Zhuangzi is always interesting to read (for me, anyway). Partly it’s because I get the feeling (as one often does in Nietzsche) that he’s baiting the reader, waitin to see if the reader bites the worm. Later the reader learns that he was poking fun at those who do just that. Partly it’s because he’s just a talented writer, and his descriptions of things are very engaging. Of course, I like the philosophy too, even if it is, as Huizi puts it, “big and useless.” More below.
One of the most basic points in Zhuangzi concerns perspectives. In the first chapter, Zhuangzi says that:
Little knowledge does not measure up to big knowledge, or few years to many. How do I know this? The morning mushroom does not know the waxing and waning of the moon, and the Hui-cricket does not know spring and fall. This is because they are short-lived.
Later, the little quail pokes fun at the large bird, Breeze. The quail says:
“Where is she going? I rear up and don’t go more than a few yards before coming down, soaring and roaming amid branches and briars – this indeed is the perfection of flying. Where is she going?” This is the debate between little and big.
My question is pretty basic. The claim in the first quote seems to be that big knowledge encompasses little knowledge, because it captures the perspectives of little knowledge. So the person who sees ABC also captures the perspectives of the little person who sees only A. As a result, the perspective of A does not measure up to the perspective of ABC (the claim here is similar to that of John Stuart Mill’s in Utilitarianism – how do we know whose view of which pleasure, A or B, is better? Ask the person who has experienced both!).
Arguably, this is the situation with the quail and Breeze, as the story comes right after the first quote. The quail cannot see the point in all of the lofty flight of Breeze, given Breeze’s massive size (her back is as big as Mount Tai, after all). However, the claims don’t quite match up. Breeze’s perspective lacks that of the quail. Breeze is too big to see things from the quail’s point of view. Each of them is, in its own way, limited. Of course, one point of note is that Breeze isn’t saying anything – just doing her own thing. The quail, on the other hand, is busy categorizing what counts and doesn’t count, as flying well.
What is Zhuangzi trying to say? A big question, but that’s what blogs are for.