Epigraphic reflections on philosophy of Language and Buddhist Thought

1. It has been my intution that for Indian Buddhist philosophy, epistemology and philosophy of language are closely interdependent—more so than indicated by Strawson’s phrasing of “the connected fields of metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of language” (P.F. Strawson, Analysis and Metaphysics: An Introduction to Philosophy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992, vii). Strawson makes the relation stronger when he says that “the general theory of being (ontology), the general theory of knowledge (epistemology), and the general theory of the proposition, of what is true or false (logic) are but three aspects of one unified enquiry” (ibid., 35). Jean-Paul Sartre makes a very similar claim as well, “If every metaphysics in fact presupposes a theory of knowledge, every theory of knowledge in turn presupposes a metaphysics” (Jean-Paul Sartre, “Introduction” to Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology, Washington Square Press, 1992, 10).
2. At the same time, this is not intended to point to some artificial overarching, preconceived philosophical architectonic, as might be found in introductory surveys of philosophy.
3. Rather, it seems that the concern with the “practical” issue of awakening acts as a sort of intellectual centripetal force, more or less orienting everything in relation to it—rather like the magnet under the sheet of paper organizes iron filings into a coherent pattern.
4. The term practical is placed in quotation marks above in order to indicate that it does not mean here the kind of simplistic anti-intellectualism one finds in some strains of contemporary Western popular Buddhism, strains that claim that the Buddha rejected all philosophizing as beside the point (note: intentional pun, see next) of the quest for awakening. Frequently cited in this regard is the allegory of the man shot with an arrow.
5. Nor does it mean that everything in Buddhist thought will have as its primary interpretant the goal of awakening.
6. Given, however, that awakening is conceived primarily in epistemological terms, e.g., the perception/cognition of bhutatathata (being just as it is, esse simpliciter ??), then concern with what constitutes true knowledge is identical with concern with shat constitutes liberative knowledge.
7. The concern with language comes foremost for Buddhist thought when the issue of establishing an authoritative teaching, authoritative in the sense that it is effective. But this occurs against a much wider background of concerns with language deriving from issues of interpretation of Vedic texts.


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