Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hui Shi on Analogy

Someone said to the King of Liang, 'Hui Tzu is very good at using analogies when putting forth his views. If your Majesty could stop him from using analogies he will be at a loss what to say.'

The King said, 'Very well. I will do that.'

The following day when he received Hui Tzu the King said to him, 'If you have anything to say, I wish you would say it plainly and not resort to analogies.'

Hui Tzu said, 'Suppose there is a man who does not know what a tan is, an dyou say to him, "A tan is like a tan," would he understand?

The King said, 'No.'

'Then were you to say to him, "A tan is like a bow, but has a strip of bamboo in place of the string," would he understand?'

The King said, 'Yes. He would.'

Hui Tzu said, 'A man who explains necessarily makes intelligible that which is not known by comparing it with what is known. Now your Majesty says, "Do not use analogies." This would make the task impossible.'

The King said, 'Well said.'


[Quoted in Mencius, D. C. Lau, tr., Penguin (New York: 1970) 262-263 (Appendix 5).]

Huizi was one of the major figures in the School of Names; none of his writings are extant, but he was famous enough for his use of paradoxes and cleverness with argument that stories about him appear scattered throughout Chinese philosophical literature. This one is from Liu Xiang's Shuo yüan, a collection of anecdotes and sayings.

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