Buddhist Philosophy Concerning Universals and Exclusion

from LogicTutorial.com

One of the first comments I received when I began discussing meaning as exclusion in the late nineteen-eighties, was that this view wasn't new with myself, but was the ancient view of Nagarjuna. However on closer examination, this seemed to be a reference instead to the Buddhist Philosopher Dignaaga's(A.D. 480-540) view of the nature of universals, which predate Nagarjuna, but don't put forward ideas consistent with the idea that meaning is a matter of exclusion - as I've also mentioned at the end of the index page here.

Improving one's understanding is central to Buddhism. This means understanding our own nature, the nature of our thinking; particularly the illusions our own minds can create. It's not surprising then that Buddhists have long been interested in examining the nature of language and meaning - although intellectual competition with Hinduism in India has also been a strong spur to Buddhist philosophy. It is consistent with Buddhist philosophy to regard language as irreducibly uncertain and imprecise just as the human mind is prone to illusion and therefore unhappiness, which craving and unhappiness can be dispelled only by very deep understanding.

It is tempting, then, to regard a theory of meaning grounded in exclusion as being profoundly Buddhist.

Buddhist attitudes toward language. Arguably, a distrust of language and symbology is very much a Buddhist tradition that traces back Buddha himself. The first written texts of Buddha's teachings date from about three hundred years after Buddha's death, when oral traditions of his teachings were finally written down. Since Buddha was far from obscure, the most obvious explanation is that Buddha himself did not encourage these practices. After all, the sort of understanding that Buddha urged us toward is not verbal or intellectual understanding, but an inner self-knowledge, and knowledge of the nature of reality - something that doesn't easily translate into words. Famously, Buddha once lifted a flower to illustrate the nature of enlightenment, although he also spoke in practical and simple terms about the methods he had used to attain his state. It is not very unusual today to hear Buddhist teachers discourage people from writing down or recording their words, because this isolates the words from their physical context (including "mudras" or gestures. Similarly, one may hear warnings that language and analysis is necessarily ambiguous and treacherous, if only because we are human beings who are prone to illusion, and cravings that can distort our understanding.

Similarly, there are no authoritative images of Buddha, because the first images were created hundreds of years after his death; before that time an empty throne or empty space were used to represent him visually.

It is tempting, then, to regard a theory of meaning grounded in exclusion as being profoundly Buddhist.

Thanks to Namdrol for his assistance in pointing out scholarly errors in the earliest version of logictutorial.com, and American-Buddha.com . I regret that most of the links that used to follow, here, have turned to dust. But all things change.

      Some links to further discussion on the web:

     Philosophy East and West, Volume 44, Number 1, January 1994, P.55-77

      Dignaga on Wikipedia

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