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White Horse Paradox and Semantics of Chinese Nouns [chapter]

Byeong-uk Yi
Philosophy of Language, Chinese Language, Chinese Philosophy  
This paper presents an interpretation of Gongsun Long's white horse paradox. The Chinese sentence he uses to state his main thesis (Bai ma fei ma) has two potential readings: (a) The white horses are not horses. (b) The white horses are not the horses. Although (a) gives the usual and correct reading of the sentence, according to the interpretation, Gongsun Long takes it to state (b). He gives good arguments for (b) while taking them to establish (a) as well, for he fails to distinguish between
more » ... distinguish between the two different theses. In presenting this interpretation, the paper gives an account of the function of numeral classifiers and discusses the semantics of count nouns in languages with no grammatical number system, including classical Chinese and classifier languages (e.g., contemporary Chinese). Keywords Gongsun Long, White Horse Dialogue, white horse paradox, numeral classifier, classifier language, mass noun thesis, bare noun Gongsun Long (公孙龙) (ca. 325-250 BC), a Warring States period philosopher in the school of names (名家), is famous for advancing the thesis that white horses are not horses. In a treatise titled the White Horse Dialogue (白马论), he presents dialectical arguments for a thesis he states using a sentence usually taken to mean that white horses are not horses (or the white horses are not horses): (G) Bai ma fei ma (白马非马 white horse not horse). The dialogue, according to Christoph Harbsmeier, "is among the most widely
doi:10.1163/9789004368446_003 fatcat:b62kanwcrbeurdzhjvxl3lna5e