Hui Shi (370–318 BCE)

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(370318 BCE)

Hui Shi (also Hui Shih) was an ancient Chinese logician and a major figure of the School of Names (Ming-Jia ) whose members are also known as dialecticians or sophists for the sake of their emphasis on rational argumentations and their focus on deep structures of concepts. Hui Shi's philosophical thoughts are primarily delivered in his ten seemingly paradoxical propositions as recorded in the part "Tian-Xia " (ch. 33) of the Zhuang-Zi ; these ten propositions are given as follows (with this author's brief explanation in brackets attached to each).

(1) "The greatest dimension [of the universe] has nothing beyond itself and is thus called 'the great unity,' while the smallest dimension [of the universe] has nothing within itself and is thus called 'the small unity.'" [The universe as a whole unity is both the greatest and the smallest in infinity; and the greatest and the smallest are intrinsically connected.]

(2) "That which has no thickness cannot be increased in thickness, and yet in extent it covers one thousand li [miles]." [This is one way to illustrate the point that being (extension) and non-being (non-thickness) come from each other.]

(3) "The heaven is as low as the earth; mountains are on the same level as marshes." [The high and the low in nature are not absolute but relative.]

(4) "The moment the sun reaches the zenith at noon, it is declining; the moment the creature is born, it is dying." [This characterizes the two features of changing and becoming process in nature: things will develop in the opposite direction when they become extreme; being and non-being interpenetrate each other.]

(5) "A great similarity differs from a little similarity; this is called 'the little similarity-and-difference.' All things are both similar/identical to one another and different from one another; this is called 'the great similarity/identity-and-difference.'" [Things have not only their more or less similar or identical aspects but also their distinct aspects that distinguish one from another.]

(6) "The South has no limit and has a limit." [Some things have both their finite aspects and their infinite aspects at the same time. For example, the South as a location has its limit in space but has no limit in regard to, say, its development in time.]

(7) "One goes to the State of Yüe today and arrives there yesterday." [This highlights temporal relativity.]

(8) "Connected rings can be in separation." [Connected rings themselves are separated from each other in regard to the identity of each ring; each ring is at the same in connection with and separation from the other rings. The point is that seemingly opposed and unrelated states or processes can be possessed by the same thing and thus be interpenetrating and complementary.]

(9) "I know where the center of the world is; it is in the north of the State of Yan and the south of the State of Yüe." [This stresses spatial relativity.]

(10) "Extend love to all things; Heaven and Earth are the one unity." [The fundamental unification-character of all things in the universe constitutes the metaphysical foundation for extending love to all things.]

Hui Shi puts more emphasis on common aspects, connections, and unification of things in the universe (as highlighted in propositions 1 and 10) and relativity of their distinctions (as illustrated in propositions 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9). In contrast, Gongsun Long, another major figure of the School of Names, stresses distinct aspects of things. Nevertheless, though the two thinkers appear to have different orientations, their difference is rather in emphasis. Hui Shi also pays attention to, or even stresses, distinct aspects, as suggested in propositions 5 and 8. Indeed, one central point suggested in Hui Shi's ten propositions is that many seemingly paradoxical or opposed contraries turn out to be interdependent, interpenetrating, and complementary. This essentially reflects the crucial point of the fundamental Yin-Yang way of thinking in view of cosmological and ontological characters of the universe. Moreover, as suggested by the points of all the ten propositions, Hui Shi, as "logician," is primarily concerned with metaphysical foundation of logical discourse rather than with its purely formal character.


Fung, Yu-lan (Feng, Yu-lan). A History of Chinese Philosophy, 2 vols., translated by Derk Bodde. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 19521953.

Graham, Angus Charles. "Three Studies on Gongsun Lung." In Studies in Chinese Philosophy and Philosophical Literature. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990.

Hansen, Chad. Language and Thought in Ancient China. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1983.

Hu Shi. The Development of the Logical Method in Ancient China, 2nd ed. New York: Paragon Books, 1969.

Bo Mou (2005)