Professor Karyn Lai

Agora Speaker Series 2022 - Professor Karyn Lai

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Are you equipped to be free? Some reflections from Daoist philosophy

Freedom is a fundamental aspect of human life, to the extent that we consider the deprivation of certain freedoms a moral wrong. An ancient Daoist text, the Zhuangzi (4th c BCE), was deeply critical of the approaches to government in its day, suggesting that they promoted a way of life that was akin to binding people in shackles. By contrast, there are many images in the Zhuangzi of a life that is free, of soaring birds, and of people with remarkable achievements because their lives are not rule- or norm-governed. But a critical question arises for readers of the Zhuangzi: how can we be free? In other words, without our former guides on how life should be lived, what informs our actions and decisions? Are there new principles to replace the old, or are there now no limits to our actions? How can we equip ourselves to make the most of this new-found freedom? I discuss the Zhuangzi’s stories which present models of how we can freely navigate the world.