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Abstract

It is well known that Chinese philosophers in the Warring States period (475–221 BCE) were enamored with metaphors and analogies in their philosophical discussion. Imageries of plants, tools, and bodily skills abounded in debates over morality, politics, language, and human nature. While previous scholarship on ancient metaphors tends to focus on organic and spiritual ones such as plant and water, I argue that the Warring States period witnessed the emergence of a group of mechanical metaphors, and the metaphorical interest in machines is as ancient as it is cross-cultural. These metaphors started with the Mohist mechanics and the advent of the crossbow around the sixth to the fifth century BCE, gradually making their way into the standard vocabulary of morality and politics. They were all based on the lever (quan 權), a simple device widely used in technologies of weighing and weight-lifting. Lever machines, such as the balance, the well sweep, the crossbow trigger, and the trebuchet, provided metaphorical models for conceptualizing balance and imbalance in various kinds of human relationships. Whereas the function of weighing became a metaphor for decision-making in Confucian ethics, the function of weighing-lifting became a metaphor for strategic or positional advantage in military and political craft. The two functions correspond to two opposite kinds of rationality – value rationality that seeks to find moral balance in a dilemma and instrumental rationality that seeks to create strategic imbalance in power dynamics (that is, how the few could defeat or control the many). Due to the double function of the lever itself, the classical quan acquired the paradoxical meaning of “weighing” (as in quanheng 權衡) and “leverage” (as in quanshi 權勢), both of which survived well into modern Chinese but lost the mechanical association. This dissertation is divide into five chapters. Chapter 1 defines an analytic framework by incorporating the conceptual metaphor theory in cognitive linguistics (with emphasis on the idea of “embodied schema”) and Hans Blumenberg’s historical metaphorology. Chapter 2 defines the ancient Chinese concept of “machine” and compares it with the Greek mechane in the Aristotelian corpus. Chapter 3 describes the embodied schema of the lever’s mechanical functions based on the Mohist Canon with philological analysis of its linguistic expressions. Chapter 4 analyzes the weighing metaphor in the moral philosophy of Mengzi and Xunzi. Lastly, Chapter 5 examines the leverage metaphor in the military philosophy of Sunzi and the political philosophy of Shen Dao.

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