On the Nihilist Interpretation of Madhyamaka

Journal of Indian Philosophy 44 (2):337-376 (2016)
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Madhyamaka philosophy has been frequently characterized as nihilism, not just by its Buddhist and non-Buddhist opponents, but also by some contemporary Buddhologists. This characterization might well strike us as surprising. First, nihilism appears to be straightforwardly inconsistent. It would be curious if a philosophical school holding such an obviously deficient view would have acquired the kind of importance Madhyamaka has acquired in the Asian intellectual landscape over the last two millenia. Second, Madhyamaka by its very name proclaims to tread the “middle way”, and what if anything would count as an extreme position but the view that there is nothing? This essay addresses both the systematic status of nihilist theories as well as the historical contexts in which Madhyamaka has been characterized as nihilistic, aiming to throw some light on plausible and implausible ways of understanding the Madhyamaka intellectual enterprise.



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