Chinese Philosophy: Language and Logic

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This entry focuses on concepts, issues, and themes of Chinese philosophy that involve language in view of its relation to reality, thought, and logic; the discussion is thus arranged on three central concerns in this regard: the issue of the relation between language and reality; the issue of the relation between language and thought; and the issue of the relation between language and logic. This entry is neither a historical study nor a comprehensive survey of the relevant ideas of thinkers from different historical periods, although there will inevitably be references to them. It is known that the term "logic" has been ambiguously and vaguely used; in this entry on language and logic in Chinese philosophy, first, by "logic" is meant primarily two things: (1) logical reasoning as embedded or expressed in natural (Chinese) language; and (2) the syntactic-semantic structure of Chinese language that underlies the surface grammar of Chinese language. The author neither pretend nor plan to discuss them exhaustively but to the extent that the issues to be addressed bear on Chinese philosophy and/or that the issues to be addressed are philosophically interesting. In this sense, this entry is not a discussion of logic or logical thought on their own in the history of Chinese thought, no matter how the term "logic" is understood.

Language and Reality

The issue of the relation between language and reality has been one classical concern in philosophical study of language concerning what language is about, in Chinese tradition as well as in Western tradition. The classical issue emerged in Chinese tradition in terms of the issue of ming-shi (ming means "name" while shi means "reality") in its broad sense. In this part is discussed how some representative approaches in Chinese tradition explore four aspects of the issue: first, the issue of the issue of zheng-ming (name rectification), the issue of reference, the issue of whether language can capture reality, and the issue of the relation between truth concern and dao concern.

name and actuality: name-rectification approach

In the pre-Qin period three figures put forward their doctrines of name rectification: Confucius (551479 BCE), Gongsun Long (320250 BCE), and Xun Zi (298238 BCE). The points of Confucius' and Gongsun Long's accounts are here rendered more philosophically interesting, though Xun Zi suggested a much more systematical account of names. The focus is on the first two due to space.

It is known that Confucius' major concern is with moral and social issues. His doctrine of name rectification serves his major concern. Nevertheless, the focus here is on those interesting points suggested in this doctrine from the point of view of philosophy of language. The passages in the Analects that are directly related to the issue of name rectification are three: 13.3, 12.11, 12.17, of which I make full citation to give a complete account (my translations).

13.3: Zi-lu asked, "If the ruler of the Wei State has you in charge of the state administration to governing the state and the people, what would be the priority of your administration?" Confucius replied, "It would surely be the rectification of names." Zi-lu wondered, "Is it so? What a pedantic way! Why is there need to bring in the rectification of names?" Confucius said, "You, how unenlightened you are! When a junzi (an enlightened gentleman) is ignorant of something, he is not expected to offer any opinion on it. If names are not rectified, then what is said in speech would not be in accord with things as they are (supposed to be); if what is said in speech would not be in accord with things as they are (supposed to be), then what is [supposed] to be done by using words would not be accomplished; if what is [supposed] to be done by using words is not be accomplished, then the [adequate] socially established ritual rules as manifested via ceremonies and music will not implemented; if these [adequate] socially established ritual rules will not implemented, then punishment will not be just; if punishment would not be just, then the people will not know where to move forward. Therefore, a junzi should give names only to those that surely can be adequately delivered in speech and deliver in speech only what surely can be adequately carried out in practice."

12.17: Jikangzi asked Confucius about governing. Confucius replied, "To govern is to rectify. If you lead the people by rectifying yourself, who would dare not to be rectified?"

12.11: Duke Jing of the Qi State asked Confucius about governing. Confucius replied, "Let the ruler [those that bear the title 'ruler' in the society] be the ruler [become what is prescriptively symbolized by the name 'ruler'], the minister be the minister, the father be the father, and the son be the son." The Duke said, "Excellent! Surely, if a ruler is not the ruler, a minister not the minister, a father not the father, and a son not the son, then, even if there are all the grain, how could I get to eat it?"

Confucius' doctrine of name rectification might as well be another way of presenting his teachings on moral cultivation and adequate governing: the teaching delivered in 12.17 is to rectify yourself to fit what those terms that signify your ranks, duties, functions and moral attributes mean (12:17), which amounts to sageliness within, while the teaching delivered in 12.11 is to participate in rectifying others to fit what those terms that signify their ranks, duties, functions, and moral attributes mean (12:11), which amounts to kingliness without. However, what really interests us here is some, explicitly or implicitly, suggested general point concerning the relation between language and reality. Let us start with an apparent puzzle: There appears to be a tension between the suggested two kinds of rectification approaches. On the one hand, the trademark title of this doctrine is "name rectification," and, as highlighted in 13.3, Confucius emphasizes the significance of name rectification. Nevertheless, on the other hand, 12.17 and 12.11 indicate that what is rectified is actually the persons who bear the (social-title) name. Which one is the primary goal while which serves as means? What is the due relation between the two kinds of rectification? Why doesn't Confucius directly emphasize rectifying the moral agent?

The reason seems to be this. To rectify the person (self and others) for the sake of self cultivation and of social reform, there needs a standard or norm that per se needs language as means or even as medium for the sake of its being carried out, communicated and passed on. Actually this is a two-level rectification process with the goal of rectifying the agent into a certain prescriptively specified person. The first step is to take a semantic ascent strategy: instead of directly talking about how to rectify the agent, it is to first rectify her (social-title) name under examination through assigning it a certain due prescriptive content which specifies the standard or norm to be met by any eligible referents of the name and thus gives the primary identity condition of such referents. The second step is to rectify the agent based on the primary identity condition of the expected referents of the name that has been established in the preceding semantic accent strategy.

An interesting point concern the relation between name and actuality, which is implicitly suggested by Confucius' account of name rectification is this. The due identity condition of actuality of a thing (say, a ruler) is not simply its status-quo happening or current appearance (say, the ruler-title-bearing person); rather, it consists in realization of its due place without transgressing its due scope (say, the person who really possesses the moral character that is expected for the ruler); name rectification will play its important or even indispensable role through the name carrying out and delivering the norm which specifies such a due place of the thing that is normatively denoted by the name (say, through rectifying the name "ruler").

If Confucius' account only implicitly suggests the foregoing point concerning social-title names and their due referents, one of Gongsun Long's contributions in this regard lies in his explicitly making the point in more general terms concerning any name and its related actuality and in a more sophisticated way. In this essay "Ming-Shi-Lun " (On name and actuality), Gongsun Long explains, "What the heaven and earth produce are things. When a thing goes its own way without transgressing its limit, it achieves its actuality (shi ); when its actuality goes its own way without being out of its track, it achieves its due place (wei ). If a thing goes beyond its due place, it is in wrong place; if a thing is in its due place, it is in right place. One is expected to rectify a thing in wrong place into right place; one is not expected to challenge a thing in due place by virtue of it being in wrong place. The rectification of a thing is the rectification of its actuality; the rectification of its actuality is implemented through the rectification of its name. Once its name is rectified, the standards for 'that' and 'this' will be formed up and stabilized" (my translation). Gongsun Long here emphasizes that a thing needs to go its own way without transgressing its limit to achieve its actuality; he further stresses that, once a thing achieves its actuality, there remains an issue of how to keep its actuality in due place; he explicitly points out that the so-called name rectification lies in rectifying the actuality of a thing in its due place through rectifying the due content of its name which identifies such due place and thus gives due identity condition for the thing and its actuality.

the issue of reference: purpose-perspective-sensitivity approach

But the above Confucius' and Gongsun Long's views on the relation of name and actuality via their accounts of name rectification would raise one general question concerning the issue of reference: whether, and in which way, the subject would contribute to the identity of a thing when she refers to the thing. Though with their distinctive backgrounds and concerns, Gongsun Long, the Mohist, and Zhuang Zi are kindred in spirit on this issue, taking essentially the same approach to the effect that an referring agent's referring action, which involves her purpose and focus, assigns a certain identity to the thing referred to, or specifies some aspect(s) of the referent as its identity (or multiple identities) and that, sensitive to one's purpose and focus, one is entitled to make her perspective shift in one's referring practice to focus on some other aspect of the referent as its identity. This approach might as well be called the "purpose-perspective-sensitivity approach." This section will focus on Gongsun Long's account and then briefly present Zhuang Zi's view; the Mohist relevant point will be addressed when the Mohist view on reasoning is discussed in the "Language and Logic" part of this essay.

In his essay "Zhi-Wu-Lun " (On referring to things), Gongsun Long emphasizes "No things [that are identified or named as things] are not what are referred to [by linguistic names] if there is no referring in the world, nothing can be called a 'thing.' If without referring [names], can anything in the world be called 'what is referring to'?" (my translation). Gongsun Long's point here is that the relevant contributing elements involved in the subject's act of referring via a name (such as what is the subject's purpose, which aspect of the referent the subject intends to seek or focus on) make their intrinsic contributions to identity of the referent of the name. This point is also explicitly and emphatically addressed in his essay, "Bai-Ma-Lun " (On the white horse), as indicated in the passage "What makes a white horse a horse is their same [common] aspect given that it is what is sought. If what is sought is the common aspect, a white horse would be not distinct from (bu-yi ) a horse [in regard to the common aspect]. If what is sought is not some distinct but the same aspect, then why is it that yellow and black horses meet what is sought in one case but not in the other? It is evident that the two cases are distinct" (my translation).

This crucial passage gives the fundamental rationale behind a number of Gongsun Long's arguments for the thesis "[the] white horse [is] not [the] horse." The statement "The white horse is not the horse" is just another way to say in our ordinary discourse "The white horse has its distinct aspect which the horse does not [necessarily] have," while the statement "The white horse is the horse" is just another way to say in our ordinary discourse "The white horse has its common aspect which the horse [necessarily] does have." Each of the two can be right, depending on which aspect of the white horse the referring subject is seeking or focusing on and thus refers to concerning the identity of the white horse. In so doing, she alerts us to avoiding the danger of over-assimilating distinctions, especially when the distinctive aspects need to be emphatically focused on.

Zhuang Zi proceeds essentially in the same direction on the issue (The Zhuang-Zi, Inner Chapter 3 "Yong-Sheng-Zhu "). Given an ox as whole already there, now what is its identity? How should one refer to it in terms of language? How should one identify it? As something exclusively determined by its "essence" or as a pack of flesh and bones? It seems to Zhuang Zi that, based on one's specific purpose, one can legitimately refer an ox as a pack of flesh and bones. One can say that, from the Zhuang Zi style view of the philosophy of language, the relation between language and an object in the world is not one-to-one relation but many-to-one relation: There are multiple referring expressions that refer to various genuine aspects of the same object. Depending on one's purpose, one is entitled to take a certain perspective to focus on one aspect of the object and thus identify the object as what the referring expression capturing that aspect would tell. What is important is that these distinctive referring expressions refer to different aspects of the same object, the ox as a whole, which are metaphysically complementary to each other.

the dao concern in chinese philosophy and its language engagement

A classical issue in Chinese tradition is whether, through language engagement, we can capture and deliver the ultimate reality, which the Chinese term "dao " primarily means (that is, the so-called metaphysical dao ). The term "language engagement (with an ultimate concern)" means any reflective endeavor to capture (reach or characterize) what is ultimately concerned through language. Let us have a case examination of the opening statement, Dao-ke-dao-fei-chang-Dao, of Chapter 1, of the daoist classic the Dao-De-Jing whose legendary author is Lao Zi. For one thing, this passage has been considered to give a representative or classical presentation of the daoist attitude toward the relation between language and the world; for another thing, many subsequent interpreters in Chinese tradition resorts to this passage to make their points in this regard.

One standard, and also most prevalent, interpretative translation (Creel 1983) of this passage is this: "The dao that can be told of [in language] is not the eternal dao " (Chan 1963, p.139). According to this interpretation, what the first statement reveals is a fundamental daoist insight that is strikingly similar to that of Wittgenstein's well-known idea about the spoken and the unspoken: Language expressions or formulations cannot really capture what those expressions or formulations aim to say; any language engagement is doomed to fail to capture the genuine dao ; the genuine dao has to be captured in a way that is beyond language; contemplation of the dao in silence requires sharply distinguishing the eternal dao from what can be formulated or captured in (or by) language, for the two are simply opposed to each other. This standard interpretation is partially correct: The dao that has been characterized in terms of language does not exhaust, and is not identical to, the genuine dao.

Although this interpretative translation has been circulated for a long time and does deliver part of the daoist message, it has been challenged whether it completely captures and delivers Lao Zi's genuine point as a whole in the context of the Dao-De-Jing. It is not merely because this standard interpretative translation neither syntactically nor semantically captures the Chinese original but also because it seems to miss some important point of Daoism in this regard. Another interpretation (Mou 2000) gives the following interpretative translation of the opening statement: "The Dao can be reached in language [Dao-ke-dao ], but the Dao that has been characterized in language is not identical with, or does not exhaust, the eternal Dao [fei-chang-Dao ]." Though partially agreeing to the first interpretation, this interpretation differs from the first one in this significant aspect: The dao that have been captured in language is not bogus dao but still parts of the genuine dao ; and this understanding of the partial dao in terms of language engagement would significantly contribute to our capturing the dao as a whole. This is based on one crucial characteristic of the metaphysical dao : The metaphysical dao as unifying force that runs through the whole universe is not something separate or beyond and above all those finite things in the world that are particular and concrete; particular things in the universe, wan-wu (ten-thousand things), which obtain the power from the dao, are considered as manifestations of the metaphysical dao and individualized-particularized daos ; the relation between the metaphysical dao and its manifestations in wan-wu is essentially yin-yang complementary; dao and wan-wu are interdependent, interpenetrating, interactive and correlative.

Epistemologically speaking, and from the point of view of language engagement, the metaphysical dao thus can be somehow captured through our language and our understanding of wan-wu. In this way, the point of the second interpretation is this: Instead of indiscriminately giving a negative claim against any language engagement with the ultimate concern, in the opening statement, Lao Zi reveals a two-sided transcendental insight which, on the one hand, positively affirms the role of the language-engaged finite point of view in capturing the ultimate concern and, on the other hand, alerts us to the limitation of the finite point of view and emphasizes the transcendental dimension of the dao.

It is noted that, in this regard, A. C. Graham's view seems to be much more moderate than the foregoing standard interpretation when he explains why there is the trouble with words: "The trouble with words is not that they do not fit at all but they always fit imperfectly; they can help us towards the Way, but only if each formulation in its inadequacy is balanced by the opposite which diverges in the other direction" (Graham 1989, p. 219). Nevertheless, the above second interpretation is more moderate than Graham's to this extent: It is not the case that the language engagement always fits imperfectly. That really depends on which part, dimension, or layer of the dao is set out to be captured in language engagement and on what kind of language function is at issue.

First, if a language engagement does not pretend to be exhaustive or conclusive regarding the dao but rather takes a finite point of view, it is reasonable to say that what has been captured in language in that case does fit adequately. When a language engagement takes a finite point of view, what is needed is not to reject such a finite point of view per se, but to hold the transcendental insight simultaneously, which would alert us to the limitation of the finite point of view and its due scope. Second, capturing something in language does not necessarily mean imposing a definition or formulation with a certain fixed format, meaning or usage. For instance, in contrast to mere description and descriptive designation, rigid designation via direct reference is one way to reach the genuine dao as a whole, as Lao Zi's own language-engagement practice illustrates (for example, Lao Zi did somehow successfully use the term dao to designate the dao as a whole).

truth concern and dao concern

It seems that the truth concern is a dominant concern in Western tradition while the dao concern is a dominant concern in Chinese tradition. What is the relation between the truth concern and the dao concern? Are they dramatically and totally different reflective concerns in philosophy? (Given that the term "dao" primarily means the metaphysical dao concerning the way of the world as it is, especially in Daoism, and that any reflective concern, including the dao concern, that is open to criticism and self-criticism needs to be characterized in terms of language, and also given that one important aspect of the truth concern is about the relation between language and reality, this is a significant topic concerning the relation between language and reality at the meta-philosophical level.)

Although, as this author sees it, a silent majority of philosophers who are familiar with Chinese philosophy have considered both concerns essentially in accordance with each other, some scholars argue otherwise. There are two representative views. One takes it that, in contrast to what is called "Western sentential philosophy," the dominant portion of the classical Chinese philosophy is a non-sentential philosophy that is not essentially related to those concepts that are intrinsically connected with sentential philosophy like proposition (or semantic content), truth and belief (Hansen 1985/2003). This argument might as well be called the "no-sentential-concern argument." Another view takes it that the significant part and the primary concern of the classical Chinese philosophy have been considered be its moral concern and its ethical accounts; and the moral concern is not with how to understand impersonal material world but with the ethical constitution in the human society. In this way, it is not the by-default account of truth (the correspondence account) but a pragmatic account of truth that plays the role (Hall 1997, 2001). This argument might as well be called the "pragmatic truth argument."

In contrast to the silent majority's presupposed position, these views have been voiced prominently and loudly especially in West and thus have left on many who are not familiar with Chinese philosophy the impression to the effect that there is no truth concern in Chinese philosophy and that the truth concern in Western tradition and the dao concern in Chinese tradition are dramatically different from each other. This impression is incorrect at least to the following extent: First, it is highly controversial; second, to many experts, it is not so. But their views deserve careful examination, and the involved issue deserves a systematic discussion, instead of being silently dismissed. Though it is not a place to give such a detailed discussion here, I intend to use the following strategy to assist the interested reader in examining the issue: this entry briefly addresses a number of basic things, to which one needs to pay due attention when one intends to explore the issue and give adequate evaluation of the competing views, but which might be ignored by some advocates of the above mentioned challenges.

Let us start with our pre-theoretic, or "folk," understanding of truth: A true (linguistic) sentence or statement (or the thought/belief it delivers) describes or characterizes (extra-linguistic) things as they are. When the term "our" is used here, its reference by no means includes only people in West but surely also includes people in Chinese speaking regions, now and in the past, no matter how such a pre-theoretic understanding has been indicated in their natural languageswhether it is expressed by a unified single term in a phonetic language (like "truth" in English), or it is expressed via various multiple-character phrases in the Chinese ideographic language (such as shi-shi-qiu-shi, meaning "seeking what things actually are," or qiu-dao, meaning "pursuing the dao /way of the world"). For convenience, this pre-theoretic understanding of truth is sometimes called our pre-theoretical "correspondence" understanding to highlight the accordance relation of our thought or our language with (the dao /way of) the world (including the human society) in which truth under such an understanding consists. Now the reader can think about this: Given that those approaches in Chinese philosophy as discussed in the preceding sections of this part are all distinctive illustrations of the dao -concern on several significant fronts and thus that all of them are thus intended to capture and deliver extra-linguistic things as they are, are those approaches dramatically separate and different from the reflective truth concern that is based on the foregoing pre-theoretic understanding of truth?

At this point three notes are due. First, the metaphysical commitment of our pre-theoretic understanding of truth per se as presented above is minimal: It does not commit to any ad hoc metaphysical criterion for what counts as reality, and it is compatible with a variety of ontological accounts of extra-linguistic things (say, snow's being white). For example, a realist pre-theoretic "correspondence" understanding of truth is actually a combination of our pre-theoretic understanding of truth and a realist ontological understanding or explanation of what counts as, say, snow's being white. (In this way, any argument that resorts either to the fact that some specific version of the truth concern in West is combined with some unfavorable metaphysical explanation or to the fact that a certain metaphysical account of the dao is so different from some representative metaphysical understanding of what counts as reality cannot automatically imply that the dao concern in Chinese tradition and the truth concern in Western tradition are dramatically different.)

Second, it is arguably right that our pre-theoretical "correspondence" understanding of truth plays its important and enormous explanatory role both in our daily lives and in our reflective lives (including philosophical inquiries). In most cases, whether for the sake of psychological satisfaction, intellectual enjoyment, scientific honesty, legal obligation or success of our actions or even for its own sake, we intend to understand what really happen(ed) around us rather than illusions, we hope that others tell us truths instead of lies or mere wishful thinking, we want to know those beliefs, thoughts or statements that are true. Moreover, in almost all of cases, we (even for those who advocate some understandings of truth that clearly revise or go against our pre-theoretic understanding of truth) seriously intend that the genuine contents of our own thoughts and claims to be delivered (or represented) to, and understood by, others "correspondently"or without distorting or losing their original contents; we intend to behave in a way that does not go against the laws or dao /way of the world. In this sense and to this extent, it is not merely the case that, in many situations, with such a pre-theoretic understanding of truth, we consciously pursue truths; rather, it is a stronger case: whether consciously or unconsciously, we unavoidably presuppose our pre-theoretic "correspondence" understanding of truth both in our ordinary folk talks and in our reflective talks including philosophical discourses, either as one central explanatory norm to regulate and explain the purpose of our thoughts and actions or as one important explanatory basis to explain some other significant things in our folk and reflective lives.

Third, there is the distinction between truth nature and truth criterion: The former is examined by asking what truth is, what truth consist in or what it is for a statement (or belief) to be true, while the latter is examined by asking what is the criterion by which one can identify, judge and distinguish true statements from false ones. Our pre-theoretic understanding of truth is about the truth nature instead of truth criterion. Actually, the foregoing three notes indicate three significant respects, among others, in which one can critically examine the relation between the truth concern and the dao concern in Chinese tradition as well as the nature and due functions of major competing theoretic accounts of truth in the Western tradition. (For further discussion of the issue, see Mou 2006.)

Language and Thought

Besides the issue of the relation between language and reality, another important concern of philosophical reflection on language is the issue of the relation between language and thought. This entry will discuss this issue as explored in Chinese tradition in two fronts: (1) the issue of the relation between speech and ideas in mind in regard to whether and to what extent the former can capture and deliver the latter; (2) a reflective concern with how the structure of Chinese language bear on the orientation of philosophical thought in Chinese tradition.

speech and ideas: four approaches

The relation between speech and ideas in mind is one central concern in the so-called yan-yi-zhi-bian, that is, the debate on the relation between speech (yan ) and meaning (yi, in the sense to be explained), which originated in the Wei-Jin period; but the following discussion will not limited to a number of representative approaches in this debate during that time but incorporates some other representative approach in Chinese tradition. (Note that, though using the ready-made translation "speech and meaning" of yan-yi here for the sake of convenience, and though yi in this debate also means dao -like principles in its metaphysical sense and the human understanding of them, by yan-yi is meant "speech and ideas in mind" in this context.) In the following, four representative approaches are focused on: (1) the "meaning-delivery-beyond-speech-capacity" approach; (2) "forgetting-speech-once-achieving-meaning" approach; (3) the "meaning-delivery-within-speech-capacity" approach; (4) the context-sensitivity approach. The first three approaches are three representative approaches in the yan-yi-zhi-bian during the Wei-Jin period, though the first two are actually kindred in spirit (see Chen 2004 for a recent discussion; my interpretation of the third approach is somewhat different than his), while the fourth one is my interpretative elaboration of the relevant points of Ji Zang's Buddhist Middle-Way doctrine of double truth.

The "meaning-delivery-beyond-speech-capacity" approach was advocated by Ji Kan (223262). This approach's main arguments are these. First, some of our ideas in mind are so delicate and sophisticated that speech simply cannot capture them. Second, our ideas in mind are dynastic while speech is static, and therefore speech cannot fully capture ideas in mind. The "forgetting-speech-once-achieving-meaning" approach was advocated by Wang Bi (226249). This approach acknowledges a certain important role played by speech as a means to achieve meaning. For example, when one intends to understand some other's ideas or when one intends to have one's own ideas to be understood by some other, one has to rely on speech to understand them or express them.

But this approach still takes it that eventually speech would hinder one's understanding ideas per se and so that one should forget speech once achieving the ideas. This line of thought sounds like a Wittgenstein's well-known metaphor to the effect that, once one climbs up on the building by means of a ladder, one needs to discard the ladder to keep oneself in the high position. It is noted that, though the first and second approaches have their differences in emphasis and focus, they share the basic positions concerning the relation between speech and ideas. Both think that ideas are primary while speech is only secondary, that ideas and speech can, and should, be separate and that at most speech serves merely as a means and makes no contribution to the constitution of thought and ideas.

The "meaning-delivery-within-speech-capacity" approach is suggested by Ouyang Jian (?300). This view has been ignored for a long time and not a strong voice in the traditional Chinese philosophy in contrast to the mainstream approach on this issue; but some of the points of this approach deserve a close examination. Ouyang argues that:

Surely one can achieve a principle in the form of ideas in one's mind; however, without language [as media and as means], those ideas cannot exist in a smooth and coherent way. Given that a thing has been stabilized in a certain definite aspect, without language [in terms of name], one cannot identify and thus distinguish the thing [in view of the stabilized definite aspect] from the others. If one's ideas cannot exist in a smooth and coherent way through the role of language, they cannot hold tight in connection with each other; if the thing cannot be identified and distinguished in terms of name, the distinctive ideas and insights cannot be shown evidently. But, as a matter of fact, the distinctive ideas can be shown evidently in terms of distinctive names, and speech holds ideas tight in connection and in a smooth and coherent way. Let us see why it is so. It is not because a thing has its ready-made fixed name; it is not because a principle has its fixed unchangeable language expression. The reason is this. When people intend to capture things as they are in a distinguishing way, they give them distinctive names. When people intend to declare their distinctive ideas, they employ distinctive language expressions that fit distinctive ideas. Names [and/or their meanings] change in accordance with the transformation of their named things; while speeches [and/or their meanings] change in accordance with the change of the contents of ideas. It is just like echo responds to sound, shadows attaches to body; they do not exist as two separate things. If they are not separate things, then speech can fully capture ideas; this is why I hold on my position.

(yi-wen-lei-ju, vol. 19)
(my translation)

There are two interesting points that seem to really engage with the two preceding views. First, speech is not merely a means but also a medium of ideas at least in regard to its contribution to their internal coherent construction. Second, as far as speech as means is concerned, though speech is relatively static and stable, that certainly does not mean that language is just as static as a dead thing; language itself also keep changing responding to the change of what it is to express. This is true as evidenced by the history of the development of natural languages. Although Ouyang's first point is still quite vaguely made and expressed, his position makes distinct contribution on the issue.

The fourth approach, the context-sensitivity approach, suggested by Ji Zang (540623), a significant figure of Chinese Buddhism who elaborated and systematized Mahayana doctrine of Buddhism. Ji Zang's doctrine of double truth has interesting implications from the point of view of philosophy of language. First, a brief outline of the major ideas of his double-truth account. It seems to Ji Zang that there are two kinds of truth, truth in the common sense and truth in the higher sense, on each of three varying levels; what is the truth in the higher sense at a lower level becomes merely truth in the common sense at the higher level. At the first level, the common people take all things as really being and know nothing about their non-being, while the Buddhas have told them that actually all things are non-being and empty. At the second level, to say that all things are being is one-sided, but to say that all things are non-being is also one-sided; at this level, the Buddhas would say that what is being is simultaneously what is non-being. At the third level, saying that the middle truth consists in what is not one-sided means to make distinctions, and so this is merely a common sense truth; the higher truth consists in saying that all distinctions are themselves one-sided, and the middle path is neither one-sided nor not-one-sided. That amounts to denying the adequacy of any speech to capture the truth in the higher sense at this highest level, that is, the highest truth, which needs to be contemplated in silence.

Although Ji Zang as a Buddhist thinker still maintains that the highest truth cannot be captured and delivered via language but has to be contemplated in silence, but he emphasizes that all those truths, both in the common sense and in the higher sense and both at the first level and at the second level, can be captured and delivered in terms of language that involves relatively stabilized and fixed conceptual distinctions. With his explicitly distinguishing truths in distinct senses and at distinctive levels and acknowledging important role played by language at the first and second levels, Ji Zang's general point is philosophically interesting: we need to have it sensitive to the context whether speech can effectively capture and deliver the truths, that is, our understandings and comprehensions of the world.

There are two notes concerning evaluation of the foregoing views. First, to evaluate the ancient thinkers' views here, we indeed need to pay attention to those still valuable thoughts; on the other hand, we also need to note that one of the reasons why those ancient thinkers held that speech is not able to fully capture meaning is this: some conceptual and explanatory resources in contemporary philosophy that are available to us to capture and deliver some sophisticated ideas and thoughts were simply unavailable to those ancient thinkers; so there is no wonder why they felt the linguistic means then available to them were not sufficient to capture some complicated thoughts and ideas. Second, as emphasized at the outset, the term yi in the yan-yi-zhi-bian (the debate on the relation between speech and meaning) has its much wider coverage than what the term "thought" in the contemporary debate on the relation between language and thought is to cover: the latter primarily mean propositional thoughts while the former's coverage includes non-propositional ideas, emotions and some characteristic existential experience; a claim putting into doubt or denying the capacity of speech to capture such non-propositional mental things could be compatible with the positions by those whose primary concern is with the relation between language and propositional thoughts.

the issue of the structure of chinese language and reflective way of thinking in chinese philosophy

It seems that certain characteristic features of Chinese language influence or encourage some orientations in the Chinese (folk and reflective) way of thinking. Due to the topic, the focus will be on such influence on reflective inquiry in Chinese philosophy. Nevertheless, the reflective way of thinking is not separate from, but largely in accordance with the folk way of thinking via some reasonable pre-theoretic intuitive understanding on those issues that deserve further reflection.

We start with some known facts about certain characteristic features of Chinese ideographic language and Western phonetic language (say, English) in comparison that might, to some extent and in a certain scope, reflect some distinctive orientations or tendencies in the ways of thinking of the two linguistic communities. We know how we as English speakers give our names and addresses: We first give our given names (thus being called "first name") and last give our family names (thus being called "last name"). However, in Chinese, the family name goes first (thus the family name is really the first name in Chinese way) and then the given name (for example, the real order of my whole name in Chinese is "Mou Bo" instead of "Bo Mou"). For, in philosophical terms, the family (name) is both metaphysically and logically prior to the individual (name), and the former provides a necessary holistic background for understanding the latter. By the same token, in contrast to its way in English, a mailing address (taking mine as an example) should go this way when delivered in Chinese: "USA, California, San Jose, San Jose State University, Department of Philosophy, Mou Bo"; that is, the larger thing goes first while the smaller thing next. It is arguably right that the structure of Chinese language in this respect to some extent bears on the orientation of the way of thinking of the Chinese people as a whole.

(There are two notes. First, when the word "bear on" is used instead of "influence" alone, what is meant is that the relation between the former and the latter is bi-directional instead of one-directional. The actual situation might be this: When the way of the Chinese language originally formed up, it was influenced by the way of thinking of the people around that time; on the other hand, when such a way has become relatively stable and been followed and passed on generation by generation, it has conversely influences the way of thinking of the future Chinese language speakers to some extent. Second, the foregoing influence certainly implies neither that the people speaking in Chinese tend to put the family/the collective interest first nor that, say, English speakers tend to do otherwise. Even if such a distinctive order of which one is mentioned first, next, and last indeed influence which one would first go in mind at some level, surely one can say that, though saying things in a certain order, I actually think about all the involved things once for all simultaneously. Exactly how it would happen if any has yet to be carefully examined.)

Now, through a representative case analysis, we examine how the structure of Chinese language bears on the orientation of reflective inquiries in Chinese philosophy through one case analysis. The Platonic one-many problem has been a long-term issue in the Western philosophical tradition. The problem begins with the following observation: objects around us share features with other objects; and many particular individuals, say, horses bear the same name "horse." The Platonic one-many problem presupposes that there is one single universal entity which is common or strictly identical across all those particular concrete horses and by virtue of which many individual horses bear the same name "horse"; the single universal entity is labeled "horseness." The Platonic one-many problem is how to characterize the status of universals and the ways by which particulars share universals. However, there seems to be one puzzle: why the classical Platonic one-many problem in the Western philosophical tradition has not been consciously posed in the Chinese philosophical tradition and why, generally speaking, classical Chinese philosophers seem less interested in debating the relevant ontological issues. One suspects that the structures (the surface and deep ones together) and uses of different languages might play their roles in pushing philosophical theorization in different directions; the ways of speaking and writing of the Chinese language might somehow reveal and reflect Chinese folk ideology and then influence the ways in which certain philosophical questions are posed and certain ontological insights are formed.

The problem of relating Chinese thought to the structure and functions of the Chinese language has for generations tantalized sinologists and those philosophers who are concerned with the problem. Nevertheless, in the last two decade, some significant progress has been made in this regard. Chad Hansen (1983) advances a novel and provocative theory about the nature of the classical Chinese language. The central thesis of Hansen's theory is his mass-noun hypothesis. Its main ideas are these: (1) the (folk) semantics of Chinese nouns are like those of mass-nouns (i.e., those nouns referring to the so-called interpenetrating stuffs, like the nouns "water" and "snow"), and naming in Chinese is not grounded on the existence of, or roles for, abstract entities (either on the ontic level or on the conceptual level) but rather on finding "boundaries" between things; (2) influenced by the mass-noun semantics, the classical Chinese semantic theorists and ontological theorists ew words in ways that are natural to view mass nouns rather than count nouns, and Chinese theorists tend to organize the objects in the world in a mereological stuff-whole model of reality (the term "mereology," in its technical sense, means the (mathematical) theory of the relation of parts to whole).

In this way, according to Hansen, the language theory of classical Chinese philosophers differs fundamentally from the language theory of Western philosophy. This hypothesis has been challenged mainly in three ways. One way is to challenge the mass-stuff model from the perspective of a holographic process ontology (Cheng 1987, Hall and Ames, 1987).

Although some scholars also emphasize the implicit ontology of Chinese language, they focus on the case analysis of the typical philosophical nouns or terms, such as tai-ji, wu, yin-yang, wu-xing, which constitute the basic lexico (vocabulary) of Chinese metaphysical systems as found in the writings of the early Confucianists, the early daoist, and Neo-Confucianists. They argue that those nouns stand for interpenetrating wholes and parts in a quite different sense from Hansen's: the individual things behave in the on-going patterns and in the events or processes of interaction among them, and the universe behaves as an organic whole with parts exemplifying the structure of the whole; they claim that Chinese words in general share this ontological feature of combining universality and particularity, abstractness and concreteness, activity and the result of activity. In this way, some writers (Hall and Ames, 1987) prefer to consider the relations of "parts" and "wholes" in terms of the model of "focus" and "field" and take Chinese ontological views as holographic rather than mereological.

Another way is to directly challenge Hansen's mass noun hypothesis, arguing that there is a clear grammatical distinction in classical Chinese between count nouns and other nouns (Harbsmeier 1989, 1991). Claiming that there is a clear grammatical distinction in classical Chinese between count nouns and other nouns (generic nouns and mass nouns), Harbsmeier (1991) insists that the mass-noun hypothesis is "historically implausible and grammatically quite wrong-headed." However, as Hansen himself emphasizes (1992), his mass-noun hypothesis is not a syntactic claim that classical Chinese nouns have mass-noun grammar but a semantic interpretive hypothesis that the semantics of Chinese nouns may be like those of mass nouns, and classical Chinese theorists view words in ways that are natural to view mass nouns. So it seems to Hansen that Harbsmeier systematically confuses syntax and semantics and misinterprets his semantic hypothesis. Although one can agree with Hansen at this point, Harbsmeier's criticism is not irrelevant in the following sense. It seems that Harbsmeier insists that his alleged distinction between count nouns and other nouns is not merely grammatical but also semantic (or takes the grammatical difference in question to have semantic implications); Hansen thus needs to deal with the linguistic (semantic) evidence against his hypothesis that the semantics of classical Chinese nouns may be like those of mass-nouns.

The foregoing first challenge from the point of view of a holographic process ontology could be compatible with Hansen's approach; for the process ontology is essentially compatible with the ontological position, a kind of nominalism, presupposed or implied by Hansen's mereological mass-stuff hypothesis. Hansen's view is given in a semantic perspective that can be compatible with a pragmatic perspective with its focus-field orientation. I have responded to Hansen's view in a similar semantic perspective and within the same mereological-analysis track. But, disagreeing with Hansen's mass-noun hypothesis, I suggest and argue for a collective-noun hypothesis (Mou 1999). Its main ideas are these: (1) Chinese common nouns typically function, semantically and syntactically, in the way collective-nouns (that is, those nouns that denote collections of individual things, like the English nouns "people" or "cattle") function, and the folk semantics of Chinese nouns are like those of collective-nouns; (2) their implicit ontology is a mereological ontology of collection-of-individuals both with the part-whole structure and with the member-class structure, which does justice to the role of abstraction at the conceptual level; and (3) encouraged and shaped by the folk semantics of Chinese nouns, the classical Chinese theorists of language take this kind of mereological nominalism for granted; as a result, the classical Platonic one-many problem in the Western philosophical tradition has not been consciously posed in the Chinese philosophical tradition, and classical Chinese philosophers seem less interested in debating the relevant ontological issues. This mereological collection-of-individuals model of reality would provide a more reasonable interpretation of the semantics of classical Chinese nouns and the classical Chinese ontological theory. The collective-noun hypothesis makes a stronger claim that Chinese nouns do not function as count nouns but typically function, both syntactically and semantically, as collective-nouns.

Language and Logic

As indicated at the outset, the term "logic" in this essay on language and logic in Chinese philosophy means two related things: first, logical reasoning as embedded or expressed in natural (Chinese) language; second, the syntactic-semantic structure of Chinese language that underlies the surface grammar of Chinese language. The two are related in this way: The reasoning as embedded in a language is intrinsically connected with the syntactic structure of such a language and makes sense in view of its semantic structure which per se is related to its syntactic structure; thus, to understand the reasoning as embedded in natural (Chinese) language, one needs to understand its syntactic-semantic structure. Actually, in the discussions of the previous two parts, the second issue has already been addressed in view of its relations with the central concerns there. In this part, we focus on the first issue. With space limitation, the strategy is this: we will start with an examination of some reasoning patterns in the Mohist discourse and then raise a general issue about the due relation between two modes of reasoning; that is, deductive reasoning versus evocative reasoning, in view of Chinese philosophical practice.

reasoning patterns in the mohist discourse

The two trademark basic principles for deductive reasoning are the principle of non-contradiction and the law of identity, both of which are expected to be observed for the sake of good deductive reasoning. The principle of noncontradiction states that it is not the case that both that p and not p (where p is any proposition). The law of identity states that everything is identical with itself (for everything x, x = x ). We begin with an example of reasoning via Aristotelian deductive logic:

Pr.1 If x is y, then to do something to x is to do it to y.

Pr.2 Robbers are people.

Therefore, killing robbers is killing people.

Pr. 3 It is wrong to kill people.

Therefore, it is wrong to kill robbers.

However, the Mohist disagrees to this reasoning, arguing that killing robbers is not killing people. Their reason is this. In our ordinary language use, we often shift our attention from what is shared between them to what is distinct between them, depending on the nature of context and concrete situation. The Mohist distinguishes three sorts of contexts and considered the case of "killing robbers/killing people" as one case of the second kind (Graham 1989).

(1) The involved context would typically call our attention to what is shared between involved parties: In such a kind of contexts, for example, we say "Black horses are horses" or "Riding black horses is riding horses." (Typically, for the purpose of riding a horse, the color of the horse does not matter.) One example given in the Mohist text is this: "Huo is a person; to be concerned for Huo is to be concerned for persons." In the context of the Mohist text, Huo is a slave who is too humble for one to be concerned for anything about them except that he is a person; someone concerned for him is concerned for anyone as a person. Also note that the Mohist held the view of universal concern for anyone.

(2) The involved context would typically call our attention to what is distinct between involved parties. Consider three sentences in such a kind of contexts. First, "A carriage is wood; but riding a carriage is not riding wood": Typically, what is concerned with in the context of talking on riding something is whether or not the thing has the riding-function. Second, "Her younger brother is a handsome man; but loving her younger brother is not loving a handsome man": Typically, in this context, loving him is not for his looks. Third, "Robbers are people; abounding in robbers is not abounding in people, being without robbers is not being without people: Typically, in this context, what is called attention to is something distinct with robbers.

(3) The involved context would typically call our attention to both what is common and what is distinct between involved parties. One might say both "The white horse is not the horse" (in so saying, as analyzed before in view of Gongsun Long's approach, one pays attention to the distinct aspect of the white horse from the horse) and "Riding the white horse is riding the horse" (for the sake of riding a horse, the color of the horse does not matter).

What the Mohist calls our attention to is a variety of reasoning patterns embedded in our linguistic practice and the context in which reasoning utterances are made. In contrast, deductive reasoning focuses on logical necessity and logical entailment that seems to be concerned about only in the context (1) among the foregoing three kinds of contexts as the Mohist identifies. It is noted that such a focus-shift is not supposed to make at random but has its due metaphysical foundation: an object of study really possesses its multiple aspects/layers/dimensions. When saying "robbers are people," one focuses on the aspect of robbers, A, that makes them being people; nevertheless, when saying "killing robbers is not killing people," one's focus shifts to some other aspect of robbers, A*, which is possessed by robbers rather than by the other people and which makes robbers deserve being killed (from the Mohist point of view): killing robbers for the sake of A*; that does not amount to killing people for the sake of A* because people generally speaking do not possess A*. Note that this challenge is rather to the indiscriminate applicability of deductive reasoning at the surface level than to its applicability to various extents in different linguistic contexts. That constitutes a deep reason why the Mohist view, as A. C. Graham points out, has its "Wittgensteinian look," which emphasizes the language use and claims that meaning consists in use.

logical versus evocative argumentations in chinese philosophy

It is known that any philosophical inquiry needs to base its conclusion on justification or argumentation rather than simply dogmatically taking something for granted. There are two basic modes of argumentations in philosophy, one is logical (in its narrow sense) and the other evocative, though sometimes only the former is highlighted and celebrated. The two modes of argumentations are sometimes contrasted as "logical versus rhetoric," "inferential versus preferential" or "probative versus prohairetic." A logical argument is a set of statements in which one or more of the statements, the premises, purports to provide a reason or evidence for the truth of another statement, the conclusion, either in deductive way or in inductive way. When it does, we say that the premises entail or support the conclusion, or that the conclusion "follows from" the premises. We traditionally divide logical arguments into deductive and inductive arguments. The term "evocative" is used in contrast to the term "logical" used in the narrow sense; it means producing or suggesting or triggering (generally speaking, evoking) some subsequent thought or conclusion primarily in some non-"logical" way, neither deductively nor inductively as specified above. Among a variety of evocative argumentations, what have been often addresses especially in humanities are argument by (relevant) analogy [drawing its conclusion by evoking a similarity between some particular aspect of two things from, or on the basis of, their similarity in some other particular aspect(s) or in some other general aspect], argument by appealing to value [drawing its conclusion by appealing to one's value which is appreciated through one's life-experience and understanding of the world (and/or the human society)], and argument by appealing to (credible) authority [draws its conclusion by appealing to trustworthy and knowledgeable authority on the issue under examination].

Both modes of argumentations are widely used in the classical Chinese philosophy. Let us consider some examples in Confucius' Analects to illustrate the point. Contrary to some unjustified impression, this classical text is not lack of deductive reasoning; though some of the deductive-reasoning cases need one to be careful enough to identify between lines, some other are quite evidentfor example, the reasoning given in the previous citation where Confucius' doctrine of name rectification is discussed. On the other hand, the argumentation implicit in Confucius' version of the Golden Rule as delivered in 6.28 of the Analects illustrate both argument by analogy and argument by appealing to value. Its conclusion is that one should treat others in a certain moral way; which way? One is expected to identity the way partially based on how one would like to be treated: Due to the common human-being identity among human beings that result in similarities in many relevant aspects between human moral beings, [Confucius' version of] the Golden Rule guides the moral agent to "draw the analogy from oneself [the way one would desire to be treated]" to how to treat others in a moral way (that is, to evoke the similarity in regard to what would be desired and what would be rendered moral, by both the moral agent and the moral recipient). Furthermore, the moral agent is not expected to start from nowhere but to be a moral agent with (a certain degree of) moral sensibility; that is, the virtue of ren ; this initial moral sensibility serves as the internal starting point of how the moral agent is to adequately draw the analogy. This moral value, according to Confucius, is commonly, more or less, shared by all human moral agents; this moral value would thus contribute to what would be rendered moral by both the moral agent and the moral recipient (the similarity in this regard). In this way, Confucius' version of the Golden Rule appeals to the moral value to justify a reasonable version of the Golden Rule. Through this example, one can see how argument by analogy and argument by appealing to value interplay in the argumentation in Confucius' version of the Golden rule.

Indeed, when appealing to value and appealing to authority, one should be careful; otherwise, one might fall into fallacies. But, what is at issue is not whether people and philosophers have ever made adequate argument by appealing to value or to authority in their reflective practice. Philosophers do it, more or less, directly or indirectly, and explicitly or implicitly, in their argumentations and explanations, and both in the Chinese tradition and in the Western tradition. What is really philosophically interesting is how to do it in some adequate way to avoid fallacies. In this connection, unlike deductive reasoning, there is no formal rule manual available but some general guidelines. Those general guidelines, largely, present themselves as explanations of what constitute fallacies in reasoning or argumentation. One case is the fallacy of dubious authority regarding current situation: An argument commits this fallacy when it mistakes some person as a trustworthy and knowledgeable authority about the current situation. Another case is the fallacy of relevance: mistaking relevant dissimilarities as irrelevant: An argument (typically, an argument by analogy) commits this fallacy when it mistakes relevant differences between two (kinds of) things as irrelevant to the issue under examination. For example, to illustrate the fallacy of relevance, let us consider how Mencius criticizes an argument by analogy made by Gao Zi, his contemporary in regard to the original human (moral) nature:

Gao Zi said, "[Original] Human [moral] nature is like the willow tree, and righteousness is like making a drinking cup. To turn human nature into humanity and righteousness is like turning the willow tree into cups." Mencius responded, "Could you make the cups out of the willow tree without violating its nature, or do you have to violate the nature of the willow tree before you can make the cups? If you have to violate the nature of the willow tree in order to make cups, then [based on your analogy] do you have to also violate human nature in order to make it into humanity and righteousness? Your analogy would lead all people in the world to consider humanity and righteousness as the source of disaster [because they required the violation of human nature]!" (Mencius 6A:1. My modification of the translation in Chan 1963, p. 51)

Mencius here criticizes Gao Zi for his inadequately paying attention only to some superficial similarity between making a cup and building character but ignoring a crucial difference between making a cup out of the willow tree (injuring the willow) and building human moral character from the human original moral nature (without involving violence and injury); in this way, in our terminology here, Mencius actually criticizes Gao Zi for his mistaking one significantly relevant dissimilarity between both as irrelevant in his argument by analogy.

The relation of the two modes of argumentations together with their respective nature and status in philosophical inquiry has been under reflective examination. We can think about a number of questions in view of the cited cases above in the traditional Chinese philosophy and through examining our own reflective practice in argumentation: When carrying out deductive (or evocative) argumentation, could one's argumentation be totally immune from evocative (or deductive) argumentation? (Think about where premises in many deductive arguments come from; also think about whether one still needs to rely on a certain standard and resort to the two basic principles of deductive reasoning mentioned above in some way when carrying out evocative argumentation.) One strategic methodological point in regard to the relation between the two modes of argumentation is that they come into "mutually supportive overall harmonization" (Rescher 1994, p. 58). That is especially true in view of Chinese philosophical practice. For this orientation is kindred in spirit with the yin-yang way of thinking which emphasizes the complementary nature between seemingly competing approaches. Indeed, the yin-yang way of thinking has fundamentally influenced the orientation of mentality, and the way of carrying out reflective argumentation, of subsequent Chinese thinkers in various schools or movements.

See also Chinese Philosophy: Metaphysics and Epistemology.


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