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.”

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