[Buddha-l] Realism, anti-realism and Buddhism #1

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Fri May 23 06:01:24 MDT 2008

[This message got held up by the server because of size, so I am splitting
it into two messages. A message that I sent after the first version of this
message has already gone out to the list.]


Your response opens onto numerous side issues, which while interesting and
important in themselves, might distract from the initial questions, so I
will offer two separate posts: this one attempting to keep the focus on the
realist vs antirealist proposal, and a separate one that responds to the
side issues.

> > This sort of two-valued logic was
> > considered naive by many Indian philosophers, not just Buddhists but
> > etc., as well.
> I am not aware of any Indian philosophers who rejected two-valued logic.
> The Jainas certainly did not. Their syaad-vaada is entirely bivalent,
> although it is based on the observation that truth claims are always
> made from a particular perspective.

Syadvada and anekantavada are themselves subject to numerous
interpretations, which we can take up separately in other postings. The
two-valued logic I was referring to is one in which (1) only two opposing
options are considered viable, and thus all-inclusive, and (2) that reduces
reality to propositions. The catuhskoti entertains four alternatives, three
of which are considered potentially viable (neither/nor is invariably
"false"). Syadvada, as you know, adds three additional options to the
catuhskoti (writing quickly), the last three explicitly concerning the
question of whether what is being indicated can or cannot be linguistically
expressed or articulated. In fact, the last three are explicitly formulated
as indicating the non-expressibility of the subject. Western treatments tend
to treat these last three alternatives as either superfluous or mysterious.
They are not.

Let me briefly sketch this out. If a realist is defined as X, then
everything which is not X must be non-realist. But it is being formulated
for us as "anti-" realist. There is no third option. The realist is one who
assumes that all propositions are either true or false, and they would be so
because they correspond to a state of affairs otherwise called "reality."
This, arguably, is just a formalized version of naive realism. One either
accepts propositional realism, or one is branded an "anti-realist." This is
a bit like antiabortionists claiming they are "pro-life" (implying anyone
who disagrees with them must be "anti-" life). There is no third option.

The proposition "A tree is outside my window" is true if something we call
"tree" can be found in that location. Hence the statement corresponds to a
state of affairs. If one looks through the window and cannot see something
corresponding to the word 'tree" there, then the statement is false.
(Incidentally, Asanga embraces this position in the Tattvaartha chapter;
when a tattva is demonstrable, it is bhaava; when absent, abhaava. To this
he adds a third option: being "liberated" or "free from" [vinirmukta] from
bhaava or abhaava, i.e., non-dual [advaya], the unexcelled Middle Way
[madhyamaa pratipad]. The tattva for this third option is what is cognized
[j~naanam] by all Buddhas, and is the knowledge toward which the Bodhisattva
path aims.)

yat punaḥ pūrvakeṇa ca bhāvenānena cā-bhāvena tad-ubhābhyāṃ
bhāvā-bhāvābhyāṃ vinirmuktaṃ dharma- lakṣaṇa-saṃgṛhītaṃ vastu. tad
a-dvayaṃ. yad a-dvayaṃ sā madhyamā pratipad aṃta-dvaya-vivarjitaṃ
nir-uttarety ucyate. tasmiṃś ca tattve buddhānāṃ bhagavatāṃ su-viśuddhaṃ
jñānaṃ veditavyaṃ. bodhisattvānāṃ punaḥ śikṣā-mārga-prabhāvitaṃ tatra
jñānaṃ veditavyaṃ.

[continued in next message]

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