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Liu Xiaogan received his Ph.D. from Beijing University in 1985 and has been associate professor there. He was visiting scholar at the University of Michigan, Harvard, and Princeton from 1988 through 1993 before he moved to Singapore. Currently he is a senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore. Most of his books and papers are about textual analysis and philosophical interpretation of Laozi and Zhuangzi, in addition to cultural issues in modern China.


Abstract of paper given at Taoism and Ecology conference:

Non-action (Wuwei) and the Environment Today: Conceptual and Applied Study of Laozi's Philosophy

Based on a textual and lexicological investigation, this paper attempts to reinterpret the concept of wuwei (non-action) and discuss its significance in both the contexts of Laozi's philosophy and current environmental issues. In comparison with general actions, wuwei means better approaches to higher standard of human actions and their results. Wuwei is not a single meaning term, but a cluster of similar terms and phrases. In fact, wuwei represents an alternative value orientation and demands the most appropriate actions.

Meanwhile, the paper attempts to apply theoretical points of wuwei to the explanation of issues such as environmental reservation, especially to the analyses of two cases. This paper demonstrates that the Taoist theory of wuwei is highly relevant to current environmental discussions. It offers an alternative analysis of the causes of ecological crises, which will be helpful to healthy movements of protection themselves. Needless to say, wuwei is not a miraculous cure: it is for long term protection of the environment and for radical resolution of ecological crises, not for immediately extinguishing a fire. Nevertheless, the theory of wuwei may help us to learn lessons from cases of emergency and to find a way to prevent tragedies from happening in the future.

The analysis and application of the theory of wuwei in this paper is founded on the systematic reconstruction of Laozi's philosophy. According to my understanding, wuwei is the methodological principle to actualize ziran or naturalness, the core value in Laozi's system. Tao as the ultimate source and ground of the universe provides metaphysical and axiological foundation for both wuwei and ziran, while Laozi's theory of dialectics supports ziran and wuwei in the perspective of human experience.

Different from most papers in the discussions of environmental ethics or comparative studies, which focused on the theoretical aspects of the relations of humans and nature, this paper focuses on two aspects. The first is the conceptual investigation and interpretation of wuwei. The second is discussion of two cases, namely the conflagration of the Indonesian rain forest and the miserable experience of the Inuit community caused by a campaign conducted by Greenpeace.


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