Not Good is Not No Good

Scarecrow_in_Taipei
In logic, there is a fallacy (an instance of poor reasoning) called the straw man: contorting a proposition only for it to be “beaten” down. Scarecrow in Taipei by 陽炎.

A logical opposite is a sentence (I use sentence very loosely here.) that is the negation of its counterpart. In practice, logical opposition is generally inserting a “not” near the core of the sentence.

Zhuangzi could have been striving to be therapeutic or (its logical opposite) not therapeutic. 

A little Background on Zhuangzi

By the way, little is known about Zhuangzi; I know that experts do reiterate him being born during a tumultuous time, the Warring States period of China (475-221 BCE), and writing the book Zhuangzi (at least the first 8 chapters), but philosophers and linguists still disagree on his intentions for writing his book and what he really means by “[the perfect man] goes at it by spirit.”

Necessity in the Easy Tautology

The lone statement above is what is called a tautology, which means it is true in any case of the world. If Zhuangzi’s work was to be therapeutic, then the statement is true, and if it was not, then the statement is still true. In fact, the only way an “or” statement could be false is when both sides are false.

This is simply not possible because of the nature of the sentence. I am sure we all have heard of the concept of Yin and Yang or opposites. Grandfather said that “In order for something to be good, something needs to be bad,” he perhaps being in this case the famed Aristotle (if you want, he called this the Law of the Excluded Middle). The concept of Yin and Yang illustrates this idea too, the symbol representing that yin, not-yang, needs not-yin, which is yang.

Opposite Subtraction

Here’s where logical opposition gets tricky. When Hui asked me one time as we were leisurely jogging “what’s left when you take ox from non-ox,” I said so steadfastly “you get nothing.” However much that last sentence reflects my real answer, the question is asking what logical opposition disjoints, and the Zhuangzi asserts that the Tao is the remainder as in the case of 1-1=0 where nothing is also the remainder. However, the Tao is also everything (more on this in a later post.), so the concept is tricky in itself. 

“Not good” is no good 

Another nuance I have recently been thinking about is the difference between “no good” and “not good.” The latter is the logical opposite of “good,” but if we assume that “good” has magnitudes, then “not good” is anything that “good” doesn’t mean. (Forgive that the complexity is rising.) And “good” could mean: great, fair, or good in name, which means that “not good” is subject to change as “good” changes in meaning. However, “no good” is definitive in its magnitude. It means there is nothing “good” about an arbitrary thing, the magnitude of good able to be quantified as 0 in all meanings of  “good.”

I am basically saying that “not good” leaves room for some “good,” however much, and “no good” leaves no room for any “good”.

“Not good” = “some good or no good” and “no good” = “no good or 0 (in respect to a an arbitrary thing being good)”


This was a longer post, but I hope it was insightful and not too trivial. As a reader, you can expect more Tao Practiced posts like our recent ones, though we would still refrain from tedious jargon. Only the pedant likes jargon…

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Yang Ho

I attend UNC at Chapel Hill, double majoring in Philosophy and Economics. I write poetry, compete in amateur boxing, and volunteer as a writing coach for the local high school, all supplemented with my deep interest of eastern philosophy.

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