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Names, Cranes, and the Later Moists


  • I would like to thank Chris Fraser and Lam Hong-ki for sharing with me some unpublished notes from their work on the Moist Canons, and the editors of this journal for helpful comments on an earlier draft.

DAN ROBINS, Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Hong Kong. Specialties: classical Chinese philosophy, comparative philosophy. E-mail:


The Later Moists grounded our linguistic abilities in our ability to distinguish between kinds on the basis of manifest similarities and differences among things. Proper names, however, require a different treatment. According to the Moists, when we use a proper name, we borrow a word for one kind of thing and use it to refer to something else, as when we name dogs “crane.” This view probably responds in part to arguments that the possibility of using any word to refer to any thing threatens the stability of language. Proper names may borrow from terms with existing uses, but arguably they do not thereby undermine those uses.