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A Preliminary Discussion of Dai Zhen’s Philosophy of Language

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Dai Zhen’s philosophy of language took the opportunity of a transition in Chinese philosophy to develop a form of humanist positivism, which was different from both the Song and Ming dynasties’ School of Principles and the early Qing dynasty’s philosophical forms. His philosophy of language had four primary manifestations: (1) It differentiated between “names pointing at entities and real events” and “names describing summum bonum and perfection”; (2) In discussing the metaphysical issue of “the Dao,” it was the first to introduce a syntax analysis of linguistics, clearly differentiating between the different roles of predicate verbs “zhi wei” and “wei zhi” in Classical Chinese; (3) In criticizing Confucian thought during the Song and Ming dynasties, it adopted specific philological skills such as the analysis of phraseology, the meaning of sentences and the thread of words in texts; and (4) It re-interpreted the meaning of Confucian classics by studying characters and language, adopting a positivist and philological manner to seek metaphysical sense in philosophy. In this way, his philosophy was different from the scholars of the School of Principles during the Song and Ming dynasties and from the goal of Western linguistic philosophy in the 20th century, which refuted metaphysics. Accordingly, it helped to develop 18th century Chinese philosophy as it turned towards linguistic philology.


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