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

Richard Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Sun May 25 17:40:59 MDT 2008

On Fri, 2008-05-23 at 20:31 -0400, Dan Lusthaus wrote:

> The point I was trying to make is that the second issue is *not* irrelevant.
> Certainly not for Indian philosophers (see below re: avaktavya). And
> especially not for Asanga, who considers moving beyond naive realism and
> yukti-prasiddha-vada as involving the stripping away of prajnaptis
> (prapanca, etc.) in order to directly know things as they are. That it is
> not on the radar screen of Analytics, or given the prominent place by them
> that Indians give it has led to its relative neglect in Western
> "philosophical" treatments of Indian sources.

I have no idea what you mean by Analytics. Is this a shorthand way of
referring to analytic philosophers? And what exactly are the features of
analytic philosophers? This phrase is more and more recognized as a
phrase in search of a referent. One possible characterization of
analytic philosophy is a style of thinking that places an emphasis on
argumentation and the analysis of the validity thereof, that privileges
scientific method to appeals to authority, and that sees mathematics as
providing a greater clarity than ordinary language. I cannot quite see
how any of Asanga's achievements would not be on the radar of screen
(whatever that metaphor might mean) of analytic philosophers. Do you
mean that analytic philosophers would not even consider Asanga's claims
as worthy of analysis? OR do you mean that they might analyse his claims
and find them unpersuasive and indefensible? 

> I perhaps wasn't as clear as I could have been concerning the sense of
> two-value logic to which I was referring. You seem to be taking my
> statements as a denial or disparagement of such things as the excluded
> middle, which is not what I was suggesting.

I think you got off onto a tangent and leaped from there into something
wholly irrelevant. Let us return to the claim about realism that Dummett
put forward. His claim was that all the forms of philosophical realism,
which are often portrayed as being unrelated except by their use of the
word "realism", do have something in common. What they have in common,
he claims, is the conviction that propositions may be true or false
whether anyone knows them to be so or not. The various forms of what he
calls anti-realism question that conviction. There are may ways of
questioning that conviction. A common way (but by no means the only way)
is to say that the very idea of truth and falsity belongs to human
consciousness, human conventions and human language, and that to speak
of the truth or falsity of claims about things that lie entirely outside
the human ken is to speak a kind of nonsense.  

> What I was trying to indicate is a two-valued system into which two and only
> two options, in toto, are possible. One is either a realist or one is an
> "anti-"realist. 

This seems unexceptionable. If a realist says that there may be
propositions that have truth values but that those truth values are
unknown, a person who says the realist's claim is false is an
anti-realist. One either thinks that the realist's claim is true, or one
thinks it is false. There is no third possibility. And therefore there
is no third category.  

> This is not just a heuristic division, but an attempt at an
> all-encompassing classification.

So when Dummett says it is a heuristic, he is doing what? Lying? Rather
than accuse him of lying, I'm inclined to take him at his word when he
says that he is putting forth an hypothesis, namely, that the various
philosophical positions designated "realism" may have more in common
than is commonly assumed. And if that is so, then it would also be the
case that the many forms of what he heuristically calls "anti-realism"
may also have something in common. Now his hypothesis may be wrong. If
it can be shown to be wrong, then we are all the wiser. I am not sure
whether his hypothesis is right or wrong. One way of testing it is to
see whether it applies to Buddhist philosophy.

>  There is no third option (aside from
> irrelevance), though both realist and antirealist may have many
> subdivisions. All the subdivisions fit INTO the initial opposition. That is
> not an innocent move, since it completely frames and limits the entire
> subsequent discussion. It is us-them in its rawest form.

There is nothing even remotely like us-them in Dummett's formulation. He
is simply trying to put forth a tentative hypothesis that there may be a
conviction that all those who are called "realists" have in common. He
is not even sure which category he himself falls into, and there is no
suggestion at all of antagonism or animosity of the sort usually implied
by invoking the phrase "us-them."  

> A logical proposition, in isolation, may be a two-valued statement (true or
> false), but something else happens depending on how a string of propositions
> are related. A -> B, B -> C, C -> D, etc. is one possibility. A or B, B or
> C, C or D, is another. And so on. The point of the catuhskoti or syadvada is
> to posit newer possibilities which are not just alternatives to the previous
> possibilities, but which also subsume and recontextualize them. To insist
> this is still just two-valued (though two-valued contrasts are still part of
> them and are part of how they relate to each other, i.e., intrinsic and
> extrinsic relations), is like insisting the steps on a ladder are
> horizontal, and therefore the ladder itself is horizontal.

This is about as foolish an argument as I have seen in recent times (and
I say that after having just finished reading about 100 undergraduate
philosophical essays.) I see no support for your unsupported assertion
about what the point of the catu.sko.ti is. It sounds as though you are
saying that the catu.sko.ti somehow denies the validity of propositional
calculus. It sounds as though you are saying that the truth value of the
complex proposition A or B is not a function of the truth values of A
and B. That is quite a remarkable claim, so remarkable that I would
really need to see some evidence of some kind.

>  Obviously such
> characterization will produce something useless for reaching the top shelf
> or changing the lightbulb in a ceiling fixture. The vertical dimension
> (e.g., going from X, -X to Both X and -X) reframes the progressive
> horizontals, and that reframing is not trivial. How the vertical
> recontextualizes the horizontal is important, especially if one wants to
> ascend, though in the "merely two-valued formulation" the vertical links
> become invisible. The steps of a ladder are not exclusively horizontal nor
> exclusively vertical. To insist they are only one or the other would be a
> category error and lead to confusion and paradoxes.

Sorry, Dan, but this makes no sense whatsoever to me. As Aristotle
pointed out, metaphors are always obscure and are therefore a poor
instrument for logical argumentation. You have so many metaphors going
that I really have no idea what you are trying to say. My guess is that
you are not saying much of anything at all but are indluging in
obfuscation for want of a good argument. (Are you, by any chance, a fan
of Continental philosophy?)

> >[...] the seven ways Jaina logicians had of
> > guarding against precipitant and absolute assignment of truth values in
> > complex situations.
> That is the typical characterization. I note that it manages to ignore the
> implications of avaktavya (the amenability or lack thereof of reality to
> linguistic articulation) that is key to the last three nayas.

There is nothing mysterious about avaktavya. It can be seen as the
fairly large realm of sentences that are not propositional in nature;
that is, their truth value cannot be said, because they are not
propositions. Language is full of such sentences. "Be silent" is but one
example. It was something along these lines that Matilal proposed, as I
recall. I'll have to go back and read his musings on Jaina syaadvaada.

> > Dummett is very careful to say that there are many forms of what he
> > calls anti-realism.
> He is making the ladder horizontal.

He is being very careful to say that there are responses to realism and
that if the various kinds of realism have something in common, then so
do the various kinds of anti-realism (if he has correctly identified
what the forms of realism have in common).

> Of course, in Analytic parlance to call something "psychological" is a way
> of saying it is not philosophical, should probably not be part of
> philosophical discourse, and is just fuzzy blabbering that has no room in
> the clean, sanitized precincts of philosophy.

I am not sure which analytic philosophers you have in mind here. It
sounds as though you may be thinking of a grotesque caricature of A.J.
Ayer and other proponents of what was eventually called Logical
Positivism. That movement is not at all synonymous with analytic
philosophy. Neither Dummett nor I are advocating Logical Positivism. As
far as I can see, there is nothing even remotely pejorative in the term
"psychological" as Dummett uses the term, and I am quite sure I am not
using it in any pejorative sense.

Now that we are a little more clear on how terms are being used, I again
pose the question whether Indian Buddhist philosophers took up stances
closer to what Dummett calls realism or closer to what he calls

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

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