Continuing the Conversation: The Tao Te Ching, Day 1

Written By: Trevor Kelly


In last Monday’s meeting, the club looked at chapter 38 before turning to chapter 1 in order  get a feel for this “Tao.” One difficulty we found, immediately, was that any attempt to translate “Tao” will necessarily distance us from it.

Translation is nothing to laugh at, especially with regards to such a complicated text. Seated at the table, the club members had a number of different translations of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, making any discussion of the text a challenge.

Ellen Chen’s translation and commentary, available on, offers parallel and often conflicting translations. This proved, time and time again, to be of great help in bridging the gaps between different translations.

In reflecting, now, on the importance of language, I am struck by how much this text may well elude us, as I constantly found myself tripping over not only English language but English understanding. It seems that my ease or ability to understand is Western, when the text at hand is anything but.

How do you think language affects thought? Sound off in the comments below!

544686_3426085734286_179054866_nTrevor Kelly is a senior at Sacred Heart University, studying Religious Studies and Philosophy with a focus in Catholic thought and choral music. Hco-founded and currently serves as the President of the Sacred Heart University social activism club, Peace by Justice. He also as the Vice President of the Sacred Heart University Philosophy and Religious Studies club, of which he is also a founding member. He reads Plato on the beach, and swears he is the coolest person you will ever meet who reads  comic books. He is probably wrong.


2 responses to “Continuing the Conversation: The Tao Te Ching, Day 1

  1. Language affects thought in all that we do and see in our environment. We define and create our perception of the world through the use of it. For example there are specific groups of people who can not differentiate between two shades of yellow simply because they do not have a word for both. (For instance, goldenrod yellow and plain old yellow may be to these people “the color of the sun” ). I know this example and point doesn’t directly or logically affects our thoughts but it does influence our perceptions and the thoughts that come as a result.

  2. sorry it took so long for me to comment on here; been keeping busy! i think language affects thought greatly. when i was in China over the summer i worked with a range of 18-27 people from around the world, and although most of them spoke English, certain people would often have trouble understanding a phrase or concept that i was trying to get across simply because it did not exist in their native language. some languages can be more passionate (Spanish, for instance) while others can be more rigid and straightforward (i think Russian is a good example of this). because languages are like this, i think people who grow up with these languages adopt the kind of “personality” of the language, or it could be the other way around; either way, the “personality” of my co-worker’s native language always seemed to match up with their personalities.
    It’s pretty interesting to think about. keep these coming, i miss our philosophical conversations!

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