CEKAS Seminar: Prof Chris Fraser (Toronto)

The School of

Divinity, History, Philosophy & Art History

Maintaining a tradition of teaching & learning dating back over 500 years

CEKAS Seminar: Prof Chris Fraser (Toronto)

This is a past event

Prof Chris Fraser (Toronto)

‘Finding a Way Together: Interpersonal Ethics in the Zhuāngzǐ’


The various threads of discourse preserved in the Zhuāngzǐ (3rd century BC) present a radical challenge to prevailing ways of thinking about ethics, whether in the texts’ own day or our own. The dominant stance in the Zhuāngzǐ is to reject orthodox moral norms or values on the grounds that they are ineffective guides to dào 道 (the way). In their place, Zhuangist writings focus directly on the concepts of dào and 德 (power, agency), along with interrelated conceptions of the well-lived life.


In this essay, I inquire into how this approach shapes the attitudes and conduct of the Zhuangist adept toward other persons. I suggest that on a broadly Zhuangist understanding, interpersonal ethics is simply a special case of competence in applying (power, agency) and following dào (ways). The general ideal of exemplary activity is to employ our to find a fitting, free-flowing dào by which to navigate through contingent, changing circumstances. Interpersonal ethics is an application of this ideal to cases in which other agents and our relations with them are prominent features of our circumstances. The ethics of interacting with others is thus not a distinct subject area but an application of more general views about dào, , and exemplary activity. Instead of wandering the way on our own—the Zhuangist ideal for the individual—interactions with others present situations in which we must find our way together.


An important consequence of the Zhuangist approach is that discussions of our conduct toward others are not framed in terms of doing what is morally right or permissible. Instead, judgments as to whether actions are morally right or wrong are supplanted by judgments about the quality of our activity as a performance of dào—whether it is adept or clumsy, free-flowing or obstructed, in accordance with the situation or at odds with it. Accordingly, Zhuangist ethics offers a distinctive alternative to mainstream ethical views, both in its own day and in ours.


Date- 16 March 2022, 3-4:30pm


For more information and link to the talk, please contact Federico Luzzi: f.luzzi@abdn.ac.uk