The Philosophy of Spontaneous Self-Causation

By Brian Bruya

Subjects: Asian Studies, Chinese Religion And Philosophy, Comparative Philosophy, Taoism, Philosophy Of Mind
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Hardcover : 9781438488318, 166 pages, July 2022
Paperback : 9781438488301, 166 pages, January 2023

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Table of contents



1. Ziran and Its Absence in Western Philosophy

2. Saving Natural Human Action from the Paradox of Spontaneity

3. Effortless Attention: A Missing Concept in Contemporary Cognitive Science

4. Broadening Aesthetics: Spontaneity, the Somatic Arts, and Improvisation


Works Cited

The ancient concept of spontaneous self-causation (ziran) from Daoism opens a path to understanding human action as self-organizing, attention as effortless, and art as somatic.


Ziran, an idea from ancient Daoism, defies easy translation into English but can almost be captured by the term "spontaneity." It means "self-causation," if "self" is understood as fundamentally plural, and "causation" is understood as sensitivity and responsiveness. Applying ziran to the fields of action theory, attention theory, and aesthetics, Brian Bruya uses easy-to-read, straightforward prose to show, step-by-step, how this philosophical concept from an ancient tradition can be used to advance theory today. Incorporated into contemporary philosophy of action, ziran opens us to the notion of movement and action as self-organizing. Incorporated into contemporary cognitive science, ziran opens us to the possibility of effortless attention, contrary to the reigning paradigm. Incorporated into contemporary aesthetics, ziran opens us to a new category of art—somatic art—and a new, refined understanding of improvisation.

Brian Bruya is Professor of Philosophy in the Department of History and Philosophy at Eastern Michigan University. His previous books include The Philosophical Challenge from China and Effortless Attention: A New Perspective in the Cognitive Science of Attention and Action.


"…Bruya's exploration of the practical implications of zìrán adds an inspiring pragmatic dimension to the religio-philosophical discourse." — Religious Studies Review

"This is a unique and important contribution to the field of comparative philosophy. In aiming at a wide, nonspecialist audience, Brian Bruya introduces those with interests in Western philosophy of action, cognitive science, and aesthetics to insights from the Classical Daoist tradition that enhance these fields. One of the book's greatest strengths is how it sets the reader up for further inquiry in each section—showing them what looking beyond the narrow confines of the Western tradition can do for different areas of inquiry." — Sarah A. Mattice, author of Exploring the Heart Sutra