Daodejing Chapter 71 breakdown: the sage is not sick

Richard Brown
2 min readOct 18, 2023

In Chapter 71 of the Daodejing, Laozi takes a contemptuous swing against people who pretend to know more than they actually do, describing their affliction as a sickness.

To avoid catching the sickness, he encourages you to cultivate a humble attitude and to be honest about your own ignorance. Affecting to know something you do not can lead to mistakes, misunderstandings, and closed-mindedness. The true path to wisdom involves recognizing your limitations and continuously seeking to learn and grow.

Section 1
To know what you
Do not know is the best.
To not know but to pretend
To know is a sickness.

In the opening section of the chapter, Laozi emphasizes the importance of recognizing your limitations and acknowledging gaps in your knowledge. Being aware of what you do not know is the first step towards true wisdom.

Laozi goes on to describe feigning knowledge or expertise that you do not possess as a sickness. If you pretend to know things you do not, you not only make mistakes in your judgment but also risk misleading others. Misinformation, disinformation, and fake knowledge can have disastrous consequences.

Section 2
Only those who see this sickness for what it is,
Can avoid the sickness.
The sage is not sick.
Because he sees this sickness for what it is,
He cannot be sick.

Acknowledging the sickness is the first step to recovery. Once you learn to accept the limitations of your knowledge, you become immune to it and see the world as it truly is through a clear and undistorted lens.

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Daodejing Chapter 71: sickness and knowledge

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Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.