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chandrakirti and wittgenstein: similarities in east/west thought

October 15, 2012

It’s always interesting seeing the (often little known) similarities between Western and Eastern philosophy. In reading about Wittgenstein and his ideas about language presented in Philosophical Investigations, for example, I’m reminded a lot of the early Prasangika Madhyamikas. For example, the Wikipedia article on Philosophical Investigations summarizes one of Wittgenstein’s arguments about language, meaning, and use as “meaning is use”—i.e., “words are not defined by reference to the objects they designate, nor by the mental representations one might associate with them, but by how they are used.” This is reminiscent of a famous line by Chandrakirti in Clear Words (composed sometime in the 7th century CE): “Words are not like policemen on the prowl: we are not subject to their independence. On the contrary, their truth lies in their efficacy; they take their meaning from the intention of the one using them.”

In addition, the idea that one of the consequences of Wittgenstein’s argument is that “there is no need to postulate that there is something called good that exists independently of any good deed” is similar to the logical consequence of Chandrakirti’s argument, which is that in debate, “It follows that we have merely invalidated our adversary’s thesis. We need not accept the antithesis of the logical fault we have exposed” due to the fact that Prasangikas advance no thesis of their own. So just as one doesn’t need to postulate that there’s something existing on its own side called ‘good’ that exists independently of good deeds, one doesn’t have to accept or advance a thesis of their own in order to invalidate that of another; and whereas Wittgenstein’s argument can be seen as a rejection of Platonic realism, Prasangika in general can be seen as a rejection of the notion that all things and phenomena possess some kind of inherent, self-existing identity or essence (not unlike the Platonic idea of forms) without at the same promoting or being forced to accept the notion that things and phenomena are inherently nonexistent.

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