Monday, September 29, 2008


Part 3

Chapter 2 “Manufacturing Public Opinion”

Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

Moore opens this chapter by pointing out that large sections of the public know little, and care even less, about many of the issues that pollsters are asking them to give opinions about. Since the pollsters want to have dramatic splits in public opinion (it makes the poll more interesting for their media clients) they use questions with force-choice answers (i.e., usually two choices are given and "unsure" is not given as a choice) and ignore the fact that many people don't know much about the issues. The polls thus often "distort or completely mischaracterize what the American public is really thinking." I almost said they "misunderestimate" what is going on.

One of the tricks to get around public ignorance on the subject of the poll is to supply some information to the the person being polled. "As you may know X has said that Y is the case. Do you agree with what X says or not." But now you have biased the sample population you are polling by giving them this information. They no longer represent a typical cross section of the public. All polls do this and thus get "a manufactured opinion based on a mythological public-- measures that look like they represent what a rational, informed, and engaged citizenry might be thinking."

The Gallop people tried to get more honest reflections of public opinion. George Gallop decided on a five question poll that would also measure what the public knew about an issue. Moore reproduces the results of a 1953 poll concerning support for the Taft-Hartley Act. The result was CHANGE IT 19%, LEAVE IT AS IT IS 11%, REPEAL IT 3%, NO OPINION 7%, NOT FOLLOWED THE ISSUE 60%.

This approach has not been adopted because the media clients of the polls don't consider it newsworthy to report that 2/3 rds of the public is not aware of the issues they are reporting on. Even though the polling companies know this type of poll is more accurate they have decided to rely mostly on the forced-choice method because it gets the big dramatic results their media clients want. This is shocking because they have no concept of the "truth" but only want to sell their services to their media clients who also have no concept of "truth" but only want more readers or viewers.

This chapter definitely points out the three main ways in which the polls falsify public opinion. 1) By not pointing out how much of the public is uninformed about the issues or doesn't care. 2) By using forced choice methods to get a response the pollster wants rather than what the person being polled would really have responded. This is a variant of the first way. 3) By supplying the person being polled with information he or she didn't have before (as a way of getting a "choice") and thus biasing the sample. Most Americans would not have had the information that was supplied so the polling sample is not really representative. This 3rd point also could lead to a 4th in so far as the information supplied by pollsters is mostly an oversimplified presentation of the issues.

Moore ends his chapter with a quote from Daniel Yankelovich, a great pollster himself and with integrity: "Sad to say, the media who sponsor opinion polls on policy issues have little or no stake in the quality of the poll findings they report."

Coming up next: Chapter Three "Telling Americans What They Think"

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Thomas Riggins

John Searle is a well known Oxford educated American philosopher who has been writing and publishing for over fifty years. His latest book is a small tome (128 pages) entitled “Freedom and Neurobiology” and these remarks are based on David Papineau’s review in the TLS of 18 January 2008 (“How We Fit In”). Papineau tells us it is a good lead into Searle’s current philosophical concerns.

We are told that these concerns are to find “a place for humanity within the world described by basic science.” This concern is not unlike that of Wilfrid Sellars whose views I posted in an earlier blog.

Back in the 50s Searle was brought up in the school of linguistic philosophy practiced at Oxford. Ordinary language “embodies the accumulated wisdom [and one might add the foolishness] of past generations.” By the 1980s, according to Papineau, he had moved away from the philosophy of language to that of mind “with language merely the medium by which we make thought public.”

Papineau points out that Searle’s goal of telling us how we “fit in” to the world described by science would not be supported by most practitioners of Oxford philosophy as they are “deeply unscientific” and don’t see how science can help us understand people’s daily activities. This is very unlike Marxism, by the way, which looks to science to explain our relation to the universe and everyday life.

Although Searle has moved beyond Oxford philosophy he shares with it a reliance on "common sense" outlooks over those of complicated philosophical theories. This is just a preference according to Papineau, and it can "sometimes look little more than refusal to address real questions."

The problem of "consciousness" is an example. Papineau points out that Searle rejects both of the commonest current views on it, namely MATERIALISM (consciousness is just what goes on in the brain) and DUALISM (consciousness is "an additional non-physical element of reality": the brain may be responsible for consciousness but our subjective awareness is not the same as chemical reactions in the brain.)

Searle thinks both views go against common sense but he doesn't come up with a coherent alternative third view, according to Papineau, and this suggests that "common sense is leading us astray somewhere." Searle has a similar problem trying to explain "free will" in terms of "common sense." It seems that we have a free will and this means determinism must be wrong somewhere along the line. Searle appeals to quantum mechanics to explain how consciousness can make choices as a result of the indeterminacy principle working on the quantum level in the brain.

Papineau explodes this theory by pointing out that in quantum mechanics "the probabilities of physical effects are always fixed by prior physical circumstances." Papineau doubts that physicists are going "to start looking for violations of quantum mechanics inside the human skull."

Searle has some strange, for Marxists, theories about politics which he discusses in this book. Papineau reports that he says "political power derives from the duties, obligations, permissions and privileges that come with the collective ascription of 'status functions.'" Thus Searle writes that political power "comes from the bottom up." He means that as long as the governed believe that the rulers should have the status they have as rulers they will have it.

This boils down to "rulers rule because the people accept being ruled by the rulers." Papineau thinks these ideas are developed "with originality and flair" but I can't agree. I don't think Searle has said anything meaningful at all. The Pharaoh rules in Egypt because the Egyptians think the Pharaoh should rule, therefore political power comes from the bottom up. That doesn't tell us anything about how the power of the Pharaoh came about, how it was maintained, how the people were led to believe in it, and what social forces and levels of production brought it about and made the ideology that supported it prevail.

How did the rulers of the USSR and of apartheid South Africa lose their power. Searle writes, "In both cases, as far as I can tell, the key element in the collapse of the system of status functions was the withdrawal of acceptance by large numbers of people involved." The key question for Marxists is not THAT people withdrew support of "status functions" but WHY. In the case of the USSR it is even doubtful that they did as in the only so called "free" election (by Western standards) before the collapse the majority expressed a desire to maintain the USSR and not dissolve it.

Papineau laments the fact that Searle's political philosophy rests too much on his own "common sense" and that he ignores the insights of thinkers in the sociology tradition [not to mention Marx and Engels]. Searle mentions in passing Simmel, Durkheim and Weber but remarks the he doesn't think they had much to say about the unique status of institutions. Papineau begs to differ and says, for example, Weber concerned himself with this aspect of political philosophy, citing Weber's definition of the state as an example: The state is a "community that successfully claims a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force."

Again, for Marxists the question is: what is that claim based on, what is its justification? Papineau himself recognizes that "legitimacy need only be successfully claimed, not endorsed." This would seem to conflict with Searle's "bottom up" views.

All criticism aside, Papineau concludes that Searle is well worth reading as he has made philosophy accessible to the non specialized reading public. He states, truthfully, that "philosophy has become a dry technical business" and that the majority of philosophers "write only for other philosophers about issues that can accurately be termed scholastic." Since understanding philosophical propositions is basic to understanding Marxist thought anyone who demystifies philosophy should be appreciated and Searle at least does that. When we propose Marxist alternatives to some of his ideas we at least have his ideas clearly stated and argued for. But, Marxism leavened by common sense is still the best tool for understanding the complexities of the modern world.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Success of the Surge

Thomas Riggins

We hear the neocons and their supporters as well as McCainites and Palinites mouthing off about how successful the "surge" is supposed to be. The fact is that Iraq is still too dangerous and violent for McCain or anyone else with a high profile to visit the country without sneaking in on a "surprise visit." Experts tell us that the relative calm is due to the US bribing the Sunni insurgents to work for us (paying tribute)and the Shite fighters laying low for the time being. It could all fall apart at any time. So have we succeeded in introducing democracy and the rule of law? Not according to an article in the New York Times online ("Western Lawyers Say Iraq Discarded Due Process in Hussein Trial" by John F. Burns).

This article gives evidence that high Iraqi officials "railroaded" Hussein to the gallows in contravention of all legal norms. This was all done out of the office of the prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki . An American lawyer who helped Iraq set up the trial said the for those "who wished for it to mark a break with the barbarism which characterized the regime under Saddam Hussein, these events were tragic. They were not tragic because a brutal dictator was put to death without proper legal controls. They were tragic because they demonstrated once again that fair and neutral justice and more importantly the RULE OF LAW IN THE NEW IRAQ IS NOT TERRIBLY DIFFERENT THAN IT WAS IN THE OLD IRAQ."

But only children and hypocrites ever thought that democracy and the rule of law was what the US was all about in Iraq. It's the oil stupid! Should be our response to those praising the US for its accomplishments in Iraq.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Part 2

Chapter 1 “Iraq and the Polls-- The Myth of War Support”

Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

Discussing the preface to this book in Part 1, we reviewed the claim that the polls distort and misrepresent public opinion. Here is a case in point: how the polls manufactured a pro Iraq War sentiment to bolster the claims of the Bush administration.

In the run up to the war in 2003 the press was reporting a pro war mood in the country. The pollsters typically asked their questions giving two choices and forcing the interviewee to choose an answer. Sometimes a control question was asked when the polling company really wanted to find out what was going on.

The CNN/USA Today/Gallop Poll did this in February 2003 [the war began about a month later] and found that about 30% supported it, 30% were against it, and 40% could care less. That is hardly a pro war mood when 70% either don’t care or oppose it. Moore points out that this neutral factor was not measured by the other polls and practically ignored by the CNN/USA Today/Gallop Poll itself. Ignoring the control question “reveals much,” Moore adds, “about the way that media polls manufacture public opinion for their own purposes.”

The problem is, Moore says, that polls want an answer to their questions even if the people they are asking don't know or care about the issue. Moore says we should distinguish between DIRECTIVE (the person really wants the opinion carried out) and PERMISSIVE (the person doesn't really care what happens) OPINIONS.

Moore gives the example of the poll mentioned above. Are you for the war?-- 59%. Against the war-- 38%. No opinion-- 3%. That is the standard "forced answer" poll. It looks like the people want war! This would have been the original result had not Gallop asked a control or follow up question.

People were asked if they would be upset if their opinions were not carried out-- i.e., if the government did the opposite of what they thought. Now if you take the strong or directive opinions on the war (yes vs no) along with the permissive, don't care group (plus the no opinion group) you get the following. For war-- 29%, Against war 30%, no opinion, unsure, don't really care 41%.

So reporting that 59% favored the war would not have been a true statement of how the public really felt. Most polls (including Gallop) don't usually use a follow up question so most polls are deceitful. The truth was that about 71% of the people didn't want war, were unsure or didn't care one way or the other.

Moore also makes a distinction between "top-of- mind" responses and reasoned ones. That is between an opinion that is just what someone has heard about or been told about (say by a pollster) but really doesn't know much about, and one that has been arrived at after thinking about it and reading about it. This is the difference between a knee-jerk response and a well thought out one.

To get "newsworthy" polls for their clients (the big media) most pollsters lump these two groups together-- even though the answer of the "top-of-the-mind" person may have been elicited by the form or wording of the question itself.

Here is another example of a misleading poll. It was once claimed that most Americans supported what the government was doing at Guantanamo. In 2007 Gallop pollsters did a standard poll asking if Gitmo should be closed or not. They got this answer: yes, close it-- 33%, no-- 53%, undecided-- 13%. But when a control question was asked (as in the Iraq war poll above) i.e., would you mind if the government did just the opposite of what you think, the response was modified to yes, close it-- 19%, no-- 28%, undecided, don't care-- 52%. A big difference as you can see!

Finally, remember the antimissile shield? In 2002 Bush took the US out of the 1972 antiballistic missile treaty and claimed he had the support of the American people. Forced choice polls had been taken and seemed to back him up-- the majority of American people were for the antimissile shield. Gallop did a forced choice poll (only two answers allowed but a person could volunteer an "I don't know.") Here is how the poll turned out. For the shield 64%, against it 30%, neutral 6%. Then Gallop did the same poll but again with a control question that allowed people who didn't care or didn't know anything about what was going on to op out. This result was for it 29%, against 13%, neutral 59%.

The second poll gave a much truer picture of what Americans were thinking than did the first. Moore says opinions are easily manipulated and "that on all sorts of issues, the media polls continually and systematically distort public opinion, with severe consequences for us all." Just ask yourselves if control questions were used in any of the polls that came out saying how popular Palin is. If not, why not?

Coming up next week-- a review of Chapter Two-- "Manufacturing Public Opinion".

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Part 1

Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

This is an important book to read, especially during this electoral season. It's not very long (161 pages) but thoroughly explains how public opinion polls are manipulated in this country to produce the results wanted by those who use them to influence and shape public perceptions of reality. As professor Mark Crispin Miller of New York University says, the book presents "A powerful argument that polls do not merely misinform us but pose a genuine, if subtle, threat to our democracy."

The author, David W. Moore, knows what he talking about having been a senior editor for the Gallup Poll for thirteen years. Anyone who wants to know how the polls are used to manipulate public thinking could do no better than to buy this book, either from Beacon Press or through In the meantime, between now and the election I will go over the salient points in the book so that readers of PA and of our blog will be better prepared not to be taken in by questionable polls. Today I will begin with the preface.

Moore begins by reminding us, with a quote (from political scientists Lawrence Jacobs and Robert Shapiro): "Whether DEMOCRATIC government survives is not foreordained or guaranteed. What is critical is creating the expectation that substantial government responsiveness to public opinion is appropriate and necessary." [This brings to mind Vice President Cheney's response to being informed that the majority of the American people were against the Bush administration's policies in Iraq. "So?"]

Public opinion polls are ONE way that the American people's will can be expressed. But, as Moore says, "For years, we pollsters have systematically misled the American people about the accuracy of out polls."

Polls do state a margin of error but the following statement should be attached to every poll: "In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls." Moore, in fact, when at Gallup included that statement in a report to a client who had commissioned a poll. The client's response was "It essentially says you can't trust any of the numbers. What good is a report like that?" Since this would make all polls doubtful, Moore says that the polling industry and their clients just ignore this qualification.

What this means is that polls are "rough estimates" and not, as they try to claim to be, "precise reflections of reality." If you check closely "you will see large variations among highly reputable polling organizations." [I would question the use of the tern "highly reputable"!]

Which polls does Moore have in mind. The four most important are The New York Times/CBS News Poll, The Washington Post/ABC News Poll, Pew Research, and the USA Today/Gallop Poll.

Other polls he mentions that are less influential are CNN, NBC/Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, Associated Press/Ipsos, Los Angeles Times, Fox, John Zogby [sometimes with Reuters], and Harris Interactive.

What do these polls all have in common? They "give us distorted readings of the electoral climate, manufacture a false public consensus on policy issues, and in the process undermine American democracy."

Stay tuned to see how they do this. Coming up, a review of Chapter One:
"Iraq and the Polls-- The Myth of War Support".

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Thomas Riggins

Most of the experts agree that that nationalization of AIG as well as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae was carried out to prevent not only the collapse of financial capital in the US but to stave off a world wide economic crisis.

These nationalizations will cost over a trillion dollars to the US tax payers-- that is the US working class which pays the bulk of the taxes in this country. But this money is going to the capitalist class.

What the workers should demand is that the trillion dollars not be handed over to the capitalists to make up for the money they lost on the sub prime mortgage market. That still leaves the workers with mortgages and the potential loss of their houses.

The demand should be that the tax money be used to buy up and pay off the mortgages directly. People who were lied to and tricked into taking out loans that had they been fully informed of the consequences they would not have taken out are the people to look out for, not greedy capitalists who brought their own problems on themselves.

We are seeing, right now, an intensification of class warfare directed by the capitalist state against the working class in this country. The take over by the government of AIG, etc., is being done not to help the workers and their mortgage plight, but to give the capitalists the money they could not squeeze out of the workers and still leave the workers holding the bag. Again, I think the demand must be to make this money available to the workers themselves to pay off the mortgages-- at least that is a minimum demand. The capitalists however have no right to be paid off since they made these loans knowing that people couldn't sustain the debt.

Since Bush wants to play at socialism (for the rich) we should also propose as a more just measure than the minimum demand that the government cancel the debt entirely and nationalize the banking system and run it for the benefit of the people not the moguls of Wall Street.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Thomas Riggins

What hath Bush wrought? The nationalization by the US of American International Group is a complete repudiation of the free market capitalist philosophy that both parties have championed for decades. Today's NYT [9-18-08] says that European capitalists are shocked by the US's apparent "abandonment of capitalist principles." The US has preached a doctrine of antigovernment intervention in free markets to others for decades but its own actions have "probably undercut future American actions to promote such policies abroad."

Ron Chernow, an important historian of finances, is quoted as saying, "I fear the government has passed the point of no return. We have the irony of a free-market administration doing things that the most liberal Democratic administration would never have been doing in its wildest dreams." Talk about Change! Talk about being a Maverick!

While Ayn Randists and free marketeers around the world are in deep mourning over Uncle Sam's defection towards anti-capitalist economic nationalism others are rejoicing at the fall of the last bulwark of laissez faire. Mario Monti, recently of the European Commission, stated: "For opponents of free markets in Europe and elsewhere, this is a wonderful opportunity to invoke the American example. They will say that even the standard-bearer of the market economy, the United States, negates its fundamental principles in its behavior."

The NYT also quotes Monti as saying while other capitalist states have had to negate the free market due to crises [in Russia, Mexico and some Asian countries-- it seems the "free" market doesn't work all that well]--"[T]his is the first time it's in the heart of capitalism, which is enormously more damaging in terms of the credibility of the market economy." This will certainly encourage the Chinese to strengthen the CPC's control and direction of their "socialist market economy."

Sarkozy's allies in France are hailing Bush's actions as "economic patriotism." A nation's government should jump into the "free" market to support its own when they get into trouble. Bernard Carayon, a French Sarkozyite enthused, saying of the Bushites: "I congratulate them." He added, this is "an era where we have much more regulation and where the public and the private sector will mix much more."

What this really means is that raw, naked monopoly capitalism will have to reveal itself more and more as the myth of the "free" market dies the death of the thousand cuts. Parasitic capitalism's inability to function without continual state intervention, in one form or another (nationalization, loans, tax cuts, credits, etc,), can never be covered up again.

Gary Gensler (who was at the Treasury Department under Clinton) is reported by the NYT as saying: "This is a paradigm shift." What the US did was nationalize a company that was gambling on the market (with derivatives and hedge funds) and lost. The US stepped in to save the investor's cookies-- that is state monopoly capitalism so Bush is no enemy of capitalism. But he is a hypocrite with regard to free markets and competition.

Finally, Ron Chernow is quoted in closing: "It's pure crisis management [the general crisis of capitalism is back with a vengeance]. It's the Treasury and the Federal Reserve lurching from crisis to crisis without a clear statement on how financial failures will be handled in the future. They're afraid to articulate such a policy. [That's because crises are inevitable under capitalism-- they can be postponed and put off for a time, but they return to get you just like Freddie (Mac)]. The safety net they are spreading seems to widen every day with no end in sight." Maybe that end will be the final conflict.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The "Palin Doctrine" at work!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The "Palin Doctrine" at work!

Thomas Riggins

According to today’s NY Times the US Ambassador to Georgia says the dispute with Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia should not stop Georgia from joining NATO. This despite the fact that NATO’s own rules state that no country with border disputes can join the organization.

In her ABC interview Palin said Georgia should be in NATO even if it led to a war with Russia. This is really crazy stuff. Russia has recognized both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as “independent states” so there is definitely a “border dispute” going on. The whole area is in fact unstable and volatile.

NATO is, and always has been, an aggressive imperialist military alliance aimed, originally at the USSR and its allies, and now being used to further imperialist policies in both Europe (the dismemberment of Yugoslavia) and the Middle East.

Some imperialist states have better sense than the USA. France and Germany are trying to block the USA from bringing Georgia (and also Ukraine) into NATO.

Bush may like the “Palin Doctrine” but European leaders realize that baiting the Russian bear in its lair is courting folly.

Monday, September 08, 2008


Thomas Riggins



“So, Fred, are you ready to begin our discussion of the Logicians of ancient China?”

“Yes, I am. First thing we should note is what Chan says about this school [Source Book in Chinese Philosophy]. He points out that ‘logic’ as a special subject was never in vogue in China. No Chinese Aristotle ever developed logic as a separate science. The school we call the ‘Logicians’ (primarily the two thinkers Hui Shih and Kung-sun Lung) was the only one devoted to what we might call ‘logic’ per se and ‘it constituted one of the smallest schools and exercised no influence whatsoever’ on the later development of philosophy in China.”

“Let me add a few words from Fung Yu-lan [Short History of Chinese Philosophy], Fred. He says the school was founded by the ancient Chinese ‘lawyers.’ Like all lawyers, winning one’s case was more important to them than some abstract ‘truth.’ While the two thinkers you just mentioned were the most famous, there were many lesser lights associated with this movement. They seem to have formed a group analogous to the Sophists in Ancient Greece. What is interesting is that Fung describes the contemporary opinion about one of these (Teng Hsi) with almost the same words used in the indictment of Socrates as recorded in Plato’s Apology. That is, Teng Hsi ‘succeeded in changing right into wrong and wrong into right, until no standards of right and wrong remained, so that what was regarded as possible and impossible fluctuated from day to day.’ And Plato wrote that Anytus charged Socrates by saying ‘he makes the worse into the stronger argument, and he teaches these same things to others’ ( Apology 19b).”

“Chan tells us also that Hui Shih (c. 380-305 B.C.) used to hang out with Chuang Tzu. Hui was a relativist holding just the opposite position of his fellow ‘sophist’ Kung-sun Lung who was an ‘absolutist.’ This shows there was no uninimity in this school. The Chinese call it ‘The School of Names’ as the members seem to be squabbling over what names to apply to things. Not much of Hui’s works have survived, just some quotes in other people’s works, especially Chuang’s. As a result of this we can’t make any sense of his writings since was has come down to us are a lot of paradoxes but none of Hui’s reasons or explanations of them. Their writings are so corrupted that it is almost impossible to figure out what they meant.”

“Fung makes the same point.”

“Here is what Chuang Tzu said: ‘Hui Shih had many tricks. His books filled five carts. His doctrines are contradictory and his sayings miss the truth.’”

“Before going any further Fred, I want to point out what Fung says is the root of the problem that these thinkers were dealing with. This is the distinction between two Chinese words meaning ‘name’ (ming) and ‘actuality (shih). If we remember that Confucius was interested in the ‘Rectification of Names’, we can see that philosophy must deal with the proper relation between language and reality so that we will not misunderstand the nature of the world by being misled by the use of language to incorrectly describe reality.”

“Well, Karl, here are some of the statements of Hui Shih that have survived. The first one, there are thirty one preserved in the Chuang Tzu, has a Taoist flavor: ‘The greatest has nothing beyond itself: it is called the great unit. The smallest has nothing within itself; it is called the small unit.’ I will now quote a few more of these propositions from Chan. I have selected those that I think we can make some sense out of in discussion.”

“Lets hear them.”

“Here goes: ‘5.) A great similarity is different from a small similarity; this is called the lesser similarity-and-difference. All things are similar to one another and different from one another; this is called the great similarity-and-difference. 6.) The South has no limit and yet has a limit. 10.) Love all things extensively. Heaven and earth form one body. 21.) Take a stick one foot long and cut it in half every day and you will never exhaust it even after ten thousand generations.’ That's it Karl.”

“That's it? Only four out of the thirty one?”

“If you don’t believe me I’ll give a few examples of the remaining quotes. They are are more or less just like these. But first note that the quotes are in two groups of 1-10 and 1-21.All the above quotes except the last come from the first group. The ones I’m giving now come from the second. ‘1.) The egg has hair; 5.) The horse has eggs; 10.) The eye does not see; 15) The shadow of a flying bird never moves; 20.) An orphan colt has never had a mother.’”

“In other words, most of what remains doesn’t make any sense.”

“That's right Karl, and Chan leaves it at that basically. He then moves on to The Kung-sun Lung Tzu.”

“Before we go there, perhaps Fung Yu-lan can throw a little light on Hui Shih. In his Short History he maintains that what Hui is trying to do is articulate a theory of relativism. He is, I might add, like Heraclitus ‘the obscure’ whose fragments are also often unintelligible--because they are fragments. Anyway, Fung gives some interpretations, of which I will quote a few, to back up his view. He also leaves many of the positions unremarked, however. Here is what he says about #5 in the first group. If we take people, for instance, (we could take anything) they are similar--being part of the ‘universal’ concept ‘human being’ but also different in each being an ‘individual.’ “Thus since we can say that all things are similar to each other, and yet can also say that all things are different from each other, this shows that their similarity and difference are both relative. This argument of the School of Names was a famous one in ancient China, and was known as the “argument for the unity of similarity and difference”[Fung:1948:86].’”

“Most interesting.”

“Wait, there is more. Look at #6 above, about the limit of the South. Fung points out that the ancient Chinese didn’t know much about the South. They thought it just ‘went on’. Hui Shih probably knew better. At any rate its a good example of Fung’s relativity interpretation as , ‘Most probably, however, it means to say that the limited and the unlimited are both only relatively so.’ Also #10 in the first group, about loving all things equally. ‘Hui Shih argues that all things are relative and in a state of flux. There is no absolute difference, or absolute separation among them. Everything is constantly changing into something else. It is a logical conclusion, therefore, that all things are one, and hence that we should love all things equally without discrimination [Ibid., p.87].’ Of course the trouble with this is that everything is also not one (to be a consistent flux- relativist) so we should love everything both equally and with discrimination! To op for just one of the alternatives is to make an absolutist commitment. There, Fred, I have just set you up for Kung-sun Lung!”

“The Kung-sun Lung Tzu is very brief, only six confusing chapters. I’m going to go over what I got out of it and you can use Fung to explicate what's really going on.”

“I’ll give it a shot.”

“The book is in a question and answer dialogue form just like our discussion. ‘A’ asks questions and ‘B’ gives the answers of Kung-sun Lung. By the way, he lived around 380 to 305 B.C. just like Hui. His most famous pronouncement is ‘A white horse is not a horse.’ All the quotes are from Chan’s translation. This is from !) ‘On the White Horse.’ And the reason he says this is,”Because “horse” denotes the form and “white denotes the color. What denotes the color does not denote the form. Therefore we say a white horse is not a horse.’ But since all horses have color ‘A’ asks if there are no horses in the world. He gets this response, ‘Horses of course have color. Therefore there are white horses. If horses had no color, there would simply be horses. Where do white horses come in? Therefore whiteness is different from horse. A white horse means a horse combined with whiteness. [Thus in one case it is] horse and [in the other it is] a white horse. Therefore we say that a white horse is not a horse.’ “

“its beginning to make sense, sort of.”

“It gets better. ‘A’ now says, ‘[Since you say that] before the horse is combined with whiteness, it is simply a horse, before whiteness is combined with horse it is simply, and when the horse and whiteness are combined they are collectively called a white horse, you are calling a combination by what is not a combination. This is incorrect. Therefore it is incorrect to say that a white horse is not a horse.’ Chan says this sentence is unclear.”

“His translation makes sense, but not the logic. It seems as if it means whiteness is not a combination, nor is horse, so you can’t make a combination from two non-combinations but this is just going against the way the word ‘combination’ is used in language.”

“A also makes this critique, “[When we say that] a white horse cannot be said to be not a horse, we are separating the whiteness from the horse. If [the whiteness] is not separated from the horse, then there would be a white horse and we would not say there is [just] a horse. Therefore when we say that there is a horse, we do so simply because it is a horse and not because it is a white horse.’ And the reply by ‘B’ is, ‘The term “horse” does not involve any choice of color and therefore either a yellow horse or a black one may answer. But the term “white horse” does involve a choice of color. Both the yellow horse and the black one are excluded because of their color. Only a white horse may answer. What does not exclude [color] is not the same as what excludes [color]. Therefore we say that a white horse is not a horse.’”

“He is making a distinction between universals. The universal ‘horse’ is different from the universal ‘white horse.’ That is clear. Horse is one universal [general idea] and white horse is a combination of two universals, ‘white’ and ‘horse.’ I get this from Fung’s comments on the Platonic universal which he says is what Kung-sun Lung has in mind.
This was in his discussion of Chan’s ‘2. On Marks (chih) and Things.’”

“I didn’t go over it because Chan says the text is so corrupt no one can figure out what it actually means.”

“What do you want to go over?”

“This from ‘3. On the Explanation of Change.’ You tell me what is anyone to make of the following pronouncements? ‘A horse has a mane but both a ram and an ox have none. Therefore I say that a ram and an ox together are not a horse. By that I mean there is no horse [in this case]. As there is no horse, neither a ram nor an ox is two, but a ram and an ox are two. Consequently it is correct to say that a ram and an ox together are not a horse.’ And this is also note worthy. ‘When we speak of an ox or a ram’s leg [as such], it is one. But when we count their [particular] legs, they are four. Four and one put together make five. This a ram or an ox have five legs while a fowl has three. Therefore I say that an ox or a ram together are not a fowl. There is no other reason that [an ox or a ram] are not a fowl.’ And if this not enough, there is this gem from a discussion about colors. Here he is explaining why white and green don’t mix to become yellow. They have different positions. Here is green, here is white. So they can’t mix because left and right cannot be mixed, ‘Therefore it is impossible to unite [white] with green, nor is it possible to unite [green] with white. Then where does yellow come in? Yellow is a standard color, and can be given as a correct case. This is likethe relation between the ruler (corresponding to white) and the minister (corresponding to green) in the state (corresponding to yellow). Hence there are health and long life.’ So what do you make of all this?”

“You know Fred, these paradoxes have often been compared to those of Zeno in Ancient Greece. You know, the arrow can never hit the target because it first has to go half way, but first it must go one quarter way, but first one eighth, etc., ad infinitum so it never gets to go anywhere.”

“So the moving arrow doesn’t move, as Kung-sun Lung might say.”

“Exactly. These people were just beginning to fool around with logic and the literal meaning of words and the relations of concepts to things. As you noted, formal logical studies never got off the ground in China. If these statements seem nonsensical it is because they are, but not simply due to their being nonsense. These are aborted attempts to come to grips with the relation between language and reality. As Bertrand Russell said in another context ( a critique of Plato’s theory of Ideas): ‘Such troubles are among the infantile diseases of philosophy ‘(Russell:1945, p. 129 of HWP).”

“The next section, number 4 in Chan, is called ‘On Hardness and Whiteness.’ Using the logicians now familiar way of speaking, Kung-sun Lung is asked if hardness, whiteness and stone make three. The answer is they don’t. Stone and whiteness make two as do stone and hardness. Why? Because different senses are involved. Hardness doesn’t exist for seeing nor whiteness for touch. He says, ‘Whether one perceives the whiteness [of the stone] or perceives the hardness [of the stone] depends on whether one sees or not. Seeing and not seeing are separate from each other. Neither one perceives the other, and therefore they are separate. To be separate means to be hidden.’ I guess that means ‘hidden’ from the other senses. We should also note that he says hardness and whiteness are common to many things not just the stone. He adds, ‘As it does not have to be combined with things to be hardness, it is hardness by necessity of its being hardness.’”

“This sound like a universal to me Fred.”

“He becomes more obscure. ‘If whiteness is necessarily white, it is then white not because it is the whiteness of a thing. It is the same with yellow and black. However the stone is no longer there. How can we speak of a hard stone or a white stone? Therefore they are separate.’”

“Fung has some interesting comments on all this.”

“OK, but save them. Chan has comments on Fung’s comments, but there is one last interesting section, and this one I can even understand (sort of).”

“Well then, by all means, lets hear it.”

“It’s Chan’s number 5, ‘On Names and Actually.’ Kung-sun Lung says, ‘Heaven, earth, and their products are all things. When things possess the characteristics of things without exceeding them, there is actuality. When actuality actually fulfills its function as actuality, without wanting, there is order. To be out of order is to fall into disorder.To remain in order is to be correct. What is correct is used to rectify what is incorrect. [What is incorrect is not used to] doubt what is correct. To rectify is to rectify actuality, and to rectify actually is to rectify the name corresponding to it.’ He goes on about the ‘this’ and the ‘that’, like the Hegel example you used in the beginning of our discussion on Chuang Tzu, but we don’t really have to go there.”

“I like this passage Fred. It is the good old ‘Rectification of Names’ program we have seen so many times before. If we use words correctly we should not have too many philosophical or practical problems that we don’t understand. This program for the rectification of names is similar to Wittgenstein’s idea that the purpose of philosophy was to show ‘the fly the way out of the fly bottle.’ Which is to say, that we can’t get out of philosophical predicaments until we start using the proper meanings for
words and concepts.”

“You said Fung had some comments you wanted to present.”

“Just for the record. Then you can give Chan’s comments on Fung.”


“This is from the section ‘Significance of the Theories of Hui Shih and Kung-sun Lung’ from his chapter on the School of Names in the Short History. Fung says, ‘In Chinese philosophy a distinction is made between “being that lies within shapes and features,” and “being that lies beyond shapes and features.” “Being that lies within shapes and features” is the actual. the shih. For instance, the big and the small, the square and the round, the long and the short, the white and the black, are each one class of shapes and features. Anything that is the object or possible object of experience has shape and feature, and lies within the actual world. Conversely, any object in the actual world that has shape and feature is the object or possible object of experience.’ In the above quotes from Kung-sun Lung, he was discussing what lies beyond shapes and features, because, says Fung, ‘the universals he discussed can... not be objects of experience. One can see a white something, but one cannot see the universal whiteness as such.’”

“Chan objects to Fung’s use of the term ‘universal’ in Kung-sun Lung’s philosophy. Chan maintains the word at issue (chih) which he renders as ‘marks” as in ‘Marks are what do not exist in the world, but things are what do exist in the world’ ( #2 ‘On Marks (chih) and Things’) is a better translation than ‘Universals are what do not exist in the world, but things [particulars] are what do exist in the world.’ Chan says, ‘The word chih has so many meanings that scholars have found it easy and even tempting to read their own philosophies into Kung-sun Lung.... But the text is simply too corrupt to enable anyone to be absolutely sure [of the meaning of chih].’ Chan thinks Fung is guilty of falling into this temptation. He says Fung ‘is reading the Kung-sun Lung Tzu in the framework of the Neo-realists to who particulars exist while universals subsist.’ But again it all hinges on the uncertain meaning of chih.”

“That's very interesting. Here is a bit of info from Reese [Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion] with respect to ‘existence’ and ‘subsistence.’ ‘In chapter nine of Problems of Philosophy [Bertrand] Russell discussed [these] two categories. We say of objects that they exist, he suggested, and of universals that they subsist, i.e., have a timeless being (Reese, 1980:555).’ But I don’t want to get into Neo-realism. We will eventually get to Fung’s philosophy itself. Here, I only want to say that Fung’s interpretation is one possible interpretation and it has only its usefulness in interpreting the history of Chinese philosophical development in its favor. The School of Names, however, is not an end but a beginning to these problems. I am going to give Fung the last word in this discussion. “Hui Shih spoke of “loving all things equally,” and Kung-sun Lung also “wished to extend his argument in order to correct the relations between names and actualities, so, as thus to transform the whole world.” Both men thus apparently considered their philosophy as comprising the “Tao of sageliness within and kingliness without.” But it was left to the Taoists fully to apply the discovery made by the School of Names of what lies beyond shapes and features. The Taoists were the opponents of this school, but they were also its true inheritors.’”

“So it's Taoism rather than either Moism or Confucianism that the School of Names people had the most influence on.”

“It would seem to be so, according to Fung. Yet Kung-sun Lung’s discussion on the rectification of names is, I think, fully in accord with the ideas of Confucius. But this doesn’t mean Fung’s assessment is off base. I think it shows that the School of Names was influenced by Confucius and tried to give a more technical account of what might be involved in name rectification.”

“This was the shortest discussion so far, Karl. We can knock off early and start fresh tomorrow with your favorite Confucian.”

“Hsun Tzu! Its about time.”

“See you after breakfast. How about back here at 10:00AM?”

“See you then.”