Monday, January 30, 2006

Rebel Without A Cause

These give rise to those,
So these are called conditions.

Nāgārjuna, Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (I: 5)

Pratītya-samutpāda (dependent origination) is the Buddhist alternative to a theory of inherent causality. It recognises the everyday experience of regularity and correlation without investing philosophical capital in an ultimately real force, or power, linking essential causes to necessary effects. In other words, causation, from a Mādhyamikan perspective, is empty; and as such we talk of conditions. As Garfield says in Dependent Arising and the Emptiness of Emptiness:

To assert the emptiness of causation is to accept the utility of our causal discourse and explanatory practice, but to resist the temptation to see these as grounded in reference to causal powers or as demanding such grounding. Dependent origination simply is the explicability and coherence of the universe. Its emptiness is the fact that there is no more to it than that.

(Garfield, Dependent Arising and the Emptiness of Emptiness, Ch.2)

It may be "simple" but I think the "explicability and coherence of the universe," and/or lack thereof, is the undercurrent that has pulled all the thinkers into an ocean of mythological, philosophical and scientific creativity. Causality is a major product of this creativity and before examining what it means to reject it, and how and why, I think it will be useful and interesting to investigate its historical development and variation to provide some background, shared and diverse, to the development of pratītya-samutpāda. This will be the main focus for the next couple of weeks.


Psybertron said...

Paul, other than hearing me say that all roads lead back to ideas of "causality" (all explanations of "truths" or the workings of anything) and that Time and Causality turn out to be seriously weird, once you depart from common sense .... I've also picked up on this section of Garfield's Nagarjuna.

The "dependent arising" (explicitly NOT "causation") seems very parallel to "supervienience" amongst the "serious" contemporary philosophers ? (I've never yet realy got my head around supervenience though.)

Psybertron said...

In fact your selection of the particular quote from Garfield is a good summary of what I learned from that chapter - good stuff.

The "emptiness of causality", has a nihilistic ring to it (as Garfield indicates too), but it's another case at the metaphysical level of "get used to it".

Paul Turner said...

I've always thought that supervenience corresponds to the stratified ontology proposed by systems like the MOQ and to the non-reductive physicalism of Rorty and co.

Hope you are getting through Garfield and Magliola okay!

Psybertron said...

Hi Paul,

Well yes, in a layered model the layers have dependencies between them. I'd always have talked in terms of causation (even long indirect complex indeterminate chains of causation). I've still found it hard to see what superveniece is (that causation isn't). But you're right it's the non-reductive physicalism angle - I got it from Chalmers.

Glad to see you've taken up "causality" in your later posts - I'll need to read carefully.

Garfield - I was going great guns until I hit the explanations of mover & moved (mutand mutatis). And I didn't get it. I'll have to move on and come back.

Magliola, I've put to one side - it's a tough read. I got the Derridan stuff about the recursion in language - stuff I think I'd already got - signifier and signified not being distinct - and I can see the S/O interacting triplet analogy looming. But the language is tough going for a bedtime read :-)

Ned to find quality time.