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Michael LaFargue received his Th.D. in New Testament Studies from Harvard Divinity School 1978. Since then he has specialized in applying methods developed in biblical studies to the interpretation of Asian religious texts. He has been a part-time professor in the Religious Studies Program at University of Massachusetts-Boston since 1978, and has been the director of the East Asian Studies Program there since 1995. He's also taught as visiting professor at Wheaton College, Wellesley College, and Boston University. He has published four books: Language and Gnosis: Form and Meaning in the Acts of Thomas (Fortress, 1985); The Tao of the Tao Te Ching (SUNY Press, 1992); Tao and Method: A reasoned approach to the Tao Te Ching (SUNY Press, 1994); and Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching, co-edited with Livia Kohn (SUNY Press, 1998).

 

 

Abstract of paper given at Taoism and Ecology conference:
"Nature" as Part of the Human-Cultural World in Taoist Thought

The opposition "nature" vs. "culture" has played a major role in modern Western thought. Because of this, many Westerners approaching Taoism have interpreted Taoist thought about nature in the same context, assuming that Taoists were "nature-lovers" in the modern mode, and based their thought on "the laws of nature," understood in contrast to human culture and human laws. In this paper I will argue first that the above notion of nature is thoroughly modern. The traditional Taoist notion of "what is natural" ( ziran) is quite different; it does not refer to what lies completely outside human culture. It is an "ideal" notion of an organically harmonious ordering, an ideal that normally requires conscious effort to cultivate and achieve, rather than something that happens with no human intervention whatsoever. This ideal is part of "Taoist culture." Secondly, I want to argue that the modern idea of nature is itself problematic, especially so when used as a guide in the ecology movement. Modern people have become so interested in nature because of the "meaning" nature has to the modern cultural consciousness; in this sense the "nature" that people really want to preserve is actually part of modern human culture. I will suggest several concrete ways in which adopting the traditional Taoist notion of nature might serve as a better basis for ecological awareness and effort.

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