Tsinghua University – University of Amsterdam Joint Research Centre for Logic
Tsinghua University – University of Amsterdam Joint Research Centre for Logic

Abstracts of the Speakers

Methodological Problems in Transcultural philosophy: (post)Comparative Approaches

 and the Method of Sublation

This paper addresses problems encountered by Western scholars working in the field of Chinese philosophy. It begins with a discussion of cross-cultural and transcultural methodologies and highlights some of the most common problems encountered in traditional cross-cultural comparisons in the field of philosophy. Considering the current state of the so-called post-comparative discourses in the field of transcultural philosophy and starting from the notion of culturally divergent frames of reference, it focuses on semantic aspects of Chinese philosophical tradition and demonstrates the need for discursive translations. On this basis, a new post-comparative approach in transcultural philosophical studies of Chinese philosophy is suggested. In the framework of such approaches, I propose the application of an innovative principle based on what can be tentatively called the method of sublation.

In this context, we must take into account that philosophical interculturality is a specific type of communication or interaction between different intellectual, linguistic and cognitive traditions, where the differences in cultures and the corresponding linguistic structures have a decisive influence on the formation of meaning. In this sense, intercultural interactions certainly involve the process of transferring meanings, implications and connotations between different cultures. Nevertheless, numerous current theorists criticize the very notion of interculturality with its problematic embedding in a static and one-dimensional understanding of cultures as fixed “realms,” “spheres,” or “islands.” In such a view, the very idea of culture is defined by a separatist character. Therefore, many contemporary scholars argue instead for a transcultural approach, because the suffix “trans-” contained in the notion of transculturality suggests that it is capable of transcending the boundaries and limits of a fixed and static notion of culture. In this sense, it suggests “the possibility of going beyond the fragmentation and separation of different cultures and philosophies”, thus creating a more inclusive and enriching approach to philosophies.

Western scholars studying Chinese philosophy need to be aware of the fact that classical and traditional Chinese philosophical discourses are embedded in networks of semantic structures that define their concepts, paradigms, and categories. Here, we start from the assumption that different languages and different patterns of thought associated with their individual grammatical structures, different cultures continuously create different frames of reference that assume a determining role in human understanding and interpretation of a given reality. Such networks determine the connotations of each concept, the relations between them, and the overall semantic structure as such. Thus, frames of reference are comprehensive instruments that filter perceptions and create meanings. Different reference frames can lead to different descriptions and interpretations of one and the same objective reality.

Knowledge of the specific frame of reference that has emerged in the historical development of Chinese philosophy is of paramount importance in order to interpret certain concepts and transfer them into the framework of global philosophy. In this context, the methods of discursive translations are of utmost importance. For translations are necessarily also interpretations of the multiple connotations of concepts and categories embedded in different semantic and referential networks. Moreover, translations of different philosophies, belonging to different semantic frameworks, different linguistic structures and different methodological paradigms, can never be limited to merely translating one language into another. They must also involve the “translation” or transposition of different discourses, as well as interpretations of individual textual and linguistic structures, categories, concepts, and evaluation criteria that differ according to sociocultural context.

The transmission of meanings, that is, the transfer of the conceptual connotations of certain concepts from Chinese philosophy to the realm of global philosophy requires a comparative perspective. However, such a perspective also confronts us with numerous problems due to which the model of traditional comparative philosophy has become very controversial in recent years. These problems are not limited to the fact that we are working with a unified methodology built on culturally divergent concrete resources. In my view, the crucial difficulty in cross-cultural comparative philosophy is related to the fact that the “unified methodology” mentioned above is a system underlying one of the philosophies being compared, namely traditional European or “Western” philosophy. There is no third, external methodology that could provide us with objective criteria for comparison. The same applies to the understanding and evaluation of concepts and categories. The cognitive processes in such a transcultural comparative procedure apply one (usually “Western”) philosophical language, even though the material they study is culturally discrete, which means that it is usually written in different languages and based on different patterns of thought. Many traditional comparative methods were based on such a notion of one universal philosophical language.

Based on thorough reflection and analysis of such axiological and conceptual issues inherent in traditional comparative procedures, many scholars have elaborated new methodological tools that could overcome such problematic approaches. Such experimentalisms and new models of transcultural philosophising have been termed post-comparative philosophies. Within the framework of such culturally and conceptually sensitive approaches, I propose a new method for transferring meanings from Chinese to global philosophy, namely the method of sublation. Although the term “sublation” encompasses all three concepts that are crucial to any process of creating something new from the interactions between two or more different objects or phenomena. In this philosophical sense, it has the three connotations of arising, eliminating and preserving. Moreover, the term “sublation” refers to a process rather than a stage, and is therefore much better suited to a more thorough and authentic understanding of many crucial concepts in Chinese philosophy, which is to a great extent rooted in processual paradigms.

It is therefore important to understand that this method is dynamic. This means that it can only evolve in a historical perspective and thus in dialogue with all the positive and relevant aspects of what we have learned from past cross-cultural comparisons. In this talk I will demonstrate the operation and application of the proposed method of sublation. The main aim of this talk is to show that, despite numerous theoretical and methodological difficulties faced by Western (or Western-trained) researchers of Chinese philosophy, the proposed method still incorporates and consciously preserves the crucial function and task of transcultural philosophy, manifested in its crucial aim of overcoming the accidental boundaries imposed by a particular assortment of experiences and gaining insight into realities of possibly greater universality.

A Confucian Perspective on the Right to Bereavement

There have been sizable discussions over whether one is entitled to time off from work when becoming a parent to a child, namely the right to parental leave. However, not much has been said about whether we should have the right to take time off to grieve when we lose a parent. In this paper, I reconstruct a classical Confucian argument for the right to bereavement. Classical Confucianism advocates for a societal structure that supports extended periods of time in which people focus on grieving the losses of close family members, especially elderly parents and grandparents. In the eyes of classical Confucian philosophy, it is both necessary and good to take time to focus on ritualized rumination over the deceased. Moreover, the society as a collective has a stake in the issue, and the government is obligated to provide the proper structural support for the time and space to bereavement. When translated into contemporary Western political language, this constitutes a right to bereavement. The classical Confucian perspective is particularly valuable as it sheds light on this often-neglected aspect of human life in Western political discourse.

The Fullest Extend of Truth: Applying Text-Structural Analysis for an Aesthetic Interpretation of the Xunzi’s Argument of ‘cheng

In the “Bugou” chapter of the Xunzi it is claimed that “for noble persons there is nothing more excellent for the nurturing of their heart-and-mind than truthfulness” (jun zi yang xin mo shan yu cheng 君子养心莫善于诚). This statement, together with the unit of text in the Xunzi that it is a part of, can be understood as a coherent philosophical argument, which argues that the realization of a personal state of truthfulness, in which one’s internal state of mind completely identifies with moral principles and becomes fully expressed in one’s external conduct, is the best way to artfully cultivate the natural potential of the human heart-and-mind. However, this argument itself is not primarily constructed as a ‘logical’ argument and its conception of ‘cheng 诚’ cannot be conclusively and comprehensively interpreted on the basis of logical analysis. In recent scholarship, early Chinese philosophical arguments have been analyzed as ‘literary forms of argument’ that apply text-structural techniques such as rhyme, repetition and parallelism to guide and suggest ‘extra-logical’ modes of argumentative reasoning. This paper proposes that a text-structural analysis of the Xunzi’s argument of ‘cheng 诚’ in the “Bugou” chapter can supplement philological and philosophical interpretative methods, in order to arrive at a more coherent and comprehensive understanding of the argument and the Xunzi’s conception of ‘cheng 诚’. 

A text-structural analysis will reveal that the argument is organized in a kind of ‘interlocking parallel style’ (IPS), by which in four, extra-logically connected sections ‘cheng 诚’ and similar concepts are explained as integrative functions that connect two parallel processes. Additional conceptual analysis that understands the concepts that are organized in these parallel structures as a kind of consciously crafted ‘conceptual metaphor’, suggests that the threefold IPS structure of each section of the argument corresponds to the three ‘conceptual categories’ of ‘affective’, ‘effective’ and ‘integrative’ concepts, with ‘cheng 诚’ belonging to the latter category. ‘Cheng 诚’, then, describes the cultivational process by which the dispositional and cognitive capacities of the heart-and-mind are developed into affective and effective abilities that, when integrated together, enable a morally transformative power to be realized as a naturalized expression of exerted individualized conduct. Furthermore, a fourth category of performative concepts can be distinguished in the argument of ‘cheng 诚’, which suggests that the cultivational process it describes has a significant ‘aesthetic’ dimension as well, in the sense that the formal aspects of the realization of moral functions are considered just as valuable as their moral content. 

Taken together, text-structural and conceptual analysis suggest that the Xunzi’s  argument of ‘cheng 诚’ can be interpreted as an aesthetic argument in two ways: as a literary form of argument, including argumentative structure and conceptual form; and as the association of affective, effective and integrative concepts with performative concepts in an overarching  ‘conceptual field’ of interconnected conceptual categories, that is oriented on the formal realization of moral functions. Not only does such an aesthetic interpretation allow for a more coherent and comprehensive understanding of the argument, it will also still be compatible with the basic philosophical orientations of the Xunzi’s system of thought and the intellectual historical development of the conception of ‘cheng 诚’ in early Chinese thought. Compared to other interpretative methods, this hermeneutic strategy is better able to argumentatively substantiate in what way the Xunzi’s conception of ‘cheng 诚’ is an innovation on earlier arguments of ‘cheng 诚’ in other texts. As a result, this aesthetic interpretation can not only help clarify interpretative ambiguity regarding the function of conceptual pairings in the argument such as “moral care” (ren 仁) and “moral valuation” (yi 义), “inspiration” (shen 神) and “insightfulness” (ming 明), “adaptation” (bian 变) and “transformation” (hua 化) or “mindfulness” (shen 慎) and “individualization” (du 独); but also include other argumentatively significant concepts of the argument such as “attainment” (zhi 致), “inhabitation” (ju 居) or “successfulness” (ji 济), that have so far been neglected in research that follows a different hermeneutic strategy; and help determine the philosophical interpretation of the argument as a whole as a distinct cultivational practice aimed at the aesthetic realization of morally transformative power. 

Previously, other interpretative strategies have rather unreflectively translated the Xunzi’s concept of ‘cheng 诚’ as either “sincerity”, “integrity” or “truthfulness”, without being able to explain how these terms differ from each other or why any one of them is preferable over the others. An aesthetic interpretation of the argument is, primarily on the basis of text-structural considerations, able to explain to what extend the Xunzi’s conception of ‘cheng 诚’ contains all three of these aspects, and why “truthfulness”, as the most aesthetically qualified term among them, comes closest to capturing the essential character of ‘cheng 诚’. As such, this method does not just offer an alternative interpretation, but offers support for the preference of certain philological and philosophical interpretations over others. 

This research is relevant for the study of argumentation and philosophical reasoning in the Xunzi and early China because it helps us understand how arguments can be made on the basis of an extra-logical argumentative structure and how the specific aesthetic quality of this extra-logical argumentative form supports a distinctly aesthetic conception of political morality. In early Chinese philosophical discourse, the Xunzi can be associated with a worldview that is especially aesthetic, and therefore emphasizes the importance of aesthetic values not only in the content of its arguments, but also in their form. It should not be considered a coincidence that the Xunzi’s mode of argumentation is primarily extra-logical, because this is an integral aspect of the aesthetic character of its system of thought as a whole.

Towards a Logical Typology of Philosophical Speech Genres

Philosophy is literature. We need a systematic taxonomy of literary genres in philosophical discourse. This lecture aims to explore systematically what kinds of things are going on when one is doing philosophy and writing philosophical literature. The contrasting analysis of the repertoirs of discourse genres in ancient European and Chinese philosophy will highlight some basic contrasts between ancient Chinese and ancient European philosophy. Discourse genres discussed will include Exemplum, Fable, Allegory, Parable, Simile, Aphorism, Apophthegm, Satire, Parody, Joke, Parenthesis, Quotation, Citation, Imputation, Argumentations, Proof and many more.

Taxonomies, Attributes and Conceptual Categories in the Gōngsūn Lóngzǐ 公孫龍子

Traditionally attributed to the eponymous Warring State (pseudo)historical persuader and shrewd diplomat Gōngsūn Lóng 公孫龍 (ca. ?320–?250 B.C.), the Gōngsūn Lóngzǐ (GSLZ) 公孫龍子 is a heterogeneous collection that brings together different kinds of textual materials, including clusters of anecdotes embedded within a narrative framework revolving around the figure of Gōngsūn Lóng; dense and intricate theoretical treatises; and dialogues that paradigmatically rely on paradoxical arguments to build their reasoning, a distinctive feature for which the text is famously known and that makes it almost unique in the Chinese intellectual landscape.

While the core of the GSLZ might indeed be dating back to the Warring States period, the collection is notoriously corrupted. The text shows evident sings of editorial intervention, as the extensive philological and hermeneutic study carried out by Angus C. Graham (1919–1991) and his detailed, systematic analysis of grammatical inconsistencies across the text has shown (Graham 1986), building on the previous research of scholars such as in particular Shěn Yǒudǐng 沈有鼎 (1908–1992) (Shěn 1992; Suter 2020). However, despite its potentially problematic nature due to the disputable dating and the complex, stratified textual history, the GSLZ seemingly builds a fairly coherent, overarching intellectual discourse, proposing a rather sound theory of language and cognition that can be reconstructed through a close reading of the text. 

The GSLZ provides invaluable information regarding the earliest stages of the development of logical and categorical thinking in premodern China, and in particular about the first attempts at producing taxonomical systems of realities (i.e. shí 實, actualized things, things-for-us, things that exist in the word and can be objects of thought and of our intellectual discourse) (Lucas 1993; Cheng 1997 and 2007; Fung 2007; Indraccolo 2010 and 2020). The present paper addresses the contribution provided by the GSLZ to the understanding of early Chinese formulations of more or less coherent and fairly articulated taxonomical classification systems – of sets of attributes, as well as of actual concretized things, grouped together under certain kinds (lèi 類) based on clusters of shared and unshared characteristics that are concrete manifestations of such attributes (Lucas 2005; Harbsmeier 1998 and 1999). The paper further addresses fundamental key interpretive issues in the GSLZ, such as what are to be considered the most fundamental attributes characterizing kinds of things that exist in the world, and whether such attributes are all equally relevant and share the same ontological properties and status (Indraccolo forthc.). 

Examples of such attempts at building a coherent taxonomical conceptual framework to categorize reality and organize this knowledge conceptually are preserved in part in the most famous chapter, Ch. 2 ‘Báimǎ lùn,’ but are in fact expounded upon in more detail in the so-called “animal examples” preserved in Ch. 5 ‘Tōngbiàn lùn’ 通變論. The ‘Tōngbiàn lùn’ is possibly one of the most puzzling and debated chapters of the whole text. As Graham (1986) has convincingly shown, the ‘Tōngbiàn lùn’ has a tripartite structure, and is seemingly composed by three distinct and partially corrupted or incomplete arguments that had most probably been circulating independently and were sewn together at a later stage by the editors/compilers of the GSLZ. The text is especially famous for its second argument, the so-called “animal examples,” where an opponent and a persuader debate about the similarities and differences existing between and the potential systematic categorization of different kinds of domesticated animals or livestock (sheep; oxen – or more accurately buffalos, as Christoph Harbsmeier as recently pointed out; horses; and chickens) according to their properties (Trauzettel 1993; Benesch 1993; on early animal classification systems, see also Sterckx 2018; Sterckx, Siebert and Schäfer 2018). 

The relatively brief exchange has often been dismissed for its apparent lack of systematicity, or has been considered irrelevant – if not downright bizarre and nonsensical. However, these uncharitable readings are mostly due to the fact that scholars have often failed to understand and correctly disentangle the taxa that are at the basis of such classification systems, which however are not substantially dissimilar from equally “unscientific” – from a contemporary point of view – Aristotelian categories. Far from being illogical, this apparently quizzical exchange preserves an attempt at producing a preliminary system of animal classification that can be better understood in the light of the theory of “family resemblance” postulated by Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) (1953). The notion of “a class composed by sporadic resemblances” turns out to be particularly productive, and to provide new keys to understanding early Chinese classification systems and the elaboration of conceptual categories in the process of knowledge production and organization in early China. 

The present paper brings together and synthesizes the information provided by the ‘Báimǎ lùn’ and the ‘Tōngbiàn lùn’ on attributes and kinds to reconstruct an integrated theory of categorical thinking in the GSLZ. It further challenges the traditional understanding of the passage on animals preserved in the ‘Tōngbiàn lùn’ in terms of “conceptual class,” according to which class members necessarily possess a set of common characteristics. Instead, it proposes to analyze the “animal examples” as a case of “polythetic” classification (Needham 1975), in which on the contrary not all characteristics are – nor need to be – shared, employing an approach inspired by the notion of family resemblance. The paper is divided into two parts. The first part will focus on the way in which the most fundamental basic set of attributes that allegedly seems to be characterizing all concretized things are established and according to which principles such attributes operate according to the GSLZ, trying to disambiguate their ontological status, while the second part will focus on and explore the animal taxonomies proposed in the ‘Tōngbiàn lùn,’ which provide a convenient pragmatic example to illustrate the actual functioning of attributes as discriminant factors in a negative logic that identifies members of a class according to only partially shared characteristics. 

It is hoped that the paper will show not only that the study of the GSLZ plays a fundamental role in the understanding of the elaboration of the first known examples of conceptual systems of taxonomical classifications in early China, but also that there is a sound and complex reasoning at the basis of such theory that largely refutes criticism against the alleged lack of logic and systematicity of the text. 

Rhetorical Questions in the Daodejing: Argument Construction, Dialogical Insertion, and Sentimental Expression 

This paper argues against simply reading rhetorical questions as statements. Instead, it reveals the argumentative and persuasive dimension of rhetorical questions in the Daodejing otherwise called Laozi (Lao Tzu). Comparing the “parallel texts” of rhetorical questions, this paper shows how they facilitate the build-up of arguments in the chapters; how they reflect the dialogical characteristics of the texts, and how they elicit responses of their audiences. 

Despite debates on the definition and classification of rhetorical questions, research into its argumentative and rhetorical functions have developed substantially in the West. Rhetorical questions (RQs) have the syntactic form of a question but the semantic value of a declarative (Sadock 1971, Han 2002). Despite scholarly efforts to identify distinctive syntactic and semantic elements (Džemal Špago 2016:102-115), stronger evidence points towards not considering it as a special category of questions. Rhetorical questions are neither bound to any particular language, or linguistic structure, but should be considered a non-standard form of questioning because of its special use (Jung and Schrott 2003). This means that unlike ordinary information seeking questions, rhetorical questions expect silent answers from their addressees (Xiang, Pascual, and Ma:2). They were “meant to be heard as questions and understood as statements” (Ilie 1994:130). Rhetorical questions are used as a challenging statement expressing the addressers’ commitment to the argument all the while inducing the addressee’s recognition, this characteristic sets rhetorical questions apart from standard questions that mainly seek information (Illie 1999).  

Research into rhetorical questions covers not only the processes and mechanisms by which they exercise their cognitive pragmatic force (Wang 2014); their varying persuasive effects (Craig 2006: 111-128); and how they are most effective when their recipients are within the circle of debate (Cacioppo & Heesacker 1981:432-440). Explorations of rhetorical questions have also entered discussions on philosophical, political, and biblical literature. Ilie has shown the complex use of rhetorical questions in Parliament question time and the political speech act (Ilie 2010:333-342). Padesky describes the process of Socratic questioning in psychological and cognitive therapy to guide discovery rather than changing others’ mind (Padesky 1993). Salkever discovers the wide use of rhetorical questions and questioning in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics and Politics (Salkever 2017: 192-214). Estes examines questions and questioning in the Greek New Testament, and alerts readers that if only looking at telling but not asking in the New Testament, we might be only looking at 15 percent of the text (Estes 2017:22). Adams shows us the performative nature of rhetorical questions in the Hebrew bible from the perspective of “indirect speech acts” and how it facilitates active self-involvement (Adams 2020).

In contrast with the wide range of studies on rhetorical questions in scholarship beyond early China, there is not a substantial body of scholarship on rhetorical questions for early China studies, or the Daodejing, even though 18% of the received Wang Bi version’s chapters make use of one to multiple rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions in early China are mostly understood as a linguistic problem which has been studied in depth. (Wang 2015:368-437; Wang and He 2012:889-8930; Li 2003, Yang 2014, Wang 2013, Zhang 2005, and Wang 1985).  

Despite the lack of scholarship, insights on rhetorical questions in the Daodejing, Analects and Zhuangzi have in fact reached beyond pure grammatical interests. First, Mark Edward Lewis shows that rhetorical questions among riddles, prose and paradoxes are used as argumentative features by proto-Daoist, with which the texts express an “individual and poetic voice” to demonstrate the break-down of ritual communication (Lewis 1999:178-79). He argues that, on the one hand, rhetorical questions in the Daodejing and Zhuangzi are used to challenge existing ideas. On the other hand, rhetorical questions are used to indicate what one ought to do. A series of rhetorical questions in chapter 10, for instance, gives the most detailed account of the procedure of meditation. (Lewis 1999:180).While Lewis rightly points out the argumentative functions of rhetorical questions, Christoph Harbsmeier reminds us of the expressive power of rhetorical questions in the Analects (Harbsmeier 1996) — this can also be detected in the Daodejing. He draws attention to the use of informal tone and expletive particles, including rhetorical questions, in the Analects to elicit impulsive and sarcastic readings of the texts (1996:141) He also examines Confucius’ spontaneous and personal comments on excessive emotions expressed by rhetorical question. (Harbsmeier 1996:145). Focusing on the Zhuangzi, Xiang and Pascual take rhetorical questions as “situated face to face interaction”. They apply Pascual’s communication framework of “fictive interaction blends” to discuss the use of rhetorical questions for conceptual integration of mental space which cannot be clearly observed in communicative situations, while highlighting the structure of turn-taking between participants (Xiang and Pascual 2016). Their research indicates the importance of rhetorical questions for inter-personal communication. 

This paper builds upon these previous observations and examines the argumentative and persuasive functions of rhetorical questions in the Daodejng. First, I use three case studies to show how receptions of rhetorical questions in the transmitted Wang Bi version, and the excavated Guodian and Mawangdui manuscripts make different use of rhetorical questions within their respective contexts. Though a discussion of rhetorical questions in parallel texts, though seemingly similar in vocabulary and concepts, their internal logic and philosophical differences are nonetheless obvious as long as we pay attention to the subtle change of particles, adverbs, sentence initials, and rhetorical questions. Their differences in argumentation are no less clear than the parallel texts between received Laozi 26 and the quasi-quotation in “Shen Shi”慎势 chapter of the Lushi Chunqiu 吕氏春秋(Annals of Lubuwei) pointed out by Gu Jiegang 顾颉刚 (Shaughnessy 2005:426). Second, while Lewis points to the use of rhetorical questions for expressing an “individual voice” as opposed to communal ritual performance, a focus on the persuasive and communicative functions of rhetorical questions indicates the “dialogical” characteristic of the text highlighting the importance of inviting audiences to join the process of self-reflection so as to create a new knowledge community. On the other hand, in agreement with Baxter’s observation that the Laozi’s “lack of narration” with no anchor to a particular person, time and event (Baxter 1998: 240), rhetorical questions evoke a sense of conversation within texts, and between texts and audiences, making it “dialogical” and reflective, despite the lack of actual situations and persona described in the text. Third, strings of rhetorical questions draw on performative and dramatic elements of language, to reveal the relationship between tone of voice, and the force of language beyond conceptual and grammatical concerns. A string of rhetorical questions is used to hammer down a point by adding emotive force. Rhetorical questions set common ground for audiences by showing its empathetic understanding; they provide criticism while implying anger and ridicule towards mis-behaviour; they repeat arguments by implying a universal validity and an unacceptable doubt.

Naming and Propositional Attitudes in Ancient Chinese Philosophy

This paper includes three parts: (1) Textual Analysis and Methodology; (2) Naming and Social Ontology in Confucian Tradition; (3) Propositional Attitudes in Classical Chinese.In the first part, I will explain why philological method without the complementarity with syntax, including historical syntax and logical syntax, is unable to disclose the deep structure of expressions in ancient texts. I will also mention an example committing fallacy as a case study.In the second part, I will discuss the old question of naming in Confucian tradition together with the problem of the rectification of names. I will treat this theme as the view of social ontology. Some points of John Searle’s theory will also be revised in this paper.In the last part, I will argue against the popular view held by Chad Hansen, Roger Ames and others that there are no concept of a sentence and sentential beliefs in ancient China. I will provide some functional equivalents of the that-clause structure in classical Chinese which also appear in old English and classical Latin.

The Inference Pattern mou in Mohist Logic – A Monotonicity Reasoning View

Taking the standpoint of monotonicity reasoning, this paper provides a systematic way of looking at the inference pattern mou in the Mohist text. We have taken a logical, as well as a linguistic perspective, emphasizing features of classical Chinese, the role of context, and making use of any possible clues that we can find from the old text. By applying monotonicity rules we provide a uniform account of why shi er ran examples are valid inferences, and shi er buran examples are counter-examples. This is a joint work with Fenrong Liu. 

Comparison between Chinese and Western Logic/Philosophy, With a Case Study Example of the “White Horse Discourse”

One of the themes of this HOLIC Workshop is “Comparison between Chinese and Western logic and philosophy”. In my presentation, I would like to discuss and problematise the idea of comparison between Chinese and Western logic/philosophy, with a case study example of the “White Horse Discourse” (bai ma fei ma, 白馬非馬) by Gongsun Long (from the School of Names (ming jia 名家)). This would be based on a paper I am working on for a forthcoming issue of the “History of Humanities” Journal. This presentation could also fit into theme (a) “Reasoning and argumentation”, as it will discuss precisely this theme, theme (d) “Reflection on the methodology for analysing texts”, as it concerns itself with the relevant methodology to study reasoning and argumentation in classical Chinese texts from a contemporary, cross-cultural perspective, and theme (f) “Other texts than the ancient ones”, as this presentation and the paper it is based on are focused not only on the text of the White Horse Discourse itself but also on analysing its contemporary interpretations. 

This paper examines issues related to a Western-centric concept of philosophy as they arise in the context of cross-cultural interpretations of ancient texts. As a case study, the paper discusses three interpretations of the White Horse Discourse, an ancient text attributed to

the Chinese philosopher Gongsun Long (ca. 320-250 B.C.E.), in which he argues for the paradoxical claim that a white horse is not a horse, providing different types of arguments grounded in the thoughts and philosophical tradition of his time. The three interpretations discussed will be those of Chad Hansen, Angus C. Graham, and Chung-Ying Cheng.  The paper argues that, in taking Western philosophy as the standard for comparison, these interpretations reproduce the West as the philosophical centre. In a further section, it considers whether the postcolonialist effort to decentralise history of philosophy stands in tension with the traditionally hermeneutic approach to interpretation. Lastly, it examines the related notions of tradition and authority, as well as their role in cross-cultural interpretation.

Because the White Horse Discourse treats, quite explicitly, themes such as argumentation and the relation between language and reality, it is of considerable importance to the research on classical Chinese philosophy and logic. It has therefore been widely studied by both Chinese and Western scholars and many different interpretations have been proposed. As such, it is a good candidate for a case study of the issues arising from the interpretation of foreign historical texts and the difficulties of providing a decentralised history of logic and philosophy. In this paper, I do not aim to evaluate its interpretations or to make claims about ancient China. Rather, the object of the present study is the interpretations themselves and what they can, as examples, teach us about the way history of philosophy is studied in the present world. With regards to the aim of decentralising the study of the history of philosophy, too often limited to the Western world, it is particularly relevant to consider how the history of non-Western traditions is studied. Indeed, such a consideration may help highlight challenges faced by the ambition to have a decentralised history of philosophy.

The question of whether the author of the White Horse Discourse adhered to a realist or a nominalistic position has divided interpreters of the text. In this paper, after introducing Gongsung Long and the White Horse Discourse, I will present three seminal interpretations and their respective engagement with the realism/nominalism question. These interpretations will serve as a basis for identifying issues that arise in the process of interpreting historically and culturally foreign philosophy. I will argue that these interpretations are all relying on a Western standard of comparison. While the authors render this explicit to various degrees, this illustrates a first difficulty in the effort to decentralise the history of logic. By interpreting a text of classical Chinese logic in reference and comparison to Western philosophy, these interpretations are in fact maintaining the position of the West as philosophy’s historical centre. I will then argue that, at least under some reading, the demand for a decentralised interpretation of ancient Chinese philosophy on its own terms stands in tension with the hermeneutic approach to interpretation. This tension, as well as the possibility of its resolution, will be the object of the following section, in which I will propose that a questioning of the notions of authority and tradition, important in hermeneutics, is relevant to the decentralisation of history of philosophy and logic.

Lost in Translation:  Logic, Ancient Chinese and Modern Authors. 

The English edition of the Handbook of the History of Logical Thought in China contains the translation into English of chapters written in modern Chinese about the expression of logical concepts in ancient Chinese texts, many of which are hard to interpret, with a significant level of textual corruption. Our struggle to accurately capture the claims and arguments made by the chapter authors was made even harder by writing styles that do not correspond closely to those of modern academic English. 

Although Yan Fu’s division of the problems of translation into xin 信 ‘faithfulness’, da 達 ‘expressiveness’, and ya 雅 ‘elegance’  are as useful today as they were in the late Qing dynasty, we aim to uncover further principles to help with the particular issues that have emerged from our experience as editors of the Handbook. 

In this presentation, I will attempt to categorise the difficulties by giving a number of examples, and reflect on the issues they raise for our understanding of translation, logic, argumentation and writing. This is the result of an ongoing conversation with our editorial team, especially my co-editor, Jeremy Seligman. 

Without a Sound: Musical Silence as an Agent of Sound in Early Chinese Thought


Silence gives voice to the depths, when they are in play, and to distances, if there are any.

[George Gusdorf, Speaking, 1965] 1 

The toneless is the great ancestor of sound.

[The Huainanzi, compiled ca.139 BCE] 2


From the dawn of recorded Chinese history, ample evidence suggests, there existed a rich musical culture that was an inseparable part of Chinese society’s state-ritual and daily life. The Warring States period (Zhanguo 戰國 453-221 BCE) was a particularly formative period in the realm of Chinese musical thought. Alongside elaborate musical instruments, this era witnessed the development of progressive acoustical theories and, towards its end, sophisticated musico-philosophical ideas. By the Western Han dynasty (西漢 206 BCE – 9 CE) – the era of political formation of the newly-established Chinese empire – politically-oriented references to music were so common in written accounts, that one is unlikely to come across any text of the time that does not make such references. Within these musically-abundant discussions, a unique role is fulfilled not only by the presence of musical sound, but also by its absence. This paper shall explore notions of musical silence in early Chinese philosophical thought. I will investigate the rhetorical functions of textual references to musical sounds which are muted, inaudible, or altogether non-existent. 

Absent sound appears in early Chinese sources almost as a category of sound in and of itself. While not necessarily having the same emotional effect on humans as sound does, the epistemological influences of soundlessness are closely related to those of sound. Sensorially, soundlessness is perceived in a way identical to sound (that is, silence, like sound, is heard). Furthermore, the potential knowledge transmitted through silence is, to some extent, an amplified version of knowledge transmitted by means of audible sound. If at first glimpse this statement appears contradictory, an exploration of the sources, I will argue, gives a different idea. For early Chinese thinkers perceived the soundless as containing sound, absorbing it, framing and accentuating it. Such soundlessness, in effect, articulates meaning better than sound itself.  

In my talk, I will investigate this notion of soundlessness as the carrier of sound and sonic meaning. We will begin with a discussion on the terminology of musical silence/ soundlessness. The early Chinese term most closely associated with the absence of sound in general – and musical sound in particular – is the binom wu sheng 無聲 3. Comprised of the graphs wu 無 – generally denoting a sense of absence, or “withoutness”; and sheng 聲 – meaning sound, the term wu sheng, ‘without sound’ resembles the English compound soundlessness. Often portrayed as an expression of the Dao itself, wu sheng is clearly an idealistic concept in Laozian texts; however, late Warring States and early Han texts have no problem promoting the ideal of Dao-related soundlessness on one hand, while at the same breath exalting musical ideals. I will discuss the apparent conflict between soundlessness (wu sheng) and Music (yue 樂), and suggest a possible way to resolve it. 

Following this discussion of the semantics of soundlessness, we will turn our attention to exploring several ‘groups’ (or types) of textual references alluding to soundlessness, with the aim of demonstrating how musical soundlessness is represented in early Chinese texts, and what it seeks to achieve. One group we will encounter are cases in which people ‘listen to the soundless’ (ting yu wu sheng 聽於無聲). Next, we will investigate the phenomenon of tombs containing either musical mingqi (unplayable musical instruments) or real musical instruments, which, by being placed by the deceased, are doomed to remain forever silent. Ultimately, I will argue, early Chinese conceptualisations of silence are intrinsically linked with the importance attached to the sense of hearing; and the soundless, as ‘the ancestor of sound’, takes up a role at least as significant as music in early Chinese texts, while at the same time being much less ‘accessible’ than music.

1. George Gusdorf, Speaking, trans. Paul T. Brockelman (Evenston Ill., 1965), 90. As cited in Thomas Clifton, “The Poetics of Musical Silence,” The Musical Quarterly, Vol. LXII.2 (April 1976), 164. 

2. 無音者,聲之大宗也. Huainanzi, 1.34 (“Yuan Dao”). 

3. Other terms that denote silence include ji ; mo ; liao (sometimes substituted for liao ); and mo (sometimes substituted for mo ). Note that the graph jing , which we might mistake for silence, in early Chinese texts denotes stillness – i.e. the absence of motion, rather than sound. 

Argument by Analogy in Ancient China

Analogical reasoning is fundamental to human thought, it has played a significant role in many cognitive contexts. Accordingly, the explicit use of arguments by analogy has been a common feature of philosophical and scientific investigations across cultures. An argument by analogy cites accepted similarities between two objects as a reason to support the conclusion that some further similarity exists, and since antiquity, there has been a great deal of theorizing concerning its nature, evaluation and justification. In ancient China, great philosophers prefer to use analogy to argue for their own views, and scholars like the Mohists take efforts to characterize analogical arguments in a systematic way. Likewise, the concept of analogy has also its origin in ancient Greece, and an elaborate account of analogical arguments could be found in Aristotle’s theoretical reflections on that subject.

In this talk, I want to explain the ancient Chinese theory of analogical argument by examining carefully the Mohist ideas pertaining to the foundation, the mechanism, the rationale, the different patterns, and the fallaciousness of argument by analogy. And then, I try to reveal some of its distinctive features through a comparison with the Western counterpart, i.e., the ancient Greek theory of analogical arguments that is developed by Aristotle. 

In particular, it is clarified that argument by analogy in ancient China is theorized primarily as a way of arguing based on classification, with a unique mechanism of taking and giving according to kind. And, an analogical argument is perceived to be a proper extension of the knowledge pertaining to a kind, by attributing a same feature from one of its member to another. In addition, ancient Chinese thinkers have identified four patterns of argument by analogy based on its different applications in practical contexts, and they like to explain the fallaciousness of analogical arguments as an error of wrongly classifying two different things into one kind.

When compared with Aristotle’s theory of analogical argument, it is indicated that the ancient Chinese theory is different in several respects. For the first, the ancient Chinese conception of argument by analogy highlights the foundational role of a particular notion of kind, which in turn makes the construction and application of analogy become highly flexible and context-sensitive in argumentative practices. For the second, due to a lack of theoretical examination on notions like similarity and classification, the mechanism of analogical arguments is captured very generally as a form of arguing through extending the knowledge of a kind among its members. But when this mechanism is further unpacked into an inference structure, it turns out to be a similar account to that of Aristotle: arguing by analogy involves a complex process in which a comparison of two objects is made, and a transfer of an attribute from one object to another is allowed by means of identifying a greater common category represented by their similarity. For the third, in the ancient Chinese theory the rationale of analogical arguments is explained from a general perspective of kind, relying upon the universal knowledge pertaining to the forming of kinds. Unlike Aristotle who emphasizes the causal links between attributes in the physical world, ancient Chinese thinkers prefer to justify analogical argument by appealing to the metaphysical and epistemological principles that are thought to be normative in nature.

Dialectics in Chinese Philosophy: The Case of *Mìng xùn

This paper looks at the way a philosophical argument is developed in *Mìng xùn, a recently obtained, fourth century manuscript text from the Tsinghua collection of Chǔ Warring States texts. The text has a close counterpart in the Yì Zhōushū, which classes it as an utterance in the tradition of Shū (Documents). I analyse the strategies with which meaning is produced in *Mìng xùn and suggest that the text is articulated in a dialectic manner in which the philosophical premise seeks to test itself continuously to avoid becoming doctrine, and thus philosophically void. My choice of a Shū text as an example of philosophically relevant meaning construction in early China challenges current methodology, which anachronistically considers -type literature (the Masters) as a disciplinary equivalent to Philosophy in ancient Greece. I argue that since philosophically relevant activities are a non-disciplinary praxis in early China, the articulations of this praxis are also not genre specific but found across the foundational literary texts of China.

Alienation and Attunement in the Zhuangzi, “Webbed Toes” (駢拇)

In this study, I clarify and defend the claims in the Zhuangzi Chapter 8, “Webbed Toes” (駢拇), that both the (non-Daoist) “sages” and the “robbers” are guilty of the same form of transgression. Although such a claim might seem implausible, the critique can be understood in light of the Daoist understanding of nature as forming an indeterminate continuum (wu, 無). Failing to perceive nature as forming such an indeterminate continuum constitutes a unique form of ignorance. For the Daoist, this kind of ignorance is one of the most fundamental causes (if not the root cause) of social disorder. As a perceptual kind of ignorance, it can be understood as creating a phenomenological form of alienation. In this alienation, we fail to recognize that all things (especially persons) form a continuum with the rest of nature. This alienation can (and does) systematically afflict entire communities. The reason for this alienation is due to particular cultural institutions and social organization. It is the consequence of both historical factors and cultural forms that are not necessarily under the control of any single person or groups of people. This is not to say that all forms of culture and social organization are suspect. For the Daoist, the forms of culture that are problematic are only those that produce alienation and the habits and beliefs that accompany alienation. A society informed by Daoist philosophy would still be a kind of culture but would be one that does not promote alienation from nature. It would help maintain its opposite or what this study calls attunement and an attunement to nature. When the cultural forms that produce alienation are absent, an attunement to nature is normal and, for the Daoist, it is what can be considered our original spontaneity (ziran, 自然).

As this study aims to clarify, the critique of both the “sages” and “robbers” that we find in the Zhuangzi chapter 8 can be best understood as a critique of how certain cultural institutions promote our alienation from nature. The distinction between alienation and attunement will also be useful for clarifying different aspects of Daoist philosophy. For example, the wu-forms of the Daodejing can be understood as expressing how the Daoist can respond to situations such that they are attuned and responsive to nature or, in other words, that they can respond to situations in a way that is not perceptually alienated from nature. The wu-wei (無為) or “non-imposing action” of the Daoist sage is spontaneous and responsive because the Daoist sage is not alienated from nature. What wuwei involves is a perceptual sensitivity to the particularity of situations. A term like jing (靜) or “tranquility” also describes an attunement to nature. Any form of experience where we cognitively foreground certain aspects of experience and ignore the context that such isolation was grounded in produces alienation from nature. This cognitive process is (ironically) referred to as “knowledge” (zhi, 知) by the Daoist. The Daoist critiques “knowledge” because these habits obstruct the ability to recognize that nature is fundamentally indeterminate (wu, 無). The insight is also expressed with the metaphor that nature is a “nameless uncarved block of wood” (無名之樸). The cognitive distinctions we draw (the ironically named “knowledge”, zhi) are secondary and provisional aspects of experience as a whole. If persons achieve the Daoist ideal, they will recognize that they are fundamentally like an “uncarved block of wood” (pu, 樸). They would recognize that they are constituted by nature and that they are not a determinate “thing” that stands opposed to or above nature. As will be explained further below, this account of nature and experience (what can also be called the “ontological relativism” thesis) informs chapter 8’s critique of both the “sages” and the “robbers”.

The end of chapter 8 of the Zhuangzi describes the Daoist alternative to being a “sage” or “robber”. As chapter 8 describes it, persons must cultivate the ability to “see themselves” (自見) and to “see themselves when they see others/things” (自見而見彼). Although this might sound like individualism, what the Daoist position actually involves is an interdependent and relational account of persons. As will be shown in this study, the Zhuangzi describes all things as being naturally bound together. To “truly see oneself” is to maintain an attunement to nature as an indeterminate continuum. Furthermore, this is also to recognize the interdependence of all things with each other. This, in contrast with Confucian ideas as found in the Xunzi, helps the Daoist bind and fuse things together in a non-coercive way or “to bind things without needing cords” (約束不以纆索). If we are alienated from nature as wu (無) when we try to address societal ills, then we are predisposed to act coercively as if cutting the “webbed toes” of others.

Zhi 知 in the Laozi

This paper will focus on interpreting the concept of zhi 知 knowing/ awareness in the Laozi by mapping out the semantic range of zhi in the Laozi. Firstly, I will lay out the semantic range of zhi in the Laozi which extends from the awareness of objects to propositional knowledge including some combination of know-that, know-how, and know-of/ know-about. Secondly, I will then discuss how these finding relate to discussion of “knowledge” in the field of epistemology today. 

In the Pre-Qin period, there is no systematic treatment of knowledge in the way Plato does in the Theaetetus. In the Theaetetus, Plato has presented and examined three definitions of knowledge, but we cannot find anything similar, especially in the Laozi. But this does not mean that there is no consideration of knowledge in the early China. Knowledge is treated as a cluster of discursive ideas, based on syntactical and morphological analysis. As Harbsmerei noted, “being knowledgeable, being wise and knowing things are indeed subjects of theoretical discourse in ancient China.” (Harbsmeier, 1998).  In the same paper, Harbmeier (1998) argues that not only is there propositional knowledge, but also that it has been shown in the syntax of the Chinese linguistically. But Chad Hansen (1985, 491) argues that knowledge in early Chinese philosophy is all skill-knowledge, there is no propositional knowledge 1. That means, for Hansen, early Chinese thoughts do not have know-that knowledge but merely know-how knowledge. So as we can see, scholars have very different thinking regarding the type of knowledge in early China and there is a need to examine the issue in some detail. 

In addition, the terminologies related to knowledge should be examined. Moëller (2007) explicitly translates zhi as ‘knowledge’ for the instances in chapter 3 and 57 of the received Laozi, and Raphal (1994), while comparing the Zhuangzi with the Theaetetus, also treats zhi as knowledge or wisdom. I partially agree that for certain instances in the Laozi zhi can be interpreted as ‘knowledge’, but they are certainly not the same kind of knowledge. To put it another way, knowledge/ knowing ranges from knowledge by acquaintance – the knowingof knowledge, to the know-how knowledge in the Laozi. For example, “知其白,守其黑” in chapter 28 can be understood as the knowing-of knowledge, whereas wuwei 无为 ‘non-desire driven action’ for some scholars (Moëller 2007, Krueger 2009) is the knowhow knowledge. 

The term zhi 知 is mostly translated as ‘knowing’ as the nominal use, while ‘to know’ as a verb. It covers a range of senses including being aware of something by means of observations, recognising something and understanding. In the 60 appearances of the term in the received Laozi, zhi has different morphological and semantic usages. For instance, in chapter 46, the Laozi states that “天下有道,卻走馬以糞。天下無道,戎馬生於郊。禍莫大於不知足;咎莫大於欲得。故知足之足,常足矣。” This stanza mentions the phrase zhizu 知足 ‘knowing the contentment’ twice. The first instance is the negation of zhizu, ‘not-knowing contentment’; and the second one is complex, which has two possibilities of readings, knowing the contentment of contentment or the contentment of knowing contentment. The assessment of zhizu 知足 requires agents to possess the ability of judgement and a suitable intellect to determine the correct use of ‘contentment’, as Ames argues that zhizu is for the agent to “be satisfied” rather than “satisfaction”. That is to say, the mental status of the agent is satisfied with what they have in a subject state of mind rather than the objective state of mind. This can be applied to the phrase zhizhi 知止 as well. In addition to the instances of zhizu and zhizhi, zizhi 自知 ‘knowing himself’ does not merely require agents to have the faculty to judge and assess the external world, but also need to have self-knowledge. For example chapter 67 shows that “知不知上,不知知病。” It is clear that in this chapter, the Laozi refers to the agent to know about himself knowing or not knowing.  

All these interpretations, if we are going to use modern epistemological categories to interpret the texts, require a detailed analysis of the term zhi in the Laozi. In this paper, I will mainly focus on the following questions: what is the semantic range of zhi this character covers in the Laozi? What can be regarded as knowledge besides zhi? what kinds of knowledge are they? should knowledge all be dismissed by the Laozi?   

 1.The same idea can be seen in Moëller 2007, Krueger 2009.

Parallelism as Means of Including the Middle

The talk consists of two parts. The first part introduces into the history of parallelism in the early Chinese written record. The second part will focus on changing functions of parallelism in early Chinese texts. It will argue that parallelism provides a means of going beyond the law of excluded middle and constructs a logical dimension in which the third may be given (tertium datur). What has been defined in Western philosophy as the “Laws of Thought” will be discussed in the light of parallel constructions of identity and truth in early Chinese texts.

Logic, Patterns, and Text Tree Mind Maps: Analyzing the Logic of Sun Tzu, “the Art of War” 

This article discusses patterns and logic found in Sun Tzu, “the Art of War”. It also explains what a Text Tree Mind Map is and why it is useful for analyzing old text.