Hard and White Cannot Coexist: Recombining Concepts in a Semantic Fallacy

Wu Hong

This exchange is recorded in “On Hard and White”, a well-known philosophical discourse from important Warring States School of Names philosopher Gongsun Long. He held that only the whiteness, and not the hardness, of a piece of hard white stone could be perceived with the naked eye. The sense of touch could determine that the stone was hard, but not that it was white. Thus, there are only two kinds of stones in the world: white stones and hard stones. There are no hard, white stones. The eye can perceive the whiteness of the stone, not its hardness, so the stone is “not hard”. The hand can perceive the hardness of the stone, not its whiteness, so the stone is “not white”. When whiteness can be seen, touch cannot find hardness. When whiteness cannot be seen, touch finds hardness. Seeing and not seeing both results in separation. From this, we can infer that hardness and whiteness cannot coexist in a stone, so they are separate from one another.

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