Dao DOI 10.

1007/s11712-009-9133-x ORIGINAL PAPER

Chinese Logic and the Absence of Theoretical Sciences in Ancient China
SUN Weimin

# Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2009

Abstract In this essay, I examine the nature of Chinese logic and Chinese sciences in the history of China. I conclude that Chinese logic is essentially analogical, and that the Chinese did not have theoretical sciences. I then connect these together and explain why the Chinese failed to develop theoretical sciences, even though they enjoyed an advanced civilization and great scientific and technological innovations. This is because a deductive system of logic is necessary for the development of theoretical sciences, and analogical logic cannot provide the deductive connections between a theory and empirical observations required by a theoretical science. This also offers a more satisfactory answer to the long-standing Needham Problem. Keywords Chinese logic . Chinese science . Theoretical science . The Needham problem In this paper, I first examine the nature of Chinese logic and argue that Chinese logic is a system of analogical inference. Then, I examine the features of theoretical sciences and argue that Chinese sciences are not theoretical, at least not in the sense that modern sciences are. I show that a system of deductive logic is necessary for theoretical sciences, and analogical logic cannot provide the deductive connections between theory and experience required in a theoretical science. As a result, the nature of Chinese logic explains why there were no theoretical sciences in China. Since modern sciences are essentially theoretical, this also answers the Needham problem: why they did not discover modern sciences.

1 Chinese Logic Did the ancient Chinese have a logic? If they did, what kind of logic is it? And how should we investigate this matter? Christoph Harbsmeier argued that the ancient Chinese had explicitly and implicitly used almost all common valid logical forms in their argumentation.
SUN Weimin (*) Department of Philosophy, California State University Northridge, Northridge, CA 91330-8253, USA e-mail: weimin.sun@csun.edu

SUN Weimin

He finds many arguments in Chinese literature that follow common valid logical forms, such as syllogism, sorites, Modus Tollens, Modus Ponens, and a fortiori (Harbsmeier 1998: 261–286). For example, Harbsmeier cites the following story in Shi Shuo Xin Yu 世說新語 to illustrate the implicit use of Modus Ponens: When WANG Jung was seven years old, he was once roaming about with a group of children and they saw a pear tree by the wayside. The tree had so much fruit that its branches were breaking under the weight. All the children rushed forward to get the fruit. Only Jung did not move. Someone asked him why. He replied: “If the tree by the wayside has much fruit, that must be because the pears are bitter.” They picked the pears and he turned out to be right. (Harbsmeier: 268–9) The following is a case of Modus Tollens in Mencius: “For this reason there are no talented men. If there were, I would be bound to know about them” (Harbsmeier: 283; Mencius 6B6). Harbsmeier aims to “demonstrate that there was room in ancient Chinese culture for this kind of [deductively valid] logical reasoning” (Harbsmeier: 265). But his method of investigation is deeply flawed. Many cultures have used valid logical forms in their arguments, but only a few cultures can claim to have a logic system. Harbsmeier’s approach is more like a reconstruction of the logical reasoning of the ancient Chinese with Greek logic (Aristotelian and Stoic logic). Though ample examples with valid argument forms can be found in Chinese literature, this does not imply that the ancient Chinese were aware of these logical forms. The fact that an argument can be formulated as a valid logical form does not imply that this logical form is consciously used in logical reasoning. An argument may be formulated in different ways, and in some cases it is even not clear whether there is an argument (understood as a way of justification).1 In order to have a logic system, the people need to be aware of these forms of logical arguments and use them consciously and explicitly in their argumentation. There is strong evidence to indicate that the ancient Chinese did not have a system of deductive logic. First, there were no Chinese logicians who studied these forms. As a result, the forms were never explicitly formulated, and were never used as the guide of reasoning or the justification of arguments. Instead, many Chinese logicians (the Moist School in particular) studied the structure of analogical inference. Second, many arguments of valid forms can be made by intuition alone. Anyone who has taught introductory logic knows that a student without any knowledge of deductive logic may recognize a valid argument with their intuitions. Yet these intuitions are not always reliable. There is another story in Shi Shuo Xin Yu: when the 10 year old KONG Rong (孔融 153–208 CE) attended a party, his cleverness impressed all, except CHEN Wei 陳韪, who claimed: “if one is bright at a young age, he may not be any good later.” Overhearing what Chen said, KONG Rong confronted him: “you must have been very bright when you were young.” The fun part of the story is that it assumes an implicit premise that Chen is not much good now. This argument is a case of invalid argument (affirming the consequent), yet its flaw went unnoticed until the modern age. Third, some analogical inferences are similar to syllogism. Many cases of


Harbsmeier is aware of these issues, as he is also concerned with how the ancient Chinese justified their claims (Harbsmeier: 261–2). And he admits that “the ancient Chinese were more inclined to argue ‘analogically,’ by analogy or comparison, rather than logically by demonstration or proof” (Harbsmeier: 264). Yet he does not think that analogical thinking is a rational way of thinking, so he is forced to discover deductive arguments in Chinese thinking.

and Daqu (Big Selection) and Xiaoqu (Small Selection) which were clearly works of later Moists. There are a lot of recent works both in Chinese and in English devoted to the studies of Moist logic. such as A.). This statement is further explained in “explanations”: “Minor reason: having this. analogical argument is the primary means. We get a clearer picture of analogical inference from a detailed study of Chinese logical works. necessarily it will not be so. I think Chinese logic is a system of analogical inference. The opening statement in the canons says: “The gu (reason/cause) of something is what it must get before it can come about” (Graham: 263). I will focus only on the Moist School. This shows that Moists required that statements must be accepted based on good reasons. political. lacking this. So the Moists were looking for reasons. but understands both as analogical (in particular. Later. it will necessarily be so. From extant ancient texts. In the Han Dynasty there was a boom of correlative thinking when analogical inferences were extended to cover almost everything. they must be properly justified. but the dominant pattern of reasoning was analogical. Major reason: having this. Moists outline the nature of logic: “one (A) uses names to refer to 2 Antonio Cua argues that Xunzi’s logic is also analogical. We find more explicit forms of argumentations in later works such as Mencius and Zhuangzi. in Cua’s term. which again focused on analogical inferences. lacking this. Cua claims that Xunzi distinguishes between explanation (shuo) and justification (bian). The characterization of major reason implies that if the major reason is true then the conclusion it supports must also be true. or philosophical. but when there is a need to justify their claims. yet his reasoning also relied on analogical inference. analogical inference was used as a way of reasoning and justification in almost all fields of study.3 The Moist Canons include six parts. the latter is understood as analogical projection) (Cua 1985). that is. The Daodejing of Laozi and the Analects of Confucius do not contain many explicit arguments (the claims are often stated but not argued). . after stating the purpose of argumentation (demonstrating what is true and what is false. Xunzi and the Moist School gave some systematic and reflective studies on the patterns of argumentation and reasoning. Graham’s comprehensive study Later Mohist Logic. if true. Also. Ethics and Science. Though the texts are significantly corrupted and often hard to decipher. and these arguments overwhelmingly are analogical inferences. two canons. We can have a very coherent picture of logical reasoning in Chinese thoughts if we understand Chinese logic as a system of analogical inference. we see that analogical inferences are prevalent patterns of argument in Chinese thought. two corresponding explanations. For example. and they might represent a common feature in contemporary thought. There were few formal studies of logic in later times. it will not necessarily be so. which. a typical pattern of persuasion in the Analects is to argue from what was done by ancient kings or sages to what should be done by present kings or gentlemen. It seems to me that Xunzi’s approach is not much different from the Moist School. WANG Chong (王充 27–97 CE) sharply criticized DONG Zhongshu’s correlative system.Chinese Logic and Theoretical Sciences syllogistic reasoning Harbsmeier cited can be and should be understood as cases of analogical inference. In Xiaoqu. necessarily it will not be so” (Graham: 263). 3 The Moist Canons were completely neglected in the later history of China. etc. They were not looking for probabilistic supports. would guarantee the truth of their conclusion. there is no doubt that the Canons present a systematic study of logical reasoning and may have opened a window for us to understand logical reasoning in ancient China. whether they were scientific. Even the opponents of correlative thinking cannot avoid analogical inference. Analogical inference continued to dominate the reasoning of Chinese minds in later ages. In this essay. Here Moists made a distinction between necessary conditions and sufficient conditions.2 The Moist Canons contain the richest and the deepest discussions on logic in Chinese history. C.

What are the inferences based on kinds? Let us first take a look at what a kind is. The difference between natural kinds and similarity groups. proposes according to the kind” (Graham 482–3). I do not think ancient Chinese philosophers were concerned with the metaphysical nature of kinds. becomes full-grown according to a pattern. it claims that argumentation should be based on kinds (lei 類). It is irresponsible to set up a proposition without being clear about what it is engendered from. Yet Harbsmeier’s arguments for the nominal interpretation of kind are very weak. And there is no doubt that the arguments Moists were interested in are those based on kinds. even if he has strong thighs and arms. (Graham: 478–480) This passage states that there are three aspects of an argument. Harbsmeier discusses the historical development of the term “kind” (Harbsmeier: 218–229). More importantly. according to Harbsmeier. (C) uses explanations to bring out reasons. 5 4 . in order for a person to know something. In his book. FENG You-lan takes a stronger realist approach (kinds as Platonic universals). it is a relevant similarity group. 6 For example. seems to be that the latter notion understands the kind in a nominal way: “Categories were no longer entirely traditional or given by nature.SUN Weimin objects. Harbsmeier claims that Moists further extended the notion of kind from natural kinds to similarity groups: “for Mo Tzu in this dialogue a lei [類] is not just a fixed natural kind. but the last statement shows that the patterns must be related to kinds. Second. Unless indicated otherwise. if he is not clear about the road it will not be long before he gets into trouble. Graham has a nominal interpretation of kinds. It is required by the internalist approach to knowledge. and inferences should be carried out based on kinds. though not by the externalist approach. Epistemic responsibility is a key concept in epistemology. This indicates that the argument forms the Moists were interested in are those based on kinds. This is similar to the requirement of epistemic responsibility. Now a man cannot proceed without a road.6 yet most of the debates put too many contemporary philosophical concerns onto ancient Chinese philosophy. such as Goldman’s reliability theory. In particular.4 This statement defines the roles of names. the person must be able to provide reasons to justify it. See BonJour 1985: Chapter 1. It is likely that these patterns are shared characteristics of a kind. There are a lot of discussions on this issue today. propositions. if in setting up a proposition you are not clear about the kind. a set of things that are similar in a relevant respect” (Harbsmeier: 224). and finds that the term “kind” (lei) had its origin in defining a racial group of a common ancestor and was gradually extended to cover biological kinds (such as tigers and trees) and natural kinds (such as fire and metals). one’s proposition (thesis) must be supported by reasons. and the texts he cites can be better understood with the realistic interpretation of kind. that is. and (D) accepts according to the kind. They were also conceived as set up by man” (Harbsmeier: 223). for a more detailed discussion of epistemic responsibility. you are certain to get into trouble. all translations of the Canons are from Graham 1978/2003. The following passage in Daqu makes the nature of argumentation explicit: The proposition is something which is engendered in accordance with the thing as it inherently is. It is not very clear what the patterns refer to. The proposition is something which “proceeds” according to the kind. it claims that justification is based on patterns (li 理).5 This shows that the Moists understood the need of justification for one’s beliefs. and “proceeds” according to the kind. and arguments (explanations). First. otherwise one is held to be irresponsible. (B) uses propositions to dredge out ideas.

Even when the standard (fa) is understood as a 7 Today analogies are often used to explain difficult concepts and issues. In Xiaoqu. mou is an inference between parallel kinds. but also as the means that can produce the typical exemplar (compasses). ma (horse) is a natural kind. This is [setting up] the exemplar” (see Graham: 470–1.Chinese Logic and Theoretical Sciences I think that the ancient Chinese had a naïve version of realism about kinds. which included not only physical and biological kinds but also kinds in human and social affairs. Pi is a kind of argument that uses other things (as analogy) to illustrate one’s thesis. so we have to conclude F(a) is not the case”. . tui is just the opposite to yuan (though their logical forms are similar). it seems that Mozi understood fa not only as a typical exemplar (circle). a and b are of the same kind. F(a). as it aims to refute the opponent’s thesis by showing that it is in the same kind as some ridiculously false statements. Some people may understand pi merely as an analogy (which aims to clarify a position). what does not is false. F has property P. so F(b)”. (2) Tui is of the following form: “The opponent says F(a). The ancient Chinese understood natural kinds in a broad way. but Moists treated this as an argument. These were simply taken for granted. But they never bothered to explain why a horse belongs to the horse kind by the shared attributes (universals) or by the similarity relation among their members. which is defined as having the same length from one center). yuan is to draw a conclusion which falls in the same kind as the opponent’s position. This naïve theory of natural kinds is sufficient for studies of nature and can provide explanations and predictions of natural phenomena. The idea is that each kind has a model or fa (法). a and b are of the same kind. a circle. and that there are common aspects shared by all horses. so G has property P”. Moists had a detailed discussion on this topic. but they also used analogies as inferences to argue for their ideas and to discover new knowledge. all three may serve as fa” (Graham: 316). and tui 推. and probably also as the general characteristics of a kind (the idea of a circle. such as pi 辟. so F(b)”. (1) Yuan is of the following form: “The opponent says F(a). what conforms to the exemplar satisfies the standard. knowledge is knowledge of kinds. It never occurred to the ancient Chinese that there is a need to explain why two horses belong to the same class or why two horses are similar. The idea. a statement in Xiaoqu seems to imply the exemplars are necessary for analogical inference: “what is an exemplar (xiao 效) is what is set up as a standard (fa). yuan 援. there is a passage discussing different kinds of arguments. (4) Pi is likely of this form: “a and b are of the same kind. So what conforms to the exemplar is true. For Chinese thinkers. All major schools of Chinese thought emphasized the notion of kinds. the compasses. though only a few of them (such as the Moists) paid attention to formal studies of kinds and inferences based on kinds. They simply understood a kind as a class of things bound together in an objective and natural way. mou 侔. The ancient Chinese were certainly aware that the class of horses is different from that of dogs. (3) Mou is of this form: “F and G are the same kind. This implies that a kind is not arbitrarily or conventionally defined. yet it is obvious that F(b) is not the case. These arguments can be given a formal analysis. my translation). All these arguments are analogical inferences. From this explanation. that two horses are similar. What is an argument according to a kind? I think the Moists meant them to be analogical inference. rather than an inference (which aims to justify a position).7 The key step in the above analogical argument is to examine whether things are of the same kind. which Graham translates as “standard. For example. Ancient Chinese thinkers used analogies in this way. not just an explanation.” Mozi explained what fa is in A-70: “the fa is that in being like which something is so. If a kind can be understood from the above different aspects.

8 Analogical inferences were widely used by Moists and other contemporary thinkers. Second. but it is not an analogical inference anymore. which have all true premises but a false conclusion. a is a member of A.” “Jack is a person. killing robbers is not killing people. so riding a white horse is riding a horse. Does this imply that Moists (and Chinese logicians in general) had no idea of logical validity? I think that Moists did aim to discover valid argument patterns. The basic pattern of the first three types of arguments is clear: there is a relation between two kinds. “robbers are people. The mou argument mentioned above is an argument between kinds. or (2) is not so though the instanced is this thing. and the famous one: “robbers are people. or (5) the instanced in one case is this and in the other is not” (Graham: 485). though they did not succeed in their pursuit. loving one’s brother is not loving a beauty”.SUN Weimin general characteristic. .” An important issue seems to arise: analogical arguments do not have a valid logical form. he used an exemplar that it was not right to kill a person for reward. “being about to fall into a well is not falling into a well. Moists did have a notion of universal statements. analogical inferences are not valid. We can compare analogical argument with syllogistic argument: “All members of A are P.” Such an argument does not need exemplars. For example. The idea is to see what kind of predicates can be extended from one kind to the other kind. if the property is shared by all members of the kind. or (4) applies without exception in one case but not in the other. and in Xiaoqu we see a more detailed study of this kind of inference. then it is a valid argument. with the typical yuan argument. “boat is wood.” The second type of argument includes cases like the following: “one’s brother is a beauty. a is P. or (3) is so though the instanced is not this thing. So attacking a country for benefit is wrong. But formally speaking. so. as we see above. The validity of an analogical argument depends on the particular kind and the property in consideration. and criticized Gong-su-ban for not knowing the kind. they understood analogical inferences as patterns of arguments rather than as particular inference. to stop someone about to fall into a well is to stop him falling into the well. but this notion was discussed in the context of kinds. To love Jack is to love people. This argument can be formulated as the following: “Killing a person for reward is wrong. they studied a variety of patterns of inferences concerning kinds. Killing a person for reward is of the same kind as attacking a country for benefit. entering a boat is not entering wood”. when Mozi tried to persuade Gong-su-ban that it is not right for Chu to attack Song (for the benefit of Chu).” The third type includes the following cases: “reading a book is not a book. If the property is the essential property of the kind. and Gong-su-ban agreed. there are cases where (1) something is so if the instanced is this thing. otherwise it is not. then the inference can support counterfactual statements and serve as an explanation. For example. Then Mozi claimed that these two cases were of the same kind. It seems that there is no direct inference from general characteristics without an exemplar. to love reading books is to love books”. First. being without robbers is not being without people”. The first type of argument includes the following instances: “white horses are horses. But one thing is clear: they were trying to study the inference patterns between the kinds. You can find cases of the same argument form. Moist arguments did not proceed in the syllogistic way.” It is quite difficult to figure out what the later Moists accomplished here. The following passage summarizes five types of inference: “of the things in general. the actual inference still needs an exemplar that satisfies the standard. F and G 8 The Moists made a distinction between a true universal statement (all members of the kind have the property) and its opposite (not all the members have the property).

the kinds in such arguments are natural kinds. in standard cases. A kind is often hard to characterize precisely. an analogical argument requires exemplars. There is not a kind of completely abstract and unobservable entities in Chinese logic. and the properties of kinds may be unobservable (such as yin and yang). 10 The requirement of syllogism may be too strict for ordinary life arguments. in the statements “John is a tall person” and “John is a tall basketball player. The writers are not seeking to identify formally valid inference procedures.9 A different worry is that analogical arguments. denying that they were ambiguous predicates. So this kind of logic cannot reason about completely abstract and unobservable things. If we understood their effort from this perspective. But even in such cases. are no different from syllogism. loving one’s brother who is a beauty is not to love beauty. regarding the second type of argument. But their intention was to find valid inference patterns. The major premise of a syllogistic argument is false in almost all the interesting cases. Today our analysis of the issue is to conclude that there are two different predicates referred to by the same word (such as different loves and different killings). then a typical analogical inference is a valid argument. Unobservable entities such as atoms and genes cannot serve as exemplars. It is not true that all human beings have two hands or are rational.g. the first type of argument can be understood as the following form: ∀x (Fx → Gx) ├ ∀x (Fx & Kx → Gx & Kx). a predicate K which can (or cannot) be attributed to the first kind. there is a serious limitation to analogical inferences. Syllogism has no such limitation. But Moists took a different approach. 9 Many predicates are context-dependent. and seemed to think that such predicates were context-dependent (that is. . I agree with Fraser that such studies are not purely formal and syntactic. then it seems that Moists were looking for valid inference patterns. we would have a clearer understanding of Moists’ claims. if the property in consideration is shared by all members of the kind. an analogical argument does not rely upon the truth of a universal statement but only an exemplar of the class. They are investigating ways in which formally parallel strings of claims involving terms correctly distinguished as ‘similar’ may fail to reliably produce further parallel. Yet if we look at the above study as an attempt to find inference patterns extending from one kind to a different (larger) kind. the typical cases Moists had in mind (e. It is often easier to find a typical example of a kind than to define it precisely. But the other patterns are much harder to analyze.Chinese Logic and Theoretical Sciences (either F ⊆ G or not).” the predicate “tall” is used in different senses. So analogical inferences are more productive in practical reasoning and scientific discoveries. These exemplars must be observable things. Even though some analogical arguments are about kinds.10 On the other hand. and it is equivalent to a syllogistic argument.3). The inference patterns Moists aimed to find were based on analogical inference. For example. As we saw earlier. This is true for almost all ordinary kinds. But if we put these senses as two different meanings of the word “tall” in a dictionary. predicates might have different uses when applied to different kinds). This leads Chris Fraser to claim that “The grounds for rejecting ‘Killing robbers is killing people’ reflect the fundamental orientation of the Moists’ project. This is a valid logical form. and are often things you are familiar with in experience. On the one hand. For example. correct claims” (Fraser: 7. as Wittgenstein has shown us. analogical inferences are still different from syllogisms in two important aspects. analogical inferences are more practical than syllogisms. as this kind of approach to validity relies on the meanings of predicates and the nature of kinds. killing robbers is not to kill a person) have a common theme: the predicate is not transferrable to the larger kind. Typically. there would be too many entries for “tall” in the dictionary. On the other hand. So an analogical inference is more practical to use than a syllogistic one. and so the predicate K can (or cannot) be attributed to the second kind. In particular. so the typical members of these kinds are observable. The second type has the same kind of premises but a contrary conclusion.

These are theoretical entities and properties. Such theoretical laws are different from empirical laws. no single conception or word for the overarching sum of all of them” [Sivin 1982: 48]). One can also know about the relations between things from the relations between kinds. I have argued that Chinese logic is analogical in practice and in theory. bacteria. In other words. and it is also the case with Aristotle’s physics. 13 I am aware that there are different understandings of theoretical sciences. and YANG Xiong 杨雄 of the Han Dynasty proposed a different system of 81 11 diagrams in his Tai-Xuan theory. Empirical laws are those lawful generalizations which are not involved with theoretical entities or theoretical properties. There are two different systems of hexagrams (a priori and a posteriori). This is the case with Euclidean geometry. These theories were continuously developed in China. Other statements of knowledge can be derived from these fundamental principles using deductive logic. Hempel). and the center of Mars’s orbit are not empirically observable. though the later Chinese paid little attention to formal studies of logical reasoning. This was quite different from their Western contemporaries. they are simply empirical generalizations. I think such an understanding is standard among contemporary philosophers of science (many of them are not logical positivists). it postulates theoretical entities and/or theoretical properties to unify scientific explanations. It must be emphasized that the dominance of analogical reasoning had a huge impact on the orientation of Chinese epistemology and sciences. To say the least. Typical systems of basic classification include the theory of yin-yang. we have a coherent and unified picture of Chinese sciences.SUN Weimin In summary. and it has a deductive system that derives empirical observations (eventually) from theoretical principles.14 This understanding has no religious bearing at all and can be applied to all cultures. The ancient Greeks looked for the fundamental principles to build a system of knowledge. but it is enough for my purpose in this paper. the ultimate goal of ancient Chinese philosophers and scientists was knowledge of kinds. Analogical reasoning continued to dominate Chinese thinking until the introduction of Western logic. The spin and the charge of an electron are also not directly observable. it captures the essential features of modern western sciences. Scientific laws are broadly construed as general regularities that can support counterfactual statements.11 One gains knowledge of things when they are put in the appropriate kinds. Yet not all sciences that postulate scientific laws are theoretical sciences. The ancient Chinese looked for the basic kinds by which they could classify things. All these are supported by analogical inferences. the statement that “water increases in volume when it freezes” is a true lawful statement. Though my characterizations of theoretical sciences are obviously influenced by later logical positivists (esp. In their pursuit of knowledge. Contrary to what Sivin says (“Chinese had sciences but no science. Atoms. a theoretical science has the following three features: it postulates scientific laws to explain/predict observational events. the theory of five-elements. and the theory of hexagrams in the Book of Changes. and together they are sufficient. These fundamental principles were regarded as self-evident and so did not need further justification. genes. They are contrasted with accidental generalizations.12 2 The Nature of Theoretical Sciences As I understand it. For example. 12 . so that their certainty is also guaranteed. We can find plenty of scientific laws in Chinese sciences. 14 No doubt this is a simple characterization of scientific laws. A scientific theory postulates theoretical principles that are laws about theoretical properties or theoretical entities. if we understand Chinese sciences from analogical logic. Theoretical sciences also postulate theoretical entities and/or theoretical properties that are not empirically observable.13 I think each feature is a necessary condition for being a theoretical science.

When porcelain was first brought to Europe from China. There are a couple of replies to these objections. many of which are distinct from the area from which the theory arises. As Kuhn has shown us (Kuhn 1996). dating back thousands of years. theories can offer us great insights and deeper understandings of the world. and we can observe atoms and bacteria with microscopes. For these scientists. The applications of empirical laws are often limited in a specific area. theoretical sciences can explain the failures of those empirical laws when things fall outside the scope of empirical laws. So the theoretical entities and properties can be properly defined. In contrast. It not only establishes the empirical laws. For example. Francis Bacon) had no idea how it was made. And they have good reason to think so because a scientific theory offers a systematic mechanism to resolve these puzzles. Many observable terms (such as “red”) are theory-laden. theoretical sciences provide more precise solutions to a broader scope of empirical problems than do empirical sciences. and the notion of theoretical science is legitimate. Also. rigorous temperature control. Pasteur. or genes were proposed. explains the same law from fundamental principles concerning corpuscular particles. . Descartes.g. what we can directly observe from our senses is a biological fact independent of theories. These objections are effective against the linguistic distinction that logical positivists drew between theory and observation. that it was a ‘certain juice’ that coalesced underground. sciences at a purely empirical level generalize their principles directly from empirical observations. while theoretical laws can be connected to many diverse areas. these terms are truly theoretical in the sense that they were not observable. First. First. It can even be said that astronauts saw high-energy electrons with their naked eyes (van Fraassen 1982: 58). The Chinese made beautiful porcelain. on the other hand. and well-built ovens (kilns). Let me use an example to illustrate the power of theoretical science. bacteria. even the best European minds (e. This gives us a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of refraction. when a theory faces empirical challenges. scientists often regard them as puzzles that can be solved within the paradigm. The solutions from theoretical sciences are often more precise than are those from purely empirical sciences.Chinese Logic and Theoretical Sciences One may object that the theory/observation distinction does not really exist and is a mistake of logical positivism. Both Kuhn’s idea of paradigm and Lakatos’s notion of research program aim to capture such internal dynamics of a scientific theory. because they can provide a unified explanation to many diverse phenomena. a theory/observation distinction can be made at the ontological level. even though the linguistic distinction between theory and observation does not hold up. when theories of atoms. and Mendel did not have the instruments to observe them. Other 15 “Various theories had been advanced: that it was some sort of precious stone. As human beings. contemporary scientists did not need to “see” them in order to accept these theories. rather than as anomalies whose solutions lie outside the paradigm.15 Porcelain making is a very delicate process. which needs the right material (clay). Second. Dalton. So the distinction could be drawn relative to a scientific background (see Hempel 2001: 208–217). proper procedure. But this does not imply that there is no distinction between theory and observation. Why do we need theoretical sciences? Theoretical sciences enjoy great advantages over sciences at a purely empirical level. Also. Snell’s law of refraction is an empirical generalization based on observations. even though we need the theory to tell us what kind of things are observable and what are not. or that it was crushed eggshells and seashells mixed with water” (Kerr and Wood 2004: 741). theoretical sciences have richer resources to resolve mismatches between predictions and empirical observations. Second. as van Fraassen shows. Third. but it also explains why these laws are true.

if the observation does not occur as expected. Modern sciences are essentially theoretical. A theoretical science postulates only a few fundamental principles. This was only made possible by the contemporary development in sciences and technology in Europe. This is how experience can put great pressure on any theory. Euclid’s geometry provides a paradigm example of the deductive structure of theories. theoretical principles alone cannot make any empirical prediction or explanation. porcelain-making developed mostly by trial and error. Kerr and Wood suggest that “in many cases the celebrated qualities of Chinese glazes were fortuitous by-products of high temperature reaction between the glaze materials” (Kerr and Wood 2004: 608). Wedgwood soon produced better porcelain than the Chinese did. Von Tschirnhaus and Böttger started as scientists. since a theory’s predictions always put a theory at risk: it may be different from what one observes. then either the theory or one of the auxiliary assumptions must be false. the connection between theory and empirical phenomena is a deductive one. modern sciences regard their basic principles as basic hypotheses rather than as self-evident truths. For example. Since theoretical entities are not observable. Some connections must be there for the theories to “touch” our experience. Led by the eminent scientist. That is. and there was a great demand. and Bohr’s quantum mechnical model explains Balmer’s series of hydrogen spectrum. So in a span of less than 200 years. and later by chemist Johann Böttger. it offered enough theoretical guidance to rigorous experimentation that accelerated the development of porcelain-making.SUN Weimin decorations such as colored glazes and pigment painting require more knowledge and technology. Also. It only has five postulates and all other theorems are deduced from these five axioms plus definitions of terms. Europe had its first successful porcelain factory. in the case of glazes. then the theory should be rejected. However. In 1759 Josiah Wedgwood began to produce porcelain in England (he used Francis Xavier’s description of the famous Chinese porcelain factory Jingdezhen to set up the floor production plan (Elman 2006: 76–78)). There are three important elements to the emergence of modern sciences: Bacon’s experimental method. and he was elected to the Royal Society in 1783 for his invention of a pyrometer (a thermometer used for measuring high temperatures). Wedgwood was also a scientific porcelain-maker and a life-long friend of Joseph Priestly (the famous chemist). Galileo’s quantitative studies 16 It should be noted that the Euclidean system is a mathematical system. The third and last feature of theoretical sciences is that they are a system of deductive structure. there must be a connection between theories and empirical observations. Ehrenfried von Tschirnhaus. the end of the deductions must be empirical observations. Even though modern chemistry was just beginning to mature. Europeans found the secret of porcelain-making and produced better porcelain products than the Chinese did. . Other true propositions are derived from these fundamental principles. In China. This implies that if an empirical observation is deduced from a theory with auxiliary assumptions. But they all have the same deductive structure. Rutherford’s planetary model of atomic structure is used to explain the result of the Geiger-Marsden experiment. If the auxiliary assumptions are true. Such empirical evidence provides crucial support to these theories. For example. the Meissen factory in Germany in 1710. It must be emphasized that in a theoretical science. It is no surprise that no other country had discovered the art of porcelain making. Meissen produced the first European porcelain equal to or better than the Chinese. Such a connection is necessary in order for the theory to be tested and to be useful.16 For a scientific system. Though there were some early imitations of Chinese models. Chinese porcelain was highly appreciated by the European upper class. This is obvious given that a theoretical science is a deductive system.

and Ba-gua were widely applied in Chinese sciences. In particular. and the more complicated relations among different hexagrams. To cite just one example. is clearly a theory. Dalton was not the first (even among contemporary chemists) to conceive the notion of atoms. The most plausible candidates for theoretical entities seem to be qi (the material force 氣) and li (principle 理). Bacon did not object to the postulation of theoretical principles. nor the first to introduce the idea of quantity into chemistry. Beginning with Descartes and his contemporaries. and the most advanced technologies in agriculture. However. manufacturing. and . and they explain and predict empirical observations with unprecedented precision. For a long time. with the theoretical idea of the atomic structure of the matter” (Kedrov 1949: 648). and mechanical philosophy shared by many philosophers and scientists (such as Hobbes. So these elements are theoretical properties. they are absent in Chinese sciences. as is commonly construed. though he cautions that one should postulate such principles based on detailed and careful experimentations. For example. expressed in stoichiometric laws. but did not have a system of deductive structure. Bacon did not even object to the deductive structure of a theory. There are also theoretical principles that characterize the dynamics between yin and yang. a person. Mechanical philosophy. The theories of yin-yang. But “he was the first man in the history of science to connect the experimental idea of the definite chemical composition of matter. The modern sciences which originated from these sources are clearly theoretical. 3 Chinese Sciences The ancient Chinese enjoyed great success in both the technological and scientific aspects of human affairs. What he objected to was the Aristotelian approach that postulates basic principles from philosophical conjectures of first principles with little empirical evidence. The ancient Chinese understood these entities not as substance but as properties or functions of the things that can be observed. Descartes. such as agriculture. the overcoming and the generating relations between Five Elements. a part of an animal. But the Chinese did not have a theory with a structure of deductive system. which aims to explain every phenomenon with only the mechanical properties of small particles. Bacon famously rejected Aristotle’s physics and logic. Many applied Chinese sciences. as I shall argue. Such deductive connections are required for theoretical sciences. the connection between mechanical philosophy and observable phenomena was gradually made explicit by modern scientists. Needham’s volumes of Science and Civilization in China leave no doubt that the Chinese had impressive knowledge in almost all scientific fields. and as we’ll see. which are never properly aligned with empirical observations. the best understanding of the world and human society. and conceded that syllogistic logic was useful in this aspect. The Chinese had theories. and military. Chinese sciences had scientific laws. commerce. Chinese had the most civilized life. These elements are theoretical classifications of things. and Bacon). Five Elements. Galileo’s sciences are mathematical representations of the world. Dalton’s atomic theory is a typical case of modern theoretical sciences.Chinese Logic and Theoretical Sciences of motion. Many theories are philosophical conjectures. Regarding the three features of theoretical sciences. these two concepts were used as theoretical entities in Neo-Confucian cosmology. yet a careful reading shows that Bacon’s sciences are not sciences at a purely empirical level. it is often a plant. and postulated theoretical properties and entities. or a dynasty that is attributed to the properties of yin or yang (Five Elements should be similarly understood). there were no theoretical sciences in China.

I will consider two subjects: mathematics and astronomy. yet it is not a theoretical science. After Jesuit missionaries brought Western algebra to China.18 I will show that Chinese mathematics enjoyed great success. Greek astronomy is highly theoretical. refer to Needham 1959. both in content and in format. The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art (Jiuzhang suanshu 九章算術) had a systematic study of mathematics.17 Sometimes these sciences were connected to theories of yin-yang and hexagrams. Given its vast scope. what we find from works such as Tiangong Kaiwu 天工开物 and 齐民要术 Qimin Yaoshu 18 are completely empirical generalizations. just in different notations (Ho: 110). Each chapter deals with a 17 For example. and higher degree numerical equations. Chinese medicine has a very complicated theoretical system. But applied mathematics is. which is accurate to seven decimal places. The earliest mathematical writing. There were some Chinese sciences with a rich source of theoretical elements.21 Mathematics was an important part of civil education. Chinese mathematicians also knew how to solve simultaneous linear equations. and they were studied and developed in such a strictly empirical manner that they can be readily separated from the attached theories. mathematics is not an empirical science. . and it is of great interest to see whether they had a deductive structure. It had important discoveries. especially in arithmetic and algebra. vol. It became a standard mathematical textbook and was continuously commented upon by later mathematicians. Vieta of France gave an evaluation accurate up to 10 decimal places in 1593. I do not have space to discuss Chinese medicine in this paper. Most discoveries in these applied sciences were made from empirical observations and generalizations. and with it Chinese mathematicians did all the arithmetic calculations we do today. an “inaccurate” one (22/7) which is the same as Archimedes’s evaluation. quadratic. and an “accurate” one (355/113). This system is in principle the same as what we use today. but it does not have a deductive structure. Scientific and technological discoveries were often secretly transmitted within a clan or a family.SUN Weimin porcelain-making. 21 Zu gave two evaluations of π. and the Chinese treated mathematics as an empirical subject. This book was a consummation of mathematical developments by generations of Chinese mathematicians up to the Han Dynasty. In particular. It made many great discoveries which preceded its Western counterparts.20 It has an efficient notational system to represent numbers (including fractions). 20 For a more detailed introduction to Chinese mathematics. Chinese mathematicians invented calculating devices such as counting rods and the abacus. Zhoubi Suanjing 周髀算經. ZU Chongzhi 祖冲之 (429–500 CE) had the most accurate computation of π in the world until the 15th century. I think that Chinese medicine does not have a deductive system. are purely empirical sciences without theoretical elements. The book is divided into nine chapters. Chinese mathematicians found out that it was essentially the same thing as traditional Chinese mathematics. 19 Strictly speaking. This book had a tremendous influence on the later development of Chinese mathematics. In contrast. and Ho 1985. 3. which not only utilizes yin-yang and fiveelements theory but also postulates the circulation of qi and the meridians in the human body. cubic. but rather relied primarily on analogical reasoning. Also. Chinese geometrians were also very efficient at solving all kinds of practical problems. but such connections are superficial. such as Gougu theorem—the Chinese Pythagorean theorem. and these discoveries were often made by technicians or workers (who often left no name behind) rather than by philosophical thinkers. in agricultural sciences. Chinese mathematics is a very mature and efficient system. and were regularly lost due to social upheavals. the deductive structure of the Euclidean system had a tremendous impact on later Western science. Li and Du 1987. and the latter of the two was an extremely efficient and popular tool used in China and many other Asian countries.19 Astronomy was one of the most precise sciences in China. came into existence between 100BCE and 100CE. Chinese sciences did not have such a mathematical system to model upon. developed through the years.

and eventually in Southern Song. In Northern Song Dynasty. and architecture. ten books of mathematical classics (including Zhoubi and Nine Chapters) were approved as the textbooks used by the Imperial Academy and for civil service examinations (Li and Du: 92). mathematicians can easily solve other practical issues similar to the exemplars. as mathematical geniuses such as QIN Jiushao 秦九韶. not a proof.22 Despite its success. . Many people felt that mathematics was extravagant and did not really help in running the country.23 These solutions are algorithms in the strict mechanical sense. i. and Chinese mathematics is easier to learn and more convenient to use. Libbrecht presents a detailed study in English (Libbrecht 1973). and he was also aware of the condition of solvability. yet it should be understood as an explanation. In his commentary on Nine Chapters. Another thing worthy of notice is that these four masters of mathematics did not seem to know one another’s work. YANG Hui 楊輝. But Qin did not give One possible explanation for the boom is that the scholars dismissed from the Imperial Academy had to teach mathematics for a living and were free to teach any student. military strategies. and the book gives solutions to these questions and offers explanations for the solutions. QIN Jiushao. QIN Jiushao said he learned his mathematics from a recluse scholar. LIU Hui 劉徽 of the Han Dynasty gave some comments on gougu 22 theorem which can be interpreted as a proof by rearrangement. but one never finds a system of axioms and derived theorems. A typical Chinese mathematical book contains solutions to typical problems (exemplars). covering a variety of fields such as astronomy. Rather. the axiomatic system does not add anything. Qin gave a general solution to this problem. there was a debate regarding the status of mathematics in the Imperial Academy. Chinese mathematics did not have an axiomatic structure. The above characteristics of Chinese mathematics can be illustrated with a case study. In his solution. LI Zhi 李治.e. individual efforts were not enough to sustain continued growth. but it does not give proofs. In the end. They were more concerned with how to give step-by-step instructions to solve the problems. market exchanges. and most of them give the most efficient way of computation. provided an ingenious solution to the famous Chinese Remainder Theorem in his Nine Chapters in Mathematics (Shushu Jiuzhang 數書九章). Nine Chapters and other mathematical books later became important components of civil education. For example. Chinese mathematics reached its zenith in the 13th century. the subject of mathematics was discontinued (Li and Du: 109–110). 3…n. 24 The book is a comprehensive mathematical classic. shortly after the dismissal of mathematics from the Imperial Academy. Euler in 1743 and Gauss in 1801 provided the first proof of the theorem for relatively prime moduli. find a number N that satisfies the following equations: N≡ai mod (Ai) i=1. they were satisfied with the fact that these solutions worked. agriculture. Ironically. Practically. The questions are about practical issues. Chinese mathematics is a system based on algorithms. 2. In the Tang Dynasty.Chinese Logic and Theoretical Sciences specific kind of mathematical question. and Stieltjes in 1890 provided a proof for all moduli and specified the solvability condition (Libbrecht: 380). which would be impossible if there was an organized institute of mathematics.24 The Chinese Remainder Theorem is concerned with solving a set of indeterminate equations. With these algorithms. which discusses 81 questions from nine categories (similar to Jiuzhang Suanshu). finances. Only much later. chapter 1 (field measurement) deals with area and volume calculations of different geometrical shapes. taxes. But there is no proof for their truth. 23 The famous gougu theorem was simply stated without proof in both Zhoubi and Nine Chapters. One of the best Chinese mathematicians. It seems that Chinese mathematicians are not concerned with proving their solutions. His solution did not require the moduli (Ai) to be relatively prime. chapter 8 (rectangular arrays) offers solutions to linear equations. and ZHU Shijie 朱世傑 produced splendid works in mathematics which overshadowed those of contemporary Western mathematicians.

This may greatly frustrate Western geometricians. who knew only basic mathematics.SUN Weimin any proof (for the existence of a solution to the equations). the essential properties of things can be known by classifying them into appropriate kinds. and he cited music as an analogy: “in the field of music.True mathematics is concerned with the Dao of heaven. can be found in the basic orientation of Chinese epistemology. since all issues of the same kind share the same pattern (algorithm). If the formula is right. He lamented that the art of mathematics was not highly regarded by scholars after the Han Dynasty. “dogs bark. We can clearly see this from QIN Jiushao’s preface to Sushu Jiuzhang. but is it permissible to say that ‘to produce complete harmony with heaven and earth’ merely consists in this?” (ibid. The oldest one was Gai Tian 蓋天 (covering sky) theory. Chinese mathematicians were not merely interested in solving practical questions. Theoretically. There were at least three cosmological theories available by the Han Dynasty. So it is understandable that Chinese mathematicians never felt the need to prove their solutions. Chinese astronomers had one of the most complete and accurate observations of the sky among all cultures. Qin’s understanding of mathematics was typical among Chinese mathematicians. But these people were not real mathematicians. and there are significant differences between Chinese astronomy and Greek astronomy. This theory says that the round heaven is like a 25 This is especially the case with geometry. Chinese mathematicians gave formulas to calculate the areas or the volumes of different shapes. 56). there was no essential difference between mathematical truths and empirical truths.” If I know the statement already (as a property of “dog” kind). . So the absence of axiomatic structure needs a different explanation. Yet why did Chinese mathematicians only give algorithms? Were the minds of Chinese mathematicians too practical to notice the need of proof? This seems to be a common assumption. Chinese astronomers conceived cosmological theories and mathematical theories to explain and predict a variety of regular heavenly phenomena. which was formulated in detail in Zhoubi Suanjing. so that we can predict future events and act upon these predictions. and that mathematical studies were often left to surveyors and calculators. They never thought of demonstration” (Mikami 1913: 166). Similarly. but did not give any proof why these formulas are true. Consider an empirical statement. However. After the knowledge of kinds is attained. Chinese thinkers pursued the knowledge of kinds. but it is just natural for the Chinese. which leads Libbrecht to ponder why Chinese mathematicians aimed to study questions that were not derived from everyday life (Libbrecht: 99). he simply gave an algorithm that one could follow step by step to find a solution. Why do you need to prove something you already know to be true (from experience)?25 Chinese astronomy provides us with a great case study of empirical sciences. there are conductors who can only arrange the sounds of the bells and sounding stones. We need to discover the patterns. I think. which. mathematical rules or methods devised or used by them were all treated as a kind of art. Empirically. He claimed in the very first statement: “The Six Arts of the teaching of the Zhou were truly made complete by mathematics” (in Libbrecht: 55). what does a proof add to it? Mikami had a similar observation with Japanese mathematics (which is essentially the same as Chinese mathematics): “The old Japanese seem to have considered mathematics as a branch of natural science. This is typical of all Chinese mathematics. It is quite clear that Chinese mathematicians did have theoretical interests. but there is really no need to prove the truth of these patterns from more basic principles. Chinese astronomy was not really a theoretical science. Yet this is a false assumption. It can uncover the laws of heaven and affairs of humans. then the solution to this question is found. and its precision and accuracy is certainly comparable to its Western counterpart. It was the most exact science among Chinese sciences. and extolled its great application in things great and small. what is the point of proving it? For the ancient Chinese. if a mathematical question can be classified into a kind whose exemplar cases have been given a solution.

So it seems that we have a clear example of a theoretical science in China. The sun is attached to the heavens. and astronomers treat it as a basic cycle. by finding the lowest common multiples of these two cycles. the sun shifts its position between the seasons. 000 li between the heaven and the earth. Let me use the Quarter Day system of the Han Dynasty to illustrate it. and the square earth is like a basin turned upside down. Chinese calendarmaking is a complicated mathematical theory based on cycles of motion (see Sivin 1969). and treated many phenomena involved with planet motions as unpredictable events (which were given astrological explanations). Based on the Huntian theory. Greek astronomy designed geometrical models to explain the complex patterns of planet motion. but were never connected with observation in a precise way.Chinese Logic and Theoretical Sciences hemispherical cover. theory claims that the sun. the Great Planetary Conjunction Cycle is 138. as ZHANG Heng 張衡 explains. The theory played very different roles in their systems. and equinoxes but also aimed at discovering other heavenly regularities. which later Chinese astronomers realized is not true). helped to explain some phenomena (such as eclipses). this science had no theoretical elements at all. and the sun repeats its yearly motion in 365 and a quarter days. solstices. these theories only provided a theoretical framework. did not have much influence in Chinese astronomy. There is a constant distance of 80. and that is a cycle of 19 years (or 235 months). This is to say that both the sun and the moon repeat their exact positions every 19 years. . and offered an explanation that these objects are not attached to anything (e. With this basic cycle.26 The precise prediction of regular heavenly phenomena was handled in a separate subject. which were perfected by later astronomers (especially GUO Shoujing 郭守敬 of the Yuan Dynasty). This cycle is called the Rule Cycle. and besides moving along with the heaven’s daily rotation. the basic cycle becomes much larger (e. and the earth floats on the waters. ZHANG Heng made his famous armillary spheres (huntian yi 渾天儀). The theory also noted the regressions of planets and the movements of the sun and the moon themselves. Armillary spheres were very useful in observations and explanations but were rarely used for prediction of heavenly phenomena. says that the heaven is like a hen’s egg. Yet this similarity is only apparent. the science of calendar-making. the moon. which was the foundation of Western astronomy until Copernicus..240 years). Xuanye theory. The Hun Tian 渾天 (celestial sphere) theory. 26 This is especially obvious with the motion of planets. The third. and the Huntian theory dominated Chinese astronomy after the Han Dynasty.g. There was a rigorous debate between the Gaitian and Huntian theories. Chinese astronomy never figured out the orbits of planets. All are condensed vapor (qi). The motions of the sun and the moon (and other planets) are understood as constant cycles that repeat themselves forever. Different from Greek astronomy. The Chinese understood the calendar in a very broad sense. Xuanye 宣夜 (infinite empty space). But it was not used to make precise predictions. The heaven is supported by qi. such as solar and lunar eclipses and planetary motions. Chinese cosmological theories were not based on a geometrical system. However. and assisted in observation. The Huntian theory offered a basic cosmological model. Chinese astronomers then calculate the larger cycle in which both the sun and the moon return to the same position. the heaven) and move by their own nature (see Needham 1959: 210–224). despite its similarity to modern astronomy. As a result. as it determined not only the length of a year. If we consider other regular heavenly objects such as planetary motion. The system says that the moon repeats its monthly motion in 29 and 499/940 days. and the stars float freely in the infinite empty space. The Huntian theory is very similar to the Greek two-sphere theory. while the earth is like the yolk of the egg and lies alone in the center. they predict the relative locations of the sun and the moon at any time (assuming they move at a constant speed.g.

If this is the case. Ptolemy’s system has been repeatedly revised (e. cycle theory cannot explain more than what has been observed: the greater cycle is not derived from empirical observations but is directly observed. Even Copernicus used the same problem-solving mechanisms (except the notion of equant) in his new system. and later astronomers rarely doubted the system as a whole.SUN Weimin yet the mathematical principle of cycle calculation is the same. If we know that the cycle of the occurrence of moon eclipse. Ptolemy’s geometrical system had a deductive mechanism to explain and predict all observable heavenly phenomena. such as deferent and epicycle. the celestial 3…. These theoretical concepts played crucial roles in the system as they were used to account for empirical observations. including the motion of the sun and planets (relative to the heavenly sphere). It seems to be only an effort to attach the theory to the prestigious Book of Changes. and equant. Copernicus’s revolution was a direct response to the crisis encountered by Ptolemy’s 27 Sivin mentioned that there are attempts to derive the larger cycle (19 years) from the Book of Changes. It does not have any theoretical components. more epicycles added to the system) in light of more precise observations. the major difference between the two competing systems. but it also had an internal mechanism to accommodate mismatches between its predictions and empirical observations. When the numbers are properly distributed [among the five elements]. and the earthly numbers are five. which was exactly the case in the history of Chinese calendar-making. Also. In this system. and a year is 365 and 385/ 1539 days. it is essentially an algebraic manipulation of empirical observations of heavenly regularities. but it has no theoretical elements. any change in empirical observation would lead to a radically different cycle theory. The geometrical system has a great advantage. The celestial numbers are five. but they were not connected with empirical phenomena in a proper (deductive) way. Then the celestial numbers are 25. Further. though it can be argued that the science of calendar-making has a mathematical structure. permutation has gone as far as it can and so there is a transformation [which begins the cycle again]” (Sivin 1995: 8). We can find an example in Han Shu (漢書): “The Book of Changes says: ‘The celestial 1. which presents a geo-centered two-sphere geometrical system. so it must have been derived from the empirical observation of the Rule Cycle (the solstice and the new moon recur on the same day every 19 years). the numbers of heaven and earth together are 55. the basic ideas and the theoretical tools remained the same. the Quarter Day system and the Triple Concordance system. In the history of Western astronomy.27 Furthermore. The cosmological theories were theoretical. Greek astronomy was very different. while the Triple Concordance system claimed that a lunar month is 29 and 43/81 days. However. The science of calendar-making is mathematical. This is also the strategy utilized to predict moon and sun eclipses. By this number change is brought to completion and the spiritual beings set in motion. and the eclipse of the sun and the moon. Not only did it give precise explanations and correct predictions. . Chinese astronomy was not a theoretical science. The key to the cycle theory is the precise determination of observable cycles such as that of the moon and the sun. each plays a complementary part in the whole. For example. However. then we can predict its next occurrence. the earthly numbers are 30. Only after we know the durations of these cycles can we determine the basic cycles. Consider Ptolemy’s system in Almagest. eccentric. the geometrical motions attributed to planets and the sun. This deduction hardly makes any sense.g. The larger cycle must be empirically discovered. are not directly observable. the earthly 2. was the cycles of the sun and the moon: the Quarter Day system used the above numbers. which rejected some of Ptolemy’s fundamental assumptions. the extremely precise measurement of a month (as 29 and 499/940 days) cannot come from actual observations. adding the final [yin and yang] numbers gives 19. So Ptolemy’s astronomy has all the features of theoretical sciences. In summary.

Chinese sciences did not develop into modern science. Chinese astronomers were so frustrated that they had little confidence in any calendar theory.30 Bodde claims that “written Chinese has. Words in literary Chinese were used in a variety of grammatical forms. It had no underlying geometrical system that deductively connected the theory to empirical observations. an equally persuasive case might be made for calling him the last great Ptolemaic astronomer” (Kuhn 1957: 181). If a different cycle was used. there was no internal theoretical connection between different cycle theories. as the text of the De Revolutionibus indicates. The Needham problem is to explain why. and there was no punctuation to separate sentences. and Murphey (Sivin 1982). needs to be published separately (Bodde 1991). Sivin also mentioned some Western authors. parallel to or better than the West. as its Western counterpart did.29 Needham understands modern science as the quantitative sciences developed in Europe since the 16th century. Note that many Renaissance thinkers (such as Francis Bacon) also blamed language for the lack of scientific development in the Middle Ages and advocated a new scientific language. “was much more efficient than occidental in gaining natural knowledge and in applying it to practical human needs” (Needham 2004: 1). REN Hongjun 任鴻隽. though his approach is probably the most thoughtful and certainly the most influential. Contrary to many other experts (including Graham and Needham). 30 The difference here between Needham and Bodde is so great that Bodde’s monograph. Also. a Han official complained: “the Way of Heaven is so subtle. then it was a completely different theory. and without the framework of the Ptolemaic astronomy the Copernican system would not be possible. away from synthesis and generalization and toward compilation and commentary” (Bodde: 96). 28 Kuhn offers a good account of the transition from the Ptolemaic system to the Copernican system in his book The Copernican Revolution. in a similarly-titled paper in 1922. The cycle theory did not have a theoretical structure. Bodde. precise measurement so difficult. which are characterized as the combination of mathematized hypotheses about natural phenomena with relentless experimentation. between the 1st century and 15th century. Chinese literary devices and techniques “have all served to turn Chinese scholarship away from substance and toward form. Many ideas have been offered to explain this problem. that we can never be sure a technique is correct until it has been confirmed in practice—nor that it is adequate until discrepancies have shown up” (Sivin 1995: 60). which was originally a part of SCC’s Volume 7. 4 The Needham Problem Reconsidered Needham’s twenty-plus volumes of Science and Civilization in China has established beyond doubt that the Chinese had great scientific knowledge. . and chronological schemas so lacking in unanimity. blames 29 the lack of attention to the inductive method. This problem is more pressing if we consider the fact (which Needham formulated as the second. Actually. and could not offer an internal problem-solving mechanism to handle mismatches between its prediction and observations. in spite of great successes in earlier periods. Needham was not the first to be puzzled by this problem. Yet even at the beginning of the project. claims that “Chinese ideal prefers enjoyment to power that China has no need of science” (see Sivin 1995: 261). such as Dubs. FENG Youlan 馮友蘭.Chinese Logic and Theoretical Sciences system. Frustrated by failures of available systems to predict the moon eclipse.28 Chinese astronomy developed differently. But. in “On the Absence of Science in China” in 1915. computational methods so varying in approach. equally important question) that Chinese civilization. until the Scientific Revolution. Kuhn comments: “Copernicus is frequently called the first modern astronomer. Needham was deeply puzzled over why the Chinese did not discover modern science. Derek Bodde claims that Chinese written language was too vague and ambiguous to be fit for scientific purposes. Further.

32 Yet this non-intervening character also discouraged the experimental method from being fused with the mathematics of the scholars that is necessary for modern science. Needham further identifies the Daoist non-intervening (wu-wei) attitude to nature as a propitious factor that helped to advance earlier scientific development. which he calls bureaucratic Feudalism. others do not offer a sufficient answer to the Needham problem. i. He identifies Chinese society since the Han Dynasty as a kind of Asiatic mode of production. (Einstein 1963: 142) So it could be just lucky that modern sciences were discovered at all.33 Interesting as it is. as will be clear from the discussion below. “In medieval China there had been more systematic experimentation than the Greeks had ever attempted. This is a society “which functioned fundamentally in a ‘learned’ way. it was perhaps more difficult in China to make it philosophically respected” (Needham 2004: 17–18). In my opinion one should not be astonished that the Chinese sages have not taken those steps. The Needham problem is narrow in its scope: it focuses on a specific historical period in a specific region. and while this had always been accepted in the arts and trades. Inside this bureaucratic society. or at least it was a chance event that it was discovered by the Europeans in the 16–17th centuries. mathematics could not come together with empirical Nature-observation and experiment to produce something fundamentally new” (Needham 2004: 17). Needham claims that “there was no modern science in China because there was no democracy” (Needham 1969: 152). which he contrasts with mechanical philosophy. the Needham Problem may not be the most pressing problem. but so long as ‘bureaucratic feudalism’ remained unchanged. See Nakayama 1973 for further discussion. which he regards as an inhibitory factor for scientific development. or medieval Europe either.31 but the main idea is constant. Justin Lin (1995) believes that it is the system of civil-service examination that diverted curious geniuses from scientific investigations.SUN Weimin in a variety of ways. This is because “experiment demanded too much active intervention. As Needham puts it. In particular he aims to explain the development of science and technology in China by the mode of social production. . but organic philosophy is for the present and the future science. Toby Huff blames the Chinese higher education system and the legal-political system in general for failing to create a neutral sphere of intellectual autonomy independent from state authorities (Huff 1995: 316–7). There are also sociological explanations to the Needham problem. The astonishing thing is that those discoveries were made at all. Needham believes that mechanical philosophy is necessary for the development of modern science. 33 Some of them are based on false or partially false premises (Bodde). Needham’s own thoughts have evolved with time. Needham believes that the cultural elements (of which sciences are part) are determined by material factors. indeed more so than in Europe. 32 Needham has high praise for Daoism. As a Marxist. and economic factors. not military commanders” (Needham 2004: 16). and not much love for Confucianism. the seats of power being filled by scholars. He also extols the organic thought in Chinese philosophy.e. social. hydrological. geographical. hindered more than it has helped the development of scientific ways of thinking in China” (Bodde: 95). which often aim at narrower and more specific causes. I will not examine these proposals in this paper. Similar questions can be asked about India and Islamic states: why did not 31 In a paper written in 1946. Einstein once commented: The development of Western science is based on two great achievements: the invention of the formal logical system (in Euclidean geometry) by the Greek philosophers and the discovery of the possibility of finding out causal relationships by systematic experiment (during the Renaissance).

since there were no theoretical sciences in the long history of Chinese civilization. Unfortunately. So the really puzzling problem is why the Chinese did not have theoretical sciences at all. Yet. and Tang Dynasty to a lesser degree). Archimedes. Descartes. And it is not a problem only at a social-political level: there were also no traces of individual scientists who had developed theoretical sciences.Chinese Logic and Theoretical Sciences modern science emerge in those societies which also had great accomplishments in science and technology? For such questions about particular historical events. broadly construed. and its outcome is what we know today as modern science. modern Western sciences did not develop in a vacuum. Impressed by the practical success of Chinese sciences. Ptolemy. It is just that these factors alone cannot provide a sufficient explanation to the Needham problem. scholars were killed or enslaved. but a rediscovery of a much older tradition. some of the theories were preserved and studied by the Arabs and were translated and gradually recovered around the time of the Renaissance. Since modern sciences are essentially theoretical sciences. This set the stage for later development by Galileo. In the dark ages. Fortunately. It is not just with a particular culture: China went through many dynasties that had very different sociopolitical structures and religious and cultural systems. Euclid. why couldn’t the Chinese? This puzzle cannot be explained by social and cultural conditions alone. Chinese societies went through many social-political and ideological changes which were often dramatically different from each other. Qin Dynasty. In contrast. They developed advanced sciences that are essentially theoretical. This says that theoretical sciences were not new inventions of the Renaissance. Why did the Chinese fail to develop theoretical sciences at all? The failure is especially egregious. except from piecemeal information that was often misunderstood. Lucio Russo argues persuasively that theoretical sciences flourished in the Hellenistic period (Russo 2004). there is no essential difference between modern sciences and Hellenistic sciences. Later Greek sciences of the Hellenistic period were not essentially different from modern sciences. Even Confucianism was not always the dominant theme in a society (e. it seems that the best we can do is to have some social/economic explanations. Due to advances in technology and changes in social structure. but failed to develop any theoretical science at all? If the Greeks could develop theoretical sciences. if we can find out what inhibits the Chinese from developing theoretical sciences. and students were nowhere to be found. Bureaucratic government was not firmly established until the Tang Dynasty. people did not even know what had been accomplished by Hellenistic sciences. . It is not just with a particular time. there was no theoretical science in China at all. From the late Zhou to the Qing Dynasty. The real puzzle seems to be: why did China miss not just ONE opportunity to develop theoretical sciences in modern times. Also. But there is a more general question to investigate: in the long history of China. then we also have a good answer to the original Needham problem. sciences were gradually lost in the Roman Imperial period when the Hellenistic kingdoms were annexed by the Roman Empire. Yuan Dynasty. the Chinese did not have theoretical sciences.g. and the contents of civil-service examination varied greatly in different 34 Social-economic-political factors are certainly important for scientific development. and others. Books were destroyed. Hipparchus. Needham failed to recognize that there were essential differences between ancient Chinese sciences and Western sciences before the scientific revolution.34 mathematics and sciences developed at a much faster rate and had a greater scope of applications. and applied them to empirical matters with great success. Some recent studies argue that theoretical sciences emerged long before the 16th century. and Galen are just some famous names from many scientists in this period who made great discoveries in many different fields.

36 A natural question to ask is why the Chinese did not develop deductive logic while the Greeks did. analogical inferences were the primary means in their pursuit of knowledge. while the Greeks had to be ready to defend themselves in the people’s court (Lloyd 2004: ch.SUN Weimin dynasties. Chinese scientists and philosophers did not see the need of proving their beliefs based on fundamental principles in a deductive system. As I have argued earlier. different religious and philosophical ideas were prevalent at different times. But these were mostly an unconscious use of deductive logic. Furthermore. Since most theoretical sciences postulate theoretical entities and all of them require that theoretical elements be deductively connected to empirical phenomena. I think the analogical nature of Chinese logic may help us resolve this puzzle. There was no trace of any theoretical science in any field of scientific studies.36 35 There are cases of deductive inferences in Chinese sciences (such as YANG Xiong’s Eight Refutations of Gai-tian Theory). The detailed discussion of this issue is beyond the scope of this paper. Also analogical logic cannot provide a deductive structure for a theory. but cannot sufficiently explain why there was no individual effort to develop theoretical sciences. Chinese scientists implicitly or explicitly relied on analogical inference in their scientific studies. Lloyd suggests that reasoning and argumentation have different purposes in Chinese and Greek society. Yet typical analogical inference relies upon observable exemplars to draw the inference. this orientation of analogical logic affected almost all philosophers and scientists at different times. analogical logic can do everything that a formal deductive logic can do at an empirical level of scientific study. Instead. This direction of Chinese logic had a deep impact on other parts of Chinese civilization. The goal of Chinese scientists was to know kinds. The only missing link to theoretical science is the deductive connection between theories and empirical observation. There was no conscious and systematic effort to utilize deductive logic in scientific explanation or theory building. Therefore. but it also determines that Chinese sciences cannot be theoretical sciences. This indicates that the dominance of analogical reasoning in Chinese thought is a crucial reason that. the logical connection from unobservable entities to observable phenomena cannot be supported by analogical reasoning. R. The Chinese were more concerned with persuading the ruler. not to build systems.35 The analogical nature of Chinese logic can also explain the great successes in Chinese sciences (i. Analogical logic is a great tool for the expansion of empirical knowledge. Also. G. Given the basic role that logic plays in our inquiry. Analogical logic is extremely conducive to empirical generalizations. So it is no surprise to see that Chinese sciences flourished within the framework of analogical logic. And they did not lack experimental spirit. The ancient Chinese had plenty of theories. so analogical inferences are limited in the sphere of observable entities. Analogical inference is also easy to learn and to use and has a practical advantage over syllogistic inference.e. regardless of the social-political situations. a distinct feature of Chinese logic is the dominance of analogical inference and the lack of attention to deductive inference. The dominance of analogical thinking in China decided the fate of ancient Chinese sciences. the second part of the Needham problem). social and cultural factors work best with explaining the general direction of scientific development. Basically. . theoretical sciences cannot be supported by analogical logic. including the higher sciences of scholars such as astronomy and the lower empirical subjects of artisans such as porcelain-making. the analogical inferences are invalid arguments that cannot guarantee the truth of their conclusions even when all their premises are true. They also had advanced mathematics to have adequate quantitative representation of the world. and the knowledge about kinds becomes an explicit goal of scientific inquiry. E. especially on Chinese sciences. Formally speaking. in the long history of Chinese civilization. there was no trace of theoretical sciences. 4).

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