School of Names

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The School of Names (Chinese :名家; pinyin :Míngjiā), sometimes called the School of Forms and Names (Chinese :形名家; pinyin :Xíngmíngjiā; Wade–Giles :Hsing2-ming2-chia1), [1] was a school of Chinese philosophy that grew out of Mohism during the Warring States period in 479–221 BCE. The followers of the School of Names were sometimes called the Logicians or Disputers.



The philosophy of the Logicians is often considered to be akin to those of the sophists or of the dialecticians. Joseph Needham notes that their works have been lost, except for the partially preserved Gongsun Longzi , and the paradoxes of Chapter 33 of the Zhuangzi . [2] Needham considers the disappearance of the greater part of Gongsun Longzi one of the worst losses in the ancient Chinese books, as what remains is said to reach the highest point of ancient Chinese philosophical writing. [1]

Birth places of notable Chinese philosophers from Hundred Schools of Thought in Zhou Dynasty. Philosophers of Logicianism are marked by circles in blue. Birth Places of Chinese Philosophers.png
Birth places of notable Chinese philosophers from Hundred Schools of Thought in Zhou Dynasty. Philosophers of Logicianism are marked by circles in blue.

One of the few surviving lines from the school, "a one-foot stick, every day take away half of it, in a myriad ages it will not be exhausted," resembles Zeno's paradoxes. However, some of their other aphorisms seem contradictory or unclear when taken out of context, for example, "Dogs are not hounds." [3]

They were opposed by the Later Mohists for their paradoxes. [4]


Warring States era philosophers Deng Xi, Yin Wen, Hui Shi, Gongsun Long were all associated with the School of Names. [5]

See also

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This page lists some links to ancient philosophy. In Western philosophy, the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire marked the ending of Hellenistic philosophy and ushered in the beginnings of medieval philosophy, whereas in Eastern philosophy, the spread of Islam through the Arab Empire marked the end of Old Iranian philosophy and ushered in the beginnings of early Islamic philosophy.

Chinese philosophy philosophy in the Chinese cultural sphere

Chinese philosophy originates in the Spring and Autumn period and Warring States period, during a period known as the "Hundred Schools of Thought", which was characterized by significant intellectual and cultural developments. Although much of Chinese philosophy begins in the Warring States period, elements of Chinese philosophy have existed for several thousand years; some can be found in the Yi Jing, an ancient compendium of divination, which dates back to at least 672 BCE. It was during the Warring States era that what Sima Tan termed the major philosophical schools of China: Confucianism, Legalism, and Taoism, arose, along with philosophies that later fell into obscurity, like Agriculturalism, Mohism, Chinese Naturalism, and the Logicians.

Mohism Chinese philosophy

Mohism or Moism was an ancient Chinese philosophy of logic, rational thought and science developed by the academic scholars who studied under the ancient Chinese philosopher Mozi and embodied in an eponymous book: the Mozi. It evolved at about the same time as Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism, and was one of the four main philosophic schools from around 770–221 BC. During that time, Mohism was seen as a major rival to Confucianism. Although its influence endured, Mohism all but disappeared as an independent school of thought.

Paradox Statement that apparently contradicts itself

A paradox, also known as an antinomy, is a logically self-contradictory statement or a statement that runs contrary to one's expectation. It is a statement that, despite apparently valid reasoning from true premises, leads to a seemingly self-contradictory or a logically unacceptable conclusion. A paradox usually involves contradictory-yet-interrelated elements—that exist simultaneously and persist over time.

Mozi Chinese political philosopher and religious reformer of the Warring States period

Mozi, original name Mo Di (墨翟), was a Chinese philosopher who founded the school of Mohism during the Hundred Schools of Thought period. Mozi contains material ascribed to him and his followers.

Gongsun Long was a Chinese philosopher and writer who was a member of the School of Names (Logicians) of ancient Chinese philosophy. He also ran a school and enjoyed the support of rulers, and advocated peaceful means of resolving disputes in contrast to the wars which were common in the Warring States period. However, little is known about the particulars of his life, and furthermore many of his writings have been lost. All of his essays — fourteen originally but only six extant — are included in the anthology the Gongsun Longzi.

Hundred Schools of Thought philosophies and schools that flourished from the 6th century to 221 BCE, during the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period of ancient China

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Xun Kuang Ancient Chinese philosopher

Xun Kuang, also widely known as Xunzi, was a Chinese Confucian philosopher and writer who lived during the Warring States period and contributed to the Hundred Schools of Thought. A book known as the Xunzi is traditionally attributed to him. His works survive in an excellent condition, and were a major influence in forming the official state doctrines of the Han dynasty, but his influence waned during the Tang dynasty relative to that of Mencius.

In the Middle Ages, variations on the liar paradox were studied under the name of insolubilia ("insolubles").

Hui Shi, or Huizi, was a Chinese philosopher during the Warring States period. He was a representative of the School of Names, and is famous for ten paradoxes about the relativity of time and space, for instance, "I set off for Yue today and came there yesterday."

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When a white horse is not a horse is a famous paradox in Chinese philosophy. Around 300 BC, Gongsun Long wrote this dialectic analysis of the question "Can one legitimately assert 'white horse is not horse'?", in a work now named for him, Gongsun Longzi, in a segment called the "White Horse Dialogue".

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Rectification of Names. Confucius was asked what he would do if he was a governor. He said he would "rectify the names" to make words correspond to reality. The phrase has now become known as a doctrine of feudal Confucian designations and relationships, behaving accordingly to ensure social harmony. Without such accordance society would essentially crumble and "undertakings would not be completed." Mencius extended the doctrine to include questions of political legitimacy.

Deng Xi was a Chinese philosopher and rhetorician who was associated with the Chinese philosophical tradition School of Names. Once a senior official of the Zheng state, and a contemporary of Confucius, he was actually China's earliest renowned lawyer, teaching the people word play in lawsuits. The Zuo Zhuan and Annals of Lü Buwei critically credit Deng with the authorship of a penal code opposing and twisting that of the more Confucian Zichan. Arguing over forms and names, Deng is cited by Liu Xiang as the originator of the "Legalists" and Logicians Xing-Ming principle judging names and realities (ming-shih), likely making him an important contributor to both Chinese philosophy and the foundations of Chinese statecraft.

Huang–Lao or Huanglao was the most influential Chinese school of thought in the early 2nd-century BCE Han dynasty, having its origins in a broader political-philosophical drive looking for solutions to strengthen the feudal order as depicted in Zhou propaganda. Not systematically explained by historiographer Sima Qian, it is generally interpreted as a school of syncretism, developing into a major religion - the beginnings of religious Taoism.

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Fa is a concept in Chinese philosophy that covers ethics, logic, and law. It can be translated as "law" in some contexts, but more often as "model" or "standard." First gaining importance in the Mohist school of thought, the concept was principally elaborated in Legalism. In Han Fei's philosophy, the king is the sole source of fa (law), taught to the common people so that there would be a harmonious society free of chance occurrences, disorder, and "appeal to privilege". High officials were not to be held above fa, nor were they to be allowed to independently create their own fa, uniting both executive fiat and rule of law.

In Chinese philosophy, xin can refer to one's "disposition" or "feelings", or to one's confidence or trust in something or someone. Literally, xin (心) refers to the physical heart, though it is sometimes translated as "mind" as the ancient Chinese believed the heart was the center of human cognition. For this reason, it is also sometimes translated as "heart-mind". It has a connotation of intention, yet can be used to refer to long-term goals. Xunzi, an important early Confucian thinker, considered xin (心) to be cultivated during one's life, in contrast to innate qualities of xing, or human nature.

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  1. 1 2 Needham 1956 , p. 185
  2. Needham 1956 , p. 697
  3. Miscellaneous Paradoxes
  4. Van Norden 2011 , p. 111
  5. Fraser, Chris, "School of Names", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).