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Averting Arguments: Nagarjuna’s Verse 29 Essay

1655 words - 7 pages

Averting Arguments: Nagarjuna’s Verse 29

ABSTRACT: I examine Nagarjuna’s averting an opponent’s argument (Verse 29 of Averting the Arguments), Paul Sagal’s general interpretation of Nagarjuna and especially Sagal’s conception of "averting" an argument. Following Matilal, a distinction is drawn between locutionary negation and illocationary negation in order to avoid errant interpretations of verse 29 ("If I would make any proposition whatever, then by that I would have a logical error. But I do not make a proposition; therefore, I am not in error.") The argument is treated as representing an ampliative or inductive inference rather than a deductive one. As Nagarjuna says in verse 30: "That [denial] of mine [in verse 29] is a non-apprehension of non-things" and non-apprehension is the averting of arguments or "the relinquishing of all views." "Not making a proposition P" would be not speaking P or silence with regard to P (where P is some opposing view) and, as Sagal argues, not meaning a global linguistic silence (where P stands for any proposition whatsoever). Such an interpretation would lead to attributing wholesale irrationalism to Nagarjuna-something I wish to avoid.

In this paper I examine Nagarjuna averting an argument of an opponent (Verse 29 of Averting the Arguments), Paul Sagal's general interpretation of Nagarjuna, (1) and the former's conception of "averting" an argument. Since I focus my discussion around verse 29, we shall begin with it, then possible interpretations of it, and finally move to considerations of how to best characterize Nagarjuna's "stance" (for lack of a better word) given that verse.

Verse 29:

If I would make any proposition whatever [P], then by that I would have a logical error [E];

But I do not make a proposition; therefore I am not in error. (2)

In sentential logic (SL) the argument would be symbolized as follows:

Immediately we see a logical mistake here, so Nagarjuna is in error! What we have here is the formal fallacy of denying the antecedent. Under the theory of conditionals in SL, Nagarjuna could make the related propositions and be in error (which he is under this interpretation). PE is not equivalent to ¬P¬E, so the latter cannot be substituted for the former. If P and E are equivalent to one another, then the inference he draws would be valid, but the wording in verse 29 rules out that interpretation. However, the meaning of the verse might suggest a similar interpretation.

If we interpret "I do not make a proposition" not as the negation ("¬") of P, but as a Fregean or illocutionary "act" or "negation" as B. K. Matilal does, (3) which denies the uttering rather than the utterance. By E, "error," Nagarjuna means propositional error and not all error, because he did recognize perceptual error or "erroneous apprehension" (verse 27; 148/96), hence he could refrain from making P (propositions) and still be in error. Also stating a conditional like the first premise, PE, is...

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