A Conception Of The Natural World

Around 340 BC, Shen Dao who is usually referred to as ‘Master Shen’ or Shenzi (395–315 BC) was a Chinese philosopher that influenced developments in classical Chinese thought, where rivers and the sea, and water in general were recurring themes. Shenzi said, “When the sea and the mountain fight for water, the sea always wins.  The way is to the world as the river and the sea are to rivulets and streams.  Therefore the big rivers do not despise the little brooks as tributaries.”  Shen Dao saw laws as arising from the commands of the ruler, whoever he happened to be, and what counts as law was simply whatever the ruler presented as being the law.  The very act of dispensing laws results in the setting of fixed standards, thus Shen Dao felt confident that even bad laws are better than no laws at all.  Shen Dao is known for being impartial and lacking selfishness, as he had this great way of embracing all things. The emergence of Shen Dao philosophy Daoism along with Confucianism, became the two great indigenous philosophical traditions of China.

Only fragments of his writings remain and in one of them he says, “While heaven is bright, it does not worry that the people are in the dark. While the earth is bountiful, it does not worry that there is insufficiency among the people.  While the sage is potent, he does not worry that the people are endangered.  Even though heaven does not worry that the people are in the dark, those who open up doors and windows certainly can take from [heaven] in order to obtain their own illumination, though heaven does nothing.  Even though the earth does not worry that there is insufficiency among the people, those who chop down trees and cut grasses can certainly draw from [the earth] in order to obtain their own bounty, though the earth does nothing.  Even though the sage does not worry that people are endangered, those of the hundred surnames who take the sage as their standard from above and harmonize with those below can certainly draw from [the sage] to attain their own security, though the sage does nothing.”

Another passage that remains from his writing relates to rules of property, but I see this as the beginning of the law of supply and demand and here he wrote, “If a rabbit runs through the streets, a hundred people will pursue it.  This is not because a single rabbit is sufficient to be divided among a hundred people, but rather because its allotment has not yet been determined and only the person who catches this rabbit will be able to eat it.  If piles of rabbits fill the market, most people will just pass by them without turning their heads paying them no heed, this is not because they do not desire rabbits [but rather because] the allotment has already been settled.”  When distribution is settled, no one argues with another over who the rabbit belongs to and that is why settling distribution is so important.  When order is clear and stable, all people will conform to it, just as they resign themselves to the patterns of nature without resistance or excuses.

Written for the Daily Prompt and Sammi Cox Author Aspiring Weekend Writing Prompt #52 – Emergence.

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