Right Words Seem Wrong: Neglected Paradoxes in Early Chinese Philosophical Texts

Philosophy East and West 56 (2):281 - 300 (2006)
This article presents and interprets a number of neglected paradoxes in early Chinese philosophical texts (ca. 500-100 B.c.). Looking beyond well-known paradoxes put forward by masters such as Hui Shi and Gongsun Long, it intends to complement our picture of Warring States and early Western Han paradoxical statements. The first section contrasts the neglected paradoxes with the well-known ones. It is contended here that our understanding of these latter paradoxes is hampered by a lack of context and that the neglected paradoxes possess an interpretative advantage by virtue of their being context-embedded. The second section presents an overview of three groups of neglected paradoxes, showing that the paradoxical effect of these paradoxes results from a challenge to the semantics of their central terms. The third section discusses the distribution of the paradoxes throughout the early literature and concludes that they typically appear in "Daoist" writings. The final section proposes a semantic-rhetorical interpretation. Placing the paradoxes against the background of the features and use of important terms, it is argued that they constitute unorthodox redefinitions and are formulated to influence the behavior and values of their intended audience.
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DOI 10.1353/pew.2006.0024
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