Logic, Buddhism, and all that

gp1by Graham Priest

In “Graham Priest on Buddhism and Logic” [1]  Massimo Pigliucci recently commented on a piece I wrote on logic and Buddhist metaphysics, “Beyond True and False” [2]. In this, he explained why he was not persuaded. In an admirable spirit of open-mindedness, he invited me to comment on his thoughts. So, in a similar spirit, this is what I’m doing.

First, let me say that Massimo and I agree on more than we disagree. I agree, for example, that the point of philosophy is to come to a reasoned — and of course, fallible — evaluation of truths about metaphysics, ethics, and so on. That was just not my aim in the piece I wrote, which was to show how the techniques of modern logic can help to understand certain Buddhist views. To evaluate, one must first understand. Secondly, I agree on the virtue of clarity, and abhor obscurantism as much as he does. But, again, having said that, many issues in mathematics and the natural sciences are complex and difficult. One should not expect that they can be spelled out in a way that can be understood without a lot of hard work. Philosophy is no different.

So let me turn to the things about which we disagree. First some general comments. Let us start with logic. Massimo claims that one cannot be wrong in logic since it is purely formal. I find this ahistorical view surprising from someone who has such a grasp of the history of science. Logic (in one of the many senses of the word) is a theory about what follows from what. Western logicians have been producing such theories for about two and a half thousand years. The received view has changed over time, and later views often hold earlier views to be false. Thus, for example, some of the syllogisms Aristotle took to be valid are not held to be so by contemporary logicians. Aristotle held that contradictions do not imply everything; most modern logicians would disagree. One of the great early Medieval logicians, Abelard, held that any conditional of the form ‘if A then it is not the case that A’ is false; most modern logicians would disagree. In the 1960s most logicians held that the conditional ‘if the theory of evolution is false, people have evolved’ is true; few would now subscribe to this view. Are we at the end of history in the process of revising our views about logic?

Second, Buddhism. There is no one thing which is Buddhism, any more than there is one thing which is Christianity. Theravāda Buddhism is very different from Tantric Buddhism, which is very different from Zen Buddhism, and so on. And each of these, in turn, is many things. Each is a religion, a set of meditative and disciplinary practices, an organizational structure, a player in political structures. But each also endorses various philosophical views. It was some (and only some) of these views which were the concern of my article. Next, Buddhist philosophy — as engaged in by its notable historical practitioners — is no different from Western philosophy. For over two thousand years, Buddhist philosophers have been putting forward different views of metaphysics, ethics, and arguing with each other about which is right. Of course, if one’s only knowledge of Buddhism comes from contemporary popular works, one will not see this. One has to read the philosophers themselves, such as Candrakīrti, Tsongkhapa, Fazang — though I would not advise anyone to jump into this literature without a guide, any more than I would do this with Aristotle, Kant, or Wittgenstein [3].

In fact, Buddhist thought is one of the most rationalistic of views connected with a religion. There is no god, and so one is not expected to believe something simply because god is supposed to have revealed it. There is no distinction between natural and revealed thought, as there is in Christianity. Indeed, in the Kālāma Sūtra, the Buddha himself urges people not to believe something simply because some authority figure tells them (an attitude many contemporary Western philosophers would do well to take to heart). A person should accept something only if it makes sense to them.

Third, mysticism. The word is thrown around in a multitude of ways, but my copy of the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as:

  1. The opinions, mental tendencies, of habits of thought and feeling, characteristic of mystics.
  2. Belief in the possibility of union with the Divine nature by means of ecstatic contemplation.
  3. Reliance on spiritual intuition as a means of acquiring knowledge of mysteries inaccessible to the understanding.

(1) is obviously not very helpful; (2) does not apply to Buddhism, since there is no god; and as for (3), spiritual intuition — whatever that is — plays no role in debates in Buddhist philosophy (as opposed to meditative practices). It is true that most Buddhists hold that one can have knowledge by acquaintance of certain aspects of reality. There is nothing very shocking in this. One could cite, here, the taste of a peach. They also hold that the content of some of these experiences cannot be captured in conceptual thought. That being so, one can hardly argue about the content of such an experience. One can certainly argue about whether there is such a thing, however. Debates concerning this matter are, in fact, a perennial theme in those parts of Western philosophy which concern the limits of our language or our concepts. One finds it — with a positive answer — in Plato, Anselm, Kant, Wittgenstein, Heidegger.

Next, a comment on the philosophers Massimo cites with approval and disapproval. Philosophy is written in many ways and styles: Plato’s is quite different from Aquinas’, which is different from Hume’s, which is different from Kant’s, which is different from Wittgenstein’s (two styles), which is different from Heidegger’s (two styles), which is different from Quine’s. And some philosophers are much better literary stylists than others. However, we do not read philosophers for their literary style, but for the content of the ideas and arguments. And this means that one often has to work at getting to grips with the ways in which they express themselves — which includes some understanding of the culture in which they are embedded.  Eastern traditions of philosophy are no different from Western traditions in this regard.

Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamkakārikā (Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way) — a book, incidentally, full of arguments, objections and counter-replies — is indeed cryptic, and a hard work to understand. A major reason for this is simple. Nāgārjuna was operating in a largely oral culture. Tracts were written in verse so that they could be more easily memorized. In teaching, students would recite the verses, and then the teacher would explain and comment on these. These discourses were called “autocommentaries,” and are much less cryptic. In the case of a number of Indian Buddhist texts, we have the autocommentary. In the case of the Mūlamadhyamkakārikā, this is, sadly, lost to us.

Next, Kant. The Critique of Pure Reason has one of the most appalling styles of any important philosophy book. It would be more than fair to describe the style of expression as obscure. Not that Kant had to write like that: Prolegomenon to any Future Metaphysics is much less indigestible. The Critique certainly fails Massimo’s “to hell with it” test. It’s still a great work of philosophy. Naturally, interpreting any philosopher of significance is going to be a contentious matter (my interpretation of Nāgārjuna included), but I find Massimo’s interpretation of the aspect of Kant’s thought at issue in my article unsustainable. He takes Kant’s claims about the noumenal realm as epistemological: we cannot know anything about it. And to be fair, Kant does express himself in this way sometimes. But if one looks at the reasons that Kant gives as to why we can know nothing, they are that one can say nothing. To say anything one has to apply the categories, and these do not apply to objects in this realm. Still, I do not expect to settle matters of Kantian interpretation here.

Next, Wittgenstein (who I think Massimo is prepared to tolerate) and Heidegger (whom he is certainly not). Matters are complicated here by the fact that each has an earlier and a later style, which are quite different. However, the Tractatus of the earlier Wittgenstein is gnomic and elusive in a way that Sein und Zeit of the earlier Heidegger is not. Wittgenstein’s later Philosophical Investigations is written in plain Anglo-Saxon — something one cannot say of some of Heidegger’s later writings. Does this make it easy to understand? Absolutely not. It is full of observations and remarks the point of which are never spelled out. I remember as a young philosopher reading the Investigations. I could make neither head nor tail of it till a colleague who was a Wittgenstein expert helped me to understand. Colleagues have also helped me understand Heidegger. I might say that, arguably, both Wittgenstein and Heidegger had philosophical reasons (unlike Kant) for their (later) philosophical styles; but this is not the place to go into the matter.

Having cleared the undergrowth, let me turn at last to the central point of disagreement. The point of my article was to show how certain aspects of Buddhist metaphysics may be understood better with the help of some modern developments in logic. The logical framework of early Buddhist thought is the catuṣkoṭi. This allows for four possibilities: true, false, both, and neither — unlike the two of Aristotle in the Metaphysics — or the three of De Interpretatione. But this framework makes perfectly good sense given the techniques of modern non-classical logic. The formal logic is highly relevant to understanding what is going on in Buddhist metaphysics. It certainly increases the clarity and precision of the views in question — true contradictions notwithstanding — in a way of which both Massimo and I approve.

My article was not about contradiction in general, however, but about a very particular one: the contradiction that arises when one tries to explain why there are certain things one cannot say anything about, hence saying something about them. One can make sense of even this contradiction using the techniques of modern logic. (The article shows how. I will not repeat it here.) This is an aporia one is faced with whenever one engages with the issue of the limits of language, as do not only Buddhist philosophers, but also Kant, Wittgenstein, et al. It even occurs  in the heartland of contemporary logic and set theory. König’s paradox concerns a realm of objects (the ordinals) many of which cannot be referred to, and the fact that, at least prima facie, one can, nonetheless, say something about some of them. We are dealing with exactly the same phenomenon in both cases: the situation that arises when one tries to understand the limits of our language. If this is not obvious to superficial appearances, all I can say is, look beyond the superficial to the structure of the philosophical problematic here [4].

Is the application of techniques of modern logic to Buddhist philosophy anachronistic? Of course it is. But contemporary philosophers frequently apply the techniques of modern logic in trying to understand and analyze the views of their historical predecessors, as can be seen by looking at various commentaries on Plato, Ockham, Hume, Kant, et al. And quite rightly so: we have learned a lot about logic since they were writing. In virtue of this, we can, in a sense, understand the content of their views better than they did. This is certainly not to say that we are better philosophers. Time has just given us a better understanding of some matters than they had. In exactly the same way, we understand Euclidean geometry better now than did Euclid.

Let me draw together these comments. Massimo says at the start of his article:

  1. “My thesis is that the parallels that Graham sees between logic and Buddhist philosophy are more superficial than he understands them to be and,
  2. more importantly, that Buddhism as presented in his essay, is indeed a type of mysticism, not a philosophy, which means that logic (and consequently argumentation) are beside the point.
  3. Moreover, I will argue that even if the parallels run as deep as Graham maintains, Buddhism would still face the issue — fundamental to any philosophy — of whether what it says is true of the world or not,
  4. an issue that no mystical tradition is actually equipped to handle properly.”

My replies, in summary:

  1. Absolutely not: the techniques of contemporary logic can be applied with advantage to help understand most historical philosophers — East and West. And the aporia concerning the limits of language is important to both traditions.
  2. False. Buddhist philosophy is not mysticism. Argument and counter-argument are central to it. Appeal to mystical intuition — whatever that might be — is not.
  3. Agreed, but that was not the point of the essay.
  4. Maybe; maybe not. That, however, is beside the point here.

I have been a philosopher long enough to know that philosophers do not always see eye to eye, even after careful discussion. That, I think, is the nature of philosophy. But I hope that what I have said will have assuaged at least some of Massimo’s concerns. For the rest, I look forward to continuing discussions.


Graham Priest is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center, and Boyce Gibson Professor Emeritus at the University of Melbourne. His latest books is One: Being an Investigation into the Unity of Reality and of its Parts, including the Singular Object which is Nothingness.

[1] Scientia Salon, 11 August 2014.

[2] Aeon, 5 May 2014.

[3] For three very different guides, one can try: M. Siderits, Buddhism as Philosophy, Ashgate, 2007; A. Carpenter, Indian Buddhist Philosophy, Acumen, 2014; J. Garfield, Engaging Buddhism, Oxford University Press, 2014.

[4] I defend the matter at length in my Beyond the Limits of Thought, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 2002.


178 thoughts on “Logic, Buddhism, and all that

  1. According to my undoubtedly flawed understanding of Buddhist thought, there is a second foundational metaphysical claim in addition and related to reincarnation: that human consciousness can persist without a physical substrate. As with the reincarnation claim, this also cannot withstand the light exposure to the open court of reason.


  2. stizostideon,
    “”As with the reincarnation claim, this also cannot withstand the light exposure to the open court of reason.“”

    Please motivate. Can you explain the reasons for your claim?


  3. To Labnut and partially EJ: Specifically to on point related to secular Buddhism, and Buddhism vis-a-vis other religions, namely, the issue of Bu-Jews: why go chasing after Buddhism for a secular or quasi-secular philosophy when you can mine Job and Ecclesiastes for plenty, and Song of Songs and Proverbs to some degree, and throw away the metaphysics, just like secular Buddhists of all stripes do with Buddhism? Per a commenter to (I think) Massimo’s article, it’s part of a first-generation of converts fad, in my opinion.

    And, per what Bu-Jews could find in their own tradition (and Bu-Xns too), in reference to said fad: “There is nothing new under the sun.”


  4. Well, Wittgenstein wrote with precision, but not clarity! Plato arguably had a certain amount of clarity (even if creating straw men via his mouthpiece), but not necessarily precision.

    Hume strikes me as having a good mix of both, plus style and more.


  5. I halfway think, from what I read on his site, that Sammy is looking at starting a self-help empire, not just writing another book. The book includes workbook/worksheet pages; he offers a CD; he’s talking about lecture appearances. What’s next? An infomercial?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. When you are in some advanced meditative states (focused, more clarity), your intuitive abilities amplify(less cloudy) and you see (or discover) new knowledge; Sometimes this is variably called mysticism by people who could not be in that advanced meditative state (thus, cannot believe such a state exists). I believe the knowledge gained by this process is probably more logical/rational/reasoned than otherwise.

    I do not believe any buddhist thinks buddhism is mysticism in the sense “provides us with knowledge that is otherwise unaccessible to normal human faculties”.

    Because, the whole point of buddhism is that *anybody* (any human) can realize the truths/wisdom of buddha. They may need to grow (mature) before they realize some truths, nevertheless, everybody is able.


  7. Yes, johsh, I agree with this: “I do not believe any buddhist thinks buddhism is mysticism in the sense ‘provides us with knowledge that is otherwise unaccessible to normal human faculties’.”

    Mysticism is one of those terms that needs a context in which to unpack it. Otherwise, it just seems to be a perjorative assertion of spooky action at a distance.


  8. @soc, where did i disagree with “mind transformations are to improve one’s karma and thus one’s reincarnation”. I am basically saying the same thing.

    If you manage to become self-less (nibbana), there is no “you” anymore to reincarnate. Until then, you basically work on your “self” (mind transformation, or improving one’s karma)…until a time(reincarnate) where you become “self-less” (or you become distinction-less, “you” is gone).

    concept of reincarnation in some circles is interpreted as a mind(“self”, “consciousness”) thing, not a literal physical body.


  9. SocraticGadfly, “The mind transformations are to improve one’s karma and thus one’s reincarnation. You have the cart before the horse.”

    That’s one way of looking at it. Another way, though, is that upon enlightment there’s no need for either horse or cart. 🙂


  10. Socratic,
    It is interesting that you say that. On reading the Gutting interview my reaction was one of total bemusement. My first thought was – what on earth has happened to Sam Harris? His Moral Landscape was roundly panned. Was he seeking redemption in Buddhism? Out with science, in with Buddhism? But I think you’ve got it right. He might think this is the next big thing and hopes to cash in. I’m still trying to imagine Harris in the robes of a Buddhist monk but try as I might, my imagination refuses to go that far.


  11. As far as I know Aristotle´s logic dominated the field for about 20 centuries. Aristotle established the traditional logic, he was proud of being the first in this matter. In 1897 Gottlob Frege founded the modern logic or mathematical logic printed in a book titled “Ideography. A formula language, modeled upon that of arithmetic, for pure thought”. Frege set his project in the Leibnizian tradition, he improved the Leibniz´s inquiry about the universal language that lead Leibniz to also improve the Aristotelian syllogistic.

    Frege´s aim was to reduce logic to arithmetic and mathematical analysis by defining the arithmetic notions from pure logic notions and by deducing the arithmetic theorems from logic principles. In that work arised for the first time new methods, concepts and analysis of the current logic.

    Frege created what we today call standard logic or first-order logic, though Peirce, de Morgan and E. Schröder made important contributions in algebraic logic. Furthermore, he presented for the first time a deductive calculus ─a formal system─ for the connective logic, first-order logic and second-order logic.
    Frege remarked that his formal language didn’t pretend in any way to substitute the ordinary language but only for certain chores and for the scientific fields where it is advantageous.

    Graham Priest says that the main point of his article is to show how certain aspects of Buddhist metaphysics may be understood better with the help of some modern developments in logic and argues that “catuṣkoṭi” allows for four possibilities: true, false, both, and neither. It seems to me that these possibilities match the axiomatic method based in a chain of logical statements.

    I guess the Buddha wanted to stop the chain of statements in order to bring the mind into silence. Perhaps he saw that there is no way to enlightenment trough logic, then the path to nirvana was beyond the axiomatic method. What kind of logic would stem from this gap? What sort of logic would explain the perception once the gap between the inner and the outer world has been erased?


  12. Using logic alone to discern meaning of some concepts can be misleading. Particularly when these concepts are about human problems (loss, will,addiction, habits, character/moral, knowledge, wisdom), as they require a human(applying logic) to have certain experience (or background, time spent contemplating) already in those concepts.

    So, If the ingredients of a logic are dependent on which human is doing it (applying logic), we will then need to take that into account. May be this particular kind of logic has some prerequisites – a precondition that the humans doing such logic had to realize those logical ingredients first (walk the path, get familiar/empathize, before you can make sense of those concepts). Consequently, if somebody uses logic alone 100% to disprove/disagree with any of these concepts, it is not logical/rational.


  13. And therefore your example is not relevant to the topic.

    In the context of a discussion like this one ‘mysticism’ does not mean any old nonsense.


  14. I do not believe that bringing the mind to silence is the reason why the Buddha’s rejected the four extreme views on which we can speculate. They were logically refuted by Nagarjuna and are said to be false, and their falsity would be the reason for their rejection. These four answers to all metaphysical questions would rejected in favour of a fifth one.

    This would be reason why a well-known joke has it that it takes five Buddhist to change a light bulb, one to change it, one to not-change it, one to neither change it nor not-change it, one to …well, you get the idea.


  15. PeterJ,
    “”in the context of a discussion like this“”

    I suggest you take that sentence to heart.
    As befits a philosophy forum, I gave a reasoned reply to Massimo that was responsive and engaged the point he was making. I did it politely, something you should note.

    You responded with a blunt contradiction and described my reply as “any old nonsense.(which I deny)
    In the context of the discussion(your words), that was an unthinking response and I suggest your reply is out of keeping with the spirit of the forum. If you did not understand the point I was making(which seemingly you did not) you could have asked and I would have explained. That is how rational people engage with each other. I suggest you engage respectfully and responsively with the conversation, especially since the conversation was not directed at you. This is a philosophy forum and you should behave accordingly.


  16. “This being-with-one-another dissolves one’s own Dasein completely into the kind of being of “the others” in such a way that the others, as distinguishable and explicit, disappear more and more. In this inconspicuousness and unascertainability, the they unfolds its true dictatorship. We enjoy ourselves and have fun the way they enjoy themselves [the way one does this]. We read, see, and judge literature and art the way they see and judge. But we also withdraw from the “great mass” the way they withdraw, we find “shocking” what they find shocking. The they, which is nothing definite and which all are, though not as a sum, prescribes the kind of being of everydayness.”………..

    or one becomes the light bulb


  17. Hi PeterJ,

    I don’t fully grasp the idea , what is the fifth way that lead the Buddha to enlightenment. Why do you think that the four views are extreme?

    I still guess that Siddhartha didn’t refuse logic, but perhaps he understood that logic was useless to reach nirvana, which is a different matter. That’s why I wonder what kind of logic would stem from the gap.


  18. Johsh, you said:

    One major difference is that buddhism exclusively focuses on one’s mind transformation. All the concepts (dhamma, karma, reincarnation), skill-full means (meditation, any personal gods or objects of reverence you may want to have) all of these are just utilities for transforming one’s mind.

    Or shorter, with ellipses: “All the concepts (like) dhamma, karma, reincarnation … are just utilities for transforming one’s mind.

    And, I disagree. Transforming one’s mind, per Buddhism, is the prerequisite for better karma and reincarnation, not the way you phrase it.


  19. Thomas and Labnut, I haven’t read Gutting. Per this whole thread, when Harris said, way back in “End of Faith,” that Buddhism was “just a psychology,” he lost me there, and never got me back. (Well, his Islamophobia lost me even more, but that’s another story.)

    I had, just a month ago, reviewed a book called “10% happier,” from someone who is, per my comment above, a “Bu-Jew.”


    Former ABC reporter Dan Harris is, I think, peddling related items to go with his book, so when I saw all that Harris had on offer, I figured he was building up a “franchise” himself.


  20. This is a good distinction, and problematic for both.

    Buddhism, IMO, has the problem of explaining why karma exists if no individualized self is being reincarnated based on past-life karma.

    Hinduism, in turn, has the problem of explaining why we don’t remember our past lives, if an individual self is reincarnated. (That said, any non-Buddhist idea of reincarnation does, of course.)


  21. That said, I can shape internal attitudes in a deep, and meditative, way, without metaphysics.

    And, I can extract principles from world religions in so doing, without trying to rebaptize them (pun intended) as “philosophies.”

    I present Susan Blackmore’s 10 Zen-based questions:

    Question 1: Am I conscious now?
    Question 2: What was I conscious of a moment ago?
    Question 3: Who is asking the question?
    Question 4: Where is this?
    Question 5: How does thought arise?
    Question 6: THere is no time. What is memory?
    Question 7: When are you?
    Question 8: Are you here now?
    Question 9: What am I doing?
    Question 10: What next?


  22. @soc transforming one’s mind is a continuous process, karma/reincarnation are just its by-products. It only a prereq (for better karma/reincarnation), in the sense that the more you do the better you are off in “terms of the progress”. This accounts for why some humans are born into good families (caste, brahmins or wealth), for seemingly no apparent reason.

    If you end up totally transforming (nirvana, “no self”), there is no reincarnation/karma any more. To understand the concept of reincarnation, it is easier if you backtrack from “no reincarnation” state. And as i mention in other comment, reincarnation has to do with “self” (ego, the feeling of I, I, I;; non-duality);

    From a logical point of view (not necessarily Buddhist beliefs), reincarnation is just a catch-all concept to explain the differences between different humans – their births, life problems, mental capabilities, why some have stronger intuition, pretty much all of those stuff. karma concept is barometer of “transformation of mind” process.


  23. “In fact, Buddhist thought is one of the most rationalistic of views connected with a religion. There is no god, and so one is not expected to believe something simply because god is supposed to have revealed it.”..

    But honestly, no misogynist old men preaching against non-procreative sex accompanied by meteor showers destroying cities, mean old pharoes being confronted by old men with dancing sticks, locusts, rivers of blood, armies swallowed up by rising tides..afterall Budhism is no religion, religion is full of tales accompanied by unexplainable physical events (including teen age pregnancies), leaders speaking truth to power, people with untreated schizophrenia becoming prophets followed by an exclusive book spread by the world’s first great media empire and a marketing plan better than Amway?

    Well maybe there is a historical context of human freedom in the west, while the eastern tradition was so tame that no movements or gods existed; or maybe the emperors were self proclaimed gods who ruthlessly supressed all freedom (like N Korea and Maoist China) for the underclasses and only sponsored a system of monks who lived and meditiated in temples and monasteries?


  24. More seriously, per Thomas Jones and Labnut, I want to post the link to Gutting’s interview with Harris:


    Harris shows himself, IMO, to be his usual tendentious self, namely, where he claims to …. well, where he claims to know the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism much better than many other people who actually know a cardinal difference.

    G.G.: But it seems to depend on who’s looking. Buddhist schools of philosophy say there is no self, and Buddhist meditators claim that their experiences confirm this. But Hindu schools of philosophy say there is a self, a subject of experience, disagreeing only about its exact nature; and Hindu meditators claim that their experiences confirm this. Why prefer the Buddhist experiences to the Hindu experiences? …

    S.H.: Well, I would challenge your interpretation of the Indian literature. The difference between the claims of Hindu yogis and those of Buddhist meditators largely boil down to differences in terminology. Buddhists tend to emphasize what the mind isn’t — using words like selfless, unborn, unconditioned, empty, and so forth. Hindus tend to describe the experience of self-transcendence in positive terms — using terms such as bliss, wisdom, being, and even “capital-S” Self. However, in a tradition like Advaita Vedanta, they are definitely talking about cutting through the illusion of the self.

    However …

    Wiki notes that Advaita has been strongly influenced by Buddhism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advaita_Vedanta

    And, beyond that, it’s arguable that Harris is engaged in an overinterpretation of Advaita, and that, even to the degree he’s right about it, it doesn’t represent the majority of Hindu thought.


  25. That said, I can shape internal attitudes in a deep, and meditative, way, without metaphysics.

    Ah yes, but then you are Socratic. Some of us need metaphysical crutches. Incense is one of my crutches, the sal volatile of the mind.


  26. Nuance, Victor, nuance. Parodies are a lot of fun and really quite emotionally satisfying but I don’t think that is the raison d’être of Scientia Salon.


  27. I seriously question his arguments that there is no self. He says

    The same is true about the conventional sense of self — the feeling of
    being a subject inside your head, a locus of consciousness behind your
    eyes, a thinker in addition to the flow of thoughts. This form of
    subjectivity does not survive scrutiny. If you really look for what you are
    calling “I,” this feeling will disappear.

    A simple analogy will suffice. Imagine I was born without arms and have no access to a mirror. Unaided, I cannot see my face. No matter how hard I look for my face, I cannot see it. I can see and perceive the world perfectly well without seeing my face. If I concentrate on something else I lose awareness of my face. Using Harris’ line of reasoning, this(my face) not survive scrutiny so I do not have a face.

    He is reasoning from our inability to scrutinise something to conclude it does not exist and that is plainly false. In the case of my face and the self, the inability to scrutinise is caused by the locked in perspective that does not allow scrutiny. A first person perspective cannot examine itself from a third person perspective just as I could not examine my face from a third person perspective, in my example above.


  28. Well, to be charitable to Harris, it was a brief interview. But I think there are oddles of better sources than Harris regarding the differences in terminology used by Buddhists and Hinduists. Let’s just say I found his discussion “unenlightening.”


  29. I want to add Hume’s famous comment from A Treatise on Human Nature here:

    “When I enter most intimately into what I call myself I always stumble on some particular perception or other….and never can observe anything but the perception”

    A few issues relevant to this discussion come up.

    1. (Also pace Mark English) Hume makes this statement without engaging in any metaphysics.
    2. Per my comment above that “the only good Buddha is a dead Buddha,” note that we have “I” used three times and “myself” once. If one is an arhat, similarly, how does one talk about that without the use of first-person pronouns, thereby undercutting the idea of a no-self, and certainly, the idea that one is enlightened enough to have already achieved no-selfhood?

    I’m now going to move to a different section of his comment:

    “If any impression gives rise to the idea of self, that impression must continue invariably the same, through the whole course of our lives; since self is supposed to exist after that manner. But there is no impression constant and invariable. Pain and pleasure, grief and joy, passions and sensations succeed each other, and never all exist at the same time.”

    3. NOT directly related to this, but going back to classical Greece: On the word “when” in the first statement, and this …

    How “thin” does one slice time for one sensation, perception or impression to succeed another? In other words, are we at an internalized, psychologized version of Zeno’s Paradoxes of Motion?


  30. I wonder about this moment which Harris’s describes as the “self” disappearing.. Does one remember such a moment? If so then clearly there was still a self. If not then how does one know the self disappeared?


  31. SocraticGadfly,
    Like many of my generation, I channel-surfed through various theistic religions in order to make sense of a changing, complex and difficult social realty, on the basis that ‘there must be something out there.’
    During a severe personal crisis in 1990, I came to realize that there really wasn’t anything out there, leaving me feeling like a lone puppy thrown into a dark sea during a storm. Previously acquired knowledge of Buddhism came to my aid and helped me find shore.
    The Four Noble Truths required no belief in any deity; they seemed to explain the world I was in, and they gave me something to do about it (8-Fold Path). As I studied the tradition, more answers to the problems of my personal experience were derived – on ethical issues, on how to confront reality on its own terms, on what it meant to have or be a “self,” and so forth. (I studied with an immigrant Tibetan monk and a Theravadan from India; the Mahayanan articulated history better, but the pragmatistic attitude of the Theravadan was more persuasive. At the same time, I was doing post-doctoral studies in Peirce, Wittgenstein, Aristotle , Aquinas, and Heidegger, trying to develop a book on possible Realist foundations to semiotics, which never came together; I only ended up a mild nominalist. It was a strange couple years.)
    There was nothing for me in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Semiotically, all texts in a monotheistic tradition (i.e., sacred texts, theology) signify recursively to ‘god,’ because the term is an empty signifier that is held to justify all signification. To put it more simply, the definitions of ‘god’ (all this, all that, all whatever) can not define the entity, but the entity is held to be the ground of anything definable. The only way to get around this is to have anything said of anything substantial lead back into that ground as final justification. “God made everything” is actually a meaningless statement ( since it claims not only knowledge of god but knowledge of everything, which is impossible); but the catechetical call and response – “Who made you?” “God made me” – not only seems to justify ‘me,’ but ‘god’ as well. I am not making a full argument here, I have no interest in converting or de-converting anybody. I’m just reporting why the texts of the Western religions now offer no basis for my thinking. Since 1990, my only interest in the Western religions has been historical and technical.
    I understand your distrust of fad-religions and fad-conversions. (I visited a friend at the Nairopa Institute in 1980, and was appalled with the superficiality of the people attending it then.) On the other hand my 24 years of study and reflection can hardly constitute a fad, unless we want to say that lived experience is itself mere fashion.


  32. no-self does not mean dead (or no existence). It is a state of mind where you stop seeing the difference between self-ish and self-less. When somebody says “knock, knock, who’s there” to buddha, he will respond (with “me”). But he can still be “self less”. It is just your outlook of the world, and of existence itself. Only in this state, can you be dukkha-less. If a human can be 100% all the time in that state, i.e become buddha, is something everyone needs to find out on their own (dont go with other people’s opinions).

    If you want a logical analysis for this “no-self” thing, you should look into nagarjuna’s arguments


  33. there is no self in the sense that , it keeps on evolving. It is not a fixed, immutable thing. The wording can be confusing, if you equate self with your-existence (alive), no body can deny that (you are alive after all).

    from buddhist point of view, we can transform our-self into a state of self-less “view of the world”.


  34. If it is just an outlook then anyone can adopt it – just as Ernst Mach did when he said that saying “I think” is going beyond the evidence and at most we can say is that “there is thinking” and that “I” and “me” are narrative conventions.

    Fine – I can decide that this is the case, but I don’t see how that would help in suffering. It seems to me that if I enter a room where 4 people are in this state and I step on one of their toes, the yelp will come from the person who’s toes I have stood on.

    I might say “there is pain, by I cannot say that I have it”, but then again if the guy sitting next to me is completely unbothered by pain and I am then the conclusion that I have the pain seems inescapable.


  35. Graham Priest: “But each also endorses various philosophical views. It was some (and only some) of these views which were the concern of my article. … In fact, Buddhist thought is one of the most rationalistic of views connected with a religion.”

    Human has three faculties (powers): emotional, rational and spiritual. What is spiritual? Spiritual is the power which transcends the ‘space-time’ which is totally ‘physical’. In a sense, ‘spiritual’ resides outside of this ‘physical’ universe. I have showed that there are at least two ‘things’ which are outside of this ‘physical’ universe: the infinities and the nothingness. In the physical universe, it takes millions years for photon goes from one galaxy to another galaxy. When this two galaxies are ‘mapped’ into our brain, we can travel between them two in one-thousandth of a second. We have taking this ‘mapping’ for granted, but it is in fact the ‘base’ for the spiritual power. In this sense, the ‘spiritual’ is totally ‘empirical’. Simply, this ‘universe’ is bigger than the ‘physical’ universe.

    ‘Religion’ is totally different from science which mainly (thus far) dealing with only the ‘physical’ universe. On the other hand, religion consists of two parts.

    Part one, the creation process (which goes ‘beyond’ the physical universe), it expresses as the ‘spiritual’ power.

    Part two, by ‘claiming’ the knowledge of that creation process, it [religion] ‘gives’ the meaning for human life. With this ‘claim’, it comforts gazillions lives (past, present and future).

    Now, there are two issues about your article.

    First, no rational pathway (thus far with the current paradigm) is able to address this ‘spiritual’ issue. Then, what the heck is arguing over ‘logic and philosophy’ on this religious issue? This ‘logic and philosophy’ argument will not enhance the ‘claim’ that those religions ‘truly’ know about the spiritual power.

    Second, no, definitely a big No. Both Christianity and Buddhism do not know anything about the creation process. The Christian-Genesis-nonsense not only goes way beyond being wrong but is totally stupid. Although the Buddhism hides its stupidity, but it is still totally ignorant, not knowing the single bit about the ‘creation process’. Why pretend knowing something while is totally ignorant about it?

    The modern physics (the current paradigm) does not know the ‘creation process’ neither. And, there is no sign of any kind that the current paradigm is able to reach that creation process. Thus, the current mainstream consensus is the physics-anti-realism (see, http://www.quantumdiaries.org/2014/09/05/is-the-understandability-of-the-universe-a-mirage/#comment-516322 ). However, the modern physics has discovered four secret-locks about this creation process. Only by unlock those locks, the ‘creation process’ will be understood. In our real world, most combination-lock consists of three-numbers. Surprisingly, some of these secret-locks are also consisting of three numbers.

    Lock-one: Cabibbo angle (13.5 degrees), Weinberg angle (28.75 degrees), [(1/Alpha) = 137.0359 …]

    Lock-two: Planck data (dark energy = 69.2; dark matter = 25.8; and visible matter = 4.82)

    Lock-three: the pegs-lock which can only be opened by the exact pegs when they are inserted into the peg-key-holes. There are 48 peg-key-holes in this physical universe, and every peg is distinguished with a set of ‘name-codes’. The 48 matter particles form this pegs-lock.

    Lock-four: {delta P x delta S > ħ} lock.

    The ‘creation process’ created these four-locks. That is, only the creation-process can ‘generate’ (derive) the keys of those four-locks. Does Buddhism discuss about those four locks? If not, then it has no slightest idea about the creation-process. Without knowing the creation process, how can it know anything about the ‘spiritual’ power? By pretending knowing something it does not know, it hides its ignorance with two scams.

    First, the mysticism: making such a stupid ‘claims’ and hoping that no one ever can rebut it. Yet, I have showed what the mysticism exactly is at (https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/scientism-yippee-or-boo-sucks-part-ii/comment-page-1/#comment-6250 and https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/graham-priest-on-buddhism-and-logic/comment-page-1/#comment-5994 ).

    Second, {My article [Graham Priest] was not about contradiction in general, however, but about a very particular one: the contradiction that arises when one tries to explain why there are certain things one cannot say anything about, hence saying something about them.}
    If one cannot say something about a thing, he is simply not knowing about it. Today, the creation-process is totally understandable and describable. Yes, there is true ‘spiritual’ power, but it is not the Christian-almighty nor is the Buddhist’s mysticism.

    All religions have done great wonders for mankind on comforting gazillions souls. But their ‘claims’ of knowing the ‘creation-process’ is totally nonsense. The ‘logic and philosophy’ of any kind will not improve that nonsense-claim one bit.


Comments are closed.