Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Aontic metaphysics

I've coined a term to describe the type of philosophy I'm promoting here: aontic. It's an attempt to convey a repudiation of the Being/Non-Being division which is generally assumed to be the starting point of metaphysics. I think anti-ontological is more or less the same thing but aontic is not necessarily implying a dialectically opposed doctrine nor simply a critique of ontology but can also be just a philosophy with a different starting point to the question of Being.

Buddhism is aontic in that it neither affirms nor denies the 'existence' of the self and the world. Its starting point is the process of experience in the context of human suffering. The relative absence of aontic philosophy in the western canon is what I think has often led to an erroneous interpretation of Buddhism as a form of nihilism, which is, of course, based on the tacit assumption that existence/non-existence is a fundamental category. However, the Buddhist metaphysical* concept of the dependent origination of phenomena is not coextensive with a categorisation of phenomena into existing/nonexisting.

* Is aontic metaphysics an oxymoron? Certainly if we accept the Aristotelian conception of metaphysics as the science of being qua being it is a contradiction in terms. However, we can also define metaphysics as the elucidation of general principles and assumptions and in this sense there is no problem.

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