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Wú-Wéi, The Background, And Intentionality

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Chapter Summary

This chapter shows how Searle's thesis of the Background can help us clarify what is plausible in the notion of wú-wéi("non-action" or "non-doing"), while at the same time shedding light on the kind of immediate, automatic activity that might originally have inspired this concept. Just as important, however, his work yields a convincing explanation of why the ideal of wú-wéi as expressed in early Daoist texts is untenable. Searle's theory of intentionality helps us to clarify how automatic, wú-wéi-like responses are an indispensable part of action, but also shows why it is a mistake to think such responses could function autonomously, outside of the context provided by intentionality and agency. The thesis of the Background is part of Searle's general theory of intentionality, the characteristic of mental states of being "about" or "directed at" something outside themselves and thus having content.

Keywords: Daoist; Searle's theory of intentionality; Searle's thesis of background; Wú-Wéi



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