Language and Logic in Ancient China



Chad Hansen

This book is currently out of print. I have uploaded here an “raw” retyping of the first chapter.  I will be editing it gradually. Please notify me of errors and suggestions as I do so.  Send them to chansen(at-sign)

Preview: Analytic and Chinese Philosophy

For the past half century, Anglo-American "philosophy" has carried the pejorative/honorific "linguistic analysis".  Chinese philosophy, christened "nonlinear" and championed by a romantic counterculture, has played the part of an antithesis.  This book, in presenting Chinese philosophies of language, challenges that distinction as a way of understanding Chinese thought.  Its hypothesis is that like Western thought, Chinese philosophical activity leads thinkers to contemplate language and its role in culture; Chinese thought differs radically from traditional Western thought in what it says about language and culture. The differences between the philosophical theories of language reflect differences between their respective languages.

The stereotypical contrast of Chinese thought and "analytic" Western thought directs interpreters away from the ways philosophy of language might aid in understanding the rest of Chinese philosophy.  Students of Chinese naturally contemplate ways in which Chinese language might explain the differences in Chinese thought, but are discouraged by the scholarly opprobrium heaped on various non-philosophical stories that attempt to bridge language and thought. The disreputable “popular” accounts suggest that language limits Chinese capacity think certain thoughts. Here, I tell a more extended story. The “direct” explanatory link to language is only the assumption that the character of a language (Chinese, English, or French) will normally influence popular or “folk” theories of the nature of language in general. Folk theories are those we use to teach each other the language. They become a shared “common sense” about what language is.  Philosophy of language usually starts by refining and rationalizing such folk theories. A culture’s theories of language (folk and philosophical versions), in turn, influence the development of its philosophical methodology, its epistemology, and its metaphysics—particularly its philosophy of mind.  These, in turn, can influence a culture’s reflections on ethical and political matters. This explanatory chain derives from the method of Wittgenstein, not that of Whorf.

The "linguistic turn" in Western philosophy offered explanations of how the traditional “perennial problems” of Western philosophy derived from natural, but erroneous assumptions about language. Some examples are the following accounts of moments in the history of Western philosophy: Heraclitus’ puzzle about change (you can’t step in the same river twice) blurred the identity conditions of mass nouns (‘water’) and count nouns (‘river’).  Plato treated knowledge of a word’s definition as understanding the word.  The inherited quest for definitions, using the methods developed by the pre-Socratic metaphysicians, lead to the Classical metaphysical theory of a realm of meanings.  Cartesian and empiricist views of the mind-body problem, philosophy of mind, and theory of knowledge are also under girded by a peculiarly Indo-European folk theory of language which identifies of meanings with mental representations (ideas) -- akin to sensations.  We can view Neo-Kantians as substituting the effects of language for the structuring activities of the mind in presenting phenomenal experience.

This view of the nature of philosophical problems is controversial, and I do not intend to argue for it in these pages.  However, the very possibility of such an explanation of traditional Western philosophy should warn against any assumption that absence of the listed Western philosophical concerns is evidence of irrational or non-rational thought.  Indirectly, however, the absence of such philosphical preoccupations by otherwise competent Chinese thinkers, does suggest that they could have a coherent theory of language that (1) coherently explained (different) salient features of their language and (2) would not motivate traditional Western theories of abstract reality, mental representation, private meaning, propositional knowledge, or cognitive (representational) minds.

Our account of the relation of thought and language in ancient China amounts to presenting their theories of language as influenced by their actual language. Then, we follow that with an account of how that view of language influenced other philosophical issues.  The picture of ancient Chinese thought which emerges differs significantly from the accepted view.  I do not get this result by pure “radical reinterpretation,” however.  I revise the standard interpretation of Chinese thought guided by the above suspicion.  Only when that interpretation seems to have imputed an interest in issues which (1) are likely to have been generated by linguistic forms or theories about language which are absent in classical Chinese, and (2) are incompatible with other well-confirmed interests and approaches of Chinese thinkers (given the standard interpretation).

The fact that ancient Chinese thinkers shared modern Western philosophy's intense interest in language buttresses the case for this strategy.  Traditional interpretations have largely ignored Chinese theories of language both because of their inherent difficulty (difference from familiar Western theories) and because of the obscurity of the central texts that  contain most of the technical detail of Chinese theories of language (e.g., the Mohist Canon).  Our failure to understand the Mohist Canon, in turn, hindered understanding of Zhuangzi and Xunzi, who share an obvious preoccupation with problems of language and clearly presupposed (and drew heavily from) the Later-Mohist treatment of linguistic issues.

This study touches on many contrasts in philosophical interests.  However, it concentrates on one classical issue: the one-many problem.

Language and Philosophy in China

Sinologists largely agree that Chinese philosophy has no obsession with abstraction, universals, or forms characteristic of the Western Platonic Realist view of the one-many problem.  Hung-sun Lung is typically interpreted as the exception.  We used to suppose that his "white-horse paradox" ("white-horse not horse") represent a classical Chinese counterpart of Platonism.  The locus classicus of this “standard” interpretation of Gongsun Long is in the work of the best-known contemporary historian of Chinese philosophy, Feng Yu-lan.  The Feng Yu-lan interpretation is consciously Platonist.  Feng suggests that the Chinese terms ma 'horse' and pai 'white' are being used to designate abstract objects: horseness and whiteness.  Hence the paradoxical statement should be read as "white-horseness is not horseness".  Many were skeptical of Feng's Platonizing interpretation, but few have offered more plausible alternative interpretive theories.  Thus the abstract view of Gongsun Long's enterprise has come to be widely accepted, even if without much enthusiasm.

I will argue that there is no Platonic Realism in ancient China (nor other theories of abstract sets or classes) and that Gongsun Long does not constitute an exception.  Further, I will argue that the nonabstract orientation of philosophy can be (partially) explained using the strategy outlined above.  The grammatical features of Indo-European languages that explain the impetus of Platonism in philosophy of language are absent in Chinese.  Absent those motivations, I suggest, there would be less reason to suppose that Chinese thinkers must have postulated metaphysical curiosities such as abstract or mental objects.

Essentially, I contend that a one-many paradigm for stating philosophical questions goes along with a count noun (nouns to which the many-few dictotomy applies) syntax.  Chinese language, during this classical period, tends toward a mass noun syntax (based on nouns to which the much-little dictotomy applies).  Mass nouns suggest a staff ontology and what I call a division or discrimination view of the semantic function of words (terms and predicates).

The grammatical explanans tends to illuminate an extensive difference in "metaphysical" orientation; rather than one-many, the Chinese language motivates a part-whole dichotomy.  And I argue that it helps explain not only the absence of Platonism, but, in turn, of mentalism and conceptualist philosophies of mind.  These philosophical developments are based on the abstract scheme for dealing with meaning (e.g., conceptualism) and are even less to be expected in Chinese thought.

This study also draws from modern philosophy for its hermeneutic method.  Chapter 1 presents an argument for justifying interpretations as we justify scientific theories, that is, as inference to the best explanation.  Informally, the point is that the best way to justify an interpretation (or a philosophical view) is just to lay it out as completely and carefully as possible, then to highlight the advantages of the view one supports over the known rivals.

It will be treated as a drawback that an interpretation attributes a discredited Western traditional theory to a thinker in the absence of any adequate explanation of what could have motivated the doctrine.  The tendency of interpreters to "discover" such views in Chinese thinkers seems to be connected with their own acceptance of a culture-invariant interest in the perennial Western philosophical issues.  Believing that the problems are the genuine problems of philosophy and that they just "make sense", one charitably attributes the same insight to the Chinese thinker at the barest textual hint, thinking, "What else could this mean?"  The insights of modern philosophy, in questioning these traditional issues, tend, therefore, to expand rather than restrict the coherent ways of assigning meanings to philosophical texts.

I accordingly regard the introduction of the discipline of philosophy into the study of Chinese thought as a liberating move.  It gives the best hope of making headway on a project that all seem to accept - explaining how Chinese language influences Chinese philosophy.  It is rather more than less likely to generate fresh, non-Western interpretations and demonstrate their relation to the unique features of Chinese language.

A defensive reaction, claiming for Chinese philosophy "everything found in Western philosophy", tends, I believe, to be counterproductive.  The contexts into which these parallels are introduced fit the classical problems so poorly that any philosphically trained reader will find the Chinese thinkers confusing.  The theoretical doctrines are attributed to Chinese philosphers who give no coherent arguments for the theories and demonstrate no insights into the classical positions they are supposed to be discussing.  The defense typically asserts that they held the positions to be discussing.  The defense typically asserts that they held the positions but did not believe in argument.  Thus the view of Chinese thought as "irrational", "nonanalytic", or "inscrutable", is forced by the very attempt to glorify it.

There are issues of philosophy which Chinese philosophers do not see.  The issues they do see are discussed competently.  There are issues in traditional Western philosphy which no longer hold the interest of Western philosophers.  That classical Chinese philosophers never worried such issues hardly undermines positive evaluation of their philosophical acumen.


I began work on these ideas eight years ago and I have received help from individuals too numerous to list completely here.  I must, however, thank my teacher, friend, and colleague Professor Donald Munro for introducing me to Chinese philosophy and for his splendid ability to encourage my work while giving criticism and suggestions.  Professor Munro first aroused in me the suspicion that concentrated study of Chinese philosophy (unlike the study of Western ethics) makes one a better person.  One of his many contributions to the understanding of Chinese philosophy is his recognition of the importance of model emulation.  His contribution to his students is himself as a model.

My heavy debt to Professor A.C. Graham is apparent from the notes to this volume.  In the early stages of my work, Professor Graham gave me some vitally important advice ("Ignore Kao Heng's commentary on the Mohist Dialectic").  Throughout my development of these ideas I relied heavily on the textual studies and translations of Professor Grahma that covered the philosophers I was analyzing.  His own superb and massive analysis and translation of the Mohist dialectical chapters was being written at the same time I was working on this book.  I had a chance to see the manuscript and profited from it.  In places, I have continued to rely on his earlier published analyses.  Professor Graham read my manuscript and criticized the translations.  He advised revision of many key translations, especially those from the Mohist dialectical chapters.  I am responsible for any errors which remain.  I started from moder philosophical worries about the nature of 'meaning', but my interpretation of texts depends heavily on the prior work of textual scholars.  Since I have selected from among textual emendations and textual theories, I must also take responsibility for any sinological errors in the analysis.

Professor Liu Yü-yün was the only person I could find in Taipei who would consent to guiding my reading of the Mohist dialectical chapters.  Professor Liu taught my teacher and my teacher's teacher.  So my debt to him goes far beyond the direct influence he exerted on this work.

Professor Chung-ying Ch'eng has also been working on issues which overlapped a great deal with my own work.  I benefitted from his published bibliographies on Chinese logic and from several lengthy discussions of various chapters of this manuscript.  His comments and criticisms have always been appreciated, and his dedication to the growth of the philosophical approach to the study of Chinese thought have contributed enormously to encouraging me in this and related projects.

My colleagues at the Stanford Center in Taipei and the Universities' Service Center in Hong Kong listened patiently as I struggled to develop coherent, intelligible ways of presenting and developing the key ideas in this analysis of what they must have regarded as historically obscure set of problems.  My thanks to them and to those invaluable research institutions for the training and facilities they have provided to students of China.

In addition to Professor Munro, three scholars at the University of Michigan all made careful and helpful comments on the manuscipt's early draft.  Professor James Dew drew my attention to many problems in notation and linguistic issues related to my central claims.  Professor Larry Sklar forced me to understand just what I could and could not claim to have proven and what kind of proof I should have to settle for for certain key claims.  Professor Steve Stitch insisted that I should employ formal semantics consistently.

My colleagues and students at the University of Pittsburgh have read or listened to various portions of this work and made helpful comments concerning content, expression, and organization.  Professor Henry Rosemont read the entire manuscript and was most encouraging.  He gave me detailed criticisms and recommended some important and basic changes in organization which have been incorporated into the present text.  Dr. Sally Gressens commented extensively and helped enormously with the final working of the arguments in the manuscript.  My colleagues at the University of Vermont, Professors Philip Kitcher and George Sher, made many helpful suggestions, and Leslie Weiger patiently typed and retyped the successive approximations I generated.  My thanks to all.

Chapter 1

Methodological Reflections

Imagine a scene: A half darkened room is filled with incense and anticipation.  A small huddle of humanity concentrates under the direction of a medium who is chanting.  They are contacting a dead person to talk with him.  A voice or voices are heard (perhaps that of the medium). The other participants ask questions to which the voice responds.  If successful, the conversation should be the same as it would have been with the dead person.  It should answer questions about the attitude of the dead person to issues which concern the participants.

The theory of the seance is that when people die their conscious life continues.  The conscious life is embodied in an entity called a spirit.  The rituals practised by the medium or the mystic "contact" that spirity (a process analogous to finding the telephone number).  The spirit's "speech" typically goes through the medium since the spirit lacks vocal cords, tongue, or lips with which to articulate its answers to the questions.  The answers and responses are present in the spirit, as in our lving mind, as curious things called "thoughts" or "ideas".  The theory usally ignores the question of how the spirity hears, without eardrums.  Presumably a parallel story could be told in which the spirit's thoughts are somehow conditioned by the thoughts in the minds of the pariticipants.  The conversation is just a convenient "linearization" of these spiritual interactions.

Now consider a second scene: The room is well lighted and dominated by a blackboard.  The only smoke is from scholarly pipes.  The prople participating come from a quite different stratum of society.  Papers, pens, books, and glasses are the main paraphernalia at this gathering.  One participant reads from a paper.  The topic of the paper is also what a dead person thought.  But this is not a seance.  No one here ever knew the deceased.  It is a meeting of academic interpreters  intellectual historians,philosophers, anthropologists.  They are concerned with a famous philosopher  specifically a Chinese philosopher, perhaps Confucius.

They are no subterfuges; the speaker uses his own voice and most typically uses he in discussing the views of the dead philosopher.  He speaks in English in expressing his view, though we all know that Confucius spoke a precursor of moder Chinese dialects which no one now could understand.  There are questions and answers.  "If Confucius really meant that, why did he say ...?" "What would he say bout a case where ...?"  But these do not resemble a conversation with Confucius as much as a challenge to the speaker to defind his claim to be speaking for Confucius  a challenge from rival interpreters.

I describe these two activities to dramatize the differences between a theory of interpretation and a theory of spiritualism.  An interpretation deals directly with a text, not a mind.  Its first task is an account of the logical structure of that text and not directly of the psychological state of the author.  It is first a theory about how best to understand that text; second, via some additional hypotheses, it can provide evidence for claims about ghe beliefs and attitudes of the author.  The first aspect of an interpretive theory  how best to understand a text  may apply even to texts for which we think there was no single author.  We can reasonably dispute about what is the best interpretation of a text whose compilation we agree was accidental.  The interpretation would attribute presuppositions and generate implications of a text which no single author might have believed, formulated, or thought about.

One helpful metaphor used in illuminating the interpretation of texts is that of a conversation.  Interpreters are not engaged in ordinary conversation but in radical translation which requires theory construction.  Theorizing, even in the natural sciences, can be viewed as converation with nature.  But the conversational metaphor and the seance image together lead to the cnfusions involved in what I call the Chinese mind approach to methodology.

To see how the seance differs from the seminar, consider two different senses of meaning: the meaning (significance) of an expression in a language, and the meaning (intention) of a person in using that expression.  In an ordinary conversation, we can use clues from our knowledge of our friends, the environment at the time of speech, or habits of expression to help tell when someone has intended an expression to have other than its normal meaning.  In studying ancient Chinese philosophy we are under different constraints.  We know almost nothing about the psychology of the authors of tecxts except what is revealed in the texts themselves.  So interpretation cannot be based on any independent knowledge of a writer's psychology.  Thus an interpretation must be concerned with the objective meaning first.  Faced with apparent contradictions or conflicting approaches in a text, an interpretive theory attempts to reconcile the contradictions or select one of the approaches as more important, more central than the other.  We are tempted to say, "This is what the author really believed", but the author might have had contradictory beliefs.  That this does not invalidate this interpretive procedure shows we are concerned with objective meaning.  We need not suppose that interpretation is a process of contact with the brain states, the thoughts, or the feelings of any supposed writer of the sentence.  An interpretation is not a claim to have done what the medium does.  It initially has nothing to do with psychological facts about some author.  Talk of, for example, what Confucius really thought about X is just a metaphor misplaced from the seance room.

The object of interpretation is not a mind but a text.  We intend to understand the text.  An interpretation is a proposal about how best to understand it in our language.  When we admit the obvious fact that there can be many ways to understand a text, the metaphor of the seance seems to provide us with a standard of objectivity.  The "correct" interpretation, we supppose, is the one which harmonizes in some way with the subjectivity of the supposed author of the text.  However, this characterization of the goal of interpretation is quite useless in deciding between competing interpretive theories.  We have no access to the author's mental states except through the writings via a theory of translation and interpretation.  So to justify an interpretive theory we must appeal to other standards of adequacy.  This chapter spells out how we might construct arguments for interpretations of Chinese philosophical texts once we have realized that the mental metaphor is a useless runaround.  I shall present an account of how to justify an interpretive theory and consider the most typical objections to the application of a coherence methodology of interpretation in dealing with Chinese philosophy.

The Coherent Theory Methodology of Interpreation

The method advanced is based on an analogy between understanding in the sciences and in interpretation of different cultures.  Consider the initial state of a student of Chinese thought.  She finds a book on some library shelf thatis filled with inscriptions which she takes to be tokens of a written language.  The book she holds was most likely printed twenty or thirty years before.  It was set in type by reference to some other extant version of the text that was, in its turn, supposedly copied from a still earlier authoritative reconstruction of what is held to have been the original.  The reconstructed version, however, was not produced by any direct contact with this original, but by comparing, consulting, reconciling, and theorizing about a number of earlier versions.  The principles used in this reconstruction are sometimes conscious and deliberate and sometimes implicit and unformulated.  The earlier versions were similarly compiled from still earlier ones (though, no doubt, the principles have changed) and so on to hand-copied or memorized versions reaching back beyond the horizons of textual history.

The text on the shelf was produced by someone who held an implicit textual theory.  A textual theory explains the existence of the differing versions at present and through history.  It may further postulate the existence of a single "original" which is represented by the reconstructed version.  This textual theory is an empirical theory that seeks to explain the existence of versions of the text given an original version.  Its aim is the "discovery" of a particular set of historical facts; for example, this graph was originally in this position on this line, or this sentence was added by a commentator not the author.

In the present study the conern is not as much with textual theory as with interpretive theory.  I rely for empirical textual theories either on well-established tradition or on the textual research of clever textual detectives and theorists.  Choices among the different textual theories is sometimes dictated by the ways they enhance the interpretation, and in some cases (though rarely) I have departed from both tradition and the authorities on textual matters on such interpretive grounds.

Interpretive theory is typically directed at the text selected by a textual theory as the most plausible candidate for the original.  We can, in principle, interpret any of the versions of the text, and interpreting some version does not presuppose that it is the original version.  It makes sense to say that two interpretations of competing versions of a text are both correct for those different versions.  For example, disputes about the correct interpretation of the Wang Pi texts of the Tao Te Ching and the correct interpretation of the recently discovered Ma Wang Tui "legalist" version of that same work need not be rivals except via the rivalry of the respective textual theories - which version is closer to the "original".

There are good reasons for the usual assumption that we are interpreting the original.  An interpretive theory, like a textual theory, can function in an attempt to explain the production of the text.  An interpretation postulates a meaning for the sentences, terms, and expressions in the text in a way which is designed to explain how the author could have come tohold the theories hypostalized in the text.  The interpretation of the original seems important because it is the main evidence for a historical psychological claim about the beliefs, desires, or assumptions of the author or authors of the text.  The interpretation gives the grounds for further theorizing by fixing the referents of expressions in the text in the language of interpretation  say moder English.  Thus an interpretation of the Analects furnishes evidence that Confucius believed that humans are good if, according to that interpretation, the doctrine in the Analects entails or presupposes that humans are good.

While the "best" interpretation of the "original" is the only access we have to historical claims about the beliefs of ancient Chinese philosophers, the correctness of the interpretation does not entail that the author had those beliefs.  We all have the experience of saying or writing something we "don't mean".  Still, the sentences we utter or write do mean something  albeit not what we actually believe.  Also, an interpretation yields the set of sentences implied by the doctrine of the text, and no one believes all the logical consequences (most of which have never occurred to him) of his sincerely expressed views.  Besides, quite simply, an author may lie, mislead, or deliberately confuse us.  An interpretation is a theory of the meaning of expressions which may be used in a further explanation of beliefs but does not entail that all the ramifications of the theory given by the interpretation are "beliefs" of the author.

If we assume a common psychology, the interpretive theory can be part of an explanation of the "original" text.  It will explain the expressions as arising from other expressions which are the presuppositions or reasons for the expressions or inscrptions in our library version.  It functions as an explanatory theory via a principle of interpretation which Richard Grandy has tagged the "principle of humanity".1  The explanation is relative to some audience, and we regard an explanation or interpretation as adequate when it reveals a "pattern of relations among beliefs, desires, and the world as similar to ours as possible".  When we can "see" why, for instance, Mencius would have held some doctrine, then we have the grounds for the explanation of the utterance of sentences of Chinese which are consequences of his theory.

An interpretation, then, is a theory.  Like other scientific theories, we judge the interpretation by how well it "fits" the facts to be explained.  There is no exhaustive and definitive criteria of the "best fit" of a theory to a body of data.  Philosophers of science have typically used such expressions as "elegance", "simplicity", or "neatness" in explaining the standards of theory choice.  These standards, vague as they are, seem necessary because there can be a number of possible interpretations which fit the facts.

So the text of an interpretive theory, like that of a textual theory, is not a matter of comparing that theory with either the "original" or the psychological facts (what Confucius actually believed).  We have no access to either fact except via the theories.  What we must do is compare rival interpretive theories as we compare rival versions of the text.  Anyone who rebuts an interpretive theory with the claim that the philosopher did not believe what the interpretation gives as the theory of the text has begged the question.  We can only find out what some ancient Chinese philosopher believed by comparing and finding the best interpretation of what he allegedly wrote or uttered.

In the case of scientific theories, we can sometimes choose from among rival theories by testing their predictions.  For most practical purposes we do not have this technique of theory choice available to us.  In this respect, textual and interpretive theories are more like scientific theories that explain the origin of Earth or the evolution of certain species.  These events happen only once, but the theories try to explain them on principles which have universal application.  Usually the test of theories accounting for unique events involves the comprehensiveness of the theoretical account.  Analogously, one of the criteria of a good interpretive theory is its coherence with more comprehensive theories about the corpus of texts of Chinese thought.

So an interpretation of a passage in a classical Chinese philosophical text should be coherent with an interpretation of the chapter, and that with one of the book.  Our interpretive theory for a book, in turn, should be a coherent part of a theory of the author's philosophy, and that with a theory of the school of which he is a part, which should be a coherent part of the philosophical milieu of the time, which should be a coherent part of the theory of that tradition of philosophy, which should form a coherent part of one's theory of the nature of philosophjy itself.  The coherence test of an interpretation is not just relative to the doctrines, of course.  We prefer an interpretive theory which is more coherent with our theories of political activity, social life, religious perceptions, and so forth wherever these overlap.

An interpretation, as opposed to other kinds of expplanation for the production of a text, is an account of the background assumptions, theoretical motivations and considerations, and grammatical pictures involved in the production of the text.  These explain in the sense of giving the rationales for the philosophical claims in the book.  What counts as a reason or a rationale for some theory, as noted before, depends on our imputing to the Chinese thinkers roughly the same kinds of relatiuons among beliefs we have.  This is not a prejudice that ours is the only way to reason, but a formal requirement of any theoretical approach to interpretation.  If we did not make such an assumption we should never know when one interpretation is a better explanation of the text than another.  Judging among interpretations would be impossible without the principle of humanity or some similar principle.

The requirement tht we compare interpretations with regard to how coherently, consistently, neatly, and elegantly they explain the statements in the corpus we call Chinese philosophy does not presuppose that the corpus can have no contradictions in it.  It does not require tht all Chinese philosophers must be consistent.  But the principle of humanity does favour an interpretation which either renders the theory coherent or gives a coherent, elegant, persuasive account of why the inconsistency occurred, that is, what beliefs, presuppositions, or overgeneralizations might have led us to a similar error.

The concept of the best interpretive explanation is thus relative to an intended audience.  It may be, for example, that a theoretically clear, elegant explanation of a text can be expressed in the language of fifteenth-century Urdu pirates.  Even if that were true (and discoverable), it would be of minimal interest to us since we still have to produce an interpretation of the pirates' version of Chinese philosophy in English  our own conceptual apparatus.  We might as well do it directly (though we can glean whatever hints are available from the Urdu account).  Logically, of course, the same applies to modern Chinese and Japanese interpretations of ancient Chinese thought.

For the present purposes, the audience is the philosophically interested English-speaking student.  The explanatory background is that of the philosophically informed native speaker of this particular modern language.  The comparative features of the study of Chinese thought are not part of some special "comparative" methodology, but the inherent requirementsof a theory-based understanding or interpretation in one language of philosophical texts in another language.  The interpretation must be in the language and invoke the concepts and distinctions which are available in our own philosophical tradition.  The comparisons and contrasts drawn with Western philosophy contribute to the informal task of explaining in our terms the production of philosophical writings which differ remarkably, as Chinese writings do, from our own background tradition.

Finally, an interpretive theory never starts from scratch.  It inevitably inherits and builds on a tradition of interpretation of Chinese.  In the first place, we get off the ground in interpreting by learning Chinese with the aid of dictionaries.  Dictionaries are partial interpretive theories for the writings of a period in general.  A dictionary purports to give us, for certain terms of Chinese, the term or terms of English which play the same roles in making English sentences true.  Translation is not prior to interpretation in any other sense than this  that we construct interprettions against a background of interpretive theory in the form of translation conventions which we take for granted until problems, contradictions, incoherencies, or anomalies arise.  Then we are liekly to question a dictionary definition and to say that in the Analects the character tao 'way' has some special or more detailed interpretation than that captured in a dictionary entry.  We also build on a tradition of interpretation of the philosophical works themselves and again usually depart only to aboid some problem in the explanation.  Innovations in an interpretive theory are motivated only by conflicts and inconsistencies in traditional interpretations.

The "ideal" goal of an interpretive theory can be represented as a formalized semantic theory for the entire corpus found in the texts.  It would translate each expression of the corpus into a formula in a calculus from which one could "calculate" the logical consequences and presuppositions.  The calculus used for this purpose would have to be particularly precise and clear.  It would have to be a language that could pair reference-fixing formulae to Chinese expressions with more elegance than ordinary English.  Modern philosophy, in particular modern formal semantics, is concerned with the construction of languages which have that kind of precision and generality.  Supplementing English with selected conceptual and logical tools from philosophical analysis should help render the precise logical and semantic structure of Chinese.  The goal of such an interpretation is not a "literate" translation but a logically perspicuous one that brings to the surface the logical structure of the text.  For purposes of philosophical analysis and exposition an accurate translation is not necessarilya word-for-word translation but a translation which reflects how the structure of Chinese sentences influences or explains the presuppositions and conclusions of the text.  Most frequently, in fact, a literal translation hides this structure, with the result tht we go from not understanding the Chinese original to not understanding the English translation.

Constructing an adequate interpretive theory is, accordingly, enormously aided by use of language which places a premium on conceptual clarity and clear distinctions.  Philosophical language drawn from modern work on logic and semantics offers a wide range of tools of analysis which increases the means of accurate representation of the semantic structure of the Chinese philosophical theories studied here.  Our taking precision and accuracy as desiderata in interpretive theory, again, does not assume that Chinese writers themselves were precise or were not precise.  The point is that we have a clear account that aids our understanding only if the account itself is relatively transparent and precise.  Assuming some Chinese term is vague, we need clear language tools to represent the broad reference potential of that term accurately.  It is no help in understanding to be as elusive and imprecise as the original text, however much that might be a goal of beautiful or impressionistic translation.

The interpretation which follows will not be a formal theory in the above sense.  I will appeal to tools and distinctions from modern philosophical analysis in giving a general account of how the structure of language affects the assumptions and outlooks of Chinese philosophy.  Otherwise, this work will take the traditional form of a narrative, running commentary accompanied by translations.  Still, the commentary will be theoretical.  It is an informal theory of the assumptions and implications, the logical relations, and the model of reality which lie behind the philosophical doctrines from the classical Chinese period.  It will draw on technical vocabulary when doing so can highlight the logical form of the text.  Despite the common interpretive injunction "Think like a Chinese", thinking like a modern Western philosopher is the most reliable method of stating and defending a theory of what the injunction calls for.  We must, that is, use our own language, and preferably precise and clear language, in giving interpretive theories.  An interpretive theory of Chinese thought in classical Chinese is quite irrelevant.

Sociological, psychological, political, and other factors do enter into the comparison of interpretations.  The approach of this study itself starts with hypotehses about some "psychological" motivations of philosophy  for instance, that philosophical issues are partly shaped and generated byreflection on puzzles which arise when thinkers try to describe the structure of their language.  This is especially true of philosophies discussed in these pages that concentrate on philosophy of language, logic, and mind.  We accordingly assume (1) that these texts are dealing with philosophical problems concerning language, problems set either by language or the implicit theories of the language in which they carried on their disputes; and (2) that the texts are partly to be explained as contributions to a philosophical dialectic  with some texts responding to, deepening the insights of, challenging, or presenting alternatives to others.  That is a sociological assumption which justifies taking the texts also as falling into schools of thought sharing certain approaches and assumptions.  The theory would, quite naturally, place texts at times that reflected their position in this dialectic  depending on what other texts they seem to be responding to or refuting.

Let us now consider a common objection to the method outlined here.  In sinology the most common objection to an appeal to coherence, consistency, or rational standards in interpretations takes the form of what I shall call the Chinese mind approach developed through the special logic retort.

Objection: The Chinese Mind and the Special Logic Retort

Theories of method often face paradoxes.  If they are plausible it must be because they accurately represent the logic of the practice they are trying to make explicit.  But then they begin to appear useless.  Consider the above view that an interpretation is a theory and that a theory would be deemed the "correct" theory if it is the best of the competing theories (interpretations) of the text, and that we show which is a better theory by showing which is more plausible, more coherent, more clear and precise an account of how those who fashioned the texts would have come to hold the views attributed to them by the interpretive theory.  "Surely", a colleague has argued to me, "that is the way we in fact come to adopt interpretations.  So is there anyone who ought to revise her method in the light of your reflections?  Aren't you without significant opponents?" "Don't we inevitably think like Western philosophers in giving interpretations?"

Indeed, judgments about interpretations of Chinese philosophy are more or less in accord with the theory.  The Feng Yu-lan interpretation of Chinese thought is influential because it is a comprehensive and uniform explanation of Chinese thought which we understand  since it is drawn from Plato and the Western tradition of abstract philosophy. The Needham interpretation, similarly, is a comprehensive vision of Chinese thought linked by its acceptance of a post-Einsteinian and anti-Newtonian scientific world view.  In both cases the objections and reservations expressed to these theories is that while they do offer structures which could explain many of the philosophical theories in the tradition, they do not sufficiently explain why those philosophers would have come to hold such outlooks which in our own tradition are supported by elaborate theorizing and argument.  In both cases the appeal, as this methodology urges, is that it is implausible to attribute the underlying theory without showing a rationale for the theory from the presuppositions of these ancient Chinese philosophers.

Still, there are opponents to this methodology even though normal interpretive practice may quite closely (and inevitably) reflect its basic outlines.  There is widespread appeal to slogans and principles in criticizing and evaluating interpretations which are diametrically opposed to the coherent theory approach outlined here.  The obstacle in the coherent theory approach is the principle of humanity which requires that in the judgment of the plausibility of the account we must take outselves as a model or as a guide to what is a sufficient explanation of a belief from presuppositions, what considerations would incline us to a certain view or outlook.  The opposed slogan is that we must "think like a Chinese" rather than like modern philosophers.  The implied conclusion is that Chinese philosophers have a "special logic" which blocks rational understanding by "Western minds".  Let us consider the two slogans and their validity as alternative methodological principles.

The slogan "Think like Chinese" is quite an imposing one in the community of comparative philosophers.  One hardly dares contradict it when talking about Chinese philosophy.  But I want to argue that as a methodological suggestion it is either misleading or impossible to follow.  As a purported aid in understanding ancient Chinese thought, it is a case of "going to Yüeh today and arriving yesterday".  If we knew how to apply the slogan we should hardly need professional interpreters.  We can establish how the Chinese philosophers in question thought only by determining the correct interpretation of their writings.  Fully to think (ancient) Chinese would be to think in that same language, and not to interpret at all.  In interpreting one must use some "home" language (metalanguage) or other.  Earlier I argued that the home language should include many of the tools of modern philosophy.  Thus one approach suggests that using the resources of our own language supplemented by the careful analytical tools of philosophy will help us in constructing clear, coherent, illuminating interpretive theories for Chinese philosophical writings.  The other approach seems simultaneously to abandon the normal purpose of interpretation, that is, rendering understanding to an audience, and at the same time to presuppose that the audience one is addressing already knows the interpretation - without which they could not understand or apply the slogan.

The "Think Chinese" slogan could, of course, be interpreted in a way that is consistent with the interpretive approach suggested here.  It could merely enjoin us to be consistent with our theories of the social, political, linguistic, and religious world of ancient China and to bear in mind the assumptions, attitudes, and presuppositions generated by the best interpretive theory that fits that cultural background to the philosophical texts that were produced.  But if it is (as its use in criticism indicates) an objection to the coherent theory approach and especially to taking ourselves as models in judging what are explanations and motivations for holding certain theories and views, then it seems to be a theoretical sister to the claim that the dispositions of Chinese philosophers to accept theories are not reasonable or logical, in the ordinary (Western) sense of those terms  the special logic retort.

The special logic retort is an informal move in arguments about the correctness of interpretations of Chinese thought.  It is used to attack interpretations and to defend them.  As an attack, it suggests that an interpretation has relied on Western logic in reconstructing the philosophical views and hence has distorted the original intent of the Chinese philosopher in question.  As a defense of an interpretation, it provides a catchall rebuttal to all objections that one's interpretation is inconsistent, incoherent, unclear, or imprecise.

Talk about "Chinese logic" emerged in a much earlier generation of sinologists.  It is charitable to assume that it wa sinitially motivated by a sincere effort to understand in a sense analogous to the one I developed earlier, namely, giving rationales for Chinese philosophical doctrines.  But the doctrines themselves often appeared so bizarre (especially to the missionary generation of interpreters) that they could be characterized as reasonable only if logic were suspended or altered beyond our normal recognition.  The talk was a manifestation, I believe, of tolerance and open-mindedness.

So "special logic" was originally thought of as a descrptive claim with a frankly racist content: people who are racially Chinese have different (and incommensurable) dispositions to draw conclusions from premises.  The special logic claim was used to demand tolerance from Westerners who found Chinese philosophical theories  in a word which has become almost a specialized vocabulary item for things Chiese  inscrutable.  Saying Chinese were illogical had a dual effect.  It allowed us both to acknowledge our inability to understand the ideas and yet to regard those ideas as a "profound" alternative to our own world view.  We could argue for the value of what we could not understand without threatening our own self-image as knowers: "After all, we can't be expected to understand this".

Later generations of sinologists, sensitive to the intolerant uses to which the special logic hypothesis might be put, have celebrated the evidence that Chinese thinkers are in fact logical.  These scholars continue to assume that the special logic theory is a descriptive psychological one - impugning the earlier one as being based on inadequate research or theory.

On examination, it will become clear that the special logic claim is not a straightforward empirical claim about Chinese thought.  It is rather more like a methodological proposal  a hypothesis about which interpretative strategy will be more fruitful in generating illuminating interpretations: (1) one which holds basic logical structure constant and attributes a different set of background beliefs and assumptions, or (2) one which makes the background beliefs rather more like our own and varies or denies "logic".

There are, of course, certain straightforward empirical questions about Chinese logic, that is, about the existence and the content of texts and sections of texts which on certain interpretations discuss logical theories.  But the special logic theory is hardly concerned with these.  It is instead an account of the dispositional or underlying semantic structure of Chinese language.  Of course no one would want to rule out that some aspects of the "logic" of classical Chinese will be different from the "logic" which forms the "base" of a semantic syntax for English.  Logic is a very broad subject.  It includes the study of inferences embodied in the structure of nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and tenses, as well as the study of traditional syllogisms and standard propositional calculus.  But the dispute about logic in Chinese philosophy does not appear to be about such details nor even about the multitude of alternative logics of propositional connectives,mereologies, or the like.  We can, in principle, discover such differences in detail  the mass noun semantics of Chinese nouns (chap. 3) would be an example.  We use these detailed observations about Chinese logic to render the philosophical theories more consistent and coherent.  A methodology based on the principle of humanity which commits us to consistency and coherence is, however, a presupposition of any argument for describing Chinese language in terms of an alternative logic.  But the speicla logic theory makes no such appeal.  Rather, it says that Chinese reasoning countenances contradiction and incoherence.  In contrast with my generation of sinologists, then, I reject "no logic" or "special logic" theories of this sort not because I have discovered that they are empirically false, but because such approaches make it impossible to do interpretation.  If Western minds are incommensurably different from Chinese minds then we could not discover anything at all about Chinese thought  including the actual details of the "logic" of Chinese.

The attempts to support or disprove the speical logic thesis as an empirical claim have not, therefore, been particularly successful.  This is in part due to the confusion between talk of (1) Chinese logic in the sense of philosophical texts whose subject matter is logical inference and structure, and (2) Chinese logic in the sense of the intellectual dispositions of people who are racially Chinese (speakers of Chinese) to relate their beliefs to each other and to draw inferences from evidence.  There is no logical connection between the two notions at all.  A philosopher can make sound, interesting, and coherent arguments without knowing any logical theory, and someone with a clear command of logical theory might, nonetheless, be a poor craftsman of philosophical arguments.  So just showing that there were very few explicit texts dealing with logic does not show that Chinese inferential practices are radically different from our own.

The most common attempt to support the special Chinese logic thesis as an empirical claim supporting a "think like a Chinese" methodology is to note that one seldom finds deductive or "logical" arguments in the Chinese texts and that a great many of the "arguments" in the philosophical texts seem unconvincing to us.  Derk Bodde gave such an argument (based on the Platonic distinction of philosophy and poetry, thought and feeling).

Chinese philosophy, because of this special emphasis upon analogy, is rarely written in the form of logically developed essays, but usually consists of a series of picturesque metaphors, parables, and anecdotes strung together to illustrate certain main ideas.  Once more the result is to make Chinese philosophy poetic rather than logical.  It tries to bring emotional rather than intellectual conviction and its main appeal is to the heart rather than to the mind.2

The characterization is not entirely accurate (witness the philosophers discussed in these pages), but even if it were it could not justify the special logic retort.  If the use of analogy, metaphor, or parables to illustrate ideas makes searching for consistent, coherent interpretations a mistake, then very few of the luminaries of the Western tradition could be interpreted rationally.  Plato's allegory of the cave3 and Descartes's metaphor of the evil demon4 are in fact powerful images motivating their creators' philosophical systems.  Skillful use of analogy is crucial to philosophical exposition, and there are no obvious reasons why sound arguments cannot be expressed poetically.  In fact, so few Western philosophical classics are written in stricut logical form that the exceptions (e.g., Spinoza's Ethics) stand out like "cranes among chickens".  So unless one regards Spinoza as the paradigm Western philosopher, we have no reason to suppose the interpretation standards for Chinese philosophy should differ radically from those for Western philosophy.

Another way that various scholars have tried to make sense of the speical logic hypothesis is by detailing the differences between ancient Chinese and English grammar.  Hajime Nakamura provides one of the best exaples of this ploy.

The non-logical character of the verbal expression of Chinese thought is, of course, intimately connected with the characteristics of the Chinese language.  Words corresponding to the prepositions, conjunctions, and relative pronouns of Western languages are very rare.  There is no distinction between singular and plural.  A single character can denote "un homme, quelques hommes, or humanite".  There are no fixed and definite forms for the expression of tense and mood of verbs.  There are no cases.  One word can be noun, adjective or verb.5

The observations Nakamura makes about classical Chinese grammar are commonplace.  But there is no reason to suppose that any of those facts render verbal expression illogical.  It is true that logics have been developed which include tenses,6 but the absence of tense can hardly render the standard propositional calculus illogical.  I know of no role for cases in logic, and the distinction between singular and plural is surely not logically basic (although mereology, a logic for substances, is different from a logic for physical objects).  So there is no support for the special logic retort here.

That does not mean that these observations about Chinese philosophical style and grammar are not important in understanding Chinese thought.  It is certain that stylistic and grammatical differences, because they affect the way philosophical questions are posed, can contribute to our understanding of Chinese thought.  In chapter 3, I argue that the grammar of nouns to which Nakamura refers helps explain why systems of philosophy like Plato's are unlikely to develop in China.  Language does influence philosophy.  But differences in syntax do not justify the special logic retort.  They do not, that is, give us any reason to consider Chinese thinkers congenitally inconsistent or to think that no coherent interpretation of their theories is possible.

Truth and logical consequence are relative to a language.  And there are numerous inferences in a language like modern English for which no simple and direct corresponding inference can be found in classical Chinese (and vice versa, of course).  Uncritically assuming corresponding inferences is a common source of distortion of Chinese thought.  There are, for example, the inferences built into the meanings of individual words.  Ought and right have the property in moder English that "education morally ought to be available to everyone" entails "everyone has a right to an education".  "This object is round" entails "this object has the quality of roundness".  Such inferences are analytic (i.e., follow by meaning alone) in English.

Now if we were to translate some sentences of a Chinese text as, say, "Everyone ought to have education" and "this is round", we may not use these sentences as proof that the thinkers in question advocated equal human rights or theories of abstraction.  Such inferences cannot be attribued to Chinese thinkers on tht kind of evidence.  The failure of these inferences, while important to understanding the differences in Chinese thought, does not justify the special logic retort since it does not betoken any inconsistency in the thought at all.7

So far, then, we have found no factual justification for the special logic retort.  Chang T'ung-sun has argued at great length for the different logic view.  He says"

The differences between Latin, French, English and German grammatical forms do not result in any difference between Aristotelian logic and their respective rules of reasoning, because they belong to the samelanguage family.  Should this logic be applied to Chinese thought, it will prove inappropriate.  This fact shows that Aristotelian logic is based on the structure of Western systems of language.8

Chang's observations do little to justify or clarify the special logic retort.  It is not clear why the application of Aristotelian logic to Chinese thought is inappropriate.  All the propositional forms (A, E, I, O) are expressible in classical Chinese.9  Some inferences licensed in Chinese cannot be put in the form of an Aristotelian syllogism, but that does not provide any contrast with Western languages.  In fact, some of the most important of Aristotle's own reasoning cannot be cast in syllogistic form.10

To support the special logic retort descriptively, Chang's claim would have to be that Chinese regularly and legitimately token and accept arguments which "Aristotelian" or Western logic would call invalid.  But that hypothesis gives far too much potential for strange beliefs to Chinese people.  Suppose, contrary to fact, that Chinese reasoning regularly and legitimately tokened arguments of the form found in Gongsun Long's dialogue:

All yellow horses are horses.

No yellow horse is a white horse.

Therefore, a white horse is not a horse.

With a minimum of imagination, one could convince any Chinese thinker of a plethora of weird beliefs: confucius was not Chinese since Mencius is Chinese and Mencius is not Confucius; chickens are not alive since snakes are alive and snakes are not chickens.  No culture that routinely accepted such inferences could have had sagacity enought to rule that empire for two thousand years!

Logic and Languages

The panoply of systems known as Western logic are not the logics of any specific Western language, but are themselves "artifical" languages.  The valid inferences of such a language are not linked to any specific natural language.  When we learn to test "ordinary" reasoning in English by some system of logic, we learn to translate the English sentence into the syntax of the formal language of logic.  Now it is well known to all logic students that the classical symbolic logic of even the simple predicate calculus does not translate exactly into English.  Some examples: English and is not always commutative, while the formal ; "I took off my clothes and went to bed" is not equivalent to "I went to bed and took off my clothes". English if ... then ... requries the antecedent to be relevant to the consequent; "if the moon is made of cheese then I am Rudolph Nureyev" would not normally be judged a true conditional in English, while the classical logical form would.11  English or is usually exclusive disjunction, while logical v is not; we would regard it as misleading for someone to say, "Either Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania or Albany is the capital of New York".  Natural languages like English may indded have a logical structure, but logicicans do not claim to have captured more than a fragment of the logic of English.

So the logic of which we normally speak is not the logic of any specific natural language.  It can be used, via translation, to test inferences in any language.  Once we do accept a translation of a sentence of English into the logical symbolism then we can test its validity.  But exactly the same is true of German, Swahili, Farsi, and Chinese (ancient and modern). 

Remembering that logical systems are themselves languages can help us see why the special logic retort raises methodological issues  in fact creates methodological paradoxes.  Suppose an interpreter asserted that some sentence (A) of Chinese were to be translated in formal logic as "P & Q" and yet he claimed that it was both appropriate and common to deny one of the two sentences he had translated as "P" or as "Q" while asserting A.  Has he proved that his Chinese speakers are illogical?  Or is that the kind of result that should be taken to show that he had mistranslated the Chinese connectives?12  Ultimately, any assertion of illogicality is going to assume some translation-interpretation.  And as long as an interpretation is available which is not incoherent, the incoherent one is suspect.

So the special logic retort just cannot rest on any "bare facts" about Chinese.  Its implications are methodological.

There is, as noted earlier, a factual issue about the existence of logic in Chinese philosophy.  That is the question of whether or not Chinese philosophers ever engaged in the study of logic or in erecting theories of logic.  That query is settled by empirical research and evidence.  Of course, Chinese philosophers might have failed to do this or might have done it in ways that are fundamentally different from the way logic was or is done in the West.  But the existence of such theories of logic is a totally different issue from the special logic retort and bears on interpretation in exactly the same way any other background theory or doctrine does.  It becomes part of the sets of beliefs with which any proposed interpretation must be coherent.  It thus influences our interpretation qua being a philosophical theory, not qua explaining how Chinese people think.

Whether or not Chinese philosophers expounded theories of the inference structure of, say, the sentential connectives (e.g., if ... then ..., and ...) or the truth functional or modal operators of their language (not ..., necessarily ..., all ..., some ..., etc.) is an empirical question.  If and to the degree they did so, they have theories of logic.  The empirical question can be settled by inventorying the corpus of classical philosophical works to see if there are doctrines which, on a reasonable interpretation, are about logic in anything like the Western sense.  On the other hand, that Chinese philosophy is logical in something like a dispositional sense is not a discovery but a decision.  It is a decision to propose, criticize, and defend interpretations in a particular way, using consistency and coherence as critical standards.

The dispositional logic claim could be viewed as empirical, as a kind of second-level discovery.  We may find that interpretations following the rule of coherence and consistency are possible, enlightening, more informative about the culture, or suggest many new hypothese and provoke deeper insights.  Or we may continually fail to find valuable interpretations which are coherent.  Then we should think that the special logic retort may indeed have some merit.  But then we should see that the retort can never be a valid objection to any coherent interpretation.  The only evidence for it is the lack of coherent interpretations.  If a given interpretation is rational and coherent, then any claim of the innate illogicality of Chinese thought would be undercut by the very possibility of that interpretation.

The Empirical Study of Chinese Implicit Logic

Another way to show that the special logic question is essentially methodological is to consider attempts to disprove it as an empirical claim.  We will find if we were to attempt any such proof we would necessarily end up doing what the coherent theory methodology outlines  taking our own patterns of drawing inferences for granted in giving our account of Chinese thought.

There are two scholars who have been engaged prominently in proving that Chinese thought is not illogical or fundamentally different from our own logic: Janusz Chmielewski and Chung-ying Cheng.  Both treat the hypothesis and its denial as empirical claims to be settled by a survey of the body of texts that make up the extant evidence of the philosophical thought of the period.  Chmielewski, first, describes his investigative procedure as follows:

The task I have set myself may be briefly stated in the following terms: without losing sight of the philosophical and histroical background (which I believe is always the necessary prerequisite in sinological research) I propose to single out some more or less typical forms of reasoning (whether already interpreted by others or not) occurring in early Chinese philosophers; to define them from the standpoint and in terms of elementary symbolic logic; to find out general logical laws and notions underlying them; and, as far as possible, to compare them with the ancient logical theory of the West.13

Chmielewski goes on to suggest that the only problem with claims like those of Chang Tung-sun is that the investigators were familiar with only traditional logic and could not "see" that there were logically defensible arguments in the corpus.

... in the sense that practically all scholars, both Chinese and Western, so far working in the field never used moder symbolic logic (mathematical logic, logistics) as a tool for their research; instead, they have all adhered to the traditional conception of logic, hardly going beyond syllogistics (in its traditional, not truly Aristotelian form), or some kind of "philosophical logic".14

The error, according to Chmielewski, is essentially hasty generalization  helped along by inadequate understanding of logic techniques which would have aided them in noticing counterexamples to their claim.

But as we have seen, the special logic retort is not an empirical generalization at all.  It is a cry of despair.  Unable to make sense of Chinese philosophical doctrines to critical Western audiences, the sinologists, in effect, give up.  The vague form of the special logic retort then goes, "What makes sense to Chinese does not make sense to Westerners".  What is needed to alleviate the despair is not a compendium of dialogue sequences that can be translated into valid arguments in some logical system or other, but coherent, ratinal philosophical interpretations of Chinese thought. Chmielewski's approach offers scant comfort here.  He manages interpretations in which the arguments are formally valid, but grotesquely unsound.  He removes the nonsense from the structure of the argument to its content.

In particular, I have demonstrated positively that the early Chinese thinkers correctly used some simple but important laws   of the propositional calculus - even if at the subconscious level and even if to the purpose of epistemologically indefensible speculation.15

Chmielewski thus perpetuates the confusion not only by treating the question as an empirical one but by suggesting that the dispositional sense of Chinese logic (which he calls "implicit logic") and the writings about the subject matter of logic are equally logical theories.  Hence, after collecting his samples of reasoning in Chinese texts, he proposes to "find out the general logical laws ... underlying them".  In doing so he suggests that we will find something comparable to logical theory in the West.  But treating the dispositional sense of logic as a form of logical theory tempts one t the confusion that there is really, underlying the explicit-implicit distinction, a single logic of China  a little of which was brought to consciousness and the rest of which remained hidden awaiting Chmielewski's reconstruction efforts.

The direct consequence of blurring the distinction between the two kinds of issues is Chmielewski's sliding from a descrption of a purported structure of one of Gongsun Long's arguments to attributing the theory used in the description to Gongsun Long.16  A.C. Graham has already called attention to this lapse.

He also complicates the issue by slipping from the tenable claims that the argument may be tested by applying the algebra of classes into the highly questionable assumption that Gongsun Long was actually studying logical classes.17

Professor Chung-ying Cheng follows Chmielewski in distinguishing between "implicit" and "explicit" logic.  But also, like Chmielewski, he covertly collapses them.  He too refers to the dispositions to reason in certain ways as being "theories" to be reconstructed from the empirical evidence.

For the purpose of elucidating the nature of Chinese logic, we may suggest that the goal of study and research in classical Chinese logic should be envisaged as a critical analysis of the explicit logico-methodological issues in Chinese classical discourses on the one hand, and a synthetic reconstruction of the implicit logico-scientific theories, on the other.18

Cheng implies, in effect, that studying implicit and studying explicit logic are merely different approaches to the same subject matter.  He says:

Chinese writings in the classical period can be studied with regard to their explicit formulation of problems in logical theories of inference and argument and in sicentific methodology of explanation and confirmation.  Second, they can be studied with regard to their implicit patters of logical semantic and synthetic connections and categorizations.  Finally they can be studied with regard to their philosophical concerns with problems of truth, necessity, reality, experience, and related subjects.19

In a later article, he characterizes the above as a "three level study in Chinese logic".20

Both of these proposals to refute the claim of a distinctly Chinese logic can be used to show tht the special logic retort and its denial have methodological rather than empirical significance.  Consider Cheng's procedure outlined above.  In an interpretation we do frequently attribute implicit or presumed premises to an argument, but we understand the implicit premise to be that premise required to make the argument formally valid.  We can speak of premises being presupposed in this way and even of whole theories being presupposed.  We prove that premises or theories are presupposed by showing that they are logically necessary for the supposed argumentative purpose  the conclusion.

Thus any claim to have found a presupposition must take logic as given.  We could never hope to find the entire system of underlying logical rules in this way because we invoke them in the process.  Unless we have some conception of the logic to use in interpretation, the statement that some doctrine presupposes another doctrine becomes meaningless.  The end result of the procedure outlined by Cheng  that Chinese thought is logical  is not difficult to predict.

Chmielewski's method, too, can illustrate the same point.  His "discovery" is also presupposed in his method.  Suppose we have isolated and formalized some argument in some classical text.  Formally complete deductive arguments are rare in any philosophical work, so let us suppose that wheat we have isolated is one of the incomplete arguments.  We have two choices.  We may pronounce it a non sequitur (invalid argument) or an enthymeme (incomplete argument).  If we regard it as a non sequitur we either include it in the corpus to be formalized or we do not.  If we include it and write rules which will validate such arguments, then (as with the white horse example earlier) it will only take a little imagination to prove innumerable absurdities in this "Chinese logic".  If we leave the non sequitur out of the corpus, we do so becasue it is not logically valid  a judgment which presupposes some account of logical validity.  The result, that Chinese logic is like ours, is dictated by our use of "Western logic" in doing the study.

Suppose instead that we treat the argument as an enthymeme and supply the missing premise.  then the situation is again that we can know which premise is missing only by having some antecedent conception of logical validity.  Supplying the missing premise automatically makes the argument valid (perhaps unsound, but valid).  Again the formalized result is not going to differ from the logic used either in supplying the missing premise or in rejecting the argument as a non sequitur and therefore not part of the corpus which will be used to define "Chinese logic".  There appears to be no interesting sense in which we could be said to be discovering some culture's implicit "logic" by such a procedure.  We are simply employing our own logic as a methodological device in developing interpretations.

The Dilemma of the Chinese Mind

As we saw, then, either the slogan "Think like a Chinese" is just a misleading proposal that corresponds to the procedure of theoretical interpretation or it supposes some kind of incommensurable and contradictory or incoherent special Chinese logic.  But it offers us, given this second interpretation, no escape from an impossible methodological box.  We have no way to prove there is a different Chinese logic except by deciding what is the correct interpretation of the extant texts.  As an objection to the coherent theory approach to interpretation it counsels nothing except paralysis.  (One may, uncharitably, suspect tht the real moral behind the ploy, when used in disputes, is, "Trust me, your intuitively in-tune master of the mysteries  and don't you dare contradict or question my interpretation".)  The only evidence against the coherent theory approach would be its failure to produce any intelligible exaplanations of Chinese philosophy.  But we can never be sure that some other proposal will not succeed.  So the special logic version of the Chinese mind methodology can never count as a valid objection to an interpretive theory.

The methodological import of the special logic retort and the Chinese mind approach to interpretation is basically defeatist.  There is no guidance to be gained from the injunction to be incoherent  there are simply too many ways to be incoherent.  Could we seriously apply the suggestion that the less consistent of two given interpretations is the more plausible one?  In principle the retort totally disparages any attempt to understand Chinese philosophy through its rationales.

In its more respectable use in sinology, the retort is linked to some other restriction on methodological practice.  Some positive, though nonrational, characterization of Chinese thought is offered, for example, that Chinese thought is poetic.  This is simply a factual-sounding methodological proposal that in textual reconstruction, punctuation, and assignment of meaning we should choose that alternative which renders the outcome more poetic, evocative, sylized, or otherwise aesthetically pleasing no matter what nonsense it makes of the philosophical doctrine of the text.

The "poetic" methodological bias described above is, in fact, tacitly assumed by a great many sinologists because of the research and break-throughs in reconstructing the phonemic system of ancient Chinese.  Any such characterization becomes, as it has in sinology, a self-fulfilling prophecy because it shapes the methodology.  If we regard as illegitimate any construal of a text which makes coherent sense whenever the choice is between rational coherence and preserving the rhyme structure, the sentence length patterns, or parallel couplets, then it should come as no surprise that the interpretations that emerge will not be philosophically as good as they are poetic and graceful.21  A poetic characterization which dictates accepting textual variations, punctuations, or emendations which preserve rhythm over those which preserve sense is not always a bad idea.22  when we have other reasons to suspect that the works being studied are poetry, then we ought to adopt such a method.  But when we think the works are philosophy, we ought to adopt interpretive standards appropriate to philosophy.

The methodological bind emerging from the "think Chinese" slogan can have other, even less attractive methodological implications.  Consider the following pair of observations by H.G. Creel:

In approaching things Chinese we might attempt, first of all, to appropriate to ourselves the Chinese point of view, so that we regard any particular thing not as a Westerner would, nor even as a Hindu, but as a Chinese.23

The crux of the matter is that the ancient Chinese were on the whole neither systematic nor orderly thinkers. ... They were indefatigable cataloguers; they were not systematizers.24

The implication for our methodology should give anyone pause.  In general, the exhortation to approach Chinese thought from the Chinese point of view is paradoxical.  We do not know what the point of view is until we have approached it.  In the "first of all" we do not know if some Chinese thinker is systematic or not.  The failure to find a system by a particular interpretation, say of the Zhuangzi, does not establish that incoherence is a characteristic of the thought since a subsequent interpretation may render the structure in a thoroughly coherent and systematic way.  We should then want to withdraw the characterization of Zhuangzi as a cataloguer.

Notice that it is not a case of assuming that Zhuangzi's thought is coherent.  We are only arguing that there can be no good reason to put an upper bound on the degree of rational coherence we may regard as plausible in Chinese thinkers.  Any time the injunction "Think like a Chinese" carries such an implication, it is a mistake.  When the injunction is given content by characterizations such as "poetic", "intuitive", "mystical", or "unsystematic", these characterizations become a priori methodological predispositions which are self-fulfilling.

In any case, I have never seen, on any interpretation, an account of some sentence or doctrine of, say, Zhuangzi, saying, "I am really trying very hard to be unsystematic and just to catalogue as many disparate items of information as possible", or Laozi, implying, "It is more important that your phrases be balanced than that your principles be correct".  I am naturally suspicious of anyone who implies that this is the way ancient Chinese thinkers viewed themselves.  In fact, for the most part, on most plausible interpretations, all these thinkers had just the opposite view.

So critical, analytic, logical, and coherent standards should be used in interpreting Chinese thought.  That methodological conclusion does not arise from any hypotghesis about the nature of Chinese thought but from the nature of the interpretive enterprise.  Since an interpretation is a theory and is designed to advance understanding it should be guided by the same rigorous principles which produce understanding in other theory-guided activities.

The rest of the methodology follows from the presupposition that we are interpreting philosophical texts.  This part of the method is defeasible.  It could in principle turn out to be the case that there is only poetry in China.  But, as with the coherence standard, we will not know philosophically interesting doctrines are absent unless we fail to find them.  And even then our proof is never complete.

I do not mean to deny that the style of Chinese philosophical writing does differ from that of the West in important ways  it is relatively more poetic and balanced, and the arguments are not typically as careful nor as complete.  But the explanation of these differences in style does not require any assumption about fundamentally different thought processes.  Chinese thinkers, from Mozi to Mao Tse-tung, were social-political activists.  Their concern in writing was to inspire and move the readers to action in accordance with certain ethical-political doctrines.  They saw the function of language and theorizing as its impact on behavior.  Hence they did stress forceful, attractive, moving, gripping, even poetic slogans and expressive style over convincing argument.  But the latter was neither absent nor ignored.  Even if adumbrated in style, the rationales were there and gave the content for the style to operate on.  Nothing in the style entails that coherent, interesting, and understandable interpretations of their ideas is impossible.

Methodology Summarized

The methodology outlined here starts from the premise that interpretation (which includes transaltion) is a theory.  It is an attempt to explain a text  to render it understandable.  As such it is (1) inescapably relative to the intended audience (English-speaking philosophy students), and (2) apppropriately wedded to the critical, rational, logical evaluation procedures appropriate to other theories.  The main evaluative feature on which we have concentrated is the coherence of the theory.  Can it explain and be explained by other, more inclusive theories, and is it the most elegant theory which accounts for the data  the texts?

The methodology by itself does not commit us to the view that the Chinese thinkers themselves are logical or not logical.  Our assumption that we are interpreting philosophical texts commits us to constructing theories about the rationales for the sentences we find in the texts.  The availability of a coherent, rational system for a fragment of Chinese thought is to be taken as confirmation of the claim that it is philosophy and that the philosopher in question was a coherent thinker.

The special logic retort and the "Think like a Chinese" slogan are neither intelligible objections to such a methodology nor explicable by any other defensible methodology.  The upshot of both, taken seriously, is that we cannot understand Chinese thought at all.  Thus, the only appropriate conclusion to be drawn from them is "Give up" or "Truste me, your maste and guide" (spoken by the scholar who claims to have penetrated the mystery).

There is no factual basis for any associated "Chinese logic" hypothesis.  The features of Chinese thought usually associated with the antirational slogans just cannot prove that a radically different (inconsistency-justifying) implicit logic is at work.  And for similar reasons, the attempts by modern formally sophisticated philosophers to prove the opposite also fail.  The issue is a methodological one and not an empirical one.  The only factual question is whether or not the theoretical methodology can work, and this translates into the question of whether or not these writers are philosophers or not.

The intermediate positions, formed by joining the special logic retort or the "Chinese mind" slogans to some characterization of Chinese thought as "poetic" or "cataloguing", are similarly not straightforward descriptive claims but methodologies.  These methodologies are widely respected and followed in theorizing about Chinese philosophy despite the fact that in practice they mitigate against philosophical interpretations.  The special logic retort is just the limiting case of methodologies which treat coherence of reasons for views as unimportant relative to some other constraint on emendation, textual reconstruction, punctuation, and translation and interpretation.  Since our interests are philosophical and the texts we study are uniformly regarded as philosophical, there is no a priori reason why we should adopt restrictions on interpretation appropriate to poetry or religious incantations.

There is more involved in the methodology than just a kind of charting of frequent tendencies of Chinese thought.  The ideal should be to explain why these characterizations should hold.  A theory, say of the tides, does not just chart the highs and lows.  That kind of a chart is not an explanation.  So the mere litany of recurring patterns of thought is not an adequate interpretive theory until the patterns have been explained as based on beliefs or attitudes which we can regard as reasonable for a Chinese philosopher to hold.

the above explanation of the apparently poetic, metaphorical character of many Chinese philosophical writings is an example.  The explanation attributed an activist motivation to the philosophers in question.  While, in principle, we could insist on a further rationale for the motivation, it is not necessary for our understanding, for, even though many professional philosophers disagree with others who "popularize" their philosophy, we do understand the rationale for doing so.  The understanding could be regarded as complete as soon as we can free it from any appeal to grasp intuitively "the Chinese mind".

In what follows I apply the theoretical interpretation methodology to one of the most recalcitrant puzzles of classical Chinese thought  the white-horse paradox of Gongsun Long (see chap. 5).  Chapter 2 argues for a very general interpretive hypothesis about the way Chinese language might have influenced the conceptual scheme of the classical philosophers in ways which illuminate the thought in contrast to our own philosophical tradition.  I argue that the mass-noun-like syntax of Chiense nouns motivates an implicit "substance ontology" as opposed to our "physical object ontology", and that it renders less appealing a whole host of philosophical views which have characterized Western thought from its outset.  These conceptual differences include a different concept of mind, of language, and of thought.  The argument rests on the claim that the Chinese assumptions are more coherent with (explained by) their language than our own assumptions are.  In chapter 3, I develop and argue for compatible interpretations of the philosophies of the period prior to and surrounding the thought of Gongsun Long.  There I discuss four presuppositions about language which are reasonable for Chinese philosophers to have held, which explain many of their views about language and thought, and which explain many of the fundamental differences between Chinese and Western thought.  Chapter 4 deals with a particular school which focused on questions of language, logic, and semantics.  I argue that their views develop out of the presuppositions outlined in chapters 2 and 3 and, in turn, explain the motivation and justification of the white-horse dialogue in chapter 5.

So, consistent with the methodological view, there is a kind of inverted pyramid of explanations focused on that one paradox: broad theory about all of Chinese thought, an embedded theory about Chinese thought in general prior to Gongsun Long, an embedded theory about the development of semantic thought from that broad tradition, and finally the interpretive theory explaining the white-horse paradox.  The broadest theory is confirmed by the insights it yields and the explanatory power it has at all the other levels.  The interpretation of Gongsun Long is confirmed (relative to other available interpretations) by its coherence with the text and with the entire historical period.  The other two levels of interpretive theory are confirmed both by their coherence with the more inclusive level and their explanatory power in illuminating the lower-level texts.

Chapter 2

The Mass Noun Hypothesis and Abstraction in Chinese Language and Thought

The basic interpretive hypothesis underlying the following study of classical Chinese thought is that Chinese philosophical theories all presuppose a common model or picture of the relations between language and the world and between language and the mind.  This model or picture explains characteristic pre-Han Chinese philosophical presuppositions.  The model and the presuppositions are plausible either on their face, or are plausible beliefs for thinkers using a language like ancient Chinese.  In this chapter, I want to develop an account of the major differences between the pre-Han scheme and traditional Western views of semantics and philosophy of mind and to show how the differences are explained by features of Chinese language.

Briefly, we can characterize Chinese semantic theories as a view that the world is a collection of overlapping and interpenetrating stuffs or substances.  A name (term or predicate  ming   ) denotes (refers to, picks out  chü   ) some substance.  The mind is not regarded as an internal picturing mechanism which represents the individual objects in the world, but as a faculty that discriminates the boundaries of the substances or stuffs referred to by names.  This "cutting up things" view contrasts strongly with the traditional Platonic philosophical picture of objects which are understood as individuals or particulars which instantiate or "have" properties (universals).  In a Platonic scheme the concrete instances of any abstract property stand in a one-many relation to words which stand for or "have as a meaning" the universal or repeatable abstract component (property, essence, or attribute).  Similarly, the Platonic view of the mind is one in which the mind knows (has or contains) these "meanings" or intelligible abstract objects.  Chinese philosophy has no theory either of abstract or of mental entities.  The "individuals" in Chinese theories of language are "unit parts" of the "stuffs" picked out by names.

I stress the negative side of this hypothesis, the antiabstraction, antimentalism side, to cure the temptation to regard the traditional Western philosophy of mind and philosophy of language as obvious to everyone.  We tend to regard that model as so inescapable that we can only make sense of Chinese thinkers by invoking metaphors from this tradition: ideals, concepts, objects in the mind, or the like.  Stressing this negative theme is intended to sensitize readers and make them conscious enough of the metaphors and the picture they impose that, by careful attention, they can avoid it.  That the abstraction model is not the Chinese picture is argued in detail in the following chapters by showing that more coherent interpretations emerge when we assume the background scheme to be that of mass substances rather than that of objects and properties.  In this chapter I argue that the mass alternative is the more plausible model for humans doing philosophy in Chinese.

Behavioral Nominalism

Behaviral nominalism1 captures both "negative" features of the philosophical perspective of Chinese thinkers.  I use behavioral because, in the place of internal mental representations of particulars and properties, the Chinese view of mind (heart-mind) is dynamic; the mind is the ability to discriminate and distinguish "stuffs" and thereby to guide evaluation and action.  I use nominalism because the Chinese philosopher is not committed to any entities other than names and objects.  There is no role in Chinese philosophical theories like that played by terms such as meaning, concept, notion, or idea in Western philosophy.

Positively characterized, the Chinese picture went as follows.  Language consists of ming   'names' which have a one-to-one relation to shih   'stuffs'.  Chinese ontology, I suggest, is mereological.  For every abstract set of objects one can construct a concrete mereological object by regarding all of the members of the set as one discontinuous stuff.  Identifying different members of the set is the same as identifying spatio-temporally different parts of the same stuff.  In learning names we learn to discriminate or divide reality into these mereological stuffs which names name.  Naming is not grounded on the notion of an abstract concept, a property, an essence, or an ideal type, but rather on finding "boundaries" between things.  Accordingly, Chinese philosophers view minds not as repositories of weird objects called ideas, but as the faculty encompassing the abilities and inclinations to discriminate stuffs from each other.  This mass stuff view can be explained by special features of the logical structure of Chinese mouns.  The explanation, again, is via our own perception of what would be a reasonable or plausible way to talk about words if our language had the grammatical features of Chinese.

The Logic of Mass Nouns

The syntax of Chinese nouns is strikingly similar to that of "mass nouns" in English.2  English mass nouns include water, rice, paper, furniture, and grass.  Mass nouns contrast with other common nouns like cat, pebble, photograph, lamp, pea, and lake.  These rather more "common" common nouns are, by contrast, called count nouns, since one can "count" them: seven cats, twelve peas, one lake.  Count nouns take pluralization.  they can be directly preceded by the articles a or an.  They stand alone as a noun phrase only when plural or preceded by articles, demonstratives, numbers, and so forth; "horse is brown" is not grammatical in English though "furniture is brown" is.

Mass nouns, by contrast, do not take pluralization and cannot be directly preceded by numbers or indefinite articles; *seven grass and *a furniture are improperly formed.  Instead, mass nouns are associated with certain other expressions (let us call them measures or sortals) which allow one to divide up the substances into countable units: a cup of water, a blade of grass, three pieces of furniture.  Characteristically, we can "count" mass nouns in a number of ways.  We might have had, for example, a drop of water, a lid of grass, and a roomful of furniture.  Mass nouns can stand alone as noun phrases in sentences.

In most modern Chinese dialects the syntactical parallel with Enlgish mass nouns is almost exact for all nouns.  Chinese nouns have no ordinary plural.  They cannot be directly preceded by numbers or indefinite articles or demonstratives.3  Each noun is associated with appropriate sortals (called classifiers or measures in most language texts).  Thus in (Mandarin) Chinese, one says +-one pen book +, +-three ko persons+, and +-this chih pencil+.  The nouns by themselves are complete term expressions.

Another characteristic distinction between the two groups of nouns in English is their association with either much or many (or the opposites, little versus few).  Mass nouns go with much (e.g., much wood, much money); count nouns go with many (e.g., many threes, many dimes).  Chinese to   'many-much' and shao   'few-little' go with all nouns (and adjectives).

Classical Chinese is slightly different from modern Chinese in a few of these respects.  The concrete nouns in the language of the pre-Han philosophers seemed like hybrids.  They had no plural; they were associated with sortals or measures, and there was no much-much distinction.  They functioned as basic term expressions.  But sortals did not become grammatically necessary until sometime in the Han Dynasty.  So nouns might be preceded directly by numbers, and this produced puzzles for pre-Han semanticists, the Neo-Mohists.4  But the nouns otherwise had all the grammatical trappings of mass nouns.5  These masslike nouns of classical Chinese are what shape the intuitive picture of the language-world relation in Chinese philosophy.

A Comparison of Noun Interpretations

Given this unique grammar of classical Chinese nouns, the question is, how shall we characterize these nouns  as count nouns with some peculiar properties or as a transistional stage leading to mass nouns?  I content that the count noun alternative is much less natural and elegant an account than the mass noun one.  Consider the usual translation conventions for Chinese nouns.  One translates concrete nouns as count nouns whenever the nearest equivalent is a count noun in English (and picks according to context when equally common mass and count equivalents are available, e.g., mu 'tree', 'wood').  Choose the plural or the singular depending on the context and render to   and shao   as "many" and "few" when the English noun is grammatically count, otherwise "much" and "little".  This commonsense approach involves an embarrassing wrinkle, however.  Since these nouns frequently refer to the species as a whole, translators are tempted to talk as if there were a twofold ambiguity in all nouns, that is, as if these were count nouns which were not only ambiguous between singular and plural, but also between concrete and abstract.  Consider, for example, the complexity of this description of Chinese nouns by Dobson:

An important observation must be made here about nominal usage in LAC [Late Archaic Chinese].  A word used nominally denominates indifferently both species and specimen or specimens of the species.  Thus, jen   in a nominal usage is indifferently "homo sapiens", "man" as a species, or "a man, the man, men" as a specimen or specimens of the species.  It is not merely that number (the difference between none, two, or more than two instances of) is not differentiated, but that both class and member are comprised in one term.  Certain of these distinctions are imposed in determination, and the noun is then said to be "committed"; otherwise, it remains neutral in its indications as to these distinctions.  A noun determined by, for example, a numeral or a unit of measure becomes immediately "an enumerated instance of" or "a quantified unit of" the thing it signifies.6

Despite his assimilation of Chinese "nominals" to count nouns, Dobsonuses the language of mass and stuffs, for example, "a quantified unit of the thing it signifies", "class and members are comprised in a single term".  But his choice of language forces him to postulate that nouns have some abstract reference too  to classes, to species, to that of which things are instances, namely, universals (though he avoids that term).  However, this tortured analysis can be avoided if we give up the class-member picture for a more masslike part-whole picture.  Then we never need to import any Platonism into Chinese graphs.  Their reference is always concrete, always to stuff or bits of stuff in space-time.  We are not forced to say a graph refers to a mathematical entity (a class), an abstract one (a universal), a mental one (an idea), or a semantic one (a meaning).  So the masslike characterization is the simpler, the more elegant theoretical model on which to talk about Chinese nouns.

There is an ambiguity remaining in even the masslike description.  Classical Chinese nouns, as noted above, do have some countlike features.  That turns out to be a virtue of the theory, for that ambiguity helps explain a number of semantic puzzles considered by the Neo-Mohists (see p. 124) and it is an ambiguity that is removed by the subsequent development of the language  the strict use of sortals after the Han Dynasty.  Now if the ambiguity in nouns were the fourfold one of singular-plural/concrete-abstract, then that development of the language did nothing to remove it and just added a tedious and unnecessary grammatical complication.  Modern Chinese nouns are still ambiguous in all four ways if they ever were.  It is significant, then, that when the choice came between resolving the ambiguity in favor of mass or count nouns it was resolved in favor of mass nouns.

The Stuff-Kinds Picture of Reality

The grammatical parallels between English mass nouns and Chinese nouns give initial plausibility to the hypothesis that the Chinese assumptions about language would be something like the assumptions we might be tempted to use in explaining the semantics of mass nouns.  The picture outlined above of interpenetrating stuffs or substantives organized basically under the part-whole relation is only one of the ways of modeling a semantic universe for mass nouns, but it is an intuitively natural one and, as the study of the Neo-Mohists shows, there is strong evidence that this rudimentary mereology was indeed the model that informed their semantic theories.

To see how masslike nouns contribute to mereology, consider how they function as terms or individual constants.  Mass nouns, unlike count nouns, play the same role in sentences that proper nouns do.  This makes it natural to regard the mass nouns as logically singular terms  as names.  Thus, in Chinese semantic theory, ming   'name' is rather like English "word".  It encompasses not only proper names but all nouns and adjectives.7  Then the question, "Of what is ma 'horse' the name?" has a natural answer: the mereological set of horses.  "Horse-stuff" is thus an object (substance8 or thing-kind) scattered in space-time.

Notice that there are differences between these mass nouns and proper nouns, despite their surface similarity.  Mass nouns can modified (e.g., red ink), while proper names cannot (*Green George).  Similarly, mass nouns are grammatically distinct from adjectives.  Again, however, mass nouns are more like adjectives than are count nouns, and the similarities are even more striking in Chinese.  As a result, Chinese theories of language tend to treat adjectives as terms denoting mass substantives; for exaple, red is the stuff that covers applies and the sky at sunset.9

This way of picturing the language-world relation is reinforced by a tendency common in both China and the West.  Both traditions treated all words as names and regarded naming as the main semantic relation.  We name children, pets, favorite places, or toys.  Naming is a one-to-one relation.  However, this common form of oversimplification motivates traditional Platonic problems when we ask about count nouns, "What does X name really?"  We look for the "one" that the many "instances" or "members" have in common.  With mass nouns, the one is simply the whole substance.  A naming paradigm in conjunction with count nouns, but not mass nouns, generates the traditional one-many problem of philosophy and explains the appeal of Platonism.

The line of reasoning is familiar: what does horse name?  Not Dobbin in particular, nor Secretariat.  It applies to each horse separately, so it must name something in each individual horse which is the same in all its instances.  This thing-in-common surfaces in metaphysical, semantic, and epistemological guise as the essence, idea, or property.  That line of reasoning would not emerge from similar reflections on masslike nouns.  Instead, the puzzle would seem to be how the extent of reference of the term could be specified.  Ma 'horse' in term position might refer to the entire mereological object  the concrete species, or to some part, specific herd, team, or an individual horse, depending on the context.  The central problems in Chinese semantics revolve around the ambiguity of part-versus-whole reference.  Taoist skepticism grows mainly out of reflection on the relativity of the scope of ordinary nouns to context.  There is no philosophical concern formally corresponding to the classical Western grammatical problem of the one and the many.  The name denotes a stuff which functions as a rather amorphous "one"  a one which is scattered in different places.  But like water, gold, rice, and wood, it is regarded as a stuff.  When speaking of localizable bits of the stuff, it is natural to think of them as parts of the single whole stuff picked out by the name, not as a "particular" with some common or universal property.

This difference in semantic perspective is fundamentally central to the explanation of other differences between the two philosophical traditions.  The argument for a something-in-common which functions as the meaning of count nouns has had an enormous impact on the Western tradition and, if absent from the Chinese tradition, would account for much of the disparity between them.  Great chunks of the history of Western philosophy are involved in elaborating the line of reasoning leading to the postulation of abstract objects like horsehood.  The examples range from Plato's forms or Ideos to the Realists' universals, to Locke's abstract mental images, to the logicians' classes, and to metalanguage functions to possible worlds.  The absence of such concerns in Chinese thought should not make us suspect they lack a gift for philosophical thought.  There is a far simpler answer close at hand: the differences in the grammar of nouns contributed to the survival of an intuitively natural nominalism in which each graph is taken to name scattered aggregate stuffs or masses.

It is hard to characterize the effect of having a different conceptual scheme in a nonmisleading way.  Of course, we must suppose that someone with whatever language still has the same visual presentations when looking at horse-stuff.  But all the ways of talking about it would be correspondingly altered.  We would know that such stuffs come in regular shapes.  The shape can even be regarded as one of the key ways we use to distinguish that stuff from ox-stuff.  But we could do this without suggesting that the shape was a property which the individual horses shared or had in common.  It is just a fact about this kind of stuff that it comes in regular shapes.  Learning to recognize the shape is a key in distinguishing the stuff  and in knowing, therefore, how to use the word.

Abstractions in Chinese Language and Thought

In chapter 1, I use the vehicle of heremeneutic method to tackle one of the standard issues in interpreting Chinese philosophy  the question of Chinese logic.  Here I want to use these observations about grammar and this hypothesis about the intuitive picture of language and the world appropriate to Chinese grammar to analyze another old question  does Chinese have abstractions?

Again, the tides of academic favor seem to have a generational history.  The generation which firs encountered Chinese thought was struck by the absence of abstract metaphysics and suggested that Chinese language could not form abstractions.  The later generation, sensitive to what seemed to them the implicit intolerance of this view, has mostly rejected it.  My view is that the question has been misconstrued by both sides.  The question is not what language can do, but what theories do do.  Classical Chinese philosophical theories had no roles for abstractions.

The Functions of Abstract Theorizing in Philosophy

I am inclined, in a qualified way, to side with the earlier generation on the question of abstraction (as in a qualified way I supported the later generation on the question of Chinese logic).  I would like to argue for the claim that no Chinese philosophical system of the classical period in China was committed to the existence of or had roles for abstract (universal) entities in any of the traditionally important ways that Western semantics, epistemology, ontology, or philosophy of mind had roles for abstractions.  Plato's Ideos, or forms, for example, served all of these branches of philosophy.  In semantics, forms stood as the embodiments of meaning, corresponding to defintions; in epistemology they represented the objects of knowledge; in ontology they constituted a realm of unchanging objects outside the space-time realm; and in philosophy of mind they came to represent the content of the mind, the thoughts or ideas.  I shall briefly expand on the function of abstractions in these kinds of theories to underline how traditional Western philosophy differs from Chinese.

Semantics is the study of meaning, and for Plato the main focus of philosophical activity was a search for the meaning of a word conceived of as finding the correct definition.  His theory of forms or Ideos was intended as an account of the nature of ideal meanings and was motivated in part by the line of argument about the meaning of count nouns discussed above.  Abstract entities in semantics act as the single object "meant" by general terms and adjectives.  The words denote objects in the world only indirectly  via the abstract forms.  The objects "resemble" the form and via the form we are able to connect them with their name.

Epistemology is the account of knowledge and ontology is the account of reality.  Plato shared the Ionian (and Indian) view that what could be known must be "truly" real and thus could not change.  Thus our ordinary awareness of them cannot be knowledge since knowledge concerns what is necessarily or always true.10  The abstract forms, by contrast, exist in a timeless realm.  They are thus appropriate objects of knowledge and candidates for the "really" real.

The philosophy of mind application of abstract entities was not one of Plato's purposes.  Still, our modern term idea stems from his Ideos.  This variation on the abstract theme was a product of the Cartesian mentalism behind modern Western thought.  Post-Enlightenment Nominalists, while rejecting abstract universals, clung to the philosophy of language under-pinnings of Platonism.  There were no ontologically fundamental nonphysical entities like manhood, horseness, or virtue.  The semantic and epistemological functions of abstractions were attributed to the mind.  Thus there were the ideas of manhood, horseness, and virtue.  Meanings of the words man, horse, and virtuous are entities present in the minds of those who know those words.

Now my denial of abstraction in China amounts to a denial that there is any similar interlocking set of philosophical theories.  In the absence of an explicit theory, I argue that we can satisfactorily interpret Chinese philosophical writings without attributing a philosophical commitment to abstract or mental entities.  To know a word is simply to be able to discriminate.  That such a nominalist interpretation is possible is an empirical historical issue, and I shall argue for it by exhibiting nonabstract interpretations of the general direction of philosophy in the classical period (chap. 3), the highly developed epistemological and semantic theories of the Neo-Mohists (chap. 4), and the most commonly cited counterexample to this claim, Gongsun Long's white-horse dialogue (chap. 5).  The first step in this argument is that the primary grammatical motivations for such abstract theorizing were absent in China.  The features of Western languages which explain the traditional fascination with such issues are not features of Chinese.  This argument from the logic of Chinese nouns establishes the initial plausibility of such a nominalist interpretation of Chinese philosophical theories.  If mereological interpretation of the philosophical writings of the period is possible, then given the explanatory significance of the grammar of Chinese nouns we should prefer nominalist interpretations to traditional, Western-style, abstract interpretations.

Confusions about Abstraction in Chinese

This way of framing the abstraction issue is rather more involved and delimited than is usual.  One may likely object, as a result, that I am not addressing the actual abstraction controversy.  The typical statement of the issue focused on whether or not there were (or are) abstract terms in Chinese or whether Chinese language could express abstract concepts.11  The issue I am addressing is whether or not there were theories dealing with abstract entities in anything resembling the way Western theories of abstract entities did.  I shall show that there were only nonabstract theories.  The explanation for this fact about Chinese thought stems partially from the grammar of Chinese.  I do not mean to suggest that, had they been motivated to formulate them, Chinese philosophers could not possibly have expressed such abstract theories.  The question is not what philosophical theories could they have invented, but what did they invent and why?  In the absence of any theory of abstractions or mental entities or substances, or some structurally similar theory, there is no point in saying that some Chinese character means the same thing in Chinese philosophy as an abstractly inflected noun does in Western philosophy.  To mean the same