Review of Metaphysics 37 (3):634-635 (1984)

Students of classical Chinese philosophy are quite justly puzzled by the debates and paradoxes in the "School of Names" and the extant logico-semantic texts of the Later Mohists. The latter has received an incisive and extensive treatment in A. C. Graham's Later Mohist Logic, Ethics and Science. Thus far, no larger systematic work on Chinese logic and philosophy of language is available in English. Hansen's book is a good attempt to deal in the large scale with classical Chinese philosophy of language. This book consists of five carefully written chapters. The first expounds a methodology which starts from the premise that interpretation is a theory--"an attempt to explain a text--to render it understandable. As such it is inescapably relative to the intended audience, and appropriately wedded to the critical, rational, logical evaluation procedures appropriate to other theories. The main evaluative features on which we have concentrated is the coherence of the theory." The text at issue is that ascribed to Kung-sun Lung discussed in chapter 5. In terms of its announced aim, it succeeds well in rendering a plausible though by no means uncontroversial explication of the text. The attempted explication is, however, mediated by a number of chapters which raise interesting philosophical issues that repay closer examination by students and philosophical scholars of Chinese philosophy of language. Chapter 2, for example, proposes a bold hypothesis on Chinese philosophy in terms of the logic of mass nouns. It is claimed that a "stuff-like ontology and semantics were implicitly operating as a background assumption behind pre-Han philosophy," and a negative corrollary: "an hypothesis that an abstract or mentalistic ontology and semantics of the type common to Western thinkers were not implicit assumptions behind pre-Han philosophy." For the reviewer, the negative thesis is highly plausible independently of the adequacy of the first.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph198437315
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