New Book under construction

The True Meaning of Tao Philosophy

老子哲學的真義  (Drafts)

is a new book coming in 2016.


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New: Systems Thinking and Logic of Tao Philosophy


Preface  (added to Logic of Tao Philosophy Page)

The purpose of this work is to discuss the relationship between systems thinking and the logic of Tao philosophy. We show that Tao philosophy, along with many other ancient philosophies, may be understood in terms of systems. Systems view is another good way to understand the logic in Tao philosophy.

Systems thinking has become a platform to discuss science, living organisms, sociology, and psychology, and philosophy. Reality may be considered as a complex system of various concepts. Both systems and reality are based on the concept of wholeness. A reality is self-making and self-preserving like a living system.

Systems thinking is a complex issue and has been recently reviewed in great details by Capra and Luisi. The theme was first introduced by Bertalanffy and Bogandov in the 1920s. Readers may refer Capra and Luisi for the complexity of systems thinking. We shall only be interested in the very basic characteristics of systems thinking. We are concerned only with the logic in the way we think of nature and the systems.

A systems theory starts with the function of a system and then identifies the network of the subsystems to support the function. This is rather similar to the philosophical inquiry about reality, where we think of a reality and identify the propositions that can support the reality.

(More on Logic of Tao Philosophy pages)

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A New Platform – WordPress

I am learning how to build a website using WordPress.

Please bear with me for any mistakes. This platform contains Blog and Pages – I am learning to know the differences.


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This work represents a major milestone in our search for Tao philosophy for more than a decade. The author would like to take this occasion to express thanks to many friends who have provided direct and indirect support for this project during its long history.

The author would like to recognize Profs. Chen Gu-yin 陳鼓應, Tong Lik-Kuen 唐力權, and Ho Hsiu Hwang 何秀煌. They have impartially extended their supports to an unknown amateur at the early stage. However, the project has many major changes and they may be unaware of the final work presented here. The author also thanks the editors and the anonymous reviewers of the article in Tamkang Journal to make the logic model available for the academic public.

The author thanks Prof. Lin Yi-cheng 林義正for his friendly comments and discussion on the Chinese article, Mr. Lu Ying-tang 呂應棠, Kan Tiong Siong 簡忠松, Su Jin-long 蘇金龍, and Yu-san Chen 陳玉山, for their discussions related to the model. For this book, the author thanks Mark Ristich and Helena Wang, who have reviewed the various English drafts and provided many useful comments. [1]

[1]     We have made use of Print-on-Demand (POD) publication technology to provide continuous improvement in the contents of this book. Minor revisions may be made at any time and the revision date is shown on the copyright page. Major revisions will appear as new Editions.

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New Interpretation and Translation

After we can identify the principle and logic, we have an ultimate target for our interpretation and translation of the Tao Te Ching.

Most existing interpretations of the Tao Te Ching show unexplainable paradoxes and self-contradictions, due to lack of a principle. Now, we can reconcile such apparent contradictions in our interpretation with the principle. The interpretation will be less speculative and more coherent to reveal a well-defined principle. Now our translations have an ultimate goal of reflecting this principle.

As normally expected, a genuine principle should be language-independent. We should be able to describe the principle of Tao equally well in any language. The language may be different, but the principle is the same. Our translation is published as: Tao Te Ching: An Ultimate Translation. As parts of our Searching for Tao Series, this book, The Logic of Tao Philosophy and the Ultimate Translation represent a definite step toward a better understanding of the Tao philosophy.

The logic model was first published as a Chinese article, 道家哲學的邏輯 (The Logic of Tao Philosophy), in the Tamkang Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences (淡江人文社會學刊), Vol. 49 (2012), pp. 1-32. The contents have been completely rewritten in this book for the general public.

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Ambiguous Description of Reality

It is interesting to see that, as a result of our model, logical description of a reality will necessarily be ambiguous in our words. Or, the words we use to describe a reality will be ambiguous due to the nature of our language, although reality is always unambiguous.

Therefore, the words of Lao-tzu may appear to be “vague, self-contradictory, and indeterminate,” but they logically reflect the reality of Tao with precision. This is an important conclusion of our model. That is, Lao-tzu’s ambiguous words are to be taken seriously and what he describes is not vague or ambiguous.

With this new understanding, we have to change our approach to interpret the Tao Te Ching. We can no longer dismiss Lao-tzu’s words as incomprehensible paradoxes and we have to avoid random speculations based on these ambiguous words. Instead, we have to search for the principle behind these ambiguous words. Our systematic model can guide us.

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Our Journey

Our journey starts around the year 1999 with a simple curiosity: Why is the Tao Te Ching so difficult to interpret? [1]After surveying through many existing interpretations of this classic, the subsequent questions arise: Why is it, as a philosophy, beyond any systematic and logical analysis? Why would such questions remain unanswered for such a long time? Finally, these three questions merge into one concrete question: What is the principle of Tao philosophy, if there is any?

Our initial interpretation reflects some similarities between Tao philosophy and the non-dualistic nature in modern sciences. That was published as the Dynamic Tao and Its Manifestations. Many observations in that book are still valid, but the notion that “Yu comes from Wu” is apparently assumed and is deemed incorrect after the analysis presented here. Soon afterwards, we were able to show the first analytic formulation as the Basic Theory of Tao Philosophy which shows the basic and the proper duality nature of Wu and Yu.[2] That article marks the beginning of a new “turn” in our search path. We realize that there is some principle emerging from the text of the Tao Te Ching. Instead of searching for all possible meanings of the individual verses, we start to search for a consistent principle behind the verses.

The Basic Theory seems a simple principle. After further comparative studies with other ancient East and West philosophies, our thoughts become mature and now we can present the principle and logic with clarity. Finally, a systematic model for Tao philosophy becomes possible. The Basic Theory is described as the Interaction Model in Chapter III.

The process to arrive at our current conclusion is strenuous and is not possible to describe here. In essence, it is a long iteration of our interpretations of the Tao Te Ching and an emerging principle. The iterations converge slowly to show the emerging principle. The final breakthroughs occur suddenly in the successful interpretation of Chapter 1 of the Tao Te Ching that allows us to extract a clear principle from this single Chapter! Most other Chapters may be treated as footnotes to this principle.

Of course, we may not think like our ancient philosophers in many ways; but, as far as the core principle of nature is concerned, this principle should remain unchanged and be recognizable in our current reading of the Tao Te Ching.

We shall formulate an intuitive model based on the principle of Tao. Pragmatically, we shall use a new and coherent interpretation of the Tao Te Ching as the proper and only validation for our model

[1]     A question precedes this question was “What can I leave behind to repay the society?”

[2]     We choose to use Yu instead of more common You as our translation of the Chinese character 有. This is for its symmetry with Wu. The correct ancient pronunciation of this character is of course controversial.

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The Purpose of The Book

This book turns out to be the quest for proper language that can match reality. We shall try to understand how the Tao Te Ching, with the logic of Lao-tzu, can match a reality. We believe that, when Lao-tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching, he followed a logic that was understood by his audience. However, that logic has been blurred and lost in the historical interpretations. In a normal case, logic can be derived from the historical interpretations; however, this is clearly not the case for Tao philosophy, since the historical interpretations have not been executed in a logical way. As an alternative approach, we shall temporarily disregard most historical commentaries as “authoritative” and return to the analysis of the Tao Te Ching itself to find its principle.

We have found that the historical commentaries have indeed blurred that principle, and there is a clear principle of Tao. Such a bold claim is extraordinary and will certainly be challenged by the traditional Tao philosophers. Nevertheless, the evidence is overwhelming in our favor. The principle will become self-evident once we can establish a proper framework to show its logic. The words of Lao-tzu will not be mysterious when we understand the principle of Tao.

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We all love mysteries. In more than 2000 years, most Chinese scholars, and many Western scholars, have been convinced that the Tao Te Ching 道德經is mysterious and is beyond normal philosophical reasoning. Therefore, the Tao Te Ching is open for diverging interpretations, and the historical interpretations result in paradoxes and self-contradictions. For this reason, we are all fascinated with the mysteries of Tao.

As a perplexing fact, our fascination with Tao has not been based on what we know about Tao, but based on what we cannot comprehend about Tao. The principle of Tao has been declared unfathomable and unknowable. Many Chinese scholars have therefore heralded Tao as a unique Chinese intellectual treasure that has no equivalence in the West. In the West, there have been few attempts to treat the Tao Te Ching as a genuine “philosophical” text. As observed by Ames and Hall, “The Daodejing is a profoundly “philosophical” text, yet it has not been treated as such.” (Ames 2003) Tao remains as a mysterious thought. Our understanding of the Tao Te Ching has remained stagnant for the last 2000 years.

Most people will frown upon any systematic and analytic study of the Tao Te Ching. Any attempt to change such a historical view will have to face a long and formidable history of free speculations about Tao. It will be difficult to convince anyone that there is a clear principle in Tao philosophy.

However, we are about to change such a historical view. We shall still try to show the truth behind the mystery of Tao and show its original intent as an authentic philosophy of nature. As shown by the title of this book, we shall show that there is a principle and logic in the Tao Te Ching and Lao-tzu is a logical philosopher.

This is contrary to the prevailing view and should be considered as a significant discovery, if validated. The discovery was accidental, since we started this project without any anticipation of resolving any mystery. However, after a long period of analyzing the text, it has become clear that we can identify the principle of Tao philosophy and show its logical structure. Since this is contrary to the popular belief, we have to carefully provide convincing evidence for the reader.

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This Chapter reviews our search for a philosophical principle in the Tao Te Ching. Traditionally, the Tao Te Ching and the Book of Changes 易經 have been regarded as the most important foundation of Chinese philosophy. Paradoxically, at least for the Tao Te Ching, this is not due to our understanding of its principle and logic. Most scholars still believe that the Tao Te Ching does not have logic, and its philosophy cannot be logically described.

Is it not perplexing if a thought without logic can have that much philosophical influence in China? Is Chinese philosophical thinking without logic? This is the issue we want to address in this book.

With such a historical background, the famous German philosopher Georg Hegel (1770-1831) and many other Western philosophers simply proclaim that China does not really have philosophy. Recently, the contemporary French postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) also comments, during his China visit in 2001, “China has no philosophy, but only thought.” Such comments immediately invoke again the question of the legitimacy of Chinese philosophy.

Therefore, it is important to re-visit the nature of Chinese philosophy. What is the logic in Chinese philosophy? For our immediate interest in this book, we shall try to identify the logic of Tao philosophy, if there is any.

Historically, except for very limited logic discussions and debates by Hui-shi 恵施 (370-318 bce), Gongsun Long 公孫龍 (320-250 bce), Hsuen-tzu荀子 (325-238 bce), and Mo-tzu 墨子 (470-391 bce), there has been little discussion of logic in ancient China. None of these discussions point to the Tao Te Ching as a logic platform.

First introduction of Western logic were done in 1905 and 1909 by Yan Fu 嚴復 (1895-1921). There have been also some analyses of Chinese logic by modern philosophers, such as Hu Shih 胡適 (1891-1962)[1], Zhang Dongsun 張東蓀 (1886-1962), and Jin Yuelin 金玉霖 (1895-1988), etc. However, overall we have not been able to identify a clear system of logic.

Virtually all Chinese thinkers are comfortable with a Tao philosophy without a clear logic. Many will readily dismiss any claim of logic in Tao with any Western flavor, and some will even revolt against any discussion of “logic” in Tao philosophy. “Logic” and “Tao philosophy” have become a well-established oxymoron for most scholars.

Against such prevailing belief, we nevertheless shall discuss the logic of Tao philosophy and attempt to change this ancient view about Tao philosophy. This may be the first book in history dedicated to The Logic of Tao Philosophy. This may be a rather important “archeological” discovery and is a direct challenge to the traditional views on Tao philosophy. However, as we shall see, our conclusion is likely to be valid.

[1]     Hu Shih, The Development of the Logical Method in Ancient China, Paragon Book Reprint Corp, New York (1963),

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