Book: Buddhist Violence and Religious Authority
Chapter: 7. Nāgārjuna’s Catuṣkoṭi and Relativism About Rationality
Michael Jerryson’s scholarship has focused on religious authority in Buddhism, and in so doing, his scholarship has raised questions about epistemic authority in the production of knowledge about religion. One such question is whether the development of logic in the West has any special epistemic authority or if rationality itself might be relative to culture, religious tradition, etc. In this vein, noting that Indian philosophical traditions seem to violate the principle of non-contradiction, the eminent Indologist Fritz Staal asks whether Indian philosophers use a logic—and by extension, rationality—altogether different from the Aristotelian and propositional logics developed in the West. Staal answers in the negative by arguing that the violations of the principle of non-contradiction are merely apparent. My aim in this paper is to re-examine the matter. I will ask a question that reaches further than Staal’s: even if the violations of the principle of non-contradiction were not merely apparent, would they entail (or otherwise provide support for) a relativism about rationality? I will contend that they would not, on the grounds that either Indian philosophers might simply be mistaken in violating the principle of non-contradiction or there are perfectly adequate non-Indian logics that can account for violations of the principle of contradiction (such as the paraconsistent logics developed by Graham Priest). In developing this argument, I will focus on the Buddhist philosopher Nāgārjuna’s apparent violations of the principle of contradiction in his use of an argument form known as the catuṣkoṭi.