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Distinctions, Judgment, and Reasoning in Classical Chinese Thought

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The article proposes an account of the prevailing classical Chinese conception of reasoning and argumentation that grounds it in a semantic theory and epistemology centered on drawing distinctions (biàn ) between the similar and dissimilar kinds of things that do or do not fall within the extension of ‘names’ (míng ). The article presents two novel interpretive hypotheses. First, for pre-Hàn Chinese thinkers, the functional role associated with the logical copula is filled by a general notion of similarity or sameness (tóng ). Second, these thinkers’ basic explanation of reasoning is that it is a process of moving from a comparison of whether something is similar to a ‘model’ or ‘standard’ ( f ) to a judgment about whether that thing is part of a certain kind (lèi ). Classical texts treat judgment as the attitude of predicating a ‘name’ of something, or, equivalently, of distinguishing whether something is the kind of thing denoted by a certain term. Reasoning is treated as a process of considering how some acts of term predication, or drawing distinctions, normatively commit one to making further, analogous predications or drawing further, analogous distinctions. Inference is thus understood as the act of distinguishing something as a certain kind of thing as a result of having distinguished it as similar to a relevant ‘model’ or ‘standard’. The article concludes by summarizing the consequences of the proposed account of early Chinese semantic and logical theories for the interpretation of other areas of classical Chinese thought.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, School of Humanities,University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong

Publication date: February 1, 2013

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