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Ideas found in the early Daoist texts can inform current debates about disability, since the latter often involve assumptions about personhood and agency that Daoist texts do not share. The two canonical texts of classical Daoism, the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi, do not explicitly discuss disability as an object of theory or offer a model of it. They do, however, provide conceptual resources that can enrich contemporary discussions of disability. Two particular ideas are discussed here. Classical Daoist thinking about the body undermines normative assumptions about it that attributions of ‘disabled’ often depend upon; and Daoism vividly problematises the common inferential leap from perceived and pronounced incapacity to a more general judgment of “useless”. In conclusion, I suggest that Daoism’s skepticism and particularistic approach to experience suggest caution about the value of appealing to theoretical models of disability.


This chapter was originally published in Disability and World Religions: An Introduction, edited by Darla Y. Schumm & Michael Stoltzfus, Baylor University Press, 2016. ISBN: 9781481305211



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