CApturing the world in words: Later mohist hermeneutic theories on language and disputation

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This essay examines some key statements in the Later Mohist treatises to gain a sense of their views on language and disputation (bian è). I first show that the Later Mohists viewed disputation as an exercise in familiarizing oneself with patterns of language use and the verification of truth-claims in the phenomenal world. I then demonstrate that such an activity helps one attain one of the Mohists' highest goals: The clarification of ethical imperatives about how to behave, as expressed through Heaven for all people. This claim ultimately links Early and Later Mohist ethical concerns and offers a religious explanation for Later Mohist involvement and interest in disputation. Lastly, I frame these writings from within a culture of debate about language in Early China- A culture which, for example, yielded not only Mohist views concerning the necessary correlation between language and reality, but also Confucian formulations on the rectification of names, and a Zhuangzian insistence on the emptiness of sayings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-121
Number of pages29
JournalEarly China
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology
  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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