"The path that can be a path is not the eternal path. The name that can be named is not the eternal name."
class="first">Hegel's Criticism of Laozi
by Wong Kwok Kui
Philosophy East and West
Vol. 61, No. 1 (JANUARY 2011), pp. 56-79 (24 pages)
This essay looks at the fundamental differences between Chinese and Western philosophy as reflected in Hegel's famous criticism of Laozi. In his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Hegel argues that Laozi's thought remains at the beginning stage of philosophy because it cannot move away from the abstract to derive "a kingdom of determination" to explain the multitude in the world. This essay investigates the reason for Hegel's criticism by critically examining the meaning of "determination'' (Bestimmung) in his philosophical system with reference to his other writings, like the Science of Logic, and argues that Hegel is very much in the Socratic tradition of Western philosophy, in which definition and determination are the keys to knowledge. It then turns to examine Laozi's approach of knowing the miao 妙 of heaven and earth "without desire'' (無欲), and argues that Laozi is putting forward a method of knowing by letting the meaning of things appear by themselves "without doing anything,'' a contrast to Hegel's approach of conceptual determination. Finally, it examines Laozi's view on yu 欲 in contrast to Hegel's "desire'' (Begierde), and concludes that Hegel's low estimation of Laozi is rooted in his own developmental view of philosophy.