Some Paradoxes in WS Texts

Wim De Reu, Leuven
Right Words Seem To Be Wrong: A Semantic Interpretation of Some Paradoxical Expressions in Warring States and Early Han Texts
WSWG 17, Leiden University, 18 September 2003

Wim De Reu


Most of the well-known ancient Chinese paradoxes appear in ready-made lists (e.g. JZ 33, SZ 3 and SZ 22). Paradoxical expressions are, however, not limited to these lists. The subject of my study consists of three groups of paradoxes that mainly appear in 'Daoist' writings. Compared to the well-known paradoxes, they have not attracted much attention. Some typical examples of these paradoxes are:

- Group 1
"The greatest skilfulness seems to be clumsy"
"Right words seem to be wrong"

- Group 2
"The highest virtue is not virtuous"
"The greatest carving does not cut"

- Group 3
"Ignorant knowledge"
"Unspoken teaching"

In this paper, I focus on the interpretation of the paradoxes. I claim that (1) they are persuasive redefinitions; (2) the terms defined are 'open' in meaning in that they are used in different senses depending on who is using them; and (3) the paradoxical character comes from a deliberate play with the senses of the terms involved.


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