Language and Ontology in Early Chinese Thought

I’ve belatedly posted this preprint of a paper written between 1998 and 2005 and published in Philosophy East & West 57.4 (2007): 420–56, because I think it makes a significant contribution to a debate highlighted recently in Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy. Unfortunately, the Dao discussion took place without any reference to the arguments in this paper, nor to the linguistic work by Dan Robins on which some of these arguments are based.

The paper critiques Chad Hansen’s “mass noun hypothesis,” arguing that though most Classical Chinese nouns do function as mass nouns, this fact does not support the claim that pre-Qín thinkers treat the extensions of common nouns as mereological wholes, nor does it explain why they adopt nominalist semantic theories. The paper shows that early texts explain the use of common nouns by appeal to similarity relations, not mereological relations. However, it further argues that some early texts do characterize the relation between individuals and collections as a mereological relation. It includes a detailed review of the literature on the mass noun hypothesis up to 2005.

For an abstract and full-text preprint, see this page.