What does anti-language mean in the context of ancient Chinese philosophy, specifically when concerning the Dao (Mencius and Laozi)?

Does it refer to the position that the Dao cannot be properly described using language?

Context: Chad Hansen, Classical Chinese Ethics in Singer, A Companion to Ethics.

  • What do you mean by anti-language? Who uses this term? Jan 29, 2021 at 4:36
  • 1
    In what context have you heard it referred to as "anti-language"? It's possible that different people mean different things by calling it such.
    – Mary
    Jan 29, 2021 at 4:47
  • @Swami Vishwananda I recognize that this term is not very popular, but Stanford's Encyclopedia does make a handful of mentions. plato.stanford.edu/entries/daoism
    – Cheng
    Jan 29, 2021 at 4:47
  • @Mary I think I made the context pretty clear... though I am not sure of variations in usage by different authors. Let me clarify it.
    – Cheng
    Jan 29, 2021 at 4:50

2 Answers 2


Daoist philosophy holds that language is intractably dualist — dividing the universe into endless dichotomies (good/bad, high/low, is/isn't, etc) — and so it can never capture the true, non-dualist essence of reality. Language is useful for practical tasks, but it gets in the way of deeper understanding because it forces the mind to make distinctions that are fundamentally unreal.

It isn't an anti-language philosophy, exactly, but a philosophy that engages and examines the broad limitations of language.


I am new to this site and not familiar with the format so I apologize for my out of context answer. To be more specific the attributes of Dao are clear to the Chinese in the Daodejing, it is just that it is untranslatable. Or is it? When I compared the attributes of the Chinese word of Dao with the Hebrew word of Elohim (God)in Hebrew, it became evident that their attributes were remarkable similar. I wondered what was their source. The immediate problem was how to translate these concepts into English. Languages contains proprieties that are particular to the people who grew up with that language, localized and rich in locally adopted vocabulary. Laozi used the word Dao in a particular way that seemed to me (as translator of Chinese and Hebrew) to coincide with the attributes of the Biblical Elohim. I devoted an entire in-depth chapter of the meaning of Dao in Laozi's Daodejing and its biblical roots in "The Covenant and the mandate of Heaven"

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