Student Report on Weakening Strategies: Vattimo and Chinese Thought

Reported by Mateja Bokan, Class of 2026

Organized by the DKU Humanities Research Center in cooperation with the Vattimo Archive and Center at Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), the Weakening Strategies: Vattimo and Chinese Thought (September 30, 2022) was a one-day symposium that aimed to advance comparative understanding of the concept of weakness, in conversation with the Vattimo’s philosophy and Chinese thought. Panel two was chaired by DKU Humanities Research Center’s co-director James Miller and featured East China Normal University’s Professor of Philosophy Liangjian Liu, University of Turin’s Research fellow Erica Onnis, and Loyola University Andalusia’s Associate Professor of Philosophy Mario Wenning. Each of the speakers brought their own perspectives and interpretations into how Daoist theories work with Vattimo’s thought and work.

First to present their thought was Professor Liangjian Liu who presented Reinterpreting Communism and Community through a Dialogue between Vattimo and Chinese Philosophy. Professor argued that the perceptions of the idea of communities under Communistic regimes should be reexamined through a constructive dialogue between Vattimo and Chinese philosophy. The professor stated that communistic ideas provide hope for people discontented with democratic ideals that fail to fulfill their promises. He argues that this comes as a development of understanding of what works in real life, and even with good theoretical basis, democracy has multiple flaws that prevent it from reaching its full potential in functioning systems. Under Vattimo, this could be interpreted that communism turned into hyper-capitalism and dictatorship as it developed in a different direction from democracy. However, under Chinese philosophy this idea can also stand as stereotyping of the Chinese for their lack of creativity in their political system, thereby retreating to familiarity and simplicity for the sakes of maintaining a long-lasting peace. However, the fragility of democracy comes directly from its devotion to discourse between people and politics. The professor argued that the ability of various social groups to meddle in politics on a basis of current popularity or funding donations to the politicians expose that communism is perhaps more effective in managing the politics of a country than democracy. An audience member asked Professor Liu whether he believes that a community itself has enough power correct itself to move forward in a better manner; he replied that under Daoism, and Vattimo to a smaller extent, the community acts as the driving force to change itself by identifying values or behaviors that prevents the community from moving forward and correcting them over time to ensure the longevity and prosperity of the community over a longer period.

The second lecture was delivered by University of Turin’s Research fellow Erica Onnis presented Hermeneutics as Koiné, the “Formless Form” of Dao, and its Epistemic Elusiveness. Based on her research, Onnis explains that hermeneutics can indeed be seen as an even wider Koiné, which is able to conceptualize other philosophical discourses. She does this by using Vattimo’s Etica dell’interpretazione. She argues that the risk of misunderstanding opens problems and forces hermeneutics to become more precise and radical. As such, a clarification of hermeneutics implies the recognition of substantial continuity that exists within academia working under the definition of theory of interpretation. Onnis then moves to her main argument, that The Daodeijig (道德經) cannot be defined using conventional thoughts, rather, it can best be defined through negation in order to be effectively understood. Using Chinese philosophy as her guide in research, she concludes that dao 道 is imperceivable, nominable, and obscure and vague, out of all of which rises its power manifested as lack of form, allowing multiple interpretations. As such, if dao is defined, it fails as it lost its original, transcending form. With that, she concludes that from an epistemological point of view, the very act of knowing decrees the impossibility of knowing dao, just as the very act of naming decrees the impossibility of naming dao. Following the lecture, Onnis was asked to define epistemology, to which she said that epistemology focuses on understanding ways of reaching reality and ways of doing so, describing concepts that can be used to describe other concepts.

The final lecture was delivered by Mario Wenning, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Loyola University Andalusia. His lecture focused on Daoist resistance movements outside of China and Asia. He focused on two resistance movements from World War II: White Rose and Brecht’s exile from Germany. The professor first explained that Daoist resistance movements impact western resistance as well, as strategies on resistance spread through the world as failures and successes are talked about. As such, he used White Rose, a non-violent, intellectual resistance group in Nazi Germany, as his first example of Daoist resistance. White Rose used Dao as means of waking German people by testing their ethos of not doing anything to implement change. By publishing leaflets and graffiti condemning Nazis and calling for active opposition, this group of activists showcased how empire as a living organism gets weaker the more opposition it faces. The leaflets were used to take people away from mainstream movements to underground efforts using morality as the basis of their argument against the Nazis, however, leaders of the movement were betrayed, jailed, and executed for treason against the country. Even though this movement came to a tragic conclusion, its leaders still stand as martyrs of the fight in totalitarian states. Professor then moved to talk about Bertolt Brecht’s exodus from Nazi Germany, and the meaning it has for the Daoist ideas. Professor Wenning explained that even though Brecht’s exodus was initially seen as cowardly, when ones saves themselves from a system so disruptive of one’s freedoms, the exodus offers hope for ones that are stuck within it. As such, Brecht’s exodus presents the thought that what may be a hopeless situation turned into hope for people wishing resistance, eventually becoming resistance itself. With this, the Professor concluded that these two examples present cross-cultural appropriation of Daoism, exemplifying that Dao’s texts offer opportunity for various interpretations of different cross-cultural situations. Following the lecture, Professor Wenning was asked whether resistance can eventually bring social change, to which he replied that it is difficult to explain and predict how resistance and social change correlate in real life. However, in the examples that he gave it is evident that it takes time to institutionalize change, but individual resistance allows for a change in lifestyle from which new forms of life emerge that may make an impact on society in the long run.

In the end, Professor Miller thanked the lecturers and participants, and with that the second session of the symposium was concluded.