Cracking the white horse puzzle

“When a white horse is not a horse,” also known as the ‘White Horse Dialogue,’ is a well-known paradox advanced by Gongsun Long. Since its appearance, it has inspired various interpretations and critiques in the past 2,200 years so that it becomes an intellectual puzzle in Chinese philosophy. This paper aims to reveal its meaning and implication by critically reviewing three contemporary approaches to Gongsun Long’s argument: the logical, the metaphysical, and the syntactical. It also suggests that although the proposition can be analyzed from the viewpoint of logic, Gongsun Long was not a logician; instead, he was concerned more about the semantics of general terms and their ontological and epistemological implications; moreover, he deliberately proposed the anti-common sense proposition by utilizing the use-mention distinction so as to spotlight the importance of language analysis in obtaining knowledge.


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