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The Dao De Jing is a classic about how Nature operates (or doesn't operate) to achieve its ever-evolving marvels.

Jing here means a classic book. Dao is the Way, the "first cause": to me a fancy name for Nature. In such naturalistic spirit, what are good translations for De?

In most English translations, It appears as Virtue. But, as Nietzsche remembered, there are Virtues and virtues... (virtù: brave, heroic, strong, capable... and in the extreme opposite the virtues of submission, chastity, humbleness, humility - humiliation - mortification... somewhere in between, perhaps, the virtuous as sensible, simple, maybe stoic but not necessarily ruthless or even bellicose: the daoist 圣人 shengren, usually translated as "sage" or "saint". But the Dao De Jing criticizes both the "knowledgeable" and the "flawless"). Virtue, sage, saint... words full of contradictory meanings ingrained as an old tan...

In the "organic origin of the being" (DDJ 51) we read

道 Nature 生 creates us
德 De 畜 cultivates us
物 species (or being) gives us 形 form
势 environment 成 completes us.

That's why ten thousand beings
all respect Nature
and esteem De.

Respect for Nature and esteem for De
don't come from a decree
but emerge* spontaneously/naturally.

*. emergent properties

To me De describes the difference between a healthy organism (a person, another animal, a plant...) and an unhealthy one. The difference between a tree growing free and another limited by a fence or a roof. Like the "skies" that give 命 ming (destiny, fate) to each person, De is also part of the "cultivation team" - which starts with 道 Nature and then to other things in chronological order: 德 De - the general health and all the nutrients needed for a "perfect" development, from where a simple, easy, spontaneous behavior have arisen since the dawn of the evolutionary process; 物 Species - the specific patterns that make one species different from its closest relatives (and a being from its brothers and sisters) is far more recent in the history of Life; 势 Environment - gives the last word, the fire in the oven giving the shape of the cake despite the recipe, the one who will, until the last day of our lives, mold genotype into phenotype.

Thus: 道 Nature -> 德 De -> 物 Species/Being/Body** -> 势 Nurture/Culture

**. 物 is often used in 万物 meaning "ten thousand beings" (not "things", since 物 gives the idea of two animals, probably an ox and a boar). Even aliens, bacteria, algae and virus fit here, but since we humans are animals (vertebrates, mammals, etc), the study of the animals (zoology, ethology, comparative embryology...) gives us countless hints about the deep meanings of this ancient text.

Studying the lack of violence proposed by the Dao De Jing, we find another path to Spontaneity, to a "break of the chains": the war, the direct conflict, is usually avoided in most animal species, transformed in ritualistic aggression, usually a display of size, colors and sounds, all reflecting the power of the owner. If avoid conflict is the rule in the animal kingdom, then to "respect Nature" and "avoid the use of armies" (DDJ 31) is just the human animal following its instinct. Being itself, spontaneous, natural. (We are peaceful by Nature. A high dose of pain or propaganda -- as Noam Chomsky reminds us -- is needed to make us approve of a war.)

Would Spontaneity, maybe Health or something in the sense of Darwinian adaptation, be good translations for De, in this naturalistic, materialistic, even Marxist, present context of the Dao De Jing? Or perhaps some other word, in any language, could convey a closer meaning of what the original author have probably intended?

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    From the Intro to the Hackett edition : "The second key term, te is likewise common in early Chinese historical and philosophical literature and denotes a moral power or virtue characteristic of a person who follows a correct course of conduct. It is pronounced the same as and is probably cognate with another word meaning “to get,” and in Taoism this aspect of meaning is stressed over the purely moral one; that is, te is the virtue or power that one acquires through being in accord with the tao, what one “gets” from the tao." – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Dec 2 '16 at 12:44
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    But it seems to me that is a little bit confusing to ask for "what the original author have probably intended" and at the same time read the text through Nietzsche, the stoics, Chomsky, Darwin and Marxism... – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Dec 2 '16 at 12:45
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    Victor Mair proposes 'integrity' in his translation, and I think it works more in context than the other conventions have in the past. It is intrinsically related to health and adaptation. – jobermark Dec 2 '16 at 15:23
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Yes, and I forgot to mention the Amerindian peoples that gave me the ultimate help in grasping the "primitive", original meaning of it. We human beings have not changed genetically in the last 10,000 years or more, so why do you seem to believe those cultural references can't help establish the old text? Our features and problems as humans remain essentially the same. About the proposed "correct course of conduct": beyond "one acquires through being in accord with the tao" the word is not describing exactly how to do that, is it? – Rodrigo Dec 2 '16 at 16:59
  • @jobermark Yes, and it's related with the 真 (really, truly, indeed, real, true, genuine; related with 直 straight, upright, vertical, straightforward, integrate) that forms the 真人 true person, more used by Zhuangzi to mean the same 圣人 by Laozi. – Rodrigo Dec 2 '16 at 17:20

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