NTU Philosophical Review

Issue 58, October 2019

Foong-Ee Pong
Pages 39-69

The Affordance of the Graceful Fish Metaphor
An Interdisciplinary Approach Exploring the Practical Dimension of the Zhuangzi

This article explains Zhuangzi’s philosophy by analyzing the metaphor of the graceful fish. I argue that to discover the essence of the graceful fish metaphor, we have to look into the relationship between the fish and the water in which it dwells. The article consists of five sections. First, I start by a brief review of common readings of the metaphors of the water and the fish and their insufficiency to relate to the idea of Dao/daos in the Zhuangzi. Second, I propose an interdisciplinary approach based on the notion of “affordance”─a substitute for “value/meaning”─that enables us to unveil the underlying key element pertaining to the image of the graceful fish: the ground. Third, an analysis of the graceful fish metaphor is presented after the explanation of affordance. Forth, I draw on the concept of vulnerability to explain the natural ability we are born with but buried due to a dominant completed heart-mind. I explain how vulnerability steers our way by comparing two images found in the Zhuangzi: infants vs. Hundun. Fifth, I sum up my findings and conclude that the Zhuangzi provides pragmatic advices for individuals─especially those who now live in a modern society that embrace social plurality─to live their lives to the fullest within any given social context by constantly adapting to the situation and therefore creatively exploring the limitless possibilities in the social world.