Philosophy 177 - 9.5 Daoism

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Summarize the metaphysical context and ethical properties of the dao.
  • Analyze the relationship between wu wei and Daoist ethics.
  • Compare and contrast Mohist, Confucian, and Daoist ethics.

Daoism (also written as Taoism) finds its beginnings during the Warring States period of ancient China. Like Mohism and Confucianism, Daoism is a response to the social unrest and suffering characteristic of that period. Daoism aims to foster harmony in both society and the individual. To do so, it seeks to understand the source of evil and suffering. It locates the cause of most suffering and conflict in desires and greed. Daoists believe that even when we try to regulate human action with moral systems and norms, we still fail to realize a flourishing society and good life. Harmony is possible by living life in accordance with what is natural. While Mohism and consequentialism judge the morality of an action based on the happiness it creates, Daoism equates moral actions with those that promote harmony and accord with the natural way.

Chinese sources tell us that Laozi, also written as Lao Tzu, the founder of philosophical Daoism, lived during the sixth century BCE (Chan 2018). He authored a short book, the Daodejing (sometimes written as Tao Te Ching). Laozi’s teachings emphasize the importance of simplicity, harmony, and following the natural way of things. His basic teachings were expanded upon by Zhuangzi (fourth century BCE). Zhuangzi criticized the artificial way of life humans had created and argued that it led to suffering by creating desire and greed.

Bust of Laozi, a legendary Daoist philosopher, the alternate title of the early Chinese text, better known in the West as the Daodejing, which was primary Daoist writing.
Figure 9.10 A bust of the founder of Daoism, Laozi, who lived during the sixth century BCE. (credit: “Laozi” by edenpictures/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)
This lesson has no exercises.

The content of this course has been taken from the free Philosophy textbook by Openstax