School of Names

The Logicians or School of Names (名家; Míngjiā; "School of names" or “School of semantics”) was a classical Chinese philosophical school that formed one of the “Hundred Schools of Thought” during the Warring States Period (479 – 221 B.C.E.). Members of the School of Names engaged in a form of public debate or persuasion called bian (“disputation” or “distinction drawing”), which often took place in the court of a state sovereign when legal conflicts were being settled or policy was being decided. Many of them served as wandering political advisors to the regional lords of the Warring States Period. Eight scholars were classified under the School of Names by later Han bibliographers, including Hui Shi and Gongsun Long; they were only loosely associated and did not form a particular group or movement.

Contents

Chinese thinkers of the period were preoccupied with the use of terminology (ming, words) to correctly identify and classify objects, events and situations (shi). The dialecticians associated with the School of Names held that the criteria used to distinguish one kind of thing from another were artificial and arbitrary. They created paradoxes and sophistries that shifted, reversed, or rejected conventional distinctions. The School of Names flourished for approximately 150 years until Emperor Shi Huang Di unified China under the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C.E., imposed a strongly centralized government based on legalism, and executed or banished all dissenting scholars. Their form of inquiry, which contained the beginnings of modern logic, died out and logic never became an independent discipline in China.

The Dialecticians

The various Chinese thinkers assigned to the School of Names were only loosely associated and never formed a circle or organized movement dedicated to any particular doctrine. They belonged to a class of scholars known as the bian zhe (“disputers” or “dialecticians”) because they devoted themselves to “disputation” (bian, also “discrimination” or “distinction drawing”), a form of dialectical inquiry which sought to define the proper semantic relations between names (ming, words) and the things or kinds of things to which they refer (shi, objects, events, situations). Many of these scholars acted as wandering political advisors, counseling the rulers of the various states in pre-unification China. They flourished for about 150 years until the onset of the Qin dynasty (221 B.C.E.). During the second century B.C.E., Han Dynasty historians classified these thinkers as the “School of Names,” one of six recognized philosophical movements.[1] Han dynasty historians listed seven scholars under the “School of Names:” Deng Xi, Yin Wen, Hui Shi, Gongsun Long, Cheng-gong Sheng, Huang Gong, and Mao Gong[2]. In addition, China's earliest history of thought, “Under Heaven,” Book 33 of the Zhuangzi, figure, associates Huan Tuan with Gongsun Long. There is little historical information about the first four of these men, and almost none about the rest. Except for a few brief texts by Gongsun Long, the writings attributed to them by Han bibliographers have not survived. Everything known about them comes from second-hand accounts in later works, including the Zhuangzi, Xunzi, Annals of Lü Buwei, Hanfeizi, and several Han dynasty anthologies.[3] The scholars associated with the School of Names were often criticized by their contemporaries because their arguments had nothing to do with the relationships between human beings, the primary concern of Confucianists and other ancient Chinese philosophical schools. Their form of inquiry, which contained the beginnings of modern logic, died out when Emperor Shi Huang Di unified China under the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C.E., imposed a strongly of centralized government based on legalism, and executed or banished all dissenting scholars. Logic never became an independent discipline in China.

Hui Shi

Hui Shi (Chinese: 惠施; pinyin: Hui Shi; Wade-Giles: Hui Shih, fl. 4th century B.C.E.), or Huizi (惠子; Hui-tzu; "Master Hui") is famous for ten paradoxes about the relativity of time and space, for instance, "I set off for Yue (southernmost China) today and came there yesterday." The philosophical writings of Hui Shi are no longer extant, but several Chinese classic texts refer to him, including the Zhan Guo Ce, Lüshi Chunqiu, Han Feizi, Xunzi, and most frequently, the Zhuangzi. Many Zhuangzi passages portray Huizi as a friendly rival of Zhuangzi, an intellectual foil who argues the alternative viewpoint, or criticizes the Daoist perspective, often with moments of humor.

A story preserved in a Han dynasty text suggests that he may have held a view similar to that of the Mohists, that language enables us to communicate new information by using words that refer to objects with which we are already familiar.

“Under Heaven,” Book 33 in the Zhuangzi, is highly critical of Hui Shi:

“Hui Shi daily applied his wits in disputation with the others, but only in comparison with the disputers of the world was he exceptional, that's the bottom of it.…Weak in virtue, strong on external things, his path was crooked. Viewed from the perspective of the Way (dao) of Heaven and Earth, Hui Shi's abilities were like the labors of a mosquito or gnat. Even with respect to external things, what use were they?"
"He took opposing others as the substance of his activity and desired to make a name for himself by defeating others; that's why he couldn't get along with people.”[4]

Gongsun Long

Gongsun Long (Traditional Chinese: 公孫龍; Simplified Chinese: 公孙龙; Hanyu Pinyin: Gōngsūn Lóng; Wade-Giles: Kung-sun Lung, ca. 325–250 B.C.E.[5][6]) ran a school and enjoyed the support of rulers, and supported peaceful means of resolving disputes. Little is known about the particulars of his life, and many of his writings have been lost.[7]Of all of his essays, 14 originally, only six are still extant, are included in the book Gongsun Longzi (公孫龍子).

He is best known for a series of paradoxes in the tradition of Hui Shi, including "White horses are not horses," "When no thing is not the pointed-out, to point out is not to point out," and "There is no 1 in 2."

White Horse Dialogue

In the White Horse Dialogue[8](白馬論, Báimǎ Lùn), one interlocutor (sometimes called the "sophist") defends the truth of the statement "White horses are not horses," while the other interlocutor (sometimes called the "objector") disputes the truth of this statement. The "sophist" in the White Horse Dialogue defends the statement under the interpretation, "White horses are not identical with horses." The latter statement is actually true, since (as the "sophist" in the dialogue explains) "horses" includes horses that are white, yellow, brown, etc., while "white horses" includes only white horses, and excludes the others.

This work has been viewed by some as a serious logical discourse, by others as a facetious work of sophistry, and by some as a form of light entertainment.[9]

Significance of Disputation

The Chinese characters typically translated as “distinguish” and “disputation” have the same pronunciation (bian), the same phonetic component, and are used interchangeably in ancient texts. Disputation in ancient China was concerned with how to distinguish distinct kinds of things, and correctly identify them with the proper terminology. In a Confucian society, language was regarded as a necessary tool for political administration, because the people's behavior was controlled by law. If the people assigned different meanings to the same term, they would be unable to follow the law as their superiors intended, resulting in anarchy and disorder. Many ancient Chinese thinkers were especially concerned with the issue of “correcting names” (zheng ming), or rectifying and unifying the norms by which everyone in the linguistic community distinguished the extensions of general terms.

“If the ruler of Wei awaited you to manage his government, what would you do first?”
Confucius said, “It would surely be to correct names! If names are not correct, speech is not obeyed. If speech is not obeyed, affairs are not completed, …punishments and fines are not on the mark, …and people have nowhere to put hand or foot. So the names the gentleman uses surely can be spoken [appropriately in the particular context], and his speech surely can be carried out. The gentleman, with respect to his speech, simply allows nothing reckless.” (Confucius, Analects, 13.3)[10]

Similarly, if a ruler used words that were not in accordance with reality, the result would be mistaken judgment, failed plans, and ultimately social disorder (luan).

All disorder is a matter of shape and name not fitting. A ruler, though unworthy, may seem to employ the worthy, heed the good, and do what is admissible. The problem is that those he calls worthy are unworthy, what he calls good is depraved, and what he calls admissible is perverse. This is form and name being different in fact, word and object referring to different things. When the unworthy are taken to be worthy, the depraved good, the perverse admissible, how can the state be free of disorder and the ruler's person escape danger? (Annals, 16.8/401)[11]

The importance of terminology (names) and language gave rise to many philosophical questions, such as whether there was any objective basis for distinguishing one thing from another, and what criteria should be used in making distinctions and assigning names. These questions lay behind the paradoxes and postulates of the “disputers” who engaged in a form of public debate or persuasion called bian (“disputation” or “distinction drawing”), which often took place in the court of a regional sovereign. Disputation took place when there were legal conflicts to be settled, or when court advisors were attempting to influence the sovereign’s policies. Often a precedent, analogy, or model (fa, also “law”) was cited, followed by an explanation of how the case at hand resembled or diverged from it. Disputation and persuasion (bian shuo) could be a means of clarifying the Way (dao), distinguishing right from wrong, and refuting the claims of those who were incorrect. Frivolous and antagonistic disputation was criticized by early Chinese writers for sowing confusion and discord. The Confucian thinker Xun Zi (ca. 312–230 B.C.E.), for example, considered disrupting names and distinctions a crime, comparable to tampering with tallies and measures.

“Disputers separate distinct kinds so that they don't interfere with each other and arrange different starting-points so that they don't confuse each other. They express intentions, communicate what they're referring to, and clarify what they're talking about. They make it so that others share their knowledge and don't strive to perplex each other. So the winner doesn't lose what he defends, and the loser gains what he's seeking. If done this way, then disputation is admissible.
When it comes to complicating phrases to falsify each other's words, embellishing expressions to pervert what each other says, and giving trick analogies to twist the other's point, they stretch the other's words so there's no way to get to his thought. If done like this, disputation interferes with the Great Way. Engaging in tangled debates and competing to see who's last to quit can't but be harmful to a gentleman.”
Passage from a lost third century B.C.E. text, quoted in a number of later philosophical commentaries. [12]

The Han historian Sima Qian (c. 145 B.C.E. – 90 B.C.E.), who may have coined the label “School of Names,” says in his account of the six schools that the disputers “determine things only by names and neglect people's feelings.” They twist words so “people cannot get back to the thought” they were trying to express (Shi Ji, Book 130).

Lüshi Chunqiu, an encyclopedic Chinese classic text compiled around 239 B.C.E. under the patronage of the Qin Dynasty Chancellor Lü Buwei, complains that “Those in the world who study engage in much disputation. Their sayings are facile and expressions are upside-down. They don't seek the facts (shi, the actual things, what is real). They strive to demolish each other, with victory as their [sole] purpose” (15.8/368). “Under Heaven” says that disputers “exaggerate others’ hearts and change others' intentions. They can defeat others' mouths, but cannot persuade their hearts.”

Principal themes

The dialecticians associated with the School of Names appear to have held that the standards used to distinguish one kind of thing from another were not fixed by nature but were artificial, conventional and even arbitrary. Therefore no way of drawing distinctions could be uniquely or absolutely correct. In their sophistries and paradoxes, they shifted, reversed, or rejected distinctions, sometimes abandoning them entirely to view the world as an undivided whole.

Four principal themes associated with the School of Names appear repeatedly in early Chinese texts: “the same and different” (tong yi); “hard and white” (jian bai); “deeming so the not-so, admissible the inadmissible” (ran bu ran, ke bu ke); and “the dimensionless” (wu hou). The exact meaning of these concepts is unclear, but they are probably references to types of sophisms or paradoxes.

School of Names and Mohism

Mohism or "Moism" (Chinese: 墨家; pinyin: Mòjiā; literally "School of Mo"), developed by the followers of Mozi (470 B.C.E.–c.391 B.C.E.) was one of the four main philosophic schools during the Warring States Period. Contemporary studies sometimes classified the thinkers of the School of Names together with the later Mohists, Zhuangzi, and Xun Zi. Topics associated with them are addressed in Mohist texts, and they shared a common interest in language and dialectics. “Under Heaven,” Book 33 of the Daoist book Zhuangzi, purportedly written during the fourth century B.C.E., describes sects of Mohists engaged in “disputes about the hard and white and the same and different,” two central themes of the School of Names.[13]Later Mohists probably respected the individuals associated with the School of Names but were critical of their views.

See Also

Notes

  1. School of Names.Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved December 9, 2008.
  2. Han History 30, “Bibliographical Treatise”
  3. School of Names Retrieved December 9, 2008.
  4. Zhuang zi, and A. C. Graham. The seven Inner Chapters and other writings from the book Chuang-tzŭ. (London: Allen and Unwin. 1981. ISBN 0042990106), 284-285
  5. Yunzhi Zhou, "Gongsun Long". Encyclopedia of China (Philosophy Edition), 1st ed.
  6. Jianguo Liu. Distinguishing and Correcting the pre-Qin Forged Classics. (Xi'an: Shaanxi People's Press. 2004. ISBN 7224057258), 336
  7. Ian P. McGreal, "Gongun Long" in Great Thinkers of the Eastern World. (New York: Harper Collins, 1995. ISBN 0062700855), 31
  8. Bryan W. Van Norden, 2001,[http://faculty.vassar.edu/brvannor/Reader/whitehorse.html The White Horse Dialogue, by Gongsun Longzi]. Vassar College. Retrieved December 22, 2008.
  9. Christoph Harbsmeier, "Humor in Ancient Chinese Philosophy," Philosophy East and West 39 (3) (1989): 289-310
  10. Disputation in Context, Supplement to "School of Names" Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved December 9, 2008.
  11. Disputation in Context, Supplement to "School of Names" Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved December 9, 2008.
  12. According to the Bie Lu, by Liu Xiang, this is a comment by Zou Yan (ca. 250 B.C.E.) in reaction to Gongsun Long's frivolous disputation that “a white horse is not a horse.” (Shi Ji, Book 76.) Versions of the passage are also found in the second-century B.C.E. Hanshi Waizhuan and in the Dengxizi. The close parallels between the three versions suggest that all are borrowing from a widely circulated source of earlier date, probably third century B.C.E.
  13. Zhuangzi - "Being Boundless", Translated by Nina Correa. daoisopen.com. Retrieved December 9, 2008.

References

  • Cua, Antonio S. 2003. Encyclopedia of Chinese philosophy. New York [u.a.]: Routledge. ISBN 9780415939133.
  • Graham, A.C., Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China. Chicago: Open Court. 1993. ISBN 0812690877.
  • Harbsmeier, Christoph, "Humor in Ancient Chinese Philosophy," Philosophy East and West 39 (3) (1989): 289-310.
  • Leslie, Donald. Argument by Contradiction in Pre-Buddhist Chinese Reasoning. Canberra: Australian National University. 1964.
  • Liu, Jianguo Distinguishing and Correcting the pre-Qin Forged Classics. Xi'an: Shaanxi People's Press. 2004. ISBN 7224057258.
  • McGreal, Ian P. "Gongun Long" in Great Thinkers of the Eastern World. New York: Harper Collins, 1995. ISBN 0062700855
  • Watson, Burton, tr. The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu. New York: Columbia University Press. 1968.
  • Zhang, Chunpo, and Jialong Zhang, 1997, “Logic and Language in Chinese Philosophy,” in Brian Carr and Indira Mahalingam, ed. Companion Encyclopedia of Asian philosophy. London: Routledge. 1997. ISBN 9780415035354
  • Zhuangzi, and Burton Watson. The complete works of Chuang Tzu. UNESCO collection of representative works. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968.
  • Zhuang zi, and A. C. Graham. The seven Inner Chapters and other writings from the book Chuang-tzŭ. London: Allen and Unwin. 1981. ISBN 0042990106

External links

All links retrieved August 24, 2015.

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New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

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