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Since Aristotle, Western philosophy has constructed perspicuous epistemological systems to apprehend the nature of truth, beyond what is available to the senses. However, logical paradoxes (e.g. Russell’s Set Theory paradox) and confrontations with the ineffable (e.g. Nagarjuna and the two truths) have resulted in disparate philosophical methodology in an attempt to answer the questions: what is the nature of reality, what kinds of things exist, and why is there something rather than nothing? Namely, to devise an explicable metaphysical account of being.

Although inspired by scientific methods, describing the discoveries in metaphysics and the question of individuation as progressive is somewhat erroneous; metaphysical investigations are relativised to the scope of the inquiry. Medieval theologians employed cosmological methods to discern between corporeal and incorporeal reality, in order to determine God’s relationship to man. Modern philosophers since Kant, have discussed the nature of metaphysics in terms of man’s access to sensible versus intelligible objects in response to the Enlightenment. The continental projects since Husserl, Heidegger and the French phenomenologists, have reversed the positivist project, by suspending individual perceptions of reality in order to re-evaluate the content of our concepts and their significations. And now, a generation of contemporary philosophers are returning to the projects of early Buddhist metaphysics, for a radically different and fundamentally primary starting point in answer to the question, what is the nature of identity relative to being?

The analytic tradition since the time of Aristotle’s Metaphysics is rife in contradictions (self-refuting statements), paradoxes (Russell’s set theory paradox), indescribability (infinitesimals) and undecidability (Godel’s incompleteness theorem). Previously overlooked as abstruse and obtuse, Buddhist metaphysics have been rediscovered as incomparably well equipped to cope with contradiction, indiscernibility and paradox. Classical logic maintains four following possible outcomes for a truth valuable statement: 
(i) S is P (S is true) 
(ii) S is not P (S is not true) 
(iii) S is both P and not-P (S is both true and not true) 
(iv) S is neither P nor not-P (S is neither true nor not true)

But Buddhist metaphysics has long recognized a fifth way, ineffability. Nagarjuna (150–250 CE), considered the most influential Buddhist philosopher following Gautama Buddha, maintained that “the Dharma taught by the buddhas is precisely based on the two truths: a truth of mundane conventions and a truth of the ultimate” (MMK 24:8). Buddhist metaphysics qua Nagarjuna, as described by Graham Priest at the University of Melbourne, posits the existence of ineffability as real and logically coherent, however inaccessible within conventional reality, thus requiring two accounts of being in order to develop a complete metaphysical system.

Similar limitations stemming from the ineffable are prevalent in the continental tradition. Australian Catholic University’s Professor of Philosophy Kevin Hart describes Heidegger’s project as response to theology’s failure to express God in a way that is ‘sufficiently divine’; incapable of interpreting the nature of being as incomprehensible, unnameable and ineffable. Later, Derrida’s déconstruction described that text based explanatory systems are mistaken as stable and opaque; rather “this relationship is not a certain quantitative distribution of shadow and light … but a signifying structure” (Derrida, of Grammatology). The ineffable can be posited as existing, while remaining inaccessible through literal terms; rather the ineffable is experienced and interpreted through metaphor, analogy and symbols.

Acknowledging that there may exist things that are both true and ineffable (i.e. infinitesimals, which are indiscernibly small, however true or real; or God/ Nothingness/Being which is both real and ineffable) allows new domains of analytic and continental inquiry that can interact with rather than dissolve at the appearance of contradiction.

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Neue Luxury • Issue 6 • Insight • Feature • BY Jessica Birkett SHARE

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