The Transcendent Dao and the Nature of Language

13 March 2019 (Wed), 5:30-9PM
At Saga Classroom 5


“The Transcendent Dao and the Nature of Language”

Alexus McLeod
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Asian/Asian-American Studies, University of Connecticut
13 March 2019; 5:30 p.m.-7:00 p.m.
Saga College, Classroom 5
Sponsored by Yale-NUS Philosophy

Dao, in a number of early Daoist and “Huang-Lao” texts, appears as something akin to a transcendent ground of being. While dao is ineffable, beyond our capacity to fully characterize through language, it can be manifest in certain kinds of activity. A number of texts suggest this transcendent dao becomes manifest in human action as a result of activities designed to disrupt human agency, conceptualization, and sense of self. This is a common move in mystical traditions. The question naturally arises, however, of whether the non-linguistic activity of the sage, which is said to follow and thus express dao, can have a descriptive role. That is, if dao cannot be fully expressed in language, can dao be fully expressed through activity? A number of early texts suggest the answer to this question is yes. This answer conflicts with a pragmatic conception of language some scholars have argued early Chinese philosophers were committed to. I argue that the view that dao can be described or otherwise expressed through non-linguistic action but not through language is both inconsistent with a non-pragmatic theory of meaning, and suggests a view in which transcendent entities are opaque within conceptual and linguistic frameworks. I conclude by offering some possible explanations for this.

Alexus McLeod is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Asian/Asian-American Studies at the University of Connecticut. He works mainly in Comparative Philosophy, Chinese Philosophy, Mesoamerican Philosophy, Metaphysics, and Philosophy of Language. His most recent monograph is The Philosophical Thought of Wang Chong (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and he is the editor of the recently released Bloomsbury Handbook of Early Chinese Ethics and Political Philosophy (Bloomsbury, 2019).