School of Names

Donald Sturgeon

in Chinese Studies

ISBN: 9780199920082
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
School of Names

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The School of Names (mingjia 名家) is one term traditionally used to refer to a group of thinkers from the Warring States period that shared interests in language and disputation. The term and the particular grouping it defines are a later Han dynasty construction based on thematic similarity in the concerns of these thinkers and the essays attributed to them; of those mentioned in the Book of Han (Han Shu 漢書), contemporary textual evidence provides relevant information about only Gongsun Long, Hui Shi, Deng Xi, and Yin Wen. Of these four thinkers, to each of whom the Book of Han attributes a similarly named text extant during the Han dynasty, only parts of Gongsun Long’s text titled Gongsun Longzi 孫龍子 (master Gongsun Long, also transliterated as Kung-sun Lung Tsu; see Primary Sources and Translations) are generally agreed to have survived as independent works, with information about the views of the others surviving only in citations and dialogues within other early texts. Though extant texts attributed to Deng Xi and Yin Wen exist, these are now generally thought to be forgeries of a much later date. Different commentators offer a variety of stances on the interpretation of some or all chapters of the received text of the Gongsun Longzi, ranging from interpreting the texts as being logical or metaphysical treatises expressing principled philosophical positions, elaborate sophistry intended primarily for the entertainment of rulers of the day, or forgeries of lost texts written by those mimicking the style and content of the originals while misunderstanding their terminology and context. Though no texts attributed to him survive, scholarly interest also focuses on Hui Shi, partly due to the list of curious statements attributed to him in the Zhuangzi (see Primary Sources and Translations) and elsewhere and the fact that he also appears as a character taking part in various debates within this and other early texts. Though many early sources accuse those belonging to the School of Names of engaging in hair-splitting and pointless debate, earning them comparisons to the Greek sophists, many modern scholars see them as sophisticated thinkers interested in philosophically interesting questions of language, ontology, and logic.

Article.  4617 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Studies ; Asian History ; East Asian Philosophy ; East Asian Religions

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