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"On the White Horse"
In the late fourth century B.C.E., Chinese philosophy underwent a "language crisis" in which thinkers called into question the adequacy of language to consistently describe the world and guide behavior. One of the leading figures in this crisis was Huizi , who defended paradoxes such as "Heaven is as low as earth, the mountains are level with the marshes," and "I go to Yue today yet arrived yesterday." Huizi apparently saw the same line of reasoning that led to these paradoxes as having important ethical consequences, for he also said, "Let concern spread to all the myriad things; heaven and earth count as one unit."1 Thus, in Huizis thought we find argumentation used to establish conclusions that are contrary to common sense but have ethical implications. (This is reminiscent of much of Western philosophy, from the ancient Greeks Parmenides and Plato up through Derek Parfit among recent English-speaking philosophers.) Unfortunately, none of Huizi's arguments for his conclusions survive. However, "On the White Horse," by Gongsun Longzi (fl. 300 B.C.E.), gives us a sense of what kind of arguments may have spurred the language crisis. "On the White Horse" is a debate over whether it could be true that "a white horse is not a horse." This dialogue is notoriously difficult to interpret, for a variety of historical, textual, and philosophical reasons. However, here is a hint to one possible interpretation. The expression "X is not Y" (like the Chinese X Y ,) is ambiguous. It could mean "X is not a member of the group Y" or it could mean that "X is not identical with Y."2 Which sense of is not does the Advocate in the dialogue use? Which sense does the Objector have in mind?3 In response to the "language crisis," the later Mohists and the Confucian Xunzi tried to use careful reasoning to protect language from what they saw as the sophistries of thinkers like Gongsun Longzi. On the other hand, texts like the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi embrace paradox, and evince much less confidence in the power of rational argumentation than Huizi apparently did.4 A.
Can it be that a white horse is not a horse?5 Advocate: It can.
Advocate: "Horse" is that by means of which one names the shape. "White" is that by means of which one names the color. What names the color is not what names the shape. Hence, I say that a white horse is not a horse.
Objector: If there are white horses, one cannot say that there are no horses. If one cannot say that there are no horses, doesn't that mean that there are horses? For there to be white horses is for there to be horses. How could it be that the white ones are not horses?
Advocate: If one wants a horse, that extends to a yellow or black horse. But if one wants a white horse, that does not extend to a yellow or black horse. Suppose that a white horse were a horse. Then what one wants [in the two cases] would be the same. If what one wants were the same, then a white [horse] would not differ from a horse. If what one wants does not differ, then how is it that a yellow or black horse is sometimes acceptable and sometimes unacceptable? It is clear that acceptable and unacceptable are mutually contrary. Hence, yellow and black horses are the same [in that, if there are yellow or black horses], one can respond that there are horses, but one cannot respond that there are white horses. Thus, it is evident that a white horse is not a horse.
Objector: You think that horses that are colored are not horses. In the world, it is not the case that there are horses with no color. Can it be that there are no horses in the world?
Advocate: Horses certainly have color. Hence, there are white horses. If it were the case that horses had no color, there would simply be horses, and then how could one select a white horse?6 A white horse is a horse and white. A horse and a white horse [are different]. Hence, I say that a white horse is not a horse.
Objector: "Horse" not yet combined with "white" is horse. "White" not yet combined with "horse" is white. If one combines "horse" and "white," one uses the compound phrase "white horse." This is to take what is not combined and combine them as a phrase.7 Hence, I say that it cannot be that a white horse is not a horse.8 Advocate: You think that there being white horses is there being horses. Is it acceptable to say that there being white horses is there being yellow horses?
Objector: It is not acceptable.
Advocate: If you think that there being horses is different from there being yellow horses, this is for yellow horses to be different from horses. If you differentiate yellow horses from horses, this is to think that yellow horses are not horses. To think that yellow horses are not horses, yet to think that white horses are horses-this is to turn things upside down and inside out!9 This is the most incoherent doctrine and confused discourse in the world!
Objector: If there are white horses, one cannot say that there are no horses, because of what is called "the separability of white."10 Only according to those people who do not separate can having a white horse not be said to be having a horse.11 Hence, the reason we think there are horses is only that we think that "horse" is "there are horses." It is not that we think "there are white horses" is "there are horses." Hence, because of the reason that there are horses, one cannot say that a [white] horse [is not] a horse.
Advocate: "White" does not fix that which is white. It ignores that. The expression "white horse" fixes that which is white. That which fixes what is white is not white. "Horse" is indifferent to color. Hence, [if you were only looking for a horse,] a yellow or black horse would each be appropriate. "White horse" does select for color. So [if you were looking for a white horse,] a yellow or black horse would be rejected on account of its color. Hence, only a white horse alone would be appropriate. That which does not reject is not what does reject. Hence, I say that a white horse is not a horse.
Graham, A. C.
1989 Disputers of the Tao. Chicago: Open Court Press. (Excellent nontechnical discussion of Huizi, Gongsun Longzi, and their general intellectual context on pp. 7595. However, note that Graham radically rearranges the received text of "On the White Horse" whereas the translation above follows the received text as closely as possible.) 1990 Studies in Chinese Philosophy and Philosophical Literature. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. (Includes three important technical articles on the writings attributed to Gongsun Longzi, including "On the White Horse.") Hansen, Chad 1983 Language and Logic in Ancient China. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. (Controversial but important discussion of many aspects of ancient Chinese philosophy of language, including "On the White Horse.") Harbsmeier, Christoph 1998 Language and Logic. Volume 7, part I of Science and Civilisation in China, Joseph Needham, ed. New York: Cambridge University Press. (A magisterial overview.) 1Translations from Huizi by A. C. Graham (1989), p. 78. For more on Huizi, see Important Figures.
2We see both uses in the dialogue between Zhuangzi and Huizi at the bridge over the Hao River (Zhuangzi, chapter 17), where we find both "You are not a fish" and "You are not me."
3The two speakers in the dialogue are not named. Here they are labeled "Advocate," who defends the thesis that a white horse is not a horse, and "Objector," who argues against this thesis. The section headings ("A," "B," etc.) are also not in the original.
4Xunzi's "On Correct Naming" (in Chapter 6, Xunzi, pp. 27884) is in part a reaction to the language crisis. Zhuangzi debated Huizi on several occasions (e.g., Chapter 5, Zhuangzi, pp. 21213, 23435, and 247); note also Zhuangzi's apparent reference to Gongsun Longzi, Chapter 5, Zhuangzi, p. 218.
5As the translation suggests, it is possible that the issue is not whether the statement "a white horse is not a horse" is always true, but whether it is possible for it to be true.
6Following this sentence in the original Chinese, there is a sentence that reads, "Hence, white is not horse." This does not seem to make any sense in context, so it has been omitted.
7This sentence is a defense of saying that "a white horse is a horse." (See the next note for an interpretation.) However, following this sentence in the original Chinese, there is a sentence that reads, "That is not acceptable." This does not seem to make any sense in context, so that sentence has been omitted. However, many translators retain that sentence, which would mean that the sentence immediately prior to this note is an objection to saying that "a white horse is not a horse."
8The argument may be that, since "horse" refers to horse when it is used as a simple expression, it must continue to refer to horse when it becomes part of a compound expression. Since we can obviously say that "a horse is a horse," we can also say that "a white horse is a horse."
9Literally, "this is for flying things to enter the water, and for the inner and outer coffins to be in different places!"
10"Separability" seems to have been a technical term in ancient Chinese philosophy of language. It apparently referred to the possibility of discussing separately two terms that were used in a compound expression. For example, one Chinese commentator observes that "There must be a shape corresponding to a name, and the best way to examine the shape is to distinguish the colour from it." (Translation from A. C. Graham, Later Mohist Logic Ethics and Science [London: University of London, 1978], p. 175.) 11Translation of this line follows the Dao zang version of the text.
The term for human "nature" (xing ) occurs only twice in the a.n.a.lects, and in one of those pa.s.sages we are told Kongzi did not discuss it (5.13; cf 17.2). The term is never mentioned in the writings of the early Mohists. It was Yang Zhu , in the early fourth century B.C.E., who made human nature a central topic in Chinese thought.
No writings reliably attributed to Yang Zhu himself have survived, and every claim about him is disputed. (It has even been argued that he is a mythical figure.) However, a plausible claim can be made that he offered something like the following line of reasoning. Human nature is implanted in us by Heaven. Since Heaven favors the Way, to follow our nature is to follow the Way. For all their differences, Mohists and Confucians seem to agree in advocating self-sacrifice in the name of the Way. But nothing seems more "natural" for humans than to preserve their own lives and satisfy their own desires. On this basis, Yang Zhu argued that both the Mohist and Confucian Ways are distortions of our natures. We are misled into distorting our natures only because of foolish desires for fame, and misconceptions about what is really profitable.
Yang Zhu's own Way has been described as psychological egoism (humans are in fact motivated only by self-interest), ethical egoism (humans should do only what is in their self-interest), or "privatism" (humans should do what is in the interest of themselves and their immediate family).1 The "Yang Zhu" chapter of the Liezi attributes unrestrained hedonism to him, but this work is now recognized to be largely unrelated to the historical Yang Zhu. It is more likely that Yang Zhu advocated a moderate satisfaction of physical desires that is consistent with living a long life. (He is somewhat comparable to Epicurus in this respect.) He may also have advocated caring not just for oneself, but also for one's immediate family members.
Although we have no certain source for Yang Zhu's views, some scholars think that "Robber Zhi," in the following mythical dialogue, represents Yangist views.2 He is used as a spokesman because he rejects conventional morality and the social structure it has created. The historical Yang Zhu probably did not advocate thievery and violence.
Kongzi was friends with Liuxia Ji, whose younger brother was known as "Robber Zhi." Robber Zhi and his nine thousand henchmen crisscrossed the world terrorizing the feudal lords. He tunneled under walls and unhinged doors, rustled people's cattle and horses, and made off with their wives and daughters. He was so greedy for gain he forgot his own relatives, ignoring his parents and siblings and neglecting his ancestors. When he came around, great states manned the barricades and small ones retreated to their strongholds.
Kongzi said to Liuxia Ji, "A father must be able to rule his son and an older brother instruct a younger or else there is no point in having those relationships. Now you are one of the ablest men of your generation, but your brother is Robber Zhi, a menace to the whole world, and you can't set him right. Excuse me for saying it, but I'm ashamed for you. May I go talk to him?"
Liuxia Ji said, "You say a father must be able to rule his son and an older brother instruct a younger. But if he already won't follow his father's rules or listen to his brother's instructions, what good will it do for you to debate with him? His mind rushes like a river and his thoughts roar like the wind. He is strong enough to resist any enemy and clever enough to glorify any wrong. If you go along with him he is happy, but if you resist he gets angry and verbally abusive. You mustn't go."
But Kongzi wouldn't listen. So with Yan Hui as his driver and Zigong as his attendant, he went to see Robber Zhi. Robber Zhi was just at that moment resting his henchmen on the south slope of Mount Tai, mincing and munching on human livers.3 Kongzi dismounted his carriage and stepped forward to present himself to Robber Zhi's attendant. "I am Kong Qiu from Lu.4 I hear your general has the most exalted righteousness," he said, bowing twice respectfully.
The attendant went inside. Robber Zhi was furious when he heard. His eyes blazed like stars, and his hair bristled until it raised his cap. "Isn't this that clever and artificial fellow Kong Qiu from Lu?5 Tell him this for me: 'You talk and prattle, blindly praising Wen and Wu, capped with a tree branch cap and belted with the ribs of cows. Crafting misleading theories, you eat without farming and dress without weaving. With your flapping lips and clucking tongue, you dare to create rights and wrongs to bewilder the rulers of the world and keep the scholars from returning to their root. You blindly fabricate filial piety and brotherly love in an effort to insinuate yourself with the wealthy and propertied. The weight of your crimes is enormous. Hurry home! Otherwise I'll add your liver to my afternoon snack."
Kongzi again sent word, "I have the good fortune to know your brother, Ji, and want only to pay my respects."
The attendant relayed the message and Robber Zhi said, "Bring him in!" Kongzi shuffled forward. Politely declining the offered mat, he retreated a few steps and bowed twice to Robber Zhi. Robber Zhi was furious. He leaned on his sword with both legs sprawled, glaring, and growled like a nursing tigress, "Qiu, come forward! If what you say pleases me, you live. Otherwise you die!"6 "I have heard that there are three Virtues in the world," said Kongzi. " To grow big and tall, with matchless good looks, so that young and old, rich and poor alike adore you-this is the highest Virtue. To have knowledge that encompa.s.ses Heaven and earth and the ability to argue anything-this is intermediate Virtue. To be brave and determined and to gather a band of followers-this is the lowest Virtue. Someone with even one of these Virtues is worthy to face south and call himself king. And you, General, combine all three! You are six foot four, with glowing face and eyes, lips like cinnabar, teeth like a row of seash.e.l.ls, voice like a bell. Yet you are known as 'Robber' Zhi! Excuse me for saying so, General, but I'm ashamed for you on this account. If you would be willing to listen to me, General, I would ask to travel as your envoy south to Wu and Yue, north to Qi and Lu, east to Song and Wei, and west to Jin and Chu, and have them build you a great walled state hundreds of li in size, with a town of hundreds of thousands of households. They will honor you, General, as a feudal lord. You can start over in the world, disbanding your troops, laying down your arms, gathering your family, and sacrificing to your ancestors. It will be the act of a sage and the wish of the world!"
Robber Zhi was furious. "Qiu, come forward! People who can be leashed by profit or whipped by words are called fools! Simpletons! Dolts! That I am so tall and handsome that people like me is a gift I owe to my parents. Don't you think I'd know it without your flatteries? And I've heard that those who flatter people to their faces slander them behind their backs. All your talk of a walled state and a mult.i.tude of people is meant to leash me with profit and distract me like a dolt. Even if I had such a state, how could I hold on to it? There is no walled state bigger than the world. Yao and Shun held the world, but their heirs lack the territory to stick an awl into. Tang and Wu stood as emperors, but their offspring were exterminated. Isn't that the result of their great profit?
"I've heard that in olden times there were so many beasts and so few people that they lived in nests for safety. They gathered acorns and chestnuts by day, and by night they roosted in trees. So they were called The People Who Nest.7 In olden times they didn't know to wear clothes but gathered a lot of wood in the summer and burned it in the winter. So they were called The People Who Know How To Live. In Shen Nong's time they lay down dead tired and got up wide awake.8 They knew their mothers but not their fathers and lived together with the deer. They farmed their own food and wove their own clothes and had no idea of hurting each other. This was the high point Virtue achieved!
"But the Yellow Emperor could not sustain it. He fought with Chi You in Zhuolu field until the blood flowed a hundred li.9 Yao and Shun arose and established a mob of underlings. Tang exiled his lord, Wu killed tyrant Zhou, and ever since the strong oppress the weak and the many tyrannize the few. The rest are just the descendents of these rebels. Now you cultivate the Way of Wen and Wu, monopolizing the world's debate to instruct posterity. In your flowing robes and cinched belt you lie and trick to fool the world's rulers. In your l.u.s.t for eminence, there is no robber greater than you. If they call me 'Robber Zhi,' why don't they call you 'Robber Qiu'?
"With your sweet talk you turned Zilu into a follower and got him to doff his jaunty cap, unbuckle his long sword, and accept your instruction so that the whole world said Kong Qiu knows how to stop violence and right wrongs. In the end, Zilu tried to kill the lord of Wei. But he failed, and they hung his pickled corpse on the east gate. This is the failure of your teachings.
"You call yourself a man of ability or a sage? You were evicted from Lu twice, had to cover your tracks out of Wei, got in trouble in Qi, and were surrounded between Chen and Cai. No place in the world can tolerate you. You taught Zilu how to get pickled and brought him disaster. If you can't take care of yourself and can't take care of anyone else, what's this Way of yours worth?10. . .
"[The Yellow Emperor, Yao, Shun, Yu, Tang, and Wu] are those whom the world exalts. But if we categorize them, they all forcefully went against their essence and nature because profit confused them about their true self. So their actions were extremely shameful. . . . Among those called 'loyal ministers' in their era, none could compare to Prince Bi Gan and Wu Zixu. Zixu sank in the Yangtze River, and Bi Gan got his heart cut out.11 Although these two men were called the 'loyal ministers' of their era, in the end the world laughs at them. From the preceding, we can see that neither Zixu nor Bi Gan is worth honoring. In trying to persuade me, Qiu, if you tell me about the affairs of ghosts, then I am incapable of knowing anything about that. But if you tell me about the affairs of humans, then it does not go beyond the preceding. This is all that I have heard and know.
"Now let me tell you something about the human essence. The eyes want to see colors. The ears want to hear sounds. The mouth wants to taste flavors. And the emotions want fulfillment. People live at most a hundred years, usually eighty, sometimes sixty. Subtracting time spent recovering from illness, mourning death, and fretting over worries, there are only four or five days a month people can open their mouth and laugh. Heaven and earth go on forever, but people die when their time comes. Put this perishable good in that eternal s.p.a.ce and its time flashes by like a galloping horse past a crack in the wall. If you're not gratifying your wishes and cherishing your days, then you do not understand the Way. I reject everything you say. Go home right now, without another word! This Way of yours is a crazy, fraudulent, vain, empty, and artificial business. It is no way to fulfill your true self. Why even talk about it?"
Kongzi bowed twice and shuffled off. He exited the gate, mounted his chariot, and fumbled three times reaching for the reins. His eyes were dull, as though he couldn't see, and his complexion was like dead ashes. Leaning on the rail with his head drooping, he could barely breathe. Returning to Lu, he ran into Liuxia Ji outside the east gate. Liuxia Ji said, "I've missed you for the last few days. Your horse and carriage look like you've been traveling. You didn't go see Zhi, did you?"
Kongzi looked up at the heavens and sighed. "Yes."
Liuxia Ji said, "And didn't he resist your ideas as I predicted?"
"Yes. As they say, I have taken some painful medicine when I wasn't sick. I ran off to pat the tiger's head and braid its whiskers, and I barely escaped its jaws."12 SELECTIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY.
Emerson, John J.
1996 "Yang Chu's Discovery of the Body." Philosophy East & West 46.4: 53366. (Argues that Yang Zhu did not defend either egoism or individualism as it is understood in the modern West but simply valorized private and family life over public and court life.) Graham, A. C.
1989 Disputers of the Tao. Chicago: Open Court Press, 1989. (Discussion of Yang Zhu on pp. 5364.) 1990 "The Background of the Mencian Theory of Human Nature," in Studies in Chinese Philosophy and Philosophical Literature, reprint, Graham, ed., pp. 766. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. (Detailed, scholarly discussion of the development of the notion of human nature in ancient China.) Kushner, Thomasine 1980 "Yang Chu: Ethical Egoist in Ancient China." Journal of Chinese Philosophy 7.5: 31925. (Interprets Yang Zhu as similar to a Western individualist.) 1Mengzi briefly describes Yang Zhu's position in 3B9 and 7A26, but what he says is consistent with any of these interpretations.
2This dialogue is not by Yang Zhu himself. It is from chapter 29 of the Zhuangzi. This is one of the "Miscellaneous Chapters," which are not by the same author as the "Inner Chapters" that we emphasize in our Zhuangzi selections (Chapter 5). For a complete translation of "Robber Zhi" as well as other possibly Yangist writings, see A. C. Graham, Chuang-tzu: The Inner Chapters (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2001), pp. 22458.
3This is not quite as grotesque as it sounds. Eating the liver of one's enemy has traditionally been thought of as a way to capture his courage for oneself.
4Qiu is Kongzi's personal name.
5The word "artificial" here and below is wei . Xunzi uses the same term to refer to the "deliberate effort" required to transform a person into a sage. (See Chapter 6, "Xunzi," Introduction.) So Xunzi exalts precisely what "Robber Zhi" (and Yang Zhu) condemned.
6It is extremely rude of Robber Zhi to address Kongzi by his personal name, Qiu. One uses a personal name only to address a subordinate or a very close friend.
7Cf. Mengzi 3B9.
8On Shen Nong, see Important Figures.
9On the Yellow Emperor, see Huang Di in Important Figures. For more on his battle with Chi You, see Mark E. Lewis, Sanctioned Violence in Ancient China (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1990) and Michael Puett, The Ambivalence of Creation (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001).
10On Kongzi's problems in Wei and Chen, see a.n.a.lects 15.1 and 15.2. Kongzi predicted a violent end for Zilu (in a.n.a.lects 11.13, not in this volume). Different versions and explanations for these events occur in the Confucian literature (for instance, Mengzi 5A8, 5B1, 6B6, and 7B18, not in this volume).
11Wu Zixu, the loyal prime minister to the king of Wu, repeatedly warned the king to govern more responsibly. When the king grew tired of his advice, he ordered him to commit suicide. Bi Gan continually implored tyrant Zhou to be a more benevolent ruler. Eventually Zhou said, "I have heard that sages have seven chambers in their hearts. Bi Gan has the voice of a sage. Let us see if he has the heart of a sage!" Zhou then cut Bi Gan's heart out of his chest. (Bi Gan's supposed tomb is still preserved as a memorial in Henan province.) 12The concluding paragraph is ambiguous. Is Kongzi simply stating that his meeting with Robber Zhi was unpleasant and dangerous? Or has Kongzi learned from Robber Zhi that the Way of the sage-kings (the "painful medicine") is something that humans do not need in their natural state (because they are not "sick" originally), and that following this Way leads to risking one's life needlessly (like braiding a tiger's whiskers)?
Note: All dates earlier than the beginning of the Eastern Zhou are traditional dates (i.e., dates that have not been verified by modern archaeology), and all individuals and events earlier than the Shang dynasty are mythical or semimythical.
Bo Yi . Elder brother of Shu Qi. The brothers were royal princes in a small state loyal to the Shang dynasty (see Important Periods). The younger brother was designated as heir by his father but, upon the latter's death, he deferred to his elder brother. However, Bo Yi refused to contravene his father's wishes, and with both brothers mutually deferring to one another they decided to withdraw from the state and live in isolation at the foot of Mount Shou Yang. When King Wu (see below) subsequently defeated the Shang and established the Zhou dynasty (see Important Periods), the brothers refused to serve the Zhou, regarding it as an illegitimate regime established by brute force. As a consequence, they starved to death. They are regarded as paragons of propriety and right.
Fu Xi , ("Tamer of Oxen"). The first of three mythical cultural heros known as the "Three Sovereigns" (see Huang Di and Shen Nong below) who were credited with discovering or implementing the inventions and inst.i.tutions that made Chinese civilization possible. Fu Xi is credited with the domestication of animals, inventing methods for fishing and trapping, and with establishing the basic structure of the family.
Gongshuzi . Famed craftsman and contemporary of Kongzi whose skill was so great that he was said to have made mechanical birds of bamboo that could continue flying for three days and wooden horses propelled by springs that could draw carriages. He became the patron deity of carpenters.
Gongsun Long (b. 380 B.C.E.?). Along with Huizi (see below) an important figure within the Mingjia, "School of Names" (see Important Terms). Gongsun Long was renowned for his paradoxes; the most famous is his "White Horse Paradox," which claims that "A white horse is not a horse."