Boundary of the Sky

Environmentalism, Daoism, and the Logic of Increase


  • Paul D’AMBROSIO East China Normal University, Shanghai, China



environmentalism, climate change, Daoism, Laozi, Zhuangzi


There are three good reasons why Daoism is a bad candidate for addressing contemporary environmental issues. First, the Laozi and Zhuangzi do not contain a concept of “nature” akin to ours today. Second, the philosophies of the Laozi and Zhuangzi are anything but revolutionary in spirit—and we need some revolutions. Finally, we need big changes from the top, and early Chinese thinkers did not conceive of political institutions in the way that we have them. Despite these reasons, or perhaps precisely because of them, early Daoist attitudes can provide insightful resources for reflecting on some of our most unreflected upon attitudes. In particular, the need for growth in nearly all areas of society is taken as a given, or even necessity, for our way of life. And while environmentalism and climate change are complex and tricky issues, growth has been identified by many as a common denominator when figuring out exactly what needs to change. This paper argues that if we shift our focus from seeking to find environmental concerns in the Laozi and Zhuangzi to philosophizing with these texts, then we can reflect on our environmental issues in interesting ways. To this end I will present “not contending” (不爭) “awareness of contentment” (知足), “not acting for” (無為) and “according to itself” (自然) as key Daoist attitudes which steer our thinking away from growth and along trajectories which can help human systems be better synchronized with non-human ones.


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How to Cite

D’Ambrosio, P. (2023). Boundary of the Sky: Environmentalism, Daoism, and the Logic of Increase. Asian Studies, 11(2), 41–67.