Title

Goblet words and indeterminacy : a writing style that is free of commitment

Document Type

Journal article

Source Publication

Frontiers of Philosophy in China

Publication Date

6-19-2015

Volume

10

Issue

2

First Page

255

Last Page

272

Keywords

Zhuangzi, language, writing style, goblet words

Abstract

The Zhuangzi is a collection of ancient Chinese anecdotes and fables that serves as a foundational Daoist text. The style in which it is written is significant because it obscures rather than reveals the text’s philosophic positions. If the text cannot be translated into plain language while preserving its content, as the Mozi or the Mencius generally can be, then the writing style is not merely rhetorical. The style is itself indispensable to the content. In this study, I analyse a linguistic device mentioned in the Zhuangzi and use it to reflect the text’s writing style—namely, “goblet words” (zhi yan 巵言). I argue that various logical forms of goblet words defy the act of fixing a definite answer in any conceptual distinction or disputation. The forms, which include dilemmatic questions, oxymora and double denial, all serve to preserve indeterminacy. Reading goblet words may affect readers by making them more open-minded towards distinctions. However, readers cannot ascertain that the text’s authors produced this effect intentionally. Therefore, the text may cause readers to be open-minded while the authors remain free of commitment.

DOI

10.3868/s030-004-015-0019-3

Print ISSN

16733436

E-ISSN

1673355X

Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2015 Higher Education Press

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Recommended Citation

Chiu, W. W. (2015). Goblet words and indeterminacy: A writing style that is free of commitment. Frontiers of Philosophy in China, 10(2), 255-272. doi: 10.3868/s030-004-015-0019-3