Primitivism in the Zhuangzi: An introduction

Frank Saunders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Books 8–10 and sections of books 11–16 of the Zhuangzi anthology represent an important and underappreciated contribution to Warring States ethical and political philosophy, known as “primitivism.” This article offers a general introduction to Zhuangist primitivism. It focuses on primitivism's exploration and development of a normative conception of human nature, particularly xing 性, as well as primitivism's subsequent rejection of the elaborate moral, social, political, and cultural artifices championed by their philosophical opponents, chiefly the Ruists and the Mohists. After a brief introduction to Zhuangist primitivism and the limited scholarship on it, I divide this discussion into three parts pertaining to the primitivists' three distinct approaches to and uses of human nature, which in turn serve as the basis for primitivist ethics and political thought.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalPhilosophy Compass
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Oct 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
A previous version of this discussion was presented at the 2018 Hong Kong–Macau–Singapore Symposium on Chinese Philosophy (National University of Singapore), and I would like to thank the audience members there for their helpful feedback. I would also like to thank Chris Fraser, Eric Hutton, Jamin Asay, Tang Siufu, Loy Hui-Chieh, and an anonymous referee for additional feedback on earlier versions of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy


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