In the recent literature we find various arguments against the possibility of absolutely general quantification. Far from being merely a technical question in the philosophy of logic, the impossibility of absolutely general quantification (if established) would have severe consequence for ontology, for it would imply the non-existence of the world as traditionally conceived. This paper will investigate these implications for ontology and consider some possible ways of addressing them.
Amongst its many other merits this collection of essays demonstrates the growing maturity of the study of the Indian philosophical tradition. Much of the good scholarship done on non-Western, and in particular on Indian philosophy over the last decades has attempted to show that these texts hailing from east of Suez contain interesting and sophisticated discussions in their own right, discussions that have to be understood against the Ancient Indian intellectual and cultural context rather than evaluated by how closely they (...) can be seen as conforming to current fashions in the Western philosophical debate. While this approach has helped much in alerting us to the difficulties of forcing an ancient intellectual tradition on the procrustean bed of the philosophical interests and concerns of the current day,[...]. (shrink)
In a recent issue of Philosophy East and West Douglas Berger defends a new reading of Mūlamadhyamakakārikā XXIV : 18, arguing that most contemporary translators mistranslate the important term prajñaptir upādāya, misreading it as a compound indicating "dependent designation" or something of the sort, instead of taking it simply to mean "this notion, once acquired." He attributes this alleged error, pervasive in modern scholarship, to Candrakīrti, who, Berger correctly notes, argues for the interpretation he rejects.Berger's analysis, and the reading of (...) the text he suggests is grounded on that analysis, is insightful and fascinating, and certainly generates an understanding of Nāgārjuna's enterprise that is welcome .. (shrink)
Is matter real? Are persons real? Is time real? This Very Short Introduction discusses what, if anything, is "real" by looking at a variety of arguments from philosophy, physics, and cognitive science. The book shows that the question "what is real?" is not some esoteric puzzle that only philosophers ponder. Scientists also ask this question when they investigate whether candidates for the fundamental constituents of matter are actually "out there" or just a mere abstraction from a successful theory and cognitive (...) scientists ask it when trying to find out which set of the bewildering array of data processed by our brain could constitute the basis for the self. -/- Contents: -/- Introduction 1. What is real? Dreams and simulations 2. Is matter real? 3. Are persons real? 4. Is time real? Conclusion. (shrink)
A platitude questioned by many Buddhist thinkers in India and Tibet is the existence of the world. We might be tempted to insert some modifier here, such as “substantial,” “self-existent,” or “intrinsically existent,” for, one might argue, these thinkers did not want to question the existence of the world tout court but only that of a substantial, self-existent, or otherwise suitably qualified world. But perhaps these modifiers are not as important as is generally thought, for the understanding of the world (...) questioned is very much the understanding of the world everybody has. It is the understanding that there is a world out there —independent of our minds — and that when we speak and think about this world we mostly get it right. But the Madhyamaka thinkers under discussion here deny that there is a world out there and claim that our opinions about it are to the greatest part fundamentally and dangerously wrong. (shrink)
The doctrine of the two truths - a conventional truth and an ultimate truth - is central to Buddhist metaphysics and epistemology. The two truths (or two realities), the distinction between them, and the relation between them is understood variously in different Buddhist schools; it is of special importance to the Madhyamaka school. One theory is articulated with particular force by Nagarjuna (2nd ct CE) who famously claims that the two truths are identical to one another and yet distinct. One (...) of the most influential interpretations of Nagarjuna's difficult doctrine derives from the commentary of Candrakirti (6th ct CE). In view of its special soteriological role, much attention has been devoted to explaining the nature of the ultimate truth; less, however, has been paid to understanding the nature of conventional truth, which is often described as "deceptive," "illusion," or "truth for fools." But because of the close relation between the two truths in Madhyamaka, conventional truth also demands analysis. Moonshadows, the product of years of collaboration by ten cowherds engaged in Philosophy and Buddhist Studies, provides this analysis. The book asks, "what is true about conventional truth?" and "what are the implications of an understanding of conventional truth for our lives?" Moonshadows begins with a philosophical exploration of classical Indian and Tibetan texts articulating Candrakati's view, and uses this textual exploration as a basis for a more systematic philosophical consideration of the issues raised by his account. (shrink)
Nagarjuna's Vigrahavyavartani is an essential work of Madhyamaka Buddhist philosophical literature. Written in an accessible question-and-answer style, it contains Nagarjuna's replies to criticisms of his philosophy of the "Middle Way." The Vigrahavyavartani has been widely cited both in canonical literature and in recent scholarship; it has remained a central text in India, Tibet, China, and Japan, and has attracted the interest of greater and greater numbers of Western readers. -/- In The Dispeller of Disputes, Jan Westerhoff offers a clear new (...) translation of the Vigrahavyavartani, taking current philological research and all available editions into account, and adding his own insightful philosophical commentary on the text. Crucial manuscript material has been discovered since the earlier translations were written, and Westerhoff draws on this material to produce a study reflecting the most up-to-date research on this text. In his nuanced and incisive commentary, he explains Nagarjuna's arguments, grounds them in historical and textual scholarship, and explicitly connects them to contemporary philosophical concerns. (shrink)
Tibetan Buddhist writings frequently state that many of the things we perceive in the world are in fact illusory, as illusory as echoes or mirages. In Twelve Examples of Illusion , Jan Westerhoff offers an engaging look at a dozen illusions--including magic tricks, dreams, rainbows, and reflections in a mirror--showing how these phenomena can give us insight into reality. For instance, he offers a fascinating discussion of optical illusions, such as the wheel of fire (the "wheel" seen when a torch (...) is swung rapidly in a circle), discussing Tibetan explanations of this phenomenon as well as the findings of modern psychology, and significantly clarifying the idea that most phenomena--from chairs to trees--are similar illusions. The book uses a variety of crystal-clear examples drawn from a wide variety of fields, including contemporary philosophy and cognitive science, as well as the history of science, optics, artificial intelligence, geometry, economics, and literary theory. Throughout, Westerhoff makes both Buddhist philosophical ideas and the latest theories of mind and brain come alive for the general reader. -/- "This delightful book offers a rich and satisfying philosophical feast to anyone interested in the phenomenon of illusion itself or in the Buddhist analysis of the human condition. Westerhoff draws together classical Buddhist scholarship, contemporary cognitive science and his own judicious philosophical reflection in a serious but refreshingly accessible engagement with the Buddhist tradition in the exploration of the role of illusion in our cognitive and emotional lives." Jay L. Garfield, author of Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika -/- "Jan Westerhoff creatively juxtaposes an important Buddhist study of illusion with fascinating modern researches on illusory experiences, using the latter to illuminate the former. The result is a revealing account of the pervasiveness of illusion in our cognitive experience and the very structure of our cognitive apparatus. It brings to life the Buddhist discussion of illusion, making it relevant to our everyday experience instead of being high-minded intellectual exercises only." -/- Tao Jiang, author of Contexts and Dialogue: Yogacara Buddhism and Modern Psychology on the Subliminal Mind -/- "The twelve similes for the illusory nature of this world are very profound, and Westerhoff does them wonderful justice in this excellent book." -/- Robert Thurman, Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Buddhist Studies, Columbia University. (shrink)
There is unanimous agreement that Nāgārjuna (ca 150–250 AD) is the most important Buddhist philosopher after the historical Buddha himself and one of the most original and influential thinkers in the history of Indian philosophy. His philosophy of the “middle way” (madhyamaka) based around the central notion of “emptiness” (śūnyatā) influenced the Indian philosophical debate for a thousand years after his death; with the spread of Buddhism to Tibet, China, Japan and other Asian countries the writings of Nāgārjuna became an (...) indispensable point of reference for their own philosophical inquiries. A specific reading of Nāgārjuna's thought, called Prāsaṅgika-Madhyamaka, became the official philosophical position of Tibetan Buddhism which regards it as the pinnacle of philosophical sophistication up to the present day. (shrink)
Amongst the different forms of constructivism the Goodmanian variety (also known as irrealism) is one of the most extreme, and one of the most interesting. Unlike various localized constructivist theories it does not just claim that scientific theories or social institutions are constructs but that everything is a construct. This universal claim leads to an interesting problem.
The Indian philosopher Acarya Nagarjuna (c. 150-250 CE) was the founder of the Madhyamaka (Middle Path) school of Mahayana Buddhism and arguably the most influential Buddhist thinker after Buddha himself. Indeed, in the Tibetan and East Asian traditions, Nagarjuna is often referred to as the "second Buddha." This book presents a survey of the whole of Nagarjuna's philosophy based on his key philosophical writings. His primary contribution to Buddhist thought lies in the further development of the concept of sunyata or (...) "emptiness." For Nagarjuna, all phenomena are without any svabhava, literally "own-nature" or "self-nature," and thus without any underlying substance. Particular emphasis is put on discussing Nagarjuna's thinking as philosophy. The present discussion shows how his thoughts on metaphysics, epistemology, the self, language, and truth present a unified theory of reality with considerable systematic appeal. The book offers a systematic account of Nagarjuna's philosophical position. It reads Nagarjuna in his own philosophical context, but also shows that the issues of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy have at least family resemblances to issues in European philosophy. (shrink)
The so-called `no-thesis' view is without a doubt one of the most immediately puzzling philosophical features of Nāgārjuna's thought and also largely responsible for ascribing to him either sceptical or mystical leanings (or indeed both). The locus classicus for this view is found in verse 29 of the Vigrahavyāvartanī: “If I had some thesis the defect [just mentioned] would as a consequence attach to me. But I have no thesis, so this defect is not applicable to me.” That this absence (...) of a thesis is to be regarded as a positive feature is stressed in a passage from the Yuktiṣaṣṭikā, where Nāgārjuna remarks about the Buddhas: “For these great beings there is no position, no dispute. How could there be another's [opposing] position for those who have no position?” Now it is important to observe that when considered in isolation it is very hard to make any coherent sense of these passages. For even if we assume that the Buddhas do not hold any philosophical position anymore (having perhaps passed beyond all conceptual thinking), how are we to make sense of the first quotation which, in the middle of a work full of philosophical theses claims that there is no such thesis asserted at all? (shrink)
This paper discusses a somewhat neglected reading of the second chapter of Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, arguing that the main focus of a crucial part is a particular theory of properties and their relation to individuals they instantiate, rather than the refutation of specific assumptions about the nature of space and time. Some of Nāgārjuna’s key arguments about motion should be understood as argument templates in which notions other than mover, motion, and so forth could be substituted. The remainder of the discussion (...) of motion does not serve quasi-Zenonian purposes either but uses motion as a principal example of change and considers the soteriological problems of the subject moving (gati) through transmigratory existence (saṃsāra). I attempt to show how this interpretation coheres with Nāgārjuna’s overall philosophical project. (shrink)
This paper considers the philosophical interpretation of the concept of svabhāva, sometimes translated as 'inherent existence' or 'own-being', in the Madyamaka school of Buddhist philosophy. It is argued that svabhāva must be understood as having two different conceptual dimensions, an ontological and a cognitive one. The ontological dimension of svabhāva shows it to play a particular part in theories investigating the most fundamental constituents of the world. Three different understandings of svabhāva are discussed under this heading: svabhāva understood as essence, (...) as substance, and as the true nature of phenomena (absolute svabhāva). The cognitive dimension shows svabhāva as playing an important rôle in our everyday conceptualization of phenomena. Svabhāva is here seen as a superimposition (samāropa) which the mind projects onto the world. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
An implication relation between pictures is defined, it is then shown how conjunctions, disjunctions, negations, and hypotheticals of pictures can be formed on the basis of this. It is argued that these logical operations on pictures correspond to natural cognitive operations employed when thinking about pictures.
The concept of an ontological category is central to metaphysics. Metaphysicians argue about which category of existence an object should be assigned to, whether one category can be reduced to another one, or whether there might be different equally adequate systems of categorization. Answers to these questions presuppose a clear understanding of what precisely an ontological category is, and Jan Westerhoff now provides the first in-depth analysis. After examining a variety of attempted definitions, he proceeds to argue for a new (...) understanding of ontological categories, according to which they are systematizations of our knowledge of the world rather than essential characteristics of the world itself. Metaphysicians will find his work highly stimulating. (shrink)
A set of parameters for classifying composition operations is introduced. These parameters determine whether a composition operation is 1) universal, 2) determinate, 3) whether there is a difference between possible and actual compositions, 4) whether there can be singleton compositions, 5) whether they give rise to a hierarchy, and 6) whether components of compositions can be repeated. Philosophical implications of these parameters (in particular in relation to set theory) and mereology are discussed.
I describe an account of ontological categories which does justice to the facts that not all categories are ontological categories and that ontological categories can stand in containment relations. The account sorts objects into different categories in the same way in which grammar sorts expressions . It then identifies the ontological categories with those which play a certain role in the systematization of collections of categories. The paper concludes by noting that on my account what ontological categories there are is (...) partially interest-relative, and that furthermore no object can belong essentially to its ontological category. (shrink)
This paper discusses a nowadays completely forgotten 18th century attempt of constructing an artificial universal language in a Kantian framework. I give a brief sketch of this language and then address the continuing philosophical significance of the project, focusing in particular on the notions of predication and the copula and on the problem of psychologism.
This paper argues that there is no possible structural way of drawing a distinction between objects of different types, such as individuals and properties of different adicities and orders. We show first that purely combinatorial information (information about how objects combine to form states of affairs) is not sufficient for doing this. We show that for any set of such combinatorial data there is always more than one way of typing them – that is, there are always several ways of (...) classifying the different constituents of states of affairs as individuals and properties. Therefore, contrary to received ontological opinion, no object is essentially of any specific type. In the second part we argue that taking into account logical information does not help either, since logic presupposes the very distinction we are trying to draw. Furthermore, this distinction is not even essential for logic, since logic can function perfectly well without it. We conclude that certain distinctions which have been traditionally regarded as ontologically basic (such as that between individuals and properties) cannot be as fundamental as is often supposed. (shrink)
Although a considerable degree of precision has been introduced both into the formulation and the discussion of ontological theories by the use of formal methods there is still a remarkable indefiniteness about foundational issues. In particular it is not clear what an ontological category is and why we regard something as an ontological category. This is amazing given that the notion of ontological category is in fact the most basic of the whole of ontology: it is what this discipline is (...) about. (shrink)
There have been attempts to get some logic out of belief dynamics, i.e. attempts to deﬁne the constants of propositional logic in terms of functions from sets of beliefs to sets of beliefs. It is interesting to see whether something similar can be done for ontological categories, i.e. ontological constants. The theory presented here will be a (modest) expansion of belief dynamics: it will not only incorporate beliefs, but also parts of beliefs, so called belief fragments. On the basis of (...) this we will give a belief-dynamical account of the ontological categories of states of aﬀairs, individuals, properties of arbitrary adicities and properties of arbitrary orders. (shrink)
This paper is an attempt to argue that there existed a very prominent view of signs and signification in late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe which can help us to understand several puzzling aspects of baroque culture. This view, called here "pansemioticism," constituted a fundamental part of the baroque conception of the world. After sketching the content and importance of pansemioticism, I will show how it can help us to understand the (from a modern perspective) rather puzzling concept of the polymath, (...) or polyhistor, which constituted the ideal of the baroque scientist. In this context I will also discuss a seventeenth century phenomenon essentially connected with polyhistorism, namely that of the early modem polyhistorical collections, the Wunderkamnmern. Since such a study needs a clearly determined focal point, we will concentrate on the last three quarters of the seventeenth century and will mainly discuss works by German authors of the time. (shrink)
This paper seeks to indicate some connections between a major philosophi- cal project of the seventeenth century, the conception of a mathesis universalis, and the practice of baroque poetry. I shall argue that these connections consist in a peculiar view of language and systems of notation which was particularly common in European baroque culture and which provided the necessary conceptual background for both poetry and the mathesis universalis.