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‘Following the Way of Heaven’: Exemplarism, Emulation, and Daoism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 April 2019



Many ancient traditions recognise certain people as exemplars of virtue, the models for the good or flourishing human life. Certain traditions, however, incorporate a cosmic mode of emulation, where the virtues are manifestations, in human form, of qualities or aspects of the ground or source of the world. I defend this claim using the sustained case study of the forms of Daoist exemplarity found in the Book of Zhuangzi, then consider the charge that the aspiration to cosmic emulation is inhumane. It emerges that there are forms of emulation where the ultimate model for the good or flourishing life as manifested by the exemplar is nothing human.

Copyright © American Philosophical Association 2019

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This article is the fourth in a special series of commissioned articles on non-Western philosophies. The third article ‘Epistemic Pluralism: From Systems to Stances', by Jonardon Ganeri, appeared in Volume 5, Issue 1, pp. 1–21.

I am grateful to David E. Cooper and Linda Zagzebski for encouraging my initial interest and to audiences at the universities of Glasgow, Nottingham, and Oklahoma (the latter generously sponsored by the Centre for the Study of Human Flourishing). I am especially grateful for elevating conversations and correspondence with Amy Olberding.



Primary texts


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