Towards a Daoist Ethic: a Laozi’an “Model of Modeling”

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This article suggests that the writings of the Huang Lao tradition embody an ethic in the sense of a guiding philosophy of life. This ethic is based on the Laozi - the initial text in the tradition that is textually presented in paradoxes. While the paradoxical expression could make readers forgo an ethic, we claim that it is the other way around. The paradoxes, as we explain in this article, are inherent to the tradition, and reflect a unique reasoning described here as riddles lived by or living riddles. We suggest that Laozi 1 suggests riddle reasoning that is based on an understanding Dao as at once kedao可道 (“can be daoed”) and changdao常道 (constant Dao). While changdao is the ineffable unity, kedao is plurality, hence it may be expressed as familiar moral ways when alone. Only when unified with changdao, Dao opens a gate to the mysteries of life. The mystery suggested here is a “model of modeling” as suggested in Laozi 25 that represents the unified Dao riddle reasoning rather than dichotomizing (kedao) reasoning. According to the model we refer to, the Laozi’an De as self-so (ziran自然) that serves as foundation for an ethic that is not dichotomizing and has no dependence whatsoever on morality. We suggest that this ethic can serve as a basis for the analysis of the Huang Lao tradition as a whole.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-109
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of East Asian Philosophy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • Laozi
  • Ethics
  • Daoism
  • Huang-Lao
  • Excavated texts
  • Riddle


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