Portrait of Gongsun Long by an unknown artist, from the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan

Gongsun Long (simplified Chinese: 公孙龙; traditional Chinese: 公孫龍; pinyin: Gōngsūn Lóng; Wade–Giles: Kung1-sun1 Lung2, c. 320–250 BC[1][2]), courtesy name Zibing (子秉), was a Chinese philosopher, writer, and member of the School of Names (Logicians) of ancient Chinese philosophy. He ran a school, enjoyed the support of rulers, and advocated peaceful means of resolving disputes, in contrast to the wars which were common in the Warring States period. However, little is known about the particulars of his life, and furthermore many of his writings have been lost.[3] All of his essays—fourteen originally but only six extant—are included in the anthology the Gongsun Longzi (Chinese: 公孫龍子; pinyin: Gōngsūn lóng zi; Wade–Giles: Kung-sun Lung-tzu).

In Book 17 of the Zhuangzi anthology, Gongsun thus speaks of himself:

When young, I studied the way of the former kings. When I grew up, I understood the practice of kindness and duty. I united the same and different, separated hard from white, made so the not-so and admissible the inadmissible. I confounded the wits of the hundred schools and exhausted the eloquence of countless speakers. I took myself to have reached the ultimate.

He is best known for a series of paradoxes in the tradition of Hui Shi, including "White horses are not horses," "When no thing is not the pointed-out, to point out is not to point out," and "There is no 1 in 2." These paradoxes seem to suggest a similarity to the discovery in Greek philosophy that pure logic may lead to apparently absurd conclusions.

Rectification of names

Although not done justice by English translation, professor Zhenbin Sun considers Gongsun Long’s work on ming-shi, or name and reality, the most "profound and systematic" of the School of Names. As Gongsun Long enjoys the favor or rulers, his work also concerns social order.[4]

The Gongsun Long Zi reads:

Heaven, earth, and their products are all things [物 wu]. When things possess the characteristics of things without exceeding them, there is actuality [shi]. When actuality actually fulfills its function as actuality, without wanting, there is order [位 wei]. To be out of order is to fall into disorder. To remain in order is to be correct. What is correct is used to rectify what is incorrect. [What is incorrect is not used to] doubt what is correct. To rectify is to rectify actuality, and to rectify the name [ming] corresponding to it.

White Horse Dialogue

Main article: When a white horse is not a horse

In the White Horse Dialogue (Chinese: 白馬論; pinyin: Báimǎ Lùn), one interlocutor (sometimes called the "sophist") defends the truth of the statement "White horses are not horses," while the other interlocutor (sometimes called the "objector") disputes the truth of this statement. This has been interpreted in a number of ways.

Possibly the simplest interpretation is to see it as based on a confusion of class and identity. The argument, by this interpretation, plays upon an ambiguity in Chinese that does not exist in English. The expression "X is not Y" (X非Y) can mean either

The sentence "White horses are not horses" would normally be taken to assert the obviously false claim that white horses are not part of the group of horses. However, the "sophist" in the dialogue defends the statement under the interpretation, "Not all horses are white horses". The latter statement is actually true, since—as the "sophist" explains—"horses" includes horses that are white, yellow, brown, etc., while "white horses" includes only white horses, and excludes the others. A.C. Graham proposed this interpretation and illustrated it with an analogy. The "Objector" assumes that "a white horse is not a horse" is parallel to "a sword is not a weapon," but the "Sophist" is treating the statement as parallel to "a sword is not a blade."[5]: 89  Other interpretations have been put forward by Fung Yu-lan and Chad Hansen, among others.[5]: 82–83 

This work has been viewed by some as a serious logical discourse, by others as a facetious work of sophistry, and finally by some as a combination of the two.[6]

Other works

He was also responsible for several other essays (; lùn; 'discourses', 'dialogues'), as short as 300 characters.[7]


  1. ^ Zhou, Yunzhi, "Gongsun Long". Encyclopedia of China (Philosophy Edition), 1st ed.
  2. ^ Liu 2004, p. 336
  3. ^ McGreal 1995, p. 31
  4. ^ Zhenbin Sun 2015. p24 Language, Discourse, and Praxis in Ancient China
  5. ^ a b A.C. Graham, Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China (Chicago: Open Court, 2003) [1989]
  6. ^ Harbsmeier, Christoph (1989). "Humor in Ancient Chinese Philosophy". Philosophy East and West. 39 (3). University of Hawaiʻi Press: 289–310. doi:10.2307/1399450. JSTOR 1399450.
  7. ^ Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). "Pointing and Things". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy..
  8. ^ a b c Translated titles are from Chang, Han-liang (1998). "Controversy over Language: Towards Pre-Qin Semiotics" (PDF). Tamkang Review. 28 (3). New Taipei: Tamkang University Press: 1–29.