referring to properties of awareness. These three ideas are the Way (Dao), return (gui gen, fa, fan), and non-action (wuwei). The “Way” refers to awareness itself, “return” refers to the way in which awareness oscillates between activity and stillness, and “non-action” refers to how awareness expresses itself in action. This interpretation fits with the Daoist project of articulating a way of living that brings human existence into harmonious relation to the world.

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