I've come across these quotes by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) and about Chinese daoist philosopher Zhuangzi (4th century BC).

from Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music:

But now science, incited by its powerful delusion, speeds on inexorably right to its limits, at which point the optimism hidden in the essence of logic breaks down. For the circumference of the circle of science has an infinity of points, and while it is still impossible to see how that circumference could ever be completely measured, nevertheless the noble, talented man, before the middle of his life, inevitably comes up against such a border point on that circumference, where he stares out into something which cannot be illuminated.

from the Wikipedia article about Zhuangzi:

In general, Zhuangzi's philosophy is skeptical, arguing that life is limited and knowledge to be gained is unlimited. To use the limited to pursue the unlimited, he said, was foolish.

from Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music:

Dionysian art thus wishes to convince us of the eternal delight in existence: only we are to seek this delight, not in appearances, but behind them; we are to recognize how everything which comes into being must be ready for painful destruction; we are forced to gaze directly into the terror of individual existence—and nonetheless are not to become paralyzed: a metaphysical consolation tears us momentarily out of the hustle and bustle of changing forms. For a short time we really are the primordial essence itself and feel its unbridled lust for and joy in existence; the struggle, the torment, the destruction of appearances now seem to us necessary, on account of the excess of innumerable forms of existence pressing and punching themselves  into life and of the exuberant fecundity of the world will.

from the Encyclopædia Britannica article on Zhuangzhi (the book):

The text presents a process-oriented view of the cosmos, which is the product of the ceaseless fluctuations and transformations of the Dao (Way) The dao perpetually generates and transforms the “ten thousand things” — of which the human race is one — that constitute the world.

These excerpts make Zhuangzhi's ancient and Nietzsche's more contemporary (early) philosophy sound very similar e.g. in their pessimism as to what human knowledge can achieve.

My question is this: have the similarities and possible relations between the two philosophies been studied and if so, what are the main conclusions drawn? (BTW, I'm not asking for some homework exercise but would like to delve further into relevant sources after noticing these matches.)

  • 2
    Asian philosophies made had an impact on European thought that is usually just elided over. The first few lines of Hegels Logic is reminiscent of the Dao. One shouldn't just assume that all their antecedents are classical. Perhaps philosophers should be more of the good academic and reference their works... Mar 10, 2014 at 13:15
  • 2
    That humans are perhaps not fully up to the task of comprehending the entire universe in short order is an observation that many different people could have made independently. Likewise with change being of considerable importance.
    – Rex Kerr
    Mar 10, 2014 at 22:29
  • Thank you. Please kindly go forward with your personal opinions. Have a good day.
    – user13955
    Jun 27, 2015 at 6:57

2 Answers 2


To give you a reference, André van der Braak wrote a comparative study on Nietzsche and Zen (worldcat link).

As Zen is influenced by Daoism (or so Van der Braak claims), he discusses it, including Zhuangzi, in relation to Nietzsche. One of the subjects is indeed Nietzschean scepticism and (Daoist influenced) Zen scepticism. Another similarity Van der Braak sees is the emphasis of both on (the way of) life, rather than theoretical knowledge.

  • Now, I would like to ask you for what reason you concluded your statement As Zen is influenced by Daoism. Why I am going to ask is, in your book Nietzsche and Zen, in Chapter 10, 6, I can see the name of Dogen which i think probably is referring to him**link. Dogen is a Japanese, who went to **Southern Son**link to practice **Soto ( one school of Zen group ) in 1223,
    – user13955
    Jun 27, 2015 at 21:34
  • and came back 5 years later and opened today's Eiheiji link. As I have practiced briefly Zen in Eiheiji once before, I have no feeling that Dogen's Zen does have any kind of influence by Daoism, as far as I am personally concerned and in my personal opinion, so could you kindly let me know the reason you came to such a conclusion?? Will you?
    – user13955
    Jun 27, 2015 at 21:46
  • @KentaroTomono Van der Braak does not mention direct Daoist influence on Dogen himself, but treats Chan Buddhism as influenced by Daoism, and Zen as derived from Chan. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Examples of influences of Daoism on Chan/Zen he mentions: the Daoist concept of spontanity (ziran) and the Daoist discussion of gradual versus sudden enlightenment.
    – jeroenk
    Jul 3, 2015 at 6:57
  • Since you quote Wiki, I would like to quote it as well. Buddhism was exposed to Confucian[22] and Taoist[23][24] influences when it came to China. Goddard quotes D.T. Suzuki,[note 3] calling Chan a "natural evolution of Buddhism under Taoist conditions."[25] Buddhism was first identified to be "a barbarian variant of Taoism", and Taoist terminology was used to express Buddhist doctrines in the oldest translations of Buddhist texts,[24] a practice termed "matching the concepts" Did you read this line as Taoist influenced Buddhism??
    – user13955
    Jul 3, 2015 at 8:37
  • Also, Judging from the reception by the Han of the Hinayana works and from the early commentaries, it appears that Buddhism was being perceived and digested through the medium of religious Daoism (Taoism). Buddha was seen as a foreign immortal who had achieved some form of Daoist nondeath. The Buddhists’ mindfulness of the breath was regarded as an extension of Daoist breathing exercises., and The first Buddhist recruits in China were Taoists.[24] They developed high esteem for the newly introduced Buddhist meditational techniques,[28] Didn't this line suggest it was rather Taoists
    – user13955
    Jul 3, 2015 at 8:39

Also, take a look at

Deconstructing Deconstruction: Zhuang Zi as Butterfly, Nietzsche as Gadfly

"Each embraces a strategy of fruitful opposition: gadfly Nietzsche approaches his predecessors with wariness and righteous wrath; butterfly Zhuang Zi co-opts Kong Zi, and confounds Hui Zi. The distinction between opponent and competitor parallels that between wu-wei effortlessness [Zhuang Zi] and wei aggression [Nietzsche]. Despite an intuitive grasp of the child's 'yes' to life, wu-wei, Nietzsche remains mired in a defective wei strategy, while Zhuang Zi's Daoist deconstruction takes the form of wu-wei philosophical play."

However, both were aware of the error of the excessive-wei of the dominant culture of each scenario: Confucianism in China and Christianism in Europe. Although, in my point of view, Confucius is far closer than Christ to the wuwei and spontaneity of the Dao. And, when both depart from spontaneity, Confucius advises study, Christ advises monotheism. Maybe that's why Confucius is so "butterfly", and Nietzsche so "gadfly".

Another point in common is their view about evolution: Zhuang Zi spoke of evolving species -- as the Dao De Jing before him:

"Dao|Nature creates one,
one creates two,
two create three,
three create the "ten thousand"|all things"


Dao De Jing 42.

Nietzsche, in the so-called West, needed Darwin to understand the world without the monotheistic mythology. In a first moment he seems to grasp the natural evolution of everything. Later in life, half crazy (for not finding too many "thinking people"?), half misinterpreted (purposedly?) by so-called "postmodernists" mostly, ends up (kind of?) denying everything, including scientific knowledge. Or at least this is the interpretation lots of teachers and students made of his later writings.

  • This title sounds like right out of a postmodernism generator :)
    – Drux
    Jun 26, 2015 at 17:54
  • Maybe, but the text does make sense :)
    – Rodrigo
    Jun 26, 2015 at 18:05

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