Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy -- School of Names

A client said to the King of Liang, In talking about things, Hui Shi is fond of using analogies. If you don't let him use analogies, he won't be able to speak. The King said, Agreed. The next day he saw Hui Shi and said, I wish that when you speak about things, you speak directly, without using analogies. Hui Shi said, Suppose there's a man here who doesn't know what a dan is. If he says, What are the features of a dan like? and we answer, saying, The features of a dan are like a dan, then would that communicate it? The King said, It would not. Then if we instead answered, The features of a dan are like a bow, but with a bamboo string, then would he know? The King said, It can be known. [A "dan" was the bow section of a Chinese crossbow -- the most powerful projectile weapon of the ancient world which could be used by an individual person]
Hui Shi said, Explanations are inherently a matter of using what a person knows to communicate what he doesn't know, thereby causing him to know it. Now if you say, No analogies, that's inadmissible. The King said, Good!

As we would expect from mainstream Chinese theories of language and disputation, Hui Shi is accustomed to explaining things by appeal to analogies. Indeed, his answer to the king is itself an analogy, or at least an illustrative example (the Chinese word for analogy, bi, refers to both). We can also notice from the story that in seeking to learn about something unknown, one does not ask for a definition of the object, but for a description of what its features are like. The standard response is to cite a familiar analogue and then point out the differences between the unknown object and the familiar one. Communication proceeds not by knowing meanings, but by knowing how to distinguish similar from different kinds of things.

This quite similar to Plato's theory of knowledge, but with analogy limited by differentia, rather than genus limited by differentia.

Last edited by numan; 01/29/13 10:42 PM.