The Language Argument
This long note is given its own page, to which the comment originally placed at LY 3:9 is now referred.
A subsidiary point of considerable interest is raised by the last line of this passage [of LY 3:9], translated by us as "If they were enough, I could then give evidence for them." This is a supposition contrary to fact, and a conclusion from that supposition drawn in conjectural time: what is technically called a "counterfactual" statement. Hall and Ames (Thinking 265, following Bloom Linguistic 16) make the claim that Chinese counterfactual statements are indistinguishable from other conditionals, and deduce from that claim the momentous limitations of Chinese as a philosophical language "as a direct consequence of indeterminate conditional structure." Wardy Aristotle 25-30 shows that this is all nonsense; Chinese is capable of framing a perfectly clear counterfactual supposition. Wardy (29 n102) cites precisely this sentence from LY 3:9 as a refutation. Much other material for refutation is available if needed (see for instance the EC 11-12 (1985-1987) review of Harbsmeier by Herforth, which discusses counterfactual statements at page 234). In the arguments of the Chinese sophists, we often encounter the phrase "suppose the case of a man" (jin you yi-rvn), a conventional signal for an extended supposition contrary to fact; a thought experiment. Not to know the conventional function of this phrase is, in effect, not to know classical Chinese.
In general, any statement about the inability of a culture to handle a concept due to some inadequacy of its language should be viewed with extreme suspicion. Languages differ picturesquely in their structure, but all languages so far competently examined can say what they need to when they want to. English speakers, unlike speakers of French, are not forced to specify the singularity or plurality of every adjective in every sentence, but they are not helpless in the face of quantification when needed. Nor are they incapable of isolating past statements from implications of completion or incompletion, even though their language lacks a formal equivalent of the Greek aorist. Naive speakers of any language are limited by their naiveté. Expert speakers of any language tend to develop devices to handle subtleties not already provided for in the structure of their language. For a sample of 04c and 03c Chinese expertise in the precise handling of statements and their implications, see Graham Later, passim.
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