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Dao De Jing: A Philosophical Translation Hardcover – January 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The authors offer two reasons for a new English version of the classic Chinese Daodejing, better known as the Tao te ching. First, the translators have the benefit of recent archeological finds of earlier versions of the text, particularly a portion discovered only in 1993, "The Great One Gives Birth to the Waters," included in an appendix. Second, as philosophers-Ames is a University of Hawai'i professor of Chinese philosophy and editor of the journal Philosophy East & West, and the late Hall was professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, El Paso-the translators wish to correct previous translations that, in their view, distorted the text by either "Christianizing" it or "locating it within a poetical-mystical-occult worldview." In contrast, Ames and Hall take a secular, pragmatist view indebted to Whitehead, Wittgenstein, James and Dewey. Their view is laid out through historical and philosophical introductions, a chatty glossary, an elegant and "self-consciously interpretive" translation and a chapter-by-chapter commentary. Any textual language that might seem to smack of God or a metaphysics of essences is reinterpreted to lose such trappings. Instead, Ames and Hall insist that the Daodejing aims to "prescribe a regimen of self-cultivation that will enable one to optimize one's experience in the world" and that its title should best be translated as Making This Life Significant. These claims are not completely persuasive: too often it seems that they are replacing one distorting set of Western spectacles with another. But their unconventional renderings-for example, translating dao not as the "way" but as "way-making"-provoke the reader to see the text with fresh eyes. This is a valuable find for anyone who wants to reengage a foundational work.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.


“A NEW ENGLISH VERSION OF THE CLASSIC CHINESE DAO DE JING . . . Provoke[s] the reader to see the text with fresh eyes.
This is a valuable find for anyone who wants to reengage a foundational work.”
Publishers Weekly

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1st edition (January 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345444159
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345444158
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #290,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Michael Caley on March 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I am now in my third decade of Taijiquan and Qigong play. I teach both of these Chinese forms. I have 14 different translations of the Dao De Jing, four of the Art of Warfare and five of the I Jing. For many years, I have been trying to make sense of the variations in translation. My experiences -- physical, mental and spiritual - from taijiquan and qigong have not always been congruent with my "rational" understanding of the written works.
Roger Ames translation s of the Dao De Jung, Yuan Dao and SunZi has dramatically changed everything. Ames has done what no one else has done. He has attempted to understand the Daoist writings within the classical Chinese mode of thought and then translate that into English without the accompanying Western dualistic (Cartesian) baggage that has imbued all previous translations.
Ames insights into classical Chinese "cosmology, ontology and epistemology are exemplary and amazingly revealing. No previous translation had achieved his depth of insight.
I am indebted to Roger for these wonderful translations and explications of traditional Daoist thinking and being. My "new" understanding of Daoist being in the world or as Roger says, "way-making", has allowed completely new insights and abilities to emerge from my taijiquan and qigong.
Anyone who has an interest in Daoism can do nothing better than to obtain copies of Ames Dao De Jing, Yuan Dao, Sunzi and Thinking from the Han. You will be, as I am, delighted with the concept of the Wu-forms and the idea that much of the Dao De Jing derives from traditional folks songs. Imagine singing or chanting the Dao! This connects, sympathetically, for me at least, to Australian songlines and to Dineh "harmony & beauty".
Ames work is essential reading for anyone who hopes to understand the classical Chinese worldview and become realized.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Peter Kwok on April 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
Every translation tells you "what" the translator thinks the book should be saying, but only this one actually tells you "why" those words are presented the way they are. This book stands out as an example of what Ames calls the "self-consciously interpretive" style of commentary. (Hall died before the book was finished. So Ames had the last say in this book.)

This style is developed out of the belief that "any pretense to a literal translation is not only naive, but is itself a cultural prejudice of the first order." (Preface, p. xi) To neutralize prejudices, the translation of every chapter is immediately followed by a commentary, which serves as a "meta-translation" to reflect on translation and editing issues from the social background at the time of the writing of Tao Te Ching, to the tension among ideas from different traditions and across chapters. My experience tells me that one either hates or loves this kind of fragmentary, hoop-jumping, stop-and-go lecturing style. However, to me it is very close to that of the vast majority of annotations in classical Chinese scriptures. I find it quite convenient for referencing verses and ideas. So I am perfectly comfortable with (and even welcome) this format of presentation. Also, the authors' professional training in philosophy gives them the edge in presenting the kinds of problems that the ancient Taoists were trying to deal with and analyzing the flow of ideas. What some people may see as "pedantic" commentaries and footnotes actually challenged me to re-evaluate the aims and strategies of those Taoist projects. For that I thank the authors for their great services. But it does not necessarily mean that this style suits everyone (or every purpose).
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By David R. Cross on December 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I have read, and enjoyed, numerous translations of the Daodejing (some numerous times), but reading this translation has been a revelation. This is not a translation for the neophyte, or for those unwilling or unable to tackle some hearty philosophical discussion. But if you are a serious student of the Daodejing (not necessarily an academic), then reading this translation is a must. My general sense is that Ames and Hall have succeeded in their translation because they have managed to combine mature wisdom and serious philosophical insight. Translating the Daodejing into English is an extraordinarily difficult task that requires bridging a vast chasm between ancient China and the modern West, and this translation seems to have pulled this off about as well as it can be done (at least so far). Some specific features of the translation that make it stand out: (a) a worthy historical introduction, (b) an outstanding philosophical introduction, which by itself makes the book more than worth the price, (c) a worthy glossary of key terms, which appropriately avoids the "fallacy of the perfect dictionary", (d) a lively and accurate translation of the Daodejing itself, (e) with each passage/chapter accompanied by the translators' commentary, (f) a thematic index. I am enjoying this book immensely ... I can't recommend it highly enough.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ames and Hall have pulled in the often-neglected cosmological origins of the DDJ, inspired by strips found with the Guodian strips.
The authors have been meticulous in picking through the intricacies of some fairly complex terms in a thorough, yet succinct, way.
I really really like the holistic perspective in the authors' interpretation of the verses. Instead of feeling like I'm being preached at from the pulpit, it feels like I'm sitting at a table over coffee and listening. It is with great sorrow that I read of Hall's passing. Knowing this team of writers will collaborate no more makes me sad.
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