“Free — from what? Oh! What is there that cannot be shaken off?”
Some thoughts set down about what one can suppose is the most persistent philosophical question: “How should I live?” Many answers exist, and these vary as they should, but the conventional responses tend to also be limited because the question is loaded. It is a truly unselfconsciously modern question to ask, it slips in the ontological I, unnoticed. We need to notice the I. We need to inspect it and evaluate it. But in this we will find not more than mere guidelines. The perennial question about how to live is relegated to the museum. Similarly, our definition of free-will becomes problematic. The postmodern turn in science establishes that the universe is indeed in constant flux, prediction about the world can never be wholly accurate, and the self is, ultimately, a myth. But these are evident to the ancient Chinese philosophers and the early Buddhists. Why has it taken so long to realize this in the West? It would indeed be wise to follow their lead by defining the way to live as dwelling within seemingly contradictory truths but not being overcome. To explicate this end, this paper traces the conventional Western philosophical tradition of self-knowledge back to Plato then through its logical extreme in the work of Max Stirner, and finally proposes that a few crucial lessons can be gleaned from Daoist teachings.