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The original quote was taken from Tao Te Ching, Chapter 42. A literal reading of the text would suggest that a violent man does not die from natural causes but such a prediction, while it might sound reasonable because violence leads to more violence, isn't a certainty.

Another interpretation that came to mind is that a violent man will always fear death, and living life always in fear of death is not living, which makes the death of the violent man anything but natural, for he wasn’t in harmony with life and therefore wasn’t in harmony with death. I was wondering how others would interpret this.

  • simply the same as the saying - a man who lives by the sword, dies by the sword. – Swami Vishwananda Jul 6 '18 at 4:45
  • @SwamiVishwananda I already stated that interpretation in my question, I was looking for different ideas. – user29568 Jul 6 '18 at 9:04
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What others have taught, I also teach:

The forceful and violent will not die from natural causes.

This will be my chief doctrine.

https://www.taoistic.com/taoteching-laotzu/taoteching-42.htm

This site offers the following interpretation :

The last lines could very well be intended as separate from the preceding ones. It's a simple statement. Those who live violently risk dying the same way. History has shown us countless examples of it.

Here, too, moderation is to recommend [= moderation is recommended]. Lao Tzu repeats that we should avoid any extremes. Although he rarely makes moral judgments on people's life choices, he does confess that he is repelled by brutality, and by the search for personal gain gone wild.

He will come back to it in other chapters, but already here he is quite clear about it. Don't rock the boat, especially not for personal gain. Nature is rich enough to support us all in abundance, if there are not some who forcefully claim much more than their share.

'Those who live violently risk dying the same way' is not, of course, what Lao Tzu (Laozi) actually says in the original or in this translation. But it is perfectly possible that 'A violent man does not die a natural death' functions only to imply that such a man risks - strongly risks - an unnatural death. The statement is to be taken not in its strict linguistic meaning but as what H.P. Grice termed its 'conversational implicature'. In the same way we say, 'Criminals end up in prison'. We know that not all criminals end up in prison but the point is that there is a high probability that they will. They risk emprisonment and this is what 'Criminals end up in prison' indicates. It is a slight over-statement that increases the impact of a valid point; and I think 'A violent man does not die a natural death' is to be taken in the same way.

That is, at least, my interpretation. But other Answers may take a different view. I might add that, as virmaior has pointed out to me, Lao-Tzu (Laozi) is unlikely to have been an actual person. (Compare Homer.)

  • Two thoughts. (1) The Chinese doesn't really permit the "strongly risks" interpretation; it says they will not / cannot die a natural death (ctext.org/dao-de-jing). (2) Lao-Tzu (Laozi) is not generally considered to be an actual person by people work in Chinese philosophy. – virmaior Jul 5 '18 at 0:04
  • @virmaior. Thanks as ever. I was naturally conscious of the perils of translation. I'd only say that the English, 'Criminals end up in prison', equally doesn't strictly permit 'Criminals strongly risk ending up in jail' yet this is its actual implication. I wondered if the Chinese text, whoever wrote it, might also have over-stated in order to make a point. I was trading on a difference, familiar I guess in all languages, between linguistic meaning and 'conversational implicature'. I will revise my text to make the distinction clearer. Much appreciated - GT. – Geoffrey Thomas Jul 5 '18 at 9:05
  • Interesting remarks. An even more coherent way of stating it would be "a violent man dies a violent death." It's interesting why the text instead goes for not " natural death." In the ctext translation, they imply that a natural death is a right almost, by using "their." @virmaior Any thoughts on this? Is the simple reading really what was implied. – user29568 Jul 5 '18 at 10:02
  • The translation at ctext isn't the most scholarly by current standards but the great thing about ctext is you get the original which is 強梁者不得其死,吾將以為教父。 [strong violent person] for the first three characters. The next two are "will not/cannot receive". Then "their". Finally "death." the last part is "I make this the basis of my teaching" (though I have to admit being a bit puzzled as to why 教父 means that...) – virmaior Jul 5 '18 at 10:08
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    Not seeing much on some initial searching. The first part DDJ 42 is famous and an important part of the literature, but I can't say I remember anyone focusing on the latter part. Japanese references don't seem to add the natural in translation. – virmaior Jul 5 '18 at 10:21

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