I was trying to pick arguments to analyze for an assignment in my philosophy class. I came up with four or five candidates, three of which were from Zhuangzi and one of which was from the Spring and Autumn Annals. In picking the arguments, I noticed that most of the eastern ones were arguments by analogy and that they employed figurative language. So, when I’m trying to analyze eastern philosophy, those traits often present some problems.
Arguments by analogy can be hit or miss in one’s use of them and in one’s interpreting them. Since their purpose is to show the argument in a more concrete form, they inherently lose the abstract form’s accuracy due to their deviation from the actual thought or philosophy; and since they incorporate extraneous things into the argument, there’s a sort of sifting that needs to be done to determine what’s relevant to the actual thought.
Here comes the role of interpretation of these types of arguments. The argument by analogy can be made with inadequate accuracy or superfluous details and can be misinterpreted because of such. But this would apply to an argument by analogy with little diligence invested when the philosopher made it. I would think that analogous philosophy in books have accounted for the problems in making such arguments, and I know that sometimes analogies are the best way to convey thought; but it still leaves room for error on the interpreter’s side. In short, trying to put on paper what exactly is meant by Zhuangzi’s arguments will lead me off the mark– something that Zhuangzi illustrates by his own writing style.
The problem with figurative language lies close with interpretation’s problems, but not in the same sense as before. When I’m reading an excerpt of Zhuangzi or some other philosophy (it doesn’t even have to be eastern philosophy, but eastern philosophy does employ analogies and, more broadly, figurative language more often than western philosophy), there will be instances of apparent synecdoche, but for other times, I’m not so sure. Knowing what is meant, or rather putting into words what is meant, by the words used is crucial in trying to formally analyze arguments, and if what is meant is not known, then no meaningful analyzing can be done. Yet again, Zhuangzi purposefully employs figurative language to illustrate his point of the inconstancy of words’ meanings (I’m sure Confucius, Mozi, Lao Tzu, etc. also are accurate in their argument by analogies).
On a final note, eastern philosophy can convey what can’t be easily conveyed in words at a cost of losing the apparent argument. And I think it should be said that this was considered in the context of the formal analysis of an argument, with bounds restricting analysis that I and normal people would actually do.