Dispassion and the Good Life: A Study of Stoicism and Zhuangism

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2021

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Abstract

Although the notion of dispassion has played an important role in many different traditions, such as Stoicism, Buddhism, Daoism, and eastern Christianity, it does not seem to hold much appeal to people today. To the modern ear, dispassion is often associated with apathy, which refers to a lack of feeling, motivation, or concern. Because of this association, dispassion carries a negative connotation and is frowned upon by many. In this dissertation, I hope to do justice to the notion of dispassion and identify a version of it that can be attractive as an ethical ideal. To do so, I focus on Stoicism and Zhuangism, the traditions of dispassion with which I am most familiar. After discussing Stoic dispassion and Zhuangist dispassion respectively, I argue that dispassion as they conceive it bears little resemblance to apathy. That is, dispassion does not extirpate all emotions, but simply takes us away from emotional upheavals in search of emotional peace. I also argue that Zhuangist dispassion is more plausible than Stoic dispassion through a comparison of their notions of the self. In particular, the Stoics in identifying the self with the self-sufficient virtue or reason not only fails to do justice to our patiency but also renders the self formalized and empty. By contrast, the Zhuangists in identifying the self with the plurality of daos makes possible a kind of self-sufficiency that is more appropriate to our embodied and relational existence.

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Ren, Songyao (2021). Dispassion and the Good Life: A Study of Stoicism and Zhuangism. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/23745.

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