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White Horse Dialogue and Mon Amie

Feb 11, 2009
Mon Amie? Girlfriend or Friend?

Mon Amie? Girlfriend or Friend?

Storyteller: People say that French are romantic. When I started to learn the French language in college, my teacher gave a very good example to show the romance of French.

The phrase: “Mon Amie”.

When you introduce a female friend in French as “Mon Amie”, it could mean either “my female friend” or “my girl friend”.  So people won’t know your exact relationship.

Wait a minute, is “girl friend” a “female friend”? Yes? No? It’s hard to say. Well, let me tell you a famous logic story first.

White Horse is Not Horse

In the Warring States period of China, once in a city, there was a ban on letting horse out of the city. One day, a philosopher, Gong Sunlong, wanted to go out of the city with a white horse. The city guard told him that horses were not allowed to get out.

Gong found a trick in order to persuade the guard that white horse is not horse. He said,

Hungry Horse

Not a horse? What am I?

Gong: White horse in not horse. Please let me get out.

Guard: Why?

Gong: ‘Horse’ defines an animal; ‘White’ defines a color.
Specifying color is not specifying animal.
Hence, ‘White horse is not horse.’

Guard: ‘Have horse’ is not the same as ‘Have no horse’.
Is not ‘Have no horse’ the same as ‘not horse’?
But ‘Have white horse’ is the same ‘Have horse – white’.
Why is ‘White Horse’ ‘Not Horse’?

Gong: If you want a horse, any yellow or black horse will do.
If you want a white horse, yellow or black horse will not do.
If white horse were the same as horse, then you want the same thing. If it were the same thing, then the horse need not be white. If it makes no difference, then yellow or black horse will do.

The guard cannot argue more and let him go.

What’s the logic trick?

It’s all about how you define the meaning of “IS”. The guard would think “IS” means “is a member of class X”; but Gong played a trick by defining “IS” as “equals” or “is identical to X”. While, white horse is a member of horse, white horse is not identical (or equals) horse. This trick is a little hard to explain in English; the inaccuracy of Chinese language makes this logic trick feasible.

So, let me give you some easy examples to understand this famous logic story. Go back to “Mon Amie”:

1. “Women (Female human) is not human”.  It’s definitely false.

2. “Girlfriend is not friend”.  Aha, this is absolutely TRUE!

Got it?

Storyteller: Philosophers are good at debating. There is another story “How do you know what fish enjoy“.

[Related Reading on Amazon]

1. A Short History of Chinese Philosophy
2. The Cambridge Illustrated History of China

[Chinese Keywords]
白马非马

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  1. to
    July 5th, 2009 at 15:27 | #1

    what is the name of that horse

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