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Kung Sun Lung [Gongsun Long]
philosophe de l’École des Noms (4e-3e s. av. J.-C.)


extraite de : The Chinese sophists, d’Alfred Forke, Journal of the North‑China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, XXXIV, Changhai, 1901, p. 29-37.


The sophist Kung Sun Lung hailed from the Chao state. His honorary title was Tse Ping. We learn from the Shi-chi that Kung Sun Lung lived in the Chao state and argued on hardness and whiteness, like and unlike [Cap. 74], and that the Prince of P‘ing-yuan treated him with great consideration until Tsou Yen made his appearance, who discredited him so much with the Prince that he was dismissed [Cap. 76]. The Prince of P‘ing-yuan played an important part in the struggles which preceded the downfall of the Chou and the establishment of the Ch‘in dynasty. His personal name was Shêng. He was a younger brother of King Hui Wên of Chao [B.C. 298-266] and acted as Prime Minister under King Hui Wên and his successor King Hsiao Chêng. P‘ing-yuan Chün died in B.C. 250. When in the year 256 Han-tan, the capital of Chao, was saved from Ch‘in, whose troops had invested it, P‘ing-yuan Chün was going to donate Prince Hsin-ling of Wei with some territory of Chao in recognition of services rendered during the siege of Han-tan. It is on record that Kung Sun Lung saw his patron on this occasion, and by his remonstrances induced him to give up this scheme. We learn from this that Kung Sun Lung was alive about the middle of the 3rd century B.C. It appears that King Hui of Chao also was disposed to take Kung Sun Lung into his counsels, for we find him at court talking to the king on disarmament and universal love, the ideal of Mê Ti. Hui Tse, as we have seen, was in favour of war. Kung Sun Lung discussed this same subject with King Chao of Yen [311-279 B.C.], to whom he paid a visit.

At P‘ing-yuan Chün’s residence Kung Sun Lung gave a proof of his dialectical skill. The states of Ch‘in and Chao had made a covenant to the effect that Chao should help Ch‘in to carry out its designs, and that Ch‘in would do the same for Chao. Shortly afterwards Ch‘in attacked Wei, and Chao wished to come to Wei’s assistance. The King of Ch‘in sent an envoy to complain of the violation of the treaty, according to which Chao had to co-operate with Ch‘in, not to oppose it. At the instigation of Kung Sun Lung, Chao retorted by saying that Ch‘in had to help Chao to carry out its designs, that now it wished to aid Wei, and that in not helping Chao in this Ch‘in was breaking the agreement.

It was at the court of P‘ing-yuan Chün also that Kung Sun Lung met with his chef opponent K‘ung Chuan, a descendant of Confucius in the sixth degree and grandfather of K‘ung Fu, the alleged author of the apocryphal work of K‘ung Tsung Tse. The debates of Kung Sun Lung and K‘ung Chuan are found in various forms and in various authors.

Kung Sun Lung was the head of a school and had disciples in Chao. One of them, Chi Mu Tse, is mentioned in Liu Hsiang’s Pieh-lu, quoted in the commentary [][] to the Shi-chi [Cap. 76].

The two passages referring to Kung Sun Lung in Lieh Tse [IV, 11] and Chuang Tse [XVII, 15] are both spurious. In both of them Kung Sun Lung is brought into contact with [], Prince Mou of Wei, a son of the Marquis Wên of Wei [425-357 B.C.] This prince lived about a hundred years anterior to Kung Sun Lung. There is besides internal evidence to show, as Faber and Giles have done, that these two references to Kung Sun Lung are later additions to the works of Lieh Tse and Chuang Tse.


Essais : le Kung Sun Lung Tse [Gongsun Longzi]

  • Voir la traduction complète des écrits restants de Kung Sun Lung dans : The Chinese sophists, d’Alfred Forke, loc. cit. p. 61-82.

  • Commentaires extraits de : The Chinese sophists, d’Alfred Forke, loc. cit.

The Han Catalogue mentions a work of Kung Sun Lung in 14 chapters. Of these eight were already lost before the Sung dynasty, so that now only six chapters remain. They are so peculiar, so entirely different from other productions, and to a great part so cleverly written that we have no reason to call their authenticity as a whole in question. Cap. I contains one lengthy repetition which ought to be omitted. The greater part of Cap. IV is, I believe, spurious. The reasoning is so puerile and out of keeping with the other chapters that it bears quite the features of a clumsy forgery. The work is now generally published together with the commentary of Hsieh Hsi Shên of the Sung dynasty, which is not worth much and no great help to the understanding of the very difficult text, because it interprets every clause, though purely logical, in a phantastic moral sense. It is a pity, therefore, that two other commentaries of Chên Sse Ku and Chia Shih I are lost.

According to ancient authors, Kung Sun Lung’s discussions chiefly turned on three subjects — the white horse, hardness and whiteness or the third in abeyance, and like and unlike. The first two subjects are treated in Kung Sun Lung’s work but not the last. The last eight chapters were probably partly devoted to it. It is doubtful therefore what Kung Sun Lung’s views in regard to like and unlike have been, Huai Nan Tse [loc. cit.] says that Kung Sun Lung discriminated between like and unlike, and separated hardness and whiteness. Chuang Tse makes Kung Sun Lung say that he knew all about ‘the identification of like and unlike, the making the not-so so, and the impossible possible’.

Since tradition ascribes to Kung Sun Lung paradoxes very similar to those of Hui Tse [some are quite the same], it is very likely that Kung Sun Lung also denied the reality of like and unlike or of contraries, and held that space and time, within which these contraries confront us, are illusive.

Whereas the remaining paradoxes of Hui Tse are only detached fragments from his works, unsubstantiated and unproved, the sophisms propounded in Kung Sun Lung are fully developed and abundantly supported by arguments. We may assume that Hui Tse’s works were similarly arranged. The six chapters, except I and VI, are written under the form of a dialogue, Kung Sun Lung defending his views against the attacks of an opponent. Cap. I relates the debate of our philosopher with Kung Chuan, whom he tries to convince of the truth of his thesis that a white horse is no horse, citing Confucius and Yin Wen Tse as his authorities. The same theme is thoroughly discussed in Cap. II, where reasons pro and con are given. From Cap. III we are to learn that all our definitions are wrong. What we see are only phenomena, not real entities. The chapter is highly sophistical, the word definition being used in two different senses, which causes great confusion. One feels quite giddy, when reading it, and it requires much mental concentration to catch the meaning. I will read the beginning of the chapter, which is a good specimen of Kung Sun Lung’s way of reasoning.

« Thesis. —There are no things which are not defined, but those definitions are no definitions.

Antithesis. — So far as there are no definitions on earth, things cannot be called things. If what is on earth is not defined, can things be said to be defined ?

Thesis. — Definitions there are none on earth, things there are on earth. It is impossible to maintain that what exists on earth is the same as what does not exist.

Antithesis. — If there are no definitions on earth, things cannot be said to be defined. If they cannot be said to be defined, they are not defined.

Thesis. — Things though not defined are nevertheless not undefined. There are no definitions on earth, and things cannot be said to be defined, but that does not mean that they are not defined. It does not mean that they are not defined, for there are none but defined things. There being none but defined things, definitions are not definitions.

Cap. IV opens with the sophism that two does not contain one, nor right nor left. The rest of the chapter is spurious. Its sophisms are too absurd to be taken au sérieuse. Cap. V treats of the hard and white, and Cap. VI of words and their objects. It reminds us of the dialectician Yin Wen Tse.

Cap. II on the white horse and Cap. V on the hard and white are by far the most interesting and deserve to be gone into a little more fully.

What Kung Sun Lung means by saying that a white horse is no horse we learn best from himself. Cap. II begins as follows :

« Question. — Is it possible that a white horse is no horse ?

Answer. — Yes.

Question. — How ?

Answer. — A horse denotes a shape, white a colour. Describing a colour one does not describe a shape, therefore I say that a white horse is no horse.

Question. — There being a white horse, one cannot say that there is no horse. If one cannot say that there is no horse, can the existence of the horse be denied ? There being a white horse, one must admit that there is a horse ; how can whiteness bring about the non-existence of a horse ?

Answer. — When a horse is required, yellow and black ones can all be brought, but when a white horse is wanted, there is no room for yellow and black ones. Now let a white horse be a horse ! It is but one kind of those required. Then, one of those required, a white horse would not be different from a horse. Those required do not differ. Would then yellow and black ones meet the requirement or not ? In so far as they would meet the requirement or not, they would evidently exclude each other. Yellow as well as black horses are each one kind ; they correspond to a call for a horse, but not to a call for a white horse. Hence it results that a white horse cannot be a horse.

Question. — A horse having colour is considered no horse. But there are no colourless horses on earth ! Are there, therefore, no horses on earth ?

Answer. — Horses of course have colour, therefore there are white horses. If horses had no colour there would be merely horses. But how can we single out white horses, for whiteness is no horse ?

A white horse is a horse and whiteness. Such being the case, I hold that a white horse is no horse’. Etc. etc.

Now what is our opinion ? To whom do we award the palm, to Kung Sun Lung’s opponent, who very ably advocates the common-sense view that a white horse is a horse, or to Kung Sun Lung contending that a white horse is no horse ? I think that both are right. A white horse is a horse and also no horse. The ambiguity arises from the word horse. Kung Sun Lung takes it in the sense of a horse in general, in the abstract ; his antagonist understands by it a horse in particular. A white horse is a horse in particular, a species of the genus horse, but it is not a horse in general. The idea of a horse includes colour, but not a specific colour like whiteness.

Kung Sun Lung holds that a thing does not remain the same as soon as any of its qualities is insisted upon. The same idea was enunciated in Greece by the Cynic Antisthenes, a disciple of the sophist Gorgias and of Socrates. He maintained that only identical or analytical judgments such as ‘A man is a man’ or ‘Good is good’ are possible, but that one cannot say that a man is good, no subject admitting of any other predicate than itself. Aristotle himself, who made the refutation of fallacies his special study, is very much puzzled by a sophism corresponding exactly to that of our sophist that a white horse is no horse. There was a musician Koriskus. Now Aristotle asks : Is the musician Koriskus the same as Koriskus ? According to Grote, Aristotle holds that, because the musician Koriskus includes two Categories (Substance and Quality), he cannot be properly compared with Koriskus simply, which is the Category of Substance only. We have seen that Kung Sun Lung had the same doubts about shape (Category of Substance) and colour (Category of Quality) in regard to the white horse. The very simple solution of the sophism, which we have given, escaped both philosophers.

What Kung Sun Lung says on the white horse is ingenious, but not of great philosophical value. His treatise on the hard and white, however, deserves our highest praise unreservedly. Though sophistical in form, its contents are highly philosophical. The qualities of things, such as hardness or whiteness, are, in the belief of Kung Sun Lung, unknown to us. The names we give them do not describe what they really are. They are something indefinable, and cannot therefore be inherent in their objects. If they really were part of their objects, they ought to be always there, which they are not. Consequently they must have separate existences. These existences have the peculiarity that they are intermittent, they vanish when not perceived by us. Whiteness exists only as long as we see it, hardness as long as we touch it. These qualities cease to exist together with our sensations of their existence. Kung Sun Lung says that when not perceived they separate or hide. This is the meaning of the paradox that a stone, hard and white, are together two things. At a given moment the mind can be conscious only of the existence of the stone and its hardness, when it has recourse to touch, or of the stone and its whiteness, when it sees it. So it is only aware of two things, not of three. The third is in abeyance, it exists only virtually, but comes into being again when focussed by its proper organ of sense. To bring about the sensation of whiteness there must be light, an eye, a mind, and the colour. If we can rely on Chuang Tse’s testimony that Hui Tse already pondered over the hard and white, we must understand his paradoxes that the eye does not see, and that fire is not hot, as meaning that light and warmth are in reality not such as they appear to us. Kung Sun Lung’s wonderful critique of our perceptive faculties recalls to us the modern Idealists Kant, Fichte and Schopenhauer, who, more radical than Kung Sun Lung, assert that things and their attributes are nothing but creations of our mind, which have subjective but not objective existence, thus evaporating the whole visible world into nothing.

Retour à l'auteur: Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) Dernière mise à jour de cette page le lundi 21 janvier 2008 8:00
Par Jean-Marie Tremblay, sociologue
professeur de sociologie au Cegep de Chicoutimi.

Saguenay - Lac-Saint-Jean, Québec
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