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Lectures by Jan Westerhoff

Madhyamakas and Ontological Categories

Shivdasani Conference 2009
11 Oct 2009

The status of categories within Madhyamaka philosophy is a curious one. On the one hand there is a strong tendency to reject philosophically refined analyses of the constituents which make up the world, thereby rejecting systems of categories as well. The Madhyamika, it seems, accepts whatever conventions the world accepts at the merely conventional level but does not propose any conventions of his own. In fact there appear to be good reasons for such a view. Given that the membership of an object in a category is generally taken to be a clear example of a property an object has intrinsically, and since the Madhyamikas reject intrinsic properties (properties which exist by svabhava) they should reject categories as well. On the other hand, however, Madhyamakas make use of the very sophisticated and intricate categorial frameworks found in traditional Indian grammar and in the Abhidharma. Furthermore they also vehemently argue against the use of other frameworks, such as that of the Naiyayikas. This paper will explore ways of resolving this tension and investigate more generally what role categories play in the Madhyamaka system of philosophy.

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Madhyamakas and Ontological Categories

Shivdasani Conference 2009
11 Oct 2009

The status of categories within Madhyamaka philosophy is a curious one. On the one hand there is a strong tendency to reject philosophically refined analyses of the constituents which make up the world, thereby rejecting systems of categories as well. The Madhyamika, it seems, accepts whatever conventions the world accepts at the merely conventional level but does not propose any conventions of his own. In fact there appear to be good reasons for such a view. Given that the membership of an object in a category is generally taken to be a clear example of a property an object has intrinsically, and since the Madhyamikas reject intrinsic properties (properties which exist by svabhava) they should reject categories as well. On the other hand, however, Madhyamakas make use of the very sophisticated and intricate categorial frameworks found in traditional Indian grammar and in the Abhidharma. Furthermore they also vehemently argue against the use of other frameworks, such as that of the Naiyayikas. This paper will explore ways of resolving this tension and investigate more generally what role categories play in the Madhyamaka system of philosophy.

Related: 1

Madhyamakas and Ontological Categories

Shivdasani Conference 2009
11 Oct 2009

The status of categories within Madhyamaka philosophy is a curious one. On the one hand there is a strong tendency to reject philosophically refined analyses of the constituents which make up the world, thereby rejecting systems of categories as well. The Madhyamika, it seems, accepts whatever conventions the world accepts at the merely conventional level but does not propose any conventions of his own. In fact there appear to be good reasons for such a view. Given that the membership of an object in a category is generally taken to be a clear example of a property an object has intrinsically, and since the Madhyamikas reject intrinsic properties (properties which exist by svabhava) they should reject categories as well. On the other hand, however, Madhyamakas make use of the very sophisticated and intricate categorial frameworks found in traditional Indian grammar and in the Abhidharma. Furthermore they also vehemently argue against the use of other frameworks, such as that of the Naiyayikas. This paper will explore ways of resolving this tension and investigate more generally what role categories play in the Madhyamaka system of philosophy.

Related: 2

What kind of Philosophical Theory is Madhyamaka?

Majewski Lecture
30 Oct 2014

The Madhyamaka school of philosophy has been credited as being the central philosophy of Buddhism and also as a kind of anti-philosophy of pure critique that simply seeks to demonstrate the contradictory nature of all statements about the world. This lecture explores the nature of philosophical argument in Madhyamaka and the kind of philosophical theory that the Madhyamaka is.Originally trained as a philosopher and orientialist, Jan Westerhoff's research focuses on philosophical aspects of the religious traditions of ancient India. Much of his work concentrates on Buddhist thought (especially Madhyamaka) as preserved in Sanskrit and Tibetan sources, he also has a lively interest in Classical Indian philosophy (particularly Nyāya). His research on Buddhist philosophy covers both theoretical (metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language) and normative aspects (ethics); he is also interested in the investigation of Buddhist meditative practice from the perspective of cognitive science and the philosophy of mind. Some publications (for more information see www.janwesterhoff.net) are ‘The connection between ontology and ethics in Madhyamaka’ in: The Cowherds: Moonpaths: Ethics and Madhyamaka Philosophy, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2014; The Dispeller of Disputes: Nāgārjuna's Vigrahavyāvartanī, Oxford University Press, 2010; Twelve Examples of Illusion, Oxford University Press, 2010; Nāgārjuna's Madhyamaka. A Philosophical Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2009; ‘The Madhyamaka Concept of svabhāva: Ontological and Cognitive Aspects’, Asian Philosophy, 2007, 17:1, 17-45; Ontological Categories. Their Nature and Significance, Oxford University Press, 2005.

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