Law and Morality in Ancient China: The Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao

By R. P. Peerenboom | Go to book overview

II. The Natural Way of
Huang-Lao

In this chapter, I argue that Huang-Lao philosophy is best understood as a foundational naturalism. The first section is devoted to an explication of this concept, the following ones to a demonstration that the philosophy of the Boshu does indeed fit the description. In the second section, I examine the nature of nature; in the third, the place of humans within the cosmic natural order. Finally, in the fourth section, I explore the relationship between humans and nature by investigating how humans go about following the Way.


1. Foundational Naturalism

Naturalism is a much abused term. Used in conjunction with a wide variety of theories, its precise meaning, shrouded in a dense layer of conceptual mist, often eludes us. In contending that Huang-Lao espouses a foundational naturalism, I intend the following. First, as a naturalism, humans are conceived of as part of the cosmic natural order understood as an organic or holistic system or ecosystem. In the language of Huang-Lao, dao as the cosmic natural order embraces both the way of humans (ren dao

) as well as that of nonhuman nature (tian dao). 1 Second, Huang-Lao privileges the cosmic natural order: the natural order has normative priority. It is taken to be the highest value or realm of highest value. Third, and correlate to the second, the human-social order must be consistent and compatible with the cosmic natural order rather than nature and the natural order being subservient to the whims and needs of humans.

Huang-Lao advances a foundational naturalism in that the cosmic natural order serves as the basis, the foundation, for construction of the human order. This means, in the case of the Boshu, not simply that human behavior and social institutions are to be modeled on the way of nature. The natural order constitutes the foundation for the human social order in the more radical sense that the correct social order is held to be implicate in

-27-

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Law and Morality in Ancient China: The Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Law and Morality in Ancient China *
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • I - Introduction 1
  • II - The Natural Way of Huang-Lao 27
  • III - The Socical and Political Philosophy of Huang-Lao 75
  • IV - The Anthropocentric Pragmatism of Confucius 103
  • V - The Pragmatic Statesmanship of Han Fei 139
  • VI - The Daoist Ways of Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi 171
  • VII - The Evolution of Huang-Lao Thought 217
  • VIII - Epilogue 263
  • Appendix - He Guan Zi and Huang-Lao Thought 273
  • Notes 285
  • Bibliography 355
  • Index 375
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