Philosophy of Language in Third Century China: on the argument ‘language does/does not exhaust the meaning of words’

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Nozomi WAKU


In third century China there was a discussion of whether language does or does not exhaust the meaning of words. There were three positions on language. First, that intuitive knowledge, which Confucian sages can acquire, cannot be expressed in language, that is language does not exhaust the meaning of words. Second, that there could be a gradual grasp of meaning through language and symbol. Third, that something which reaches into the mind is necessarily accompanied by language, that is to say language does exhaust the meaning of words. Each position reflects the view taken by each of the three scholars: He Yan 何晏; Wang Bi 王弼 of the Wei 魏 dynasty; and Ou Yangjian 欧陽建 of the Jin 晋 dynasty. The aim of this article is to consider their arguments in the context of contemporary epistemological knowledge.


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