From Language to Thought: Unreal Conditionals and Counterfactual Thinking in Early China Cover Image

Od jezika do mišljenja: irealne pogodbe i protučinjenično mišljenje u ranoj Kini
From Language to Thought: Unreal Conditionals and Counterfactual Thinking in Early China

Author(s): Ivana Buljan
Subject(s): Philosophy, Non-European Philosophy, East Asian Philosophy, Philosophy of Language
Published by: Hrvatsko Filozofsko Društvo
Keywords: counterfactual reasoning; classical Chinese philosophy; Old Chinese language; Confucius; Mencius; Zhuangzi; Zuo zhuan;

Summary/Abstract: Counterfactual reasoning – the construction of mental alternatives to reality – is an important part of theoretical thinking. In this kind of reasoning, which is expressed through the use of unreal conditional sentences, i.e. statements such as “if it were not for X, there would be no Y”, a hypothesis is established on the basis of an action/state/event that did not happen. An unfulfilled condition or cause from the past or present is connected with a potential effect. Thus, counterfactual reasoning is important in the formation of ethical/political and scientific reflections. While conducting empirical research, Alfred Bloom concluded that Chinese speakers are not inclined to counterfactual reasoning. Bloom links this with a deficit in equivalent grammatical markers for unreal conditionality in the modern standard Chinese language. Bloom shows that the modern Chinese language has no extricated lexical, grammatical, or tonal markers for counterfactuality. This paper will examine Bloom’s thesis in the area of the Old Chinese language and classical Chinese texts. Research will be carried out on two levels. On the first, linguistic level, it will be determined if there are unreal conditional constructions in Old Chinese. On the second, discursive level, the presence/absence and rhetorical role of counterfactual thinking in classical Chinese philosophical and historical texts will be examined. Consideration of the relationship between the grammatical structures of the Old Chinese language and counterfactual reasoning will contribute to an understanding of the nature of classical Chinese philosophical thought and the relationship between the Old Chinese language and thinking, especially regarding the issue of the extent to which the formation of a specific thinking/philosophy is conditioned by the morphosyntactic structures of the language it is built upon. Secondly, due to the importance of counterfactual reasoning in the formation of theoretical thinking, this research provides additional insight into the “predispositions” of the Old Chinese language towards the formation of philosophical and scientific discourse.

  • Issue Year: 37/2017
  • Issue No: 04/148
  • Page Range: 743-761
  • Page Count: 19
  • Language: Croatian