Workshop on History of Chinese Logic

An exciting event for those of us who work on Chinese logic is the upcoming workshop on “The History of Logic in China” scheduled for November 24–25 in Amsterdam. The workshop is organized by Prof. Johan van Benthem and Dr. Fenrong Liu and hosted by the International Institute for Asian Studies.

My contribution will be an ambitious paper called “Distinctions, Judgment, and Reasoning in Classical Chinese Thought” that I’ve kept on the back burner for almost ten years now. Although ideas from the paper have appeared in several of my articles, I’m happy to finally present the whole thing. I’ll post a draft of the paper here eventually. In the meantime, an abstract follows.

Note: This paper is now forthcoming in History and Philosophy of Logic. The online version is available here. To download an author’s preprint of the paper, click here.

Distinctions, Judgment, and Reasoning
in Classical Chinese Thought

Chris Fraser, University of Hong Kong


The paper proposes an account of the classical Chinese view of reasoning and argumentation that grounds it in a semantic theory and epistemology centered around drawing distinctions. Pre-Qín thinkers have a model of reasoning based on a cluster of concepts that includes names (míng 名), similarity (ruò 若 and tóng 同), kinds (lèi 類), models (法), and distinction drawing (biàn 辯). Judgment is understood as the attitude of predicating a term of something, or, equivalently, that of distinguishing whether or not something is the kind of thing denoted by that term. Reasoning and argumentation are not explained by appeal to the model of a syllogism or a premises-conclusion argument. Instead, reasoning is the process of considering how some acts of term predication, or distinction drawing, normatively commit one to making further, analogous predications or drawing further, analogous distinctions. Inference is typically understood as the act of predicating a term of something as a consequence of having distinguished that thing as similar to a model for the kind of thing denoted by that term. Inference is thus in effect an act or sequence of acts of pattern recognition. The paper concludes by summarizing the consequences of the proposed account of early Chinese semantic and logical theories for the interpretation of other aspects of pre-Qin thought.

More on early Chinese logic

For related posts and pages on this site, see the following.

  • Mohist Canons, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (revised May 2009).
  • Mohism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (revised July 2009).