Past Meetup

Plato and Nagarjuna on ultimate reality

This Meetup is past

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I live in my world, and my words make sense. What exactly is "ultimate" reality supposed to be, when much of what I do already seems ultimate enough?

A philosopher like Wittgenstein embodies the intellectual integrity of refusing to "go somewhere else" than the everyday in the search for wisdom. Faced with the likes of Leibniz or Plato, who can sound virtually deranged in their speculations, that sobriety and caution can be healthy. But the best metaphysical path will probably lie between the extremes of affirmation ("the absolute! the eternal! how things really are!") and negation ("that's all rot, we should invalidate or ignore it"). The poor metaphysicians can't be doing everything wrong...right?

Plato strikingly calls himself out in his Parmenides dialogue, demonstrating that the theory of Forms is conceptually incoherent and suggesting a more systematic kind of ontological inquiry. This problematizes our reading of his other works, as they appear (in this light) to be advancing a doctrine the author acknowledges to be incoherent. Nagarjuna, the titan of Buddhist dialectics, would probably agree with Plato that Forms are a useful fiction at best - like absolutely every attempt at characterizing reality. Rather than suggesting how we might go about investigating things systematically, Nagarjuna appears convinced that systematic investigation reveals every posited domain of existents to amount to nothing whatsoever.

Nagarjuna's relentlessly destructive style of analysis bears suggestive connections with Plato's techniques in the Parmenides. What happens when we consider their methods side-by-side? Do we here see human thought at its very limits, or merely an unusually intense display of intellectual confusion?