Gottlob Frege and Gongsun Long in Dialogue

Asian Studies 11 (1):267-295 (2023)
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This work addresses the critical discussion featured in the contemporary literature about two well-known paradoxes belonging to different philosophical traditions, namely Frege’s puzzling claim that “the concept horse is not a concept” and Gongsun Long’s “white horse is not horse”. We first present the source of Frege’s paradox and its different interpretations, which span from plain rejection to critical analysis, to conclude with a more general view of the role of philosophy as a fight against the misunderstandings that come from the different uses of language (a point later developed by the “second” Wittgenstein). We then provide an overview of the ongoing discussions related to the Bai Ma Lun paradox, and we show that its major interpretations include—as in the case of Frege’s paradox—dismissive accounts that regard it as either useless or wrong, as well as attempts to interpret and repair the argument. Resting on our reading of Frege’s paradox as an example of the inescapability of language misunderstandings, we advance a similar line of interpretation for the paradox in the Bai Ma Lun: both the paradoxes, we suggest, can be regarded as different manifestations of similar concerns about language, and specifically about the difficulty of referring to concepts via language.

Author Profiles

Nevia Dolcini
University of Macau
Carlo Penco
Università degli Studi di Genova


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