Nāgārjuna's catuṣkoṭi

Journal of Indian Philosophy 34 (4):367-395 (2006)
Abstract
The catuṣkoṭi or tetralemma is an argumentative figure familiar to any reader of Buddhist philosophical literature. Roughly speaking it consists of the enumeration of four alternatives: that some propositions holds, that it fails to hold, that it both holds and fails to hold, that it neither holds nor fails to hold. The tetralemma also constitutes one of the more puzzling features of Buddhist philosophy as the use to which it is put in arguments is not immediately obvious and certainly not uniform: sometimes one of the four possibilities is selected as ‘the right one’, sometimes all four are rejected, sometimes all four are affirmed. It seems that this confusion is only exacerbated by the plethora of treatments we find in the modern commentarial literature, many of which try to analyze the tetralemma by recourse to notions of modern logic. Despite some important work done during the last decades a comprehensive study of the origin and development of the catuṣkoṭi from its use in the earliest Buddhist literature up to its later employment in the Buddhist philosophical works of Tibet, China, and Japan remains yet to be written. The present paper is obviously not intended to fill this gap, but has the specific objective of giving an interpretation of Nāgārrjuna’s employment of the tetralemma which makes both logical sense and is in accordance with his general philosophical position.
Keywords Nagarjuna  Madhyamaka  negation  catuṣkoṭi  tetralemma
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