is professor of philosophy and Danforth Chair in the humanities at Saint Louis University in Missouri. Her books include Religious Disagreement (2019) and Philosophy Illustrated: 42 Thought Experiments to Broaden Your Mind (forthcoming from Oxford University Press in 2022).
is associate professor of Chinese thought and cultures at Saint Louis University in Missouri. Her books include Li Zhi (1527-1602), Confucianism, and the Virtue of Desire (2012) and A Book to Burn and A Book to Keep (Hidden) (2016).
In the first chapter of the ancient Daoist masterpiece the Zhuangzi (attributed to Zhuang Zhou, c 369-286 BCE) there is a parade of marvellous animals and plants: a fish named Roe, measuring thousands of miles in length, who turns into a magnificent bird named Peng, with a wingspan thousands of miles across, and a caterpillar and a rose of Sharon that both live for thousands of years. The chapter concludes with a discussion of another wonder of nature: an immense, gnarled, wart-ridden tree – so twisted and knotted as to make its wood unusable for carpenters.
Huizi, a logically minded thinker, censures the tree as ‘big and useless, and so everyone alike spurns [it]!’ But his friend Zhuangzi responds in defence of the crooked tree: