School of Names
Literal meaningSchool of names
School of Forms and Names
Literal meaningSchool of forms and names

The School of Names, sometimes called the School of Forms and Names,[1] was a school of Chinese philosophy that grew out of Mohism during the Warring States period (c. 479 – 221 BC). Followers of the School of Names were sometimes called Logicians or Disputers. Figures associated with it include Deng Xi, Yin Wen, Hui Shi, and Gongsun Long.[2] A contemporary of Confucius and the younger Mozi, Deng Xi, associated with litigation, is cited by Liu Xiang as the originator of the principle of xíngmíng, or ensuring that ministers' deeds (xing) harmonized with their words (ming).[3]

Birthplaces of notable Zhou-era philosophers belonging to the School of Names are marked by circles in blue.


The earliest literary occurrence for xingming is in the Zhan Guo Ce, and references the School of Names. The philosophy of the Logicians is often considered to be akin to those of the sophists or of the dialecticians. Joseph Needham notes that their works have been lost, except for the partially preserved oeuvre of Gongsun Long, and the paradoxes of Chapter 33 of the Zhuangzi.[4] Needham considers the disappearance of the greater part of Gongsun Long's work one of the worst losses in the ancient Chinese books, as what remains is said to reach the highest point of ancient Chinese philosophical writing.[1]

One of the few surviving lines from the school, "a one-foot stick, every day take away half of it, in a myriad ages it will not be exhausted", resembles Zeno's paradoxes. However, some of their other aphorisms seem contradictory or unclear when taken out of context, for example, "dogs are not hounds".[5] They were opposed by the Later Mohists for their paradoxes.[6]

Although the Book of Han would not be without contemporary gloss, with the office designations a posthumous invention, as with the Legalists, sinologist Kidder Smith highlights the similarly mixed posthumous reception received by the school of names, who, despite the term sophists, were also administrators.[7]

Shen Buhai

In the Han Dynasty secretaries of government who had charge of the records of decisions in criminal matters would come to be called called xingming. The Han-era scholars Sima Qian (c. 145 – c. 86 BC) and Liu Xiang (77–6 BC) attribute it to the Legalist doctrine of Shen Buhai (400 – c. 337 BC).[8] Shen actually used the older, more philosophically common equivalent, ming-shi, or name and reality, linking the "Legalist doctrine of names" with the debates of the school of names.[9][10] Such discussions are also prominent in the Han Feizi.[11]

Ming ('name') sometimes has the sense of "speech", so as to compare the statements of an aspiring officer with the reality of his actions—or of "reputation", again compared with real conduct (xing 'form' or shi 'reality').[12] Two anecdotes in the Han Feizi provide examples—member of the School of Names Ni Yue argued that a white horse is not a horse, and defeated all debaters, but was still tolled at the gate. In another, the chief minister of Yan pretended to see a white horse dash out the gate. All of his subordinates denied having seen anything, save one, who ran out after it and returned claiming to have seen it, and was thereby identified as a flatterer.[13]

Shen Buhai's personnel control, or rectification of names such as titles thereby worked for "strict performance control" correlating claims, performances and posts.[14] It would become a central tenet of both Legalist statecraft and its Huang–Lao derivatives. Rather than having to look for "good" men, mingshi or xingming can seek the right man for a particular post, though doing so implies a total organizational knowledge of the regime.[15] More simply though, it can allow ministers to "name" themselves through accounts of specific cost and time frame, leaving their definition to competing ministers. Claims or utterances "bind the speaker to the realization a job". This was the doctrine favoured by Han Fei, with subtle differences. Favouring exactness, it combats the tendency to promise too much. The correct articulation of ming is considered crucial to the realization of projects.[16]

See also



  1. ^ a b Needham & Wang 1956, p. 185.
  2. ^ Fraser 2017.
  3. ^ Cua, Antonio S. (2013), Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy, Routledge, p. 492, ISBN 978-1-135-36748-0 – via Google Books
  4. ^ Needham & Wang 1956, p. 697.
  5. ^ Fraser 2017, Paradoxes.
  6. ^ Van Norden 2011, p. 111.
  7. ^ Smith, Kidder; Tan, Sima (2003), "Sima Tan and the Invention of Daoism, "Legalism," "et cetera"", The Journal of Asian Studies, 62 (1): 141–144, doi:10.2307/3096138, JSTOR 3096138
  8. ^ Creel 1982, pp. 72, 80, 103–104; Creel 1959, pp. 199–200; Makeham 1990, pp. 91–92.
  9. ^ Makeham 1990, pp. 87, 89.
  10. ^ Watson, Burton (1964), Han Fei Tzu: Basic Writings (PDF), Columbia University Press, pp. 1–11 – via University of Hawaiʻi
  11. ^ Csikszentmihalyi, Mark (1997), "Chia I's "Techniques of the Tao" and the Han Confucian Appropriation of Technical Discourse", Asia Major, 10 (1/2): 49–67, ISSN 0004-4482, JSTOR 41645528
  12. ^ Creel 1982, p. 83; Creel 1959, p. 203; Lewis 1999, p. 33.
  13. ^ Lewis 1999, p. 33.
  14. ^ Hansen 2000, p. 359.
  15. ^ Makeham 1994, p. 67; Creel 1974, p. 57.
  16. ^ Makeham 1990, p. 91; Lewis 1999, p. 33; Goldin 2013, p. 9.