Graham Priest is a distinguished professor of philosophy at CUNY and professor emeritus at the University of Melbourne. He is the author of many books, including Logic: A Very Short Introduction (2001), The Law of Non-Contradiction (editor, 2007), and Towards Non-Being: The Logic and Metaphysics of Intentionality (2007). His new book, from Oxford University Press, is One: Being an Investigation into the Unity of Reality and of its Parts, including the Singular Object which is Nothingness (publishing on May 27, 2014).
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Buddhist philosophy is full of contradictions. Now modern logic is learning why that might be a good thingby Graham Priest | May 5, 2014
Illustration by Fumitake UchidaGraham Priest is distinguished professor of philosophy at CUNY and professor emeritus at the University of Melbourne. His latest book, One, has just been published by Oxford University Press.
Western philosophers have not, on the whole, regarded Buddhist thought with much enthusiasm. As a colleague once said to me: ‘It’s all just mysticism.’ This attitude is due, in part, to ignorance. But it is also due to incomprehension. When Western philosophers look East, they find things they do not understand – not least the fact that the Asian traditions seem to accept, and even endorse, contradictions. Thus we find the great second-century Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna saying:
The nature of things is to have no nature; it is their non-nature that is their nature. For they have only one nature: no-nature.An abhorrence of contradiction has been high orthodoxy in the West for more than 2,000 years. Statements such as Nagarjuna’s are therefore wont to produce looks of blank incomprehension, or worse. As Avicenna, the father of Medieval Aristotelianism, declared:
Anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned.One can hear similar sentiments, expressed with comparable ferocity, in many faculty common rooms today. Yet Western philosophers are slowly learning to outgrow their parochialism. And help is coming from a most unexpected direction: modern mathematical logic, not a field that is renowned for its tolerance of obscurity.