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Isaiah Berlin's Challenge to the Zhuangzian Freedom


TAO JIANG, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Religion, Rutgers University. Specialties: early Chinese philosophy, Mahāyāna Buddhist philosophy, comparative philosophy. E-mail:


Isaiah Berlin is known for articulating two competing notions of freedom operative within the modern Western political philosophy, negative and positive. He provides a powerful defense of modern liberal tradition that elevates negative freedom in its attempt to preserve personal space for one's actions and choices while regarding positive freedom as suppressive due to its potentially collective orientation. This article uses Berlin as an interlocutor to challenge Zhuangzi, known for his portrayal of spiritual freedom in the Chinese tradition, prodding modern Zhuangzians to bring the Zhuangzian spiritual freedom into the sociopolitical arena by reimagining new possibilities about politics.