As readers may or may not know, Yang and I participate in our university’s boxing club and compete at the collegiate level. We have always liked boxing but I’m sure we never understood major aspects of the sport, such as intending to KO opponents or being driven by titles or recognition. Given that we follow the Tao, or at least try to do so, it makes little sense that we compete in boxing or box in general. If we want to follow the Tao and believe in the teachings of Philosophical Taoism, how then can we be said to follow the Tao and box?
Recently, my brother and I have been somewhat interested in how non-philosophers, specifically business scholars (if you will) and science students approach philosophical problems. Yesterday, we were at boxing practice, and Hui decided to ask about the topic discussed in our 400-level philosophy class. True: a meeting for pugilists is not the most likely place to engage in philosophical discourse, but better yesterday than tomorrow.
The question posed: A calculator shows the equation ‘2+2=4’. Can I now say that I know ‘2+2=4’, or in other words, the composition of 4?
I’d like to give you three accounts of the solution to the question. Perhaps, you’ll find it fun to see how others answer the question.
The Biology Major. He said that the composition of 4 cannot be known because there is an uncertainty in the calculator’s purport (presumably based on the idea of that there is always a probability of failure, in this case, in the calculator). And knowing something does not allow for uncertainty.
The Mathematics Major. She said a proof would be the only way of knowing whether 2+2=4 presumably because the calculator derives its purport from the proof and the theoretical (a priori) evaluation cannot be proven wrong.
The Police Officer. He said that he has no problem knowing the composition of 4 from the calculator because whatever makes ‘2+2=4’ known, whether it be a proof or experimentation, also makes the calculator’s purport known.
In retrospect, I believe all these responses characterize their major and occupation. This is not to say that the criteria for knowledge is relative or also that these accounts are incompatible. Both Hui and I are just surprised and humored at how others approach the question. As for our pick, surprisingly enough, we like the police officer’s austerity in reasoning and preservation of truth.
I came across Paul Ziff’s book titled Understanding Understanding, which was so inspiring that it expelled from me, or rather, it compelled my fingers to type two poems, both by the name “Understanding”:
Understanding Understanding by Paul Ziff.
Understanding Understanding Understanding
Understanding Understanding Understanding by Paul Ziff
By Paul ZIff.
Understanding Understranding Understanding by
By Ainsley Sebastien Sawyer and Montgomery Evelyn Bullingsworth
Stand with a string attached to your crown
And a stick up your butt
And read Ziff’s Understanding Understanding
(unwitfully put ‘Understanding An Understanding,’
But we can’t have that)– so
Understand Understanding Understanding–
And Write Understanding Understanding Understanding
Or rather title it Understanding Understanding
As to what this means, it’s inconceivable– too meta.
But at least
Understand this stand for Understanding Understanding
Understanding Understanding and so on and so forth.
Although I haven’t finished reading the Analects of Confucius, I thought I should make a post about the general direction of my perspective on Confucius. There is no doubt that there are some common and various perspectives concerning the Analects, given the range of people who have at least heard of Confucius — from sinologists to perhaps elementary-school students, and all of whom in between. It’s possible that there are radical interpretations and there are common-sense ones, and mine might be towards the latter (as I’ve yet to intensively study Confucianism).
With that said, I have a little help for interpreting the Analects, coming by way of my memory of Arthur Waley’s introduction in Disputers of the Tao, the footnotes provided, and of course, the reliable and wholly not inaccurate Wikipedia, and as a caveat, I am not big on using many Chinese terms such as li, rem, etc., as I find these sufficient but not necessary.
My general understanding of Confucius’s philosophy consists of understanding the Tao and Te, the way and potency or virtue. The way is meant as proper course of human conduct, of a gentleman who abided by antiquity (the patterns of the Sage-kings, such as Emperor Yu, is what is meant by antiquity). Te as potency or viture is a universal civilizing force. And ruling through virtue, a leader’s goodness makes the people good. Throughout the Analects, Confucius mentions repeatedly the concept of being filial, not just to one’s father, but to the Sage-kings. I see being filial as the execution of the Confucian Tao, which contrasts very starkly to Zhuangzi’s (or Laozi’s) Tao. Music, tradition, essentially the ways of the Zhou, are the pinnacles of one’s conduct, as they are derived from the Sage-kings.
I found that Confucius’s philosophy rests on two relevant concepts. The first is the interrelationship, and perhaps nonphysical interdependence, between oneself and others, such that there can be no virtue in the absence of such relationships. The second is the derivation of virtue from an exemplar to Tao to oneself, rather than the very Zhuangzi concept of deriving virtue from the Tao to oneself, who becomes the Zhuangzi equivalent of the Confucian exemplar. The reason I say these are “relevant,” instead of, say, “important,” is because Zhuangzi finds himself supporting the notion that one’s virtue is dependent on oneself’s ’emptying of mind and spirit.’
As Zhuangzi wrote, (and Arthur Waley translated):
“Puny and small, [the sage] sticks with the rest of men. Massive and great, he perfects his Heaven alone.”
Boxing has become central to Yang and me. We spent the majority of our summer preparing for this year’s boxing events by improving our conditioning, diet, etc. When you spend so much time in boxing, you start realizing a certain Taoist mentality in boxing. A good example of what I mean is right in the moment of sparring, when I am punching and moving, slipping and pivoting… I’ll call it “Emptiness of the mind,” not merely muscle memory, because if muscle memory is unconscious movement due to my conditioning, then emptiness of the mind is the experience of such due to the spirit of the sport.
Towards the end of our summer, Yang and I sparred more often, culminating in an exhibition-type round for our last sparring session just before the start of this school year. Needless to say, the round was exhausting, but more importantly, there were no “mental” breaks, no thinking “I’ll throw a straight to bait” or “I’ll try blocking the jab.” There was really a sense of going with the flow (or way), but not in the conventional way which connotes a lack of willingness to go in one’s own direction, rather in the sense that Zhaungzi illustrates with his story about Cook Ding: the guidedness found in the way of things.
It’s been more or less 3 months since my brother and I have posted a blog post. The decision to post on Taopracticed during the school year was made on almost on a whim but it makes sense given that goals change year-to-year and time off can benefit everyone. As for the blog’s plans this year, we aim to focus on Confucius and his philosophy, and attempt to see the relevance of Confucianism in Taoism.