老子 (pīnyīn: Lǎozǐ) is traditionally recognized as contemporary of Confucius, and as the first major philosopher of the Taoist School道家 (pīnyīn: dàojiā). However, textual research shows that its sole work the Tao Te Ching 道德經 (pīnyīn: Dàodéjīng) is a later work, posterior to Mencius and Zhuāngzi. Before the Han dynasty - 漢朝 (simplified : 汉朝, pīnyīn: Hàn cháo), Zhuāngzi and Lǎozǐ were not necessarily associated to the same school, it was during the Han that the term Taoist School was created to include both.
On the relationship between Lǎozǐ and Zhuāngzi, two views were advanced by commentators:
  • Lǎozǐ takes the philosophy of Yang Chu one step further, and Zhuāngzi takes it even one step further
  • Lǎozǐ describes how men should live in the world, the distinctions of aspects of the world. Zhuāngzi presents men with a mystical aspect, that goes beyond the actual world.

The key themes developed by Lǎozǐ are:
    On the observation of things, the Lǎozǐ speaks of « invariable » principles of the universe :
    • The Way – 道 (pīnyīn:dào), the all-embracing first principle of heaven and earth, that was there before being and non-being, and that is impossible to name (道德經– 25,『有物混成先天地生。寂兮寥兮獨立不改,周行而不殆,可以為天下母。吾不知其名,強字之曰道。』, “There is a thing confusedly formed. Born before heaven and earth. Silent and void. It stands alone and does not change. Goes round and does not weary. It is capable of being the mother of the world. I know not its name. So I style it 'the way'.)
    • The Power or Virtue 德 (pīnyīn:dé) is the principle underlying each individual thing, it is what each individual object obtains from the Way to become what they are (道德經– 51,『道生之,德畜之,物形之,勢成之。是以萬物莫不尊道,而貴德。道之尊,德之貴,夫莫之命,而常自然。』, “The way gives them life; Virtue rears them; Things give them shape; Circumstances bring them to maturity. Therefore the myriad creatures all revere the way and honor virtue. Yet the way is revered and virtue honored not because this is decreed by any authority but because it is natural for them to be treated so. ”)
  • The nature of the Tao is to be spontaneous: 自然 (pīnyīn: zīnyīn).Within the Tao, events happen naturally, without effort or intervention (道德經– 25, 『人法地,地法天,天法道,道法自然。』, “Man models himself on earth, earth on heaven, heaven on the way, and the way on that which is naturally so. ”)
  • From the spontaneity, a political doctrine modeled on the Tao is descrbed: Non-action – Wu Wei - 無為 (simplified: 无为, pīnyīn: wú wéi) - an answer to the historical context, Wu Wei is described as a political doctrine (道德經– 3, 『不尚賢,使民不爭。不貴難得之貨,使民不為盜。不見可欲,使民心不亂。是以聖人之治,虛其心,實其腹,弱其志,強其骨;常使民無知、無欲,使夫智者不敢為也。為無為,則無不治。”』, 尚Not to honor men of worth will keep the people from contention; not to value goods which are hard to come by will keep them from theft; not to display what is desirable will keep them from being unsettled of mind. Therefore in governing the people, the sage empties their minds but fills their bellies, weakens their wills but strengthens their bones. He always keeps them innocent of knowledge and free from desire, and ensures that the clever never dare to act Do that which consists in taking no action, and order will prevail. ”) and as the paradigm of the behavior of the sage. (道德經– 64, 『 為者敗之,執者失之。是以聖人,無為故無敗,無執故無失。”』, 故Whoever does anything to it will ruin it; Whoever lays hold of it will lose it. Therefore the sage, because he does nothing, never ruins anything; And, because he does not lay hold of anything, loses nothing. ”)
  • The natural consequence of Non-action -無為 is stillness -靜 (simplified:静, pīnyīn: j pī) (道德經– 57, 『我無為而民自化。我好靜而民自正。』, “I take no action and the people are transformed of themselves;I prefer stillness and the people are rectified of themselves;”)
  • Reversion - 反 (pīnyīn: fān) or return - 復 (simplified: 复, pīnyīn: fù) is considered the underlying law of the Tao: if something moves to an extreme to one direction, a change must bring an opposite result. (道德經– 40, 『反者道之動。』, “Reversion is how the way moves”; 道德經– 25, 『大曰逝,逝曰遠,遠曰反。』, “Vastness means passing on, passing on means going far away, going far away means returning.”)
  • The unadorned simplicity - 樸 (simplified: 朴, pīnyīn: pū) is an ethical aspect of the Tao, it allows for the practice of Non-action -無為 and to reach stillness -靜. (道德經– 37, 『無名之樸,夫亦將無欲。不欲以靜,天下將自定。』, “The nameless uncarved block is also freedom from desire, and if I cease to desire and remain still the empire will be at peace of its own accord.”)
  • Tolerance -慈 (pīnyīn: cp) and frugality - 儉 (simplified: 俭, pīnyīn: jiān) are advanced as qualities of the sage. Tolerance here means the impartiality towards the world, not being for or against anything. (道德經– 67, 『持而保之:一曰慈, 二曰儉,三曰不敢為天下先。』, “I have three treasures which I hold and cherish: The first is known as tolerance, the second is known as frugality, the third is known as not daring to take the lead in the empire. ”)
  • The ideal man is modeled on an infant -嬰兒 (simplified: 婴儿, pīnyīn:yīng ér), the final stage of someone that has cultivated himself (道德經– 28, 『知其雄,守其雌,為天下谿。為天下谿,常德不離,復歸於嬰兒。』, “Know the male, but keep to the role of the female qnd be a ravine to the empire. If you are a ravine to the empire, then the constant virtue will not desert you and you will again return to being a babe.”) The infant is the final stage of the “return” for the ideal man, the final stage of the application of Non-action - 無為, a moral concept that was used later as a basis for the mystical doctrines related to the return- 復 and the basis for meditation practices (道德經 – 10, 『專氣致柔,能如嬰兒乎﹖』, “In concentrating your breath can you become as supple as a baby ?”).
  • A certain number of paradoxes are put forward around being and non-being and knowledge. These paradoxes push conventional thinking by demonstrating that whenever we define something, we at the same time define its contrary
    • Between Being 有 (pīnyīn: yǒu) and non-Being 無 (simplified: 无, pīnyīn: wú) : In looking at things and their complements, the Lǎozǐ reaches the most radical of the paradox: the Lǎozǐ gives more value to the emptiness, rather than the “something”, to the non-Being when compared to Being. Non-being refers to the essence of things, Being refers to their function. (道德經– 64, 『三十幅共一轂,當其無,有車之用。埏埴以為器,當其無,有器之用。鑿戶牖以為室,當其無,有室之用。故有之以為利,無之以為用。』, “Thirty spokes share one hub. Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the cart. Knead clay in order to make a vessel. Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the vessel. Cut out doors and windows in order to make a room. Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the room. Thus what we gain is Something, yet it is by virtue of Nothing that this can be put to use. ”)
    • Between Knowledge 知 (pīnyīn: zhī) and non-Knowledge不知 (pīnyīn: bùzhī), puts forward the question of relativity of knowledge and the value of “not knowing”. (道德經– 71, 『知不知上,不知知病。夫唯病病,是以不病。』, “To know yet to think that one does not know is best; Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty.”)

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