Brad Hall (UCL) - 2021-22 Students

Metaphor and Self-Cultivation in the Zhuangzi 莊子

I aim to demonstrate how the classical Chinese Daoist philosophical text the Zhuangzi offers a novel view of the relationship between metaphor and metaphysics. I argue that the author of the Zhuangzi consciously discusses this relationship. Metaphor is seen as the best way to describe reality and our experience of it, since the structure of metaphor is closer to the structure of reality than is literal language. Within a transformational ontology, metaphor is presented as blurring the boundaries between things and thereby more closely reflecting their non-distinct nature and the relationships that pertain between them.

I will use this view to critique readings of metaphor in the Zhuangzi, particularly those that use Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT) as a methodological tool of analysis. Scholars have used CMT to look behind the language of early Chinese philosophical texts and to find a common ground of imagistic concepts. However, CMT emerges from a predominantly Western metaphysics: one that emphasizes the individuality of things. The recognition of an alternative metaphysical worldview in the Zhuangzi and the purposeful relation this has to the use of metaphor therein will allow the theory to be a more robust tool for comparative philosophy.

I will illustrate how this new reading of the Zhuangzi can help us to better understand the use of metaphor in the text (such as the “fasting of the heart-mind”) in detailing its project of self-cultivation.

Primary supervisors: Michael Beaney and Raphael Woolf
Secondary supervisor: Dr Eliot Michaelson (KCL)

Back to the top