Lea Cantor
Oxford University
The “happy fish” passage concluding the “Autumn Floods” chapter of the Classical Chinese text known as the Zhuangzi has traditionally been seen to advance a form of relativism which precludes objectivity. My aim in this paper is to question this view with close reference to the passage itself. I further argue that the central concern of the two philosophical personae in the passage – Zhuangzi and Huizi – is not with the epistemic standards of human judgements (the established view since Hansen, “The Relatively Happy Fish”), but with the more basic problem of species-specific perspectives. On my reading, Zhuangzi’s emphatic positionality in the passage – on the dam, accompanied by his friend Huizi – plausibly suggests a circumspect reflection on the limitedness of human knowledge. It is significant that Zhuangzi’s knowledge of fish happiness is avowedly from a certain place, and not absolute. But there is still a sense in which this view is objective: namely, insofar as it adequately accounts for an inherently human perspective on the world. I call this modest form of relativism ‘Species Relativism’, which, crucially, leaves room for objectivity, even though a fully objective (i.e. absolute) view of the world is not accessible to humans.
Keywords Chinese philosophy  Zhuangzi  Daoism  scepticism  relativism  anthropocentrism
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Reprint years 2020
DOI 10.1080/09608788.2019.1667294
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