Friday, January 29, 2021

Men Resemble Heaven and Earth

Men resemble heaven and earth in that they cherish five principles. Of all creatures, man is the most skilful. His nails and teeth do not suffice to procure him maintenance and shelter. His skin and sinews do not suffice to defend him; though running he cannot attain profit nor escape harm, and he has neither hair nor feathers to protect him from the cold and heat. He is thus compelled to use things to nourish his nature, to rely on his intelligence, and not to put his confidence in brute force; therefore intelligence is appreciated because it preserves us and brute force despised because it encroaches upon things.

From Yang Chu's Garden of Pleasures, Chapter XVI. Yang Chu's Garden of Pleasures is Anton Forke's 1912 translation of the seventh part of the Liezi, which purports to give the views of the philosopher Yang Zhu (also known as Yang Zi). Yangist philosophy had a period in which it was apparently extremely popular, but we don't actually have any direct information about Yang Zhu; Mencius argued against him, attributing to him the view that you should act for your own good. The Yang Zhu chapter is much more likely to be someone's attempt to expand on this idea than to be anything connected by actual tradition to Master Yang himself; the chapter's Epicurus-like hedonism is not obviously consistent with the particular version of Taoism that seems espoused by the rest of the Liezi. The "Yang Zhu" section is famous for its claim that all a man needs in a life is "a comfortable house, fine clothes, good food, and pretty women" (Chapter XIX).

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