Friday, January 13, 2006

Dependent Origination: A philosophical position statement

When I claim to be a (diet-)* Buddhist, what I mean is that for all practical purposes I take to be true the concept of pratītya-samutpāda (dependent origination) and the satyadvaya (“two truths”) through which it is explicated. In my opinion, in a philosophical sense, dependent origination is Buddhism. I find dependent origination to be a completely rational and adequate characterisation of reality which as far as I am aware precludes none of the presently accepted scientific truths about the physical universe whilst agreeing with a neo-pragmatist repudiation of essentialist metaphysics and the appearance/reality distinction which goes with it.

Dependent origination is a Buddhist technical term for the entirely conditional reality of phenomena. Reality is designated conditional in that not one aspect of it originates or exists independently of every other; everything is dependent on conditions. If everything is dependent on conditions, and an essence of something is just that which it has, or is, without dependence on conditions, it follows that nothing has, or is, an essence. Furthermore, if a thing exists inherently only by virtue of its essence, and if nothing has an essence, then nothing exists inherently. If nothing exists inherently then there is no “way the world inherently is” and thus no tenable metaphysical-strength distinction between appearance and reality. With no hard metaphysical distinction between appearance and reality one can make no philosophical sense of a hard correspondence of knowledge to independent reality.

So much for my metaphysical and epistemological position statement. There are naturally a lot of unsupported statements in such a brief summary of an entire philosophy and I intend to work through each claim in more detail.

* For example, I have never even visited a monastery.

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