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A White Horse is not A Horse

In the Warring-States Period (from 475 B.C. to 221 B.C.), the society of China was in flourishing pluralism. There were many famous schools of thought. The school of Gongsun Long (公孫龍) was one of them. Gongsun Long lived in the Zhao (趙) State where was in modern-day Shanxi and Hebei. He was known for his sophistry about logical concepts, so his school was called “the School of Concepts” (名家). His thoughts are embodied in a book named “Gongsun Longzi” as he was respectfully called Gongsun Longzi (公孫龍子. Zi was a respectful appellation for a man).

Gongsun Long had two famous logical propositions: “A white horse is not a horse”, and “The attributes of hardness and white color of a stone are separate”. The former was the most well-known one. The below texts are from the book “Gongsun Longzi”, and they are the dialogues of the argument round the former proposition.

A visitor asked Gongsun Long, “A white horse is not a horse, is it?”
Gongsun Long said, “It isn’t.”
The visitor asked, “Why?”
Gongsun Long said, “‘Horse’ is used to name the form, and ‘white’ is used to name the color. To name the color is not to name the form, so I say ‘a white horse is not a horse’.”
The visitor said, “If we have a white horse, we can’t say that we have no horse. So, isn’t it a horse? Since having a white horse is having a horse, why do you think the white one is not a horse?”
Gongsun Long said, “If we look for a horse, the yellow one or the black one is also a choice. If we look for a white horse, the yellow one or the black one can’t be a choice. If we call a white horse ‘a horse’, what we look for is the same one. Since we look for the same one, the white one is not different from a horse. Since what we look for is not different, why not accept the yellow one or the black one sometimes? Then we can see the difference. We have a yellow horse or a black horse, and it just means we have a horse, but it can’t mean we have a white horse. Accordingly, a white horse obviously is not a horse.”
The visitor said, “You think a horse with a color is not a horse, but there is no horse without a color in the world. Can you say there is no horse in the world?”
Gongsun Long said, “Every horse has its color, so there are white horses. If horses have no color, there are horses, and how to find a white horse? So, a white one is not a horse. A white horse includes a horse and white color. It’s the difference between a horse and a white horse. So, a white horse is not a horse.”
The visitor said, “It is irrelative to white color that a horse is defined to a horse, and it is irrelative to a horse that white color is defined to white color. You combine a horse and white color, and give a name ‘a white horse’. The name regards an irrelative concept as a correlative concept. It is not reasonable. This is why your opinion ‘a white horse is not a horse’ is not acceptable.”
Gongsun Long said, “Since having a white horse is having a horse, can we say that having a white horse is having a yellow horse?”
The visitor said, “No, we can’t.”
Gongsun Long said, “Since having a horse is different from having a yellow horse, we can see that a yellow horse is different from a horse. Since a yellow horse is different from a horse, so a yellow horse also is not a horse. You think that a yellow horse is not a horse, but a white horse is a horse. What you think is like putting a flying bird into a pool, or reversing inside and outside. How jumbled your ideas are!”
Gongsun Long said, “You don’t think you have no horse if you have a white horse, because you ignore white color. If we don’t ignore white color, having a white horse is not equal to having a horse. We say we have a horse, because it is a horse, but not because it is a white horse. So, if someone says he has a horse, we can’t describe the horse as any specific horse.”
Gongsun Long said, “If white color is irrelative to anything, we can ignore what it is from. However, for a white horse, its white color is specific. A specific white color is not equal to white color. If we don’t mind the color of a horse, a yellow horse or a black horse also is a choice. If we want a white horse, we will abandon the yellow one or the black one because of their colors, and the white one is the only choice. Obviously, ignoring a color is different from minding a color. So, we can say, ‘a white horse is not a horse’.”

As a general knowledge, Gongsun Long of course couldn’t deny that a white horse belongs to horses. In fact, the thoughts of Gongsun Long mainly emphasize individuality distinguished from commonness. The philosophy of Gongsun Long was an embodiment of the society with flourishing pluralism. At that time, individuality was respected by people, so everyone could freely express their unusual ideas. A man in the Qi (杞) State every day was worried that the sky and stars would fall down someday. Though some of the unusual ideas often were not understood by others, there were still many persons who had such ideas and were brave to express their ideas. If all people are limited by the common way of thinking, it is really the sadness of a society.

Hui Shi (惠施), also respectfully called Huizi (惠子), was another famous scholar of the School of Concepts. He was the good friend of Zhuang Zhou (莊周). Zhuang Zhou was respectfully called Zhuangzi (莊子). He was a famous scholar of the School of Tao (道家), and his thoughts are recorded in a book named “Zhuangzi”. Hui Shi and Zhuang Zhou often argued. The famous argument between them is round “the happiness of fishes”. The following texts are the dialogues of the argument recorded in the book “Zhuangzi”.

In a sunny day, Zhuangzi and Huizi walked on a bridge. There were many fishes in the river.
Zhuangzi said, “The fishes are swimming leisurely. It is the happiness of them.”
Huizi said, “You are not the fishes, how can you feel the happiness of the fishes?”
Zhuangzi said, “You are not me, how do you know that I can’t feel the happiness of the fishes?”
Huizi said, “I am not you, so I don’t know your mind. You are not the fishes, so, of course you also can’t feel the happiness of the fishes.”
Zhuangzi said, “Please review the first word of yours. You said, ‘how can you feel the happiness of the fishes?’ This means you have known that I can feel it and then asked me about the how. Now I tell you that, I feel it on the bridge.”

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