La traducción del 1995 del Kirill Ole Thompson

De Gongsunlongzi
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By Kirill Ole Thompson - National Taiwan University - Philosophy East & West, Oct, 1995, Vol. 45, Iss. 4, p481

Pai-ma lun (Treatise on a White Horse)

A disputant inquired, "Is 'A white horse is not a horse' an admissible proposition?"

Master Kung-sun replied, "It is."

"How can that be the case?"

"The term 'horse' is that by which we name the form, the term 'white' is that by which we name the color. The term by which we name the form cannot be used to name the color. Therefore, I affirm, 'A white horse is not a horse.'"

The disputant pursued, "Having a white horse, we cannot assert that we have no horse. How could 'we cannot assert that we have no horse' mean that it 'is not a horse'? To have a white horse is to have a horse; how can its being white make it not a horse?"

Master Kung-sun replied, "ln calling for a horse, either a yellow or a black horse will do, but in calling for a white horse, a yellow or a black horse will not do. If having a 'white horse' is indeed to have a 'horse,' what we would call for [in using each term] would be one and the same; if 'what we would call for would be one and the same,' 'white' would not differ from 'horse.' What we would call for [by using either term] would not differ. However, yellow and black horses are acceptable and unacceptable. How can that be the case? That acceptable and unacceptable are contradictory is manifest. Therefore, yellow and black horses equally can answer to the term 'horse' but not to the term 'white horse.' This is my case for asserting that 'A white horse is not a horse.'"

The disputant continued, "You take a horse's having color to deny that it is a horse, but there are no colorless horses in the world. Is the assertion 'There are no horses in the world' then admissible?"

Master Kung-sun replied, 'Horses certainly have color. That is why there are white horses. If horses were colorless and there were just horses per se, how could we pick out a 'white horse'? That is why a white horse is not a horse. The expression 'white horse' is composed of 'horse' and 'white'; 'horse' thus differs from 'white horse'; hence I affirm that 'A white horse is not a horse.'"

The disputant pursued, "You regard only a horse that has not yet been judged white to be a horse, and only whiteness that has not yet been judged a horse to be white; but, to combine 'horse' and 'white' to make the composite name 'white horse' is to pair two dissimilar things in producing a name; that is inadmissible. Therefore, I maintain that the assertion 'A white horse is not a horse' is inadmissible."

Master Kung-sun replied, "If you consider having a white horse to be having a horse, is it admissible to consider 'having a white horse to be having a yellow horse'?"

"It is not admissible."

"If you consider having a horse to be different from having a yellow horse, isn't it because you distinguish a yellow horse from a horse? Therefore, a yellow horse is not considered to be a horse. To consider a yellow horse not a horse while considering a white horse to be a horse is for 'this flying object to be in the pond' or for 'the inner and outer coffins to be in different places! [i.e., contradictory,]. This is what the world considers 'perverse speech and disorderly expressions.'"

The disputant pursued, "Having a white horse, one cannot state that there is no horse, because when we separate out the term 'white' there remains 'horse.' This separating out [shows that] having a white horse, one cannot go on to say there is no horse. On your view, however, the sole reason why there is the term 'horse' is that we say 'horse' to indicate there is a horse; and it is not the case that we say 'white horse' to mean there is a horse. Therefore, the reason why we take it to be a horse cannot be just because we call a horse 'a horse.'"

Master Kung-sun replied, "The term 'white' does not determine what thing is white; that can be neglected. The expression 'white horse' designates what thing is white. That which is designated as white is not whiteness per se. We do not select horses on the basis of color; that is why yellow and black ones will suffice. But, we select white horses on the basis of color; that is why yellow and black ones are rejected. Therefore only a white horse will suffice; that which rejects [on the basis of color] is not what is rejected; therefore, I say, 'A white horse is not a horse.'"

II. Chih-wu lun (Treatise on Signifying Things)

[Master Kung-sun asserted,] "There is no thing that is not signified; but, what signify are not [inherently] signs."

[A disputant questioned, "Yet, if] the world had no signs, things could not be called things. If what signify are not [inherently] signs, how could the world and things be said to be signified?"

[Master Kung-sun in reply stated the thesis,] "Signs are not what the world possesses; things are what the world possesses. To take what the world possesses to be what the world does not possess is inadmissible."

[He pressed, "By arguing that] 'if the world did not possess signs, things could not be said to be signified [as things],' aren't you merely contending [that they] 'could not be said to be signified,' because what signify are not [inherently] signs? There aren't such signs, because there is no thing that is not signified."

[He continued,] "You contend that, 'If the world did not possess signs, things could not be called signified [as things],' but there are not any unsignified things. There could not be any unsignified things, because there is no thing that is not signified. 'There is no thing that is not signified; but, what signify are not [inherently] signs.' "

[The disputant pursued, "I then venture to say that] 'the world does not possess signs,' because each kind of thing has its own name, which was not simply made up to signify it. By calling these signs, when they were not made up to signify, is how you consider all things to be signified. To conceive what have not been made up as signs to have been made up as signs is surely inadmissible."

[Master Kung-sun replied, "I maintain that] 'signs are what the world does not possess.' That the world has no signs is because no thing can be said to be unsignified. No thing can said to be unsignified, because no thing fails to be signified. And, no thing fails to be signified, because 'there is no thing that is not signified.' The problem is not just that what signify are not [inherently] signs, but that [the relationship between] signs and things cannot be signified."

[Master Kung-sun concluded,] "If the world possessed no signified things, who could even say that [signs do] not signify? If the world possessed no things, who could say that [something is] signified? If the world possessed signs, but things were not signified, who could say that [signs do] not signify? Who could say that 'there is no thing that is not signified'?"

"In sum, signs definitely do not of themselves signify. [Otherwise,] why must they depend upon [being related to] things in order to be made to signify?"

Further Readings


This study benefited considerably from the critical input of friends Bill McCurdy, Harry White, Karen Chung, Huang Yi-hsuan, Bob Christiansen, and Mike Bybee. The author bears sole responsibility for whatever flaws remain.

I have relied mainly on two modern annotated editions of the Kung-sun Lung Tzu in developing translations of the "Pai-ma lun" and "Chih-wu lun": Ch'en Kuei-miao ed., comp., and trans., Kung-sun Lung Tzu chin-chu chin-i, 2d ed. (Taipei: Commercial Press, 1987), and P'ang P'u, ed., comp, and trans., Kung-sun Lung Tzu yen-chiu (Peking: Chung hua, 1979).

1 - Well-known criticisms are implied or stated in the Chuang Tzu, chap. 2, "Making Things Equal" (Ch'i-wu lun) (see Burton Watson, trans., The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu [New York: Columbia University, Press, 1968], p. 40, and A. C. Graham, trans., The Inner Chapters[London: George Allen and Unwin, 1981 ], pp. 53, 284-285), in the Hsun Tzu, chap. 22, "Rectifying Names" (Cheng-ming) (see Burton Watson, trans., Hsun Tzu: Basic Works [New York: Columbia University Press, 1963], p. 146, and A. C. Graham, Later Mohist Logic, Ethics and Science [Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 1978], pp. 234-235), and in the Neo-Mohist Canons (Mo ching) and the Explanations (Shuo) (see Graham, Later Mohist Logic, pp. 245, 440). Graham gives representative assessments of later commentators in Later Mohist Logic, pp. 174-175.

2 - Interestingly, Wang Kuan used simple set diagrams in discussing the paradox in 1925 in Kung-sun Lung Tzu suan-chieh (reprint, Taipei: Taiwan Chung-hua, 1980), p. 44. The pioneering work in Western languages is Janusz Chmielewski's "Notes on Early Chinese Logic," pt. 1, Rocznik Orientalistyczny 26 (1) (1962): 7-22. A. C. Graham critiques Chmieiewski in "Three Studies of Kung-sun Lung," in Studies in Chinese Philosophy and Philosophical Literature (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1986), pp. 181-187. Two new logical studies appeared in journal of Chinese Philosophy 20 (2) (June 1993): Ernst Joachim Vierheller, "Object Language and Meta-Language in the Gongsun-long-zi" (pp. 181-209), and Thierry Lucas, "Hui Shih and Kung Sun Lung: An Approach from Contemporary Logic" (pp. 211-255).

3 - Proposed by Chad Hansen in Language and Logic in Ancient China (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1983), and A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought: A Philosophical Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992). We cannot go into specifics here. Hansen's approach builds on an array of controversial linguistic and grammatical assumptions about Classical Chinese and yields a very counterintuitive interpretation of the white horse treatise and paradox. If Hansen's assumptions were true, we would have expected early Chinese readers to have understood the paradox and treatise without too much ado. As it was, they were as much in the dark as are modern readers.

Hansen's work has been criticized on linguistic and grammatical grounds. In a series of writings, Bao Zhi-ming has criticized Hansen's linguistic approach to and philosophical conclusions about Classical Chinese, starting from a critical review of Language and Logic in Ancient China, in Philosophy East and West 35 (2) (April 1985): 203-213. A subsequent issue of Philosophy East and West (35 [4] [October 1985]: 419-430) carried Hansen's response and Bao's reply. For a general statement of Bao's position, see his "Language and World View in Ancient Chinese Language," Philosophy East and West 40 (2) (April 1990).

More importantly, Christoph Harbsmeier has challenged Hansen's grammatical assumptions and philosophical conclusions about Classical Chinese. In particular, see his study, "The Mass Noun Hypothesis and the Part-Whole Analysis of the White Horse Dialogue," in 'Henry Rosemont, ed., Chinese Texts and Philosophical Contexts: Essays Dedicated to Angus C. Graham (La Salle: Open Court, 1991), pp. 49-66. A. C. Graham's comments are given on pp. 274-278. A. C. Graham approvingly restates Harbsmeier's view in Disputers of the Tao (La Salle: Open Court, 1989), p. 402. Harbsmeier's works have resulted in an advance of our understanding of Classical Chinese grammar and thought. Hansen replies, rather unpersuasively, that Harbsmeier's grammatical evidence is syntactic and doesn't touch his assumptions, which are semantic (see Hansen, A Taoist Theory, p. 48).

4 - See Graham, Disputers of the Tao, pp. 85-86. Fung Yu-lan presents Kung-sun's first argument as based on the "difference in the intention of the terms 'horse,' 'white,' and 'white horse,' " his second argument as based on different extensions of these terms, and his third argument as based on "the distinction between the universal, 'horseness,' and the universal, 'white-horseness'" (Fung Yu-lan, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy, ed. Derk Bodde [New York: Macmillan, 1948], pp. 87-88. See also Fung Yu-lan,A History of Chinese Philosophy, Vol. 1 , ed. Derk Bodde [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952], vol. 1, pp. 203-205).

With its suggestion that the arguments turn on arcane logical and conceptual reflections, Fung's work aroused renewed interest in Kung-sun Lung's works among Chinese specialists trained in modern Western logic and philosophy. The annotations in new Chinese-language editions of Kung-sun Lung's treatises tend to follow Fung's view that Kung-sun is referring to objective concepts in the first argument and to the extensions of these concepts in the second argument, and so forth.

Other studies along these lines include: Chung-ying Cheng and Richard Swain, "Logic and Ontology in the Chih Wu Lun of the Kung-sun Lung Tzu," Philosophy East and West 5 (2) (March 1970): 137-154; Kao Kung-yi and Diane B. Obenchain, "Kung-sun Lung's Chih wu lun and Semantics of Reference and Predication," Journal of Chinese Philosophy 2 (3) (September 1978): 285-324; F. Rieman, "Kung-sun Lung, Designated Things, and Logic," Philosophy East and West 30 (4) (October 1980): 349374; and Chung-ying Cheng, "Logic and Language in Chinese Philosophy," Journal of Chinese Philosophy 14 (3) (September 1987): 285-308.

Graham's "Three Studies of Kung-sun Lung Tzu," pp. 125215, and of course Hansen's books mark significant departures from these lines of interpretation.

5 - A full translation is given at the end of this essay. Cf. A. C. Graham's annotated translation in Disputers of the Tao, pp. 90-94. I render the title "Chih-wu lun" as "On Signifying Things" so that it parallels the title of Chuang Tzu's essay "Ch'i-wu lun" (On making things equal). Kung-sun is showing how signs are used to select or pick out (kinds of) things in the world, i.e., to discriminate them from other kinds of things, while Chuang Tzu seeks to show that, beneath all the perceived discriminations among things, such as are enshrined in language, things are ultimately equal and identify with each other.

6 - On this point, I agree with Chad Hansen that Kung-sun shows that "There is no natural realistic relation between names [signs] and things. They depend on conventions." But I disagree with his further claim that Kung-sun infers from this that "we can construct the conventions according to whatever ideal principles we want. We can have a language in which white horse is not horse . . ." (A Daoist Theory, p. 260). I find nothing in Kung-sun's treatises to suggest that he advocated language reform of any sort. The present study indicates that his views were far closer to common usage than were the views of the disputant, whom Hansen characterizes as either a Neo-Mohist or an advocate of common sense.

7 - Such complications would resemble those attending the relationship between the deep structure and the surface structure of propositions and language postulated by Ludwig Wittgenstein in Tractatus logico-philosophicus. The German text of Logisch -philosophische Abhandlung, with a new translation by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness, trans. D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961). It was due to realizing a collection of such intractable complications that Wittgenstein eventually abandoned the Tractatus line of inquiry based on meaning as a function of sense and reference, and began to investigate the meanings of words and expressions as a function of their uses in language, viewed in the context of language games and understood in the flow of human life.

8 - We shall see below that some of Kung-sun's arguments in the "Treatise on the White Horse" turn on the uses the terms have in ordinary language and communication.

9 - See the full translation of this treatise at the end of this essay. Cf. A. C. Graham's annotated translation in Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China, pp. 8590.

10 - Early commentators saw this as the main argument of the "Treatise." See Graham, Studies in Chinese Philosophy, pp. 157-158. Kung-sun uses the term hsing (form, shape) in an abbreviated sense; that the term ma (horse) refers to a kind of animal is left unstated. Given that implied understanding, hsing refers to the features by which people distinguish and identify horses. Oddly, Hansen's claim that ma refers mereologically to "horse-stuff" in this dialogue cannot be squared with Kung-sun's own words (see Language and Logic, p. 142, and Harbsmeier, "The Mass Noun Hypothesis").

11 - This argument signals Kung-sun's alertness to the communicative values of the terms in human life, i.e., the pragmatic dimension of their meaning. Surprisingly, Hansen, who capitalizes on the pragmatic orientation of Classical Chinese, in contrast to the propositional orientation of modern English, does not seize upon the pragmatic character of this argument (see, e.g., Language and Logic, p. 164).

12 - The disputant thus reads the proposition at issue sometimes as "a white horse is not a horse" and sometimes as "that which is determined/judged a 'white horse' is not determined/judged a 'horse.' "

13 - Mainly a logic of general nouns and descriptive terms, Mohist logic focuses on rules governing the ways in which terms may be validly combined and separated, and the various scopes afforded by the various combinations of terms. See Graham, Disputers of the Tao, pp. 150-155 and 167-170. Hansen attempts to interpret Kung-sun's arguments in the light of these rules and several linguistic hypotheses (Language and Logic, pp. 150 ff.).

14 - Kung-sun's emerging view appears to be that whether "white horse" is a term or not turns on the speaker's intentions and communicative needs, not on the ideal requirements of logical theory. Thus, it is not as if he were treating the compound expression as a single term, like palomino, as suggested by Hansen (ibid., p. 166).

15 - For discussion of the meaning and importance of the use-mention distinction, see Logic , Logic, 3d ed. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1984), pp. 140-144, and K Codell Carter,A contemporary introduction to logic with applications (Beverly Hills: Glencoe Press, 1977), pp. 6-8.

16 - This argument is the closest to sophistry of the lot. Still, if the argument concerns the difference between the terms "white horse" and "horse", Kung-sun's argument is quite valid.

17 - In his later thought, Wittgenstein "displayed a movement awayfrom focusing on forms of expressions and their patterns of relationship towards concentrating on uses--away from viewing discourse as a patterned array of symbols towards seeing speech as part of the web of human life, interwoven with a multitude of acts, activities, reactions and responses" (G.P. Baker and P.M.S. Hacker, Wittgenstein: Rules, Grammar and Necessity [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985], p. 39). For instance, in Philosophical Investigations , trans. G.E.M. Anscombe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958), par. 43, Wittgenstein writes: "For a large class of cases . . . in which we employ the word 'meaning' it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language." And Norman Malcolm records Wittgenstein as saying, "An expression only has meaning in the stream of life" (Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoire [London: Oxford University Press, 1958], p. 93). A vast literature exists on Wittgenstein's seminal idea that meaning is use.

18 - The King of Ch'u has said that a Ch'u man will recover his lost bow, to which Confucius replies that the term "Ch'u man" is too restrictive, for the bow could be recovered by a man from any state, thus, as Kung-sun notes, distinguishing "Ch'u man" from "man." Notice that the sentence "A Ch'u man is not a man" (Ch'u-jen fei jen) could be plugged into Kung-sun's white horse pattern of argument to yield the same pattern of results. This example shows that Kung-sun's arguments hold under different circumstances and for various speaker's intentions. Thus, K'ung Ch'uan's reply that "to widen 'man' you have to leave out the 'Ch'u,' if you wish to specify the name of the color you must not leave out the 'white'" (quoted by Graham from an independent source, in Disputers of the Dao, p. 84) does not apply to Kung-sun's position. Kung-sun is only arguing for the practical difference between the qualified and the unqualified terms in significance and communicative function: in the case of the horses, the distinction of white horses is deemed important; in Confucius' case concerning men, the qualification of Ch'u man is deemed unsuitable to the circumstances.

The preface contains three stories probably composed during the Han, all of which maintain that the white horse paradox represents Master Kung-sun's essential teaching and attempt variously to defend its assertability.

The first story attributes to Kung-sun motivations of (1) upholding the independent significance of descriptive terms, like "white" (presumably as opposed to nominal terms), and (2) rectifying the relationship between terms and objects. It recounts the first two arguments of the "Treatise" and gives the example of how a black horse in the stable will not answer to one's request for a "white horse." It concludes that "Kung-sun intended to extend this argument in order to rectify the relationship between terms and objects so as to transform the Empire."

The second story tells about the King of Ch'u and Confucius in order to give another illustration of Kung-sun's paradox. The third story illustrates Kung-sun's ideas in terms of examples of character, obligation, and law.

Although based on extant records about Kung-sun, these stories were written centuries later, probably by Han thinkers interested in casting Kung-sun as a distant Master for their sect, which combined Confucianism and Legalism. Thus, they attributed to him a variation of Confucius' and Hsun Tzu's idea of rectifying names (cheng-ming), i.e., rectifying the relationships between terms and objects, and claimed he was out to transform the Empire. They attempted to link his doctrine to a point made by Confucius, thus showing him to be closer in spirit to the Sage than was Confucius' own descendent, K'ung Ch'uan. Finally, they illustrated his idea with an example about character, obligation, and law.

Hansen's claim that these stories contain "hints about the motivation for Gongsun Long's theorizing" cannot be taken at all seriously. And, neglecting that the stories were written centuries later by people with their own agendas, Hansen unaccountably portrays Kung-sun himself as the author: "He represents himself as defending a Confucian position . . . . He is . . . associating [himself] with the divine sage . . ." (A Daoist Theory, p. 256). Hansen somehow forgets that a mark of the proponents of the School of Names (ming-chia), the "Sophists" in Graham's rendering, was their pure focus on issues in language and logic. There is no record of their recognizing any sages or favoring any particular interventionist philosophies, such as Confucianism, Mohism, or Legalism.

It is possible that Kung-sun Lung thought that, if understood, his ideas would have the beneficial effect of encouraging people to be more self-conscious and precise in their uses of terms. That is why I prefer to speak of Kung-sun as "clarifying the relationships between terms and objects" rather than as "rectifying" them. He didn't advocate making changes and reforms, just being more "perspicacious" about terms and objects.

19 - Moreover, this "meaning is use" perspective provides a way to understand the formation of figurative meanings; that is, besides having its literal sense and reference, a term or expression can be used to convey other, extended meanings and nuances. Thus, "white horse" has come to signify the noble steed of a young girl's Prince Charming, and the term "dark horse" to signify the steed of an evil knight, or unknown participants in elections or races. Sometimes the original literal meaning is forgotten, while the figurative meaning remains.

20 - According to Graham, Chuang Tzu thought Kung-sun was "wasting his time [debating whether a white horse is a horse], since all disputation starts with arbitrary acts of naming, he only has to pick something else as the meaning of the word, name something else 'horse', and then for him what the rest of us call a horse would not be a horse" (Chuang Tzu, p. 53).

21 - Graham, Neo-Mohist Logic p. 43.

22 - Thus, I disagree strongly with Hansen's view that "Gongsun Long, like ideal-language theorists in the Western tradition, is proposing a language reform. He has an antecedent theory of strict clarity and wants to rectify ordinary language. He requires language to conform to a general principle of strict clarity" (A Daoist Theory, p. 258).

23 - Watson, Chuang Tzu, p. 39.

24 - Chang Chung-yuan, trans. and comp., Tao: A New Way of Thinking — A Translation of the Tao Te Ching with an Introduction and Commentaries (New York: Harper, 1975), p. 3. See pp. 4-5 for Chang's commentary. (Translator's note: The meaning of this chapter varies a great deal with the different punctuations adopted by commentators. This translation follows the traditional punctuation, which is most natural to the authentic Chinese literary style. However, in the most important sentence of this chapter, a full stop is used after the word tung, or identity. With this punctuation, the sentence reads, "its wonder and its manifestations are one and the same." The sentence thus carries the meaning of the middle way philosophy, according to which reality and appearance are identified.)

25 - Paraphrasing Chuang Tzu, Graham asks, "Then why go to the trouble of arguing with Kung-sun Lung over the problems of the white horse . . .? From the ultimate viewpoint, where dividing has not yet begun, the cosmos is the horse and there are no divisions of it to be horses. . . . ". . . Rather than use the horse to show that 'a horse is not a horse' use what is not a horse" (Disputers of the Tao, pp. 179-180). Chuang Tzu, in chap. 2, uses the idea of the music of Heaven (nature) encompassing the music of man and the music of the earth to illustrate the idea of original identity (see Watson, Chuang Tzu, pp. 37-38). Chang Chung-yuan provides the commentary of the seventeenth-century scholar Yao-Nai: "To a man who has achieved the Self of Non-Self, all music, whether from pipes or flutes or the wind through nature's apertures, is Heavenly music. But to the man who has not achieved this Non-Self, these sounds are still heard as the Music of Man and the Music of Earth" (Creativity and Taoism: A Study of Chinese Philosophy, Art, and Poetry [Harper and Row, 1963], pp. 110-111).

26 - For discussion, see Chang, Tao: A New Way, pp. xv-xvii, and Creativity and Taoism, pp. 33-37 and 96-105; and Graham, Chuang Tzu, pp. 20-22. The respective titles of Kung-sun and Chuang Tzu's essays are suggestive in this regard: "Treatise on Signifying Things" and "Treatise on Making Things Equal."

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