Kuo Hsiang

▪ Chinese philosopher
died AD 312, , China

      Chinese philosopher, a Neo-Taoist thinker to whom is attributed a celebrated commentary on the Chuang-tzu, one of the basic Taoist writings.

      Kuo was a high government official. His Chuang-tzu chu (“Chuang-tzu Commentary”) is thought to have been begun by another Neo-Taoist philosopher, Hsiang Hsiu. When Hsiang died, Kuo is said to have incorporated Hsiang's commentary into his own. For this reason the work is sometimes called the Kuo–Hsiang commentary.

      Kuo deviated from Lao-tzu in interpreting Tao (dao) (“the Way”) as nothingness. As nonbeing, Tao does not produce being—that is, it cannot be regarded as a first cause.

We may claim that we know the causes of certain things. But if we push our investigation of these causes to the furthest limit, (we reach) something which is self-produced without any cause. Being self-produced, we can no longer ask what is the cause of this something. We can only accept it as it is. (Quoted in Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy, vol. ii, pp. 209–210; Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1953.)

      Kuo thus maintained that everything produces itself spontaneously. The “self-transformation” of a thing as well as its existence is conditioned by other things and in its turn conditions them. Applying this general principle to human affairs, Kuo argued that social institutions and moral ideas must be changed when situations change. Kuo also gave a more positive meaning to the Taoist term “nonaction” by interpreting it to mean spontaneous action, not sitting still. In these points Kuo deviated from original Taoism, but the result which he inferred from his conception of nonaction agreed with Chuang-tzu's thought. For Kuo meant also that everything has a definite nature; if it follows its own way, it finds satisfaction and enjoyment; if it is not content with what is, and craves to be what it is not, then there is dissatisfaction and regret. The Perfect Man ignores all such distinctions as right and wrong, life and death; his happiness is unlimited.

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Universalium. 2010.

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