Gottlob Frege and Gongsun Long in Dialogue

An Exploration of Two Classical Paradoxes from the East and West


  • Nevia DOLCINI University of Macao, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Center for Cognition and Brain Sciences, China
  • Carlo PENCO University of Genoa, Department of Antiquity, Philosophy and History, Italy



concepts, elucidations, Gottlob Frege, Gongsun Long, language games, names, paradoxes, philosophy of logic, Ludwig Wittgenstein


This work addresses the critical discussion featured in the contemporary literature about two well-known paradoxes belonging to different philosophical traditions, namely Frege’s puzzling claim that “the concept horse is not a concept” and Gongsun Long’s “white horse is not horse”. We first present the source of Frege’s paradox and its different interpretations, which span from plain rejection to critical analysis, to conclude with a more general view of the role of philosophy as a fight against the misunderstandings that come from the different uses of language (a point later developed by the “second” Wittgenstein). We then provide an overview of the ongoing discussions related to the Bai Ma Lun paradox, and we show that its major interpretations include—as in the case of Frege’s paradox—dismissive accounts that regard it as either useless or wrong, as well as attempts to interpret and repair the argument. Resting on our reading of Frege’s paradox as an example of the inescapability of language misunderstandings, we advance a similar line of interpretation for the paradox in the Bai Ma Lun: both the paradoxes, we suggest, can be regarded as different manifestations of similar concerns about language, and specifically about the difficulty of referring to concepts via language.


Download data is not yet available.


Beaney, Michael. 1997. The Frege Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.

Benická, Jana, and Miloš Hubina. 2013. “Gongsun Long: A Somehow Aristotelian Reading.” In Talking Literature: Essays on Chinese and Biblical Writings and Their Interaction, edited by Raoul David Findeisen, and Martin Slobodník, 11–30. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. DOI:

Burge, Tyler. 2005. Truth, Thought, Reason: Essays on Frege. Oxford. Oxford University Press. DOI:

Cheng, Chung-Ying. 1983. “Kung-sun Lung: White Horse and Other Issues.” Philosophy East and West 33 (4): 341–54. DOI:

Cheng, Chung-Ying, and Richard H. Swain. 1970. “Logic and Ontology in the Chih Wu Lun of Kung-sun Lung Tzu.” Philosophy East and West 20 (2): 137–54. DOI:

Chmielewski, Janusz. 1962. “Notes on Early Chinese Logic (I).” Rocznik Orientalistyczny 26 (1): 7–21.

———. 1965. “Notes on Early Chinese Logic (IV).” Rocznik Orientalistyczny 28 (2): 87–111.

———. 2009. Language and Logic in Ancient China, Collected Papers on the Chinese Language and Logic. Warsaw: PAN.

Conant, James. 2002. “Elucidation and Nonsense in Frege and Early Wittgenstein.” In The New Wittgenstein, edited by Crary, Alice, and Rupert Read, 184–227. London, New York: Routledge.

Davidson, David. 2004. Truth and Predication. Cambridge (Mass): Belknap Press. DOI:

Diessel, Holger. 2006. “Demonstratives, Joint Attention, and the Emergence of Grammar.” Cognitive Linguistics 17 (4): 463–89. DOI:

Dummett, Michael. 1981. Frege. Philosophy of Language. London: Duckworth.

Fraser, Chris. 2007. “Language and Ontology in Early Chinese Thought.” Philosophy East and West 57 (4): 420–56. DOI:

Frege, Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob. 1879. Begriffsschrift. Halle: L. Nebert.

———. 1884. Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik. Breslav: W. Koebner.

———. 1997 [1892]. “Über Begriff und Gegenstand.” Vierteljahrsschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie 16: 192–205. English Translation in Beany 1997.

———. 2013 [1893]. Basic Laws of Arithmetics. Translated by Philip A. Ebert, and Marcus Rossberg. Oxford University Press.

Fung, Yiu-ming. 2007. “A Logical Perspective on ‘Discourse on White Horse’.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 34 (4): 515–36. DOI:

———. 2020a. “Logical Thinking in the Gongsun Longzi.” In Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy, edited by Fung Yiu-ming, 309–27. Springer. DOI:

———. 2020b. “Reason (Gu 故) and Principle (Li 理).” In Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy, edited by Fung Yiu-ming, 181–202. Springer. DOI:

———. 2020c. “Reference and Ontology in the Gōngsūn Lóngzǐ.” In The Gongsun Longzi and Other Neglected Texts, edited by Rafael Suter, Lisa Indraccolo, and Wolfgang Behr, 169–206. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Fung, Yulan. 1948. A Short History of Chinese Philosophy. London: Collier-Macmillan Publisher.

———. 1952. A History of Chinese Philosophy. 2 vols. Translated by Derk Bodde. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Graham, Angus Charles. 1955. “Kung-sun Lung’s Essay on Meaning and Things.” Journal of Oriental Studies 2 (2): 282–301.

———. 1986. “The Disputation of Kung-sun Lung as Argument about Whole and Part.” Philosophy East and West 36 (2): 89–106. DOI:

———. 1989. Disputers of the Tao. Philosophical Argument in Ancient China. La Salle: Open Court.

———. 1990 “The Composition of the Gongsun Long Tzyy 公孫龍子.” In Studies in Chinese Philosophy and Philosophical Literature, 125–66. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Granet, Marcel. 1934. La Pensée chinoise. Paris: La Renaissance du livre.

Hansen, Chad. 1983. Language and Logic in Ancient China. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

———. 1986. “Mass Nouns and a White Horse is Not a Horse.” Philosophy East and West 26 (2): 189–209. DOI:

Harbsmeier, Christoph. 1989. “Marginalia Sino-logica.” In Understanding the Chinese Mind: The Philosophical Roots, edited by Allinson Robert, 59–83. London: Oxford University Press.

Hú, Shìh. 1922. The Development of the Logical Method in Ancient China. Shanghai: The Oriental Book Company.

Hu, Yang, and Hu Zehong. 2022. “The Philosophy of Logic in China: A 70-year Retrospective and Prospects for the Future.” Asian Studies 10 (2): 79–104. DOI:

Indraccolo, Lisa. 2010. Gongsun Long and the Gongsun Longzi: Authorship and Textual Variation in a Multilayered Text. Ph.D diss., Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.

Itzutsu, Toshihiko. 1983. Sufism and Taoism. A Comparative Study of Key Philosophical Concepts. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten Publishers.

Johnston, Ian. 2004. “The Gongsun Longzi: A Translation and an Analysis of Its Relationship to Later Mohist Writings.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 31 (2): 271–95. DOI:

Kou, Pao-koh. 1953. Deus sophistes chinois - Houei Che et Kong-souen Long. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale/ P.U.F.

Liu Tisheng. 2020. “A New Interpretation of the Gōngsūn Lóngzǐ ’s ‘Zhǐwù lùn’ (Discourse on Pointings and Things) and ‘Míngshí lùn’ (Discourse on Names and Actualities).” In The Gongsun Longzi and Other Neglected Texts, edited by Suter et al., 241–88. Berlin: De Gruyter. DOI:

Lucas, Thierry. 2020. “Logically Significant Words in the Gōngsūn Lóngzǐ.” In The Gongsun Longzi and Other Neglected Texts, edited by Rafael Suter, Lisa Indraccolo, and Wolfgang Behr, 313–46. Berlin: De Gruyter. DOI:

Möller, Hans-Georg. 1997. “The Chinese Theory of Forms and Names (xingming zhi xue) and Its Relation to a Philosophy of Signs.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 24 (2):179–90. DOI:

Mou, Bo. 2020. “How Gōngsūn Lóng’s Double-Reference Thought in His ‘White Horse Not Horse’ Argumentation Can Engage with Fregean and Kripkean Approaches to the Issue of Reference.” In The Gongsun Longzi and Other Neglected Texts, edited by Rafael Suter, Lisa Indraccolo, and Wolfgang Behr, 169–204. Berlin: De Gruyter. DOI:

Needham, Joseph. 1956. History of Scientific Thought. Science and Civilization in China, vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Parsons, Terence. 1986. “Why Frege Should Not Have Said ‘The Concept Horse Is Not a Concept’.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 3 (4): 449–65.

Penco, Carlo. 2013. “What Happened to the Sense of a Concept Word?” ProtoSociology 30: 6–28. DOI:

———. 2020. “Review of Perry’s Frege’s Detour.” Theoria 86: 413–24. DOI:

Perry, John. 2019. Frege’s Detour. An Essay on Meaning, Reference, and Truth. Oxford: Oxford University Press. DOI:

Picardi, Eva. 2008. “Frege and Davidson on Predication.” In Knowledge, Language and Interpretation, edited by Maria Cristina Amoretti, and Nicla Vassallo, 49–79. Frankfurt: Ontos Verlag. DOI:

Pokora, Timoteus. 1975. Hsin-lun (New Treatise) and other Writings by Huan T’an (43 B.C.–28 A.D.): An Annotated Translation with Index. Centre for Chinese Studies, The University of Michigan, Michigan: Ann Arbor Publishing House.

Reding, Jean-Paul. 2002. “Gongsun Long on What is Not: Steps Toward the Deciphering of the Zhiwulun.” Philosophy East and West 52 (2): 190–206. DOI:

Rieman, Fred. 1981. “Kung-sun, White Horses, and Logic.” Philosophy East and West 31 (4): 417–47. DOI:

Robins, Dan. 2000. “Mass Nouns and Count Nouns in Classical Chinese.” Early China 25: 147–84. DOI:

Rošker, Jana S. (manuscript). “Transcultural Sublation of Concepts and Objects through the Lens of Adorno and Gongsun Long.”

Russell, Bertrand. 1903. The Principles of Mathematics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Suter, Rafael, Lisa Indraccolo, and Wolfgang Behr, eds. 2020. The Gongsun Longzi and Other Neglected Texts. Berlin: De Gruyter. DOI:

Textor, Mark. 2010a. “Frege’s Concept Paradox and the Mirroring Principle.” The Philosophical Quarterly 60 (238): 126–48. DOI:

———. 2010b. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Frege on Sense and Reference. London: Routledge.

Thompson, Kirill Ole. 1995. “When a ‘White Horse’ is Not a ‘Horse’.” Philosophy East and West 45 (4): 481–99. DOI:

Wang, Ping, and Ian Johnston. 2020. “The Gōngsūn Lóngzǐ: A Historical Overview.” In The Gongsun Longzi and Other Neglected Texts, edited by Rafael Suter, Lisa Indraccolo, and Wolfgang Behr, 25–44. Berlin: De Gruyter. DOI:

Weiner, Joan. 2005. “On Fregean Elucidation.” In Gottlob Frege: Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers, vol. IV, edited by Michael Beaney, and Erich H. Reck, 197–215. London: Routledge.

Wiggins, David. 1984. “The Sense and Reference of Predicates: A Running Repair to Frege’s Doctrine and a Plea for the Copula.” The Philosophical Quarterly (1950-) 34 (36): 311–28. DOI:

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1921. Tractatus Logico-philosophicus. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

———. 1976 [1939]. Wittgenstein’s Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics,Cambridge 1939, edited by Cor Diamond, Ithaca. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

———. 1953. Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Blackwell.

Wright, Crispin. 1998. “Why Frege Did Not Deserve His Granum Salis: A Note on the Paradox of ‘The Concept Horse’ and the Ascription of Bedeutungen to Predicates.” Grazer Philosophische Studien 55 (1): 239–63. DOI:

Yi, Byeong-uk. 2018. “White Horse Paradox and Semantics of Chinese Nouns.” In Philosophy of Language, Chinese Language, Chinese Philosophy, edited by Bo Mou, 49–68. Leiden: Brill. DOI:

Zhou, Changzhong. 1997. “The Kung-Sun Lung Tzu and Western Philosophy of Language.” In Chinese Cultural Traditions and Modernization, edited by Wang Miaoyang, Yu Xuanmang, and George F. McLean, 147–74. Council for Research in Values and Philosophy.

———. 2020. “The ‘Discourse on the White Horse’: A Concrete Analytical Philosophy of Language—with a Coda on the Authenticity of the Received Gōngsūn Lóngzǐ.” In The Gongsun Longzi and Other Neglected Texts, edited by Rafael Suter, Lisa Indraccolo, and Wolfgang Behr, 87–113. Berlin: De Gruyter. DOI:




How to Cite

Dolcini, N., & Penco, C. (2023). Gottlob Frege and Gongsun Long in Dialogue: An Exploration of Two Classical Paradoxes from the East and West. Asian Studies, 11(1), 267–295.