Of Course

The Course has a certain realness and reliability to it, but no deliberate activity and no definite form. It can be transmitted but not received, attained but not shown.

— Zhuangzi (tr. Ziporyn 2009, p. 43)

Say I trust the author implicitly to speak from experience. Trusting his testimony then means believing ‘that he had an experience which his words interpret. Nevertheless, impotent as I am to doubt his word, it is not what he tells me that I have experienced, but only the fact that he has told me so’ (Peirce, R 299:66-67[35-36]). I interpret his words by imagining an experience which I might interpret with those words if I were him. The only link between his experience and mine is the likeness of his bodymind and language to mine.

2 thoughts on “Of Course”

  1. Would you connect the Zhuangzi and Peirce quotations more explicitly? I may be dense here, but at the moment, I don’t quite see the connection (or, rather, it is too vague to be useful to me).

  2. Yes, it is vague, isn’t it? But the statement by Zhuangzi (as translated by Ziporyn) is just one example of the kind of pronouncement uttered by a spiritual guide, a sage, a guru, an Author of Scripture. Another example would be John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The main part of my post addresses the question of how we interpret such statements if we take them as “speaking from experience” (i.e. from the actual experience of the utterer), given that such statements are not empirically testable like a scientific hypothesis.

    Zhuangzi differs from Jesus in that he does not speak in the first person, but i read him as speaking from experience all the same, and take that as the basis of our trust in his testimony. This particular statement by Zhuangzi is one that i came across recently and made a note of because i liked the way it refers to ‘the Course’ rather than ‘the Way,’ which is more common in Chinese scriptures, and suggests a connection with the English idiom i used as the title. After deciding to use it in this post, i also saw a connection between the idea that ‘it can be transmitted but not received’ and the point made by Peirce. But that is indeed a very vague connection, and i don’t know whether this explanation makes it any clearer!

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