Philosophy East and West 64 (1):25-48 (2014)

Tao Jiang
Rutgers University - New Brunswick
Nāgārjuna is reconstructed in the essay as someone who challenges the way much of mainstream Western and Indian philosophical traditions deal with the tension between conceptions of ultimate and conventional reality. I argue that Nāgārjuna’s philosophical deliberation exhibits a clear recognition that conceptions of ultimate and conventional reality are, in the final analysis, incompatible and that most of the effort to reconcile the tension has resulted in sacrificing the reality of the world and, as such, is misguided. I make the case that Nāgārjuna stands out as one of the few major thinkers in the history of philosophy, Western and Indian, who fully recognize the tension between the two conceptions of reality and vigorously argues for their incommensurability. However, Nāgārjuna flouts the mainstream approach, both in the West and in India, which tends to sacrifice the conventional reality. First, he rejects the bifurcation of reality into ultimate and conventional by calling into question our naturalized but naive understanding of the ultimate and the conventional. Second, he repudiates any conception of ultimate reality—which turns out to be empty—and embraces a radicalized conception of conventional reality—which is the only reality for him. Third, and most importantly, in so doing he problematizes the subtle presence of ultimate entities within our understanding of the world and radicalizes such an understanding by cleansing it from any ultimate element, such as substance and essence, et cetera.
Keywords ultimate reality  conventional reality  incommensurability  generative  Genic  Two truths  Nāgārjuna
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DOI 10.1353/pew.2014.0004
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