Between Nihilism and Anti-Essentialism: A Conceptualist Interpretation of Nāgārjuna

Philosophy East and West 64 (1):151-173 (2014)

Authors
John Spackman
Middlebury College
Abstract
This paper defends a “conceptualist” interpretation of Nāgārjuna which stands in-between two other prominent accounts, the nihilist view and what I call the anti-essentialist view. The nihilist reading, recently defended by Thomas Wood, holds that for Nāgārjuna nothing exists either at the ultimate or at the conventional level. On the anti-essentialist account, supported by Jay Garfield and David Kalupahana, though Nāgārjuna rejects the ultimate existence of things as svabhāva (independent), he affirms their conventional existence as interdependent. I argue that the nihilist view raises two challenges to which anti-essentialists have given no adequate response. The first alleges that the notion that all things are interdependent is incoherent. The second consists of passages from Nāgārjuna’s writings that seem to claim that whatever exists is svabhāva or depends on what is svabhāva. The conceptualist interpretation, I suggest, allows us to respond to these challenges while avoiding the implausible nihilist account. On this view, the passages in question assert a claim not about what exists but about the concept of existence, namely that it is a core part of this concept that what exists is either svabhāva or depends on what is svabhāva. Thus, contra the anti-essentialist, Nāgārjuna’s view is that there is no coherent concept of universal interdependent existence. But contra the nihilist, things can still be said to exist conventionally, since conventional discourse is precisely discourse in which subjects do not endorse the svabhāva component of the concept of existence. The upshot – again contra the anti-essentialist – is that both conventional truth and emptiness are strictly inconceivable.
Keywords Nagarjuna  Madhyamika
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1353/pew.2014.0000
Options
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive


Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 46,206
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

On the Nihilist Interpretation of Madhyamaka.Jan Westerhoff - 2016 - Journal of Indian Philosophy 44 (2):337-376.
Contemporary Philosophy of Mind and Buddhist Thought.John Spackman - 2012 - Philosophy Compass 7 (10):741-751.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Leibniz on Concept and Substance.Michael K. Shim - 2006 - International Philosophical Quarterly 46 (3):309-325.
Essentialism and Anti-Essentialism in Feminist Philosophy.Alison Stone - 2004 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 1 (2):135-153.
Evolutionary Essentialism.Denis Walsh - 2006 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (2):425-448.
Essence and Anti-Essentialism About Art.Lauren Tillinghast - 2004 - British Journal of Aesthetics 44 (2):167-183.
Nāgārjuna’s Arguments on Motion Revisited.Jan Westerhoff - 2008 - Journal of Indian Philosophy 36 (4):455-479.
Descartes No Es Un Conceptualista.Amy Karofsky - 2002 - Areté. Revista de Filosofía 14 (2):191-209.
Nāgārjuna's Fundamental Doctrine of Pratītyasamutpāda.Ewing Chinn - 2001 - Philosophy East and West 51 (1):54-72.
Dupre's Anti-Essentialist Objection to Reductionism.D. Gene Witmer - 2003 - Philosophical Quarterly 53 (211):181-200.

Analytics

Added to PP index
2014-01-29

Total views
26 ( #355,998 of 2,285,691 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
3 ( #417,490 of 2,285,691 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Downloads

My notes

Sign in to use this feature