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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The Principle of Tao

Tao philosophy describes the order of nature and defines the principle of that order. Tao refers to the natural, spontaneous harmony of the universe, so Tao philosophy is a Philosophy of Nature. Nature is in the phenomenal world. This principle may be shown in the proper order of the myriad things. It is difficult to discuss directly this order of nature, since the sole characteristic of this order is Oneness. However, we can see this principle in the proper interrelations of the myriad things in the nature. In other words, our proper views on nature can reflect the proper order of nature.

The principle of Tao may be summarized as the Principle of Oneness. When we understand this principle, some of our traditional views on Tao can be re-affirmed, but many other speculations are clearly unwarranted. Our immediate validation of this principle will be a logical interpretation of the Tao Te Ching. However, this principle is universal and we can see the same principle in many other philosophies. We may conclude that Tao philosophy is not a Chinese-only philosophy. It is a principle shared by many Eastern and Western philosophies.

Since this principle is fundamental in our reasoning, our analytic approach may be used in many other philosophical discussions. For example, the model shows how the objects can participate in the forms in the Theory of Forms of Plato. The similarity of Tao philosophy to other ancient philosophies, Parmenides and Plotinus in particular, is also astonishing. The principle of Tao is also consistent with many modern Western philosophical observations, such as by Schelling, Kant, Bradley, and Whitehead, etc.

Our model also shows the similarity between the logic of Tao philosophy and quantum theory; both are based on complementarity of the opposites in their descriptions of nature.

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