Goblet words and indeterminacy : a writing style that is free of commitment


The Zhuangzi is a collection of ancient Chinese anecdotes and fables that serves as a foundational Daoist text. The style in which it is written is significant because it obscures rather than reveals the text’s philosophic positions. If the text cannot be translated into plain language while preserving its content, as the Mozi or the Mencius generally can be, then the writing style is not merely rhetorical. The style is itself indispensable to the content. In this study, I analyse a linguistic device mentioned in the Zhuangzi and use it to reflect the text’s writing style—namely, “goblet words”. I argue that various logical forms of goblet words defy the act of fixing a definite answer in any conceptual distinction or disputation. The forms, which include dilemmatic questions, oxymora and double denial, all serve to preserve indeterminacy. Reading goblet words may affect readers by making them more open-minded towards distinctions. However, readers cannot ascertain that the text’s authors produced this effect intentionally. Therefore, the text may cause readers to be open-minded while the authors remain free of commitment.



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Wai-wai Chiu
Lingnan University

Citations of this work

Philosophy and the Good Life in the Zhuangzi.Pengbo Liu - 2020 - Metaphilosophy 51 (2-3):187-205.
Zhuangzi.Harold Roth - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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