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

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Mon May 26 02:06:56 MDT 2008


I'm not sure where this will go from here. Your response illustrates that
you don't get it, and then goes on to personify exactly what I highlighted.

> I have no idea what you mean by Analytics.

Right back at you, when you ask:

>(Are you, by any chance, a fan
> of Continental philosophy?)

>And what exactly are the features of
> analytic philosophers?

They include an inability to think without reducing everything to
"propositions." Hence if reality is not reducible to propositions, it is
either not real or not philosophical.

> 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?

No. I mean that they have such a narrow sense of what counts as philosophy
that they would either dismiss large chunks of Asanga (and many other
Buddhist and Indian thinkers) simply because of nonrecognition (it doesn't
appear in their cognitive grid) or endeavor to miss the point by
"translating" him into propositions alien to his project. As we know, all
translation is "interpretation," and it rarely is bloodless.

And here we see that entire point was missed, since:

> 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

Emphasis added. Since metaphors seem to confuse you (and don't attribute
that attitude to Aristotle, who was almost as adept at analogies and
metaphors as his mentor, Plato), let's try simple talk. Reality is one type
of thing. Propositions (or statements) is another. Claims (truth claims,
etc.) are a third. There may or may not be some overlap between two or more
of these. Some truth claims may be propositions, but some may not be.And
reality has primacy. In other words, as is often pointed out, a pain (or
sensation) cannot be described (except by analogy); and the statement "I
feel a sharp pain" does not communicate my actual pain to you, but only a
conceptual approximation that you will only be able approximate to the
extent you have had and remember something comparable. Similarly, describing
colors to a blind person, or music to a deaf person... Statements about the
pain (or color or music) are only "true or false" to the extent the words
correspond -- in some sense -- to the sensations they are attempting to
refer to. Adjectives to describe the pain, such as "sharp" or "acute" or
"stabbing," are themselves metaphors, or analogies.

Now if a "realist" is limited to one who only dabbles in propositions, then
he is not a realist at all, but a propositionalist. He is a nominalist who
presumes his nominalizations are literal, not metaphorical; that his words
correspond *literally* to a state of affairs, without bothering to
demonstrate how that is the case. He presupposes a correspondence theory or
representational theory, such that the direction of his affirmation is from
the propositions to things themselves, rather than the other way around.

By Dummett's definition, syadvada would be antirealist, since it indicates
that one and the same statement may be true in some sense and false in
another. The elephant's leg both is and isn't a pillar (and no more
metaphorically than a stabbing pain that does not involve a sharp implement
can be called a stabbing pain). Jains, it would seem, might be seen as
"questioning the conviction." ("The various forms of what he calls
anti-realism question that conviction") No Jain would appreciate being
classified as an antirealist, and would consider anyone who does so on the
basis of this sort of absolutistic opposition (realist vs antirealist) is
too near-sighted to have anything meaningful to say about reality.

Put another way: Why must a realist be committed to assuming that language
is an accurate and complete mirror of reality? Isn't that naive linguistic
realism? This is another way of arguing

> 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.

But with a difference. Let's say what is being questioned is not
"consciousness," or the capacity to know reality by direct cognition, but
rather the ability to adequately express reality linguistically. Is that
also antirealism? Even though a reality larger than language is being

I'll provide a Buddhist test case in a separate post.

> > What I was trying to indicate is a two-valued system into which two and
> > 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.

Only if you grant the realist the sanctity of his linguistic domain.

> > 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?

A category error. He doesn't realize it (so he is not intentionally lying).

>Now his hypothesis may be wrong. If
> it can be shown to be wrong, then we are all the wiser.

It seems you have offered at least two hypotheses in his name:

1) the criterion of a realist is that s/he accepts that propositions are
either true or false (whatever true or false would mean in such an abstract
2) There are a variety of "positions" that can be subsumed under the heading
"realist" because of heretofore unrecognized commonalities between them.
Similarly, the demons on the other side of the realist divide, the
"anti-realists", hypothetically also share commonalities (the most important
one being that they would question something about language's referential

> There is nothing even remotely like us-them in Dummett's formulation.

That you don't recognize it -- despite it being the foundation of his
hypothesis -- leaves me speechless.

>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.

We have long standing, deep disagreements about Nagarjuna. Perhaps -- again
is simple-speak -- it might be clearer to you expressed this way. The four
"propositions" are not random alternatives. Each is directly entailed by the
negation of the previous statement, and thus each has cumulative value.
Non-X is entertained when X has been demonstrated to be untenable. When it
becomes clear that something is not the case, one leaps to the opposite
conclusion. When non-X is also shown to be untenable, then one searches for
a new possibility, viz both X and non-X. If that is shown to be untenable,
then we again leap to its opposite, neither X nor non-X. These entailments,
the compulsive drive to attach to the opposite are the "vertical"
dimensions. Nagarjuna's method -- on those handful of occasions when he
conjures up the catuhskoti -- is to illustrate for us that this is how our
mind works, and that it is a compulsion, an anu"saya, prapanca in action,
not the calm and objective rational enterprise it pretends to be. That is
why the movement from one alternative to the next, especially when concerned
with deep-seated convictions and presuppositions, releases all sorts of
intense kle"sas. Ergo neither politics nor religion are appropriate topics
for polite discussion. Nagarjuna's method is to expose the compulsive
underbelly, by "cornering" each of the rational options one is forced to
leap to as one's current convictions are undermined. Until, with the fourth
option, one runs out of options. And the untenability of the neither/nor
option entails that despite the impossibility of stating a clear alternative
concerning karma, or aggregations, or time, etc., dispensing with them
altogether is also not an option. That is HIS realism. One has to go through
all four, and they accumulate implications from the options that precede
them (the primarily work only in the order given).

Nagarjuna does not deny propositional calculus per se. But he uses
propositional calculus to demonstrate the inadequacy of propositional
calculus, and to uncover the kle"sic compulsions it pretends to mask.

> 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.

It's been awhile since I read Matilal on this, but this strikes me as
another example of conceptual translation to analytic categories. I don't
think avaktavya has anything to do with separating propositional statements
from the rest of language.

Dan Lusthaus

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