Zhuangzi on Yu, Zhou, and the ontic indeterminacy of the Dao

British Journal for the History of Philosophy:1-10 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

The definitions of yu 宇 and zhou 宙 in the “Gengsang Chu 庚桑楚” chapter of the Zhuangzi have been cited as the earliest definitions of space and time in the Chinese philosophical tradition. However, careful analysis of chosen modern translations reveals that the definitions entail rather obscure relationships between the Dao and space and time. I argue that the obscurity is not inherent in the text, but arises from the practice of rendering yu and zhou as the conceptual counterparts of space and time or related concepts. Instead, I propose that we leave the terms untranslated. This practice would not only forestall interpretive difficulties concerning the Dao’s relations to space and time, but it would also preserve the Zhuangzist yu and zhou as two distinctive, ontic notions that indicate the Dao’s indeterminate modes of existence, a unique feature of the Zhuangzi.

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Qiu Lin
Duke University

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