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Philosophical nonegocentrism in Wittgenstein and Candrakirti in their treatment of the private language problem

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    Philosophical nonegocentrism in Wittgenstein and Candrakirti
in their treatment of the private language problem
By R. A. F. Thurman
Philosophy East and West
30:3, 1980.07
p. 321-337

recension by Bence Tarr

R. A. F. Thurman is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts.


The reason behind choosing this article for recension, out of the many that I’ve read on Wittgenstein’s philosophy in the last few years, is that it follows a new trend among western philosophers, which I find feasible in treating philosophical problems.

The basic attitude behind this trend is clearly marked in Thurman’s introduction to his writing:

“In their book The Private Language Problem, Saunders and Henze state that ‘it is primarily in the twentieth century that questions regarding the nature and possibility of a private language have received specific formulation and specific attention.’

This statement is only true if the qualification "in the West" is added, since the Buddhist tradition of critical philosophy was implicity concerned with this question in a central way for over two thousand years, and explicitly since the time of Candrakirti (sixth century).

Philosophers should no longer allow themselves to remain ignorant of the planetary nature of philosophy, in spite of the ingrained presuppositions of the superiority of the West and of modernity which make the contribution of the East so startling.” (p.1)

Treating philosophical problems in this manner, clearly has the advantage of presenting ‘the problem’ itself, rather than the way it has appeared in some kind of philosophical text.

Besides this, it enables us to throw some light on our preconceptions that we all have, when we come in contact with ‘the eastern’ thought. Looking back on my personal attitude towards the east, I have to say that I have fully lost all of my negative feelings towards the ‘eastern’ way of thinking.

I also have lost my over-optimistic positive feelings about it. I have to say that by having studied western and eastern philosophy for several years by now, I have become neutral in treating both, and share Thurman’s point of view by saying that philosophy has a plantary nature and philosophers (not religious thinkers) think in the same way on all sides of the globe.

What I mean by this is that ‘thinking’ has the same qualities in every culture, and it follows universal logical rules that provide a cultural-free basis for all reasoning.

Therefore no philosophical investigation is ‘eastern’ or ‘western’ unless we use these terms to clarify the geographical origin of the treated problem.

I can’t say that Thurman’s article has amused me; I seem to lack the abilities to grasp what his lines of thought are at some points.

Despite this I have found the article interesting because of it’s way of dealing with the problem of private language in the first place, rather than Wittgenstein only.

I have chosen to write this recension in English, since the original text is in English, and the quotations are given in English too.

(And it gives me a chance to practice my English more than trying to teach present perfect almost thirty hours a week.)

In his essay, Thurman intends to establish the nearly total similarity between Wittgenstein as mature critical philosopher and the Prasangika-madhyamika philosophers ranging from Candrakirti (India, sixth to seventh centuries) to Tson Khapa (Tibet, 1357-1420) in their treatment of the philosophical questions related to the ‘private language problem’.

He starts to introduce the topic by quoting Saunders and Henze, who convey the general philosophical relevance of the question in the following passage:

“The series of problems (i.e. physical world, perception, self, etc. relating to PL question)... may be said to constitute the egocentric predicament: the predicament of one who begins "from his own case" and attempts to analyze and justify his system of beliefs and attitudes.... This is the predicament of "how to get out," how to move justifiably from one's own experiential data to the existence of an external world....

If the egocentric predicament be taken as a legitimate problem, then the response to this problem will constitute one or another of the strands composing what we have called the egocentric outlook. This is the outlook of one who begins at home, with the private object (with his own private experiential data), and attempts, in one way or another, to "go abroad."...

If on the other hand, the egocentric predicament be viewed as an illegitimate problem, a pseudo problem, then the response to this "problem" will be to repudiate the egocentric viewpoint.

This is the response of one who "begins abroad," who begins in the public rather than in the private domain, and attempts in one way or another to understand both of these domains. ” Thurman believes that the terms used frequently by Saunders and Henze, “philosophical egocentrist” and “philosophical nonegocentrist” are precisely adequate to translate the Sanskrit átmavádin (literally, “self-advocate”) and anátmavádin (literally, “selflessness advocate”), and this most central Indian philosophical dichotomy persists onto the subtlest levels in a long debate over presence or absence of svabháva (“intrinsic reality”), svalaksana (“intrinsic identity”) and finally svátantrya (“logical privacy”) .

He also believes that once we notice this obvious parallel, we naturally become interested in the arguments used by both sides, considering the longevity of the issue in India and Tibet, and its relative newness in the West.

One major obstacle to appreciation of the richness of the Buddhist nonegocentrist tradition by modern philosophers, who would therein find so much of interest and use, is the unwarranted prejudice that Buddhist thought is “mysticism”, that is, anti-philosophical or a-philosophical.

This prejudice has only been intensified by those contemporary ‘mystics’ who have pointed to the young Wittgenstein's famous statement about silence in the Tractatus as evidence of his similarity to the imaginedsilent sages of the East.’

Thurman also warnes us about this and also argues that in actuality, the vast majority of ‘mystics’, or nonrationalists, both Eastern and Western, have usually belonged to the egocentrist camp, at least tacitly if not formally.

“Recourse to mysticism is a typical aspect of being stuck in the egocentric predicament.

The mature Wittgenstein clearly exposes the tremendous amount of mysticism involved in the uncritical use of ordinary language, especially by the egocentrist philosophers.

He humorously points to our predilection to reify things by constructing realities out of concepts, substances out of substantives, revealing the common notion of "naming as, so to speak, an occult process... and... when the philosopher tries to bring out the relation between name and thing by staring at an object in front of him and repeating a name or even the word 'this'....

And here we may fancy naming to be some remarkable act of mind, as it were a baptism of an object..." (PI 143).(4) An egocentrist philosopher, when yet unwilling to surrender the notion as a mere mental construction, quite typically resorts to 'ineffability', 'inexpressibility', and so forth, making a virtue of his inability to find either a nonentity or its absence.” (p.2)

On the other hand, the mainstream Buddhist philosophers were typically nonegocentrist and critical, not mystical, in approach. The famous doctrine of ‘two realities’ (satyadvaya) , the absolute (paramártha) and the contingent (samvrti) or conventional (vyavahara), is not at all mystical but is rather an effective technical device for analyzing apart the “queer”, “occult”, “mysterious”, hence absolutistic element, to clear up the realm of experience, causality, and action.

The doctrine properly puts the ‘absolute’ in its place as a conceptual limiting case, which frees the conventional world, the space of living from absolutism and its problems.

The fundamental insight that Thurman also quotes is that: “egocentrist absolutisms, ranging from the unconscious and perceptual to the theoretical and ideological, all categorized under the rubric "mis-knowledge" (avidya) , cause all evils and problems.

Thus, in the Buddhist tradition, philosophical analysis was seen as the way to treat the prevalent forms of 'misknowledge' by applying criticism to the conceptual knots of the day.” (p.2)

The level of sophistication of the application varied according to the sophistication of the ‘philosophical knots’, resulting in a critical metaphysics (Vaibhasika) as treatment of native realism (Vaisesika), a critical nominalism (Sautrantika), a critical idealism (Vijnánaváda), and finally the critical relativism of the Mádhyamikas.

The high point in this philosophical refinement process was reached in the sixth century by Candrakirti, who entered into the refutation of logical privacy.

This refutation, as preserved in Candrakirti’s Prasannapáda, Chapter I, served as the basis of a philosophical discussion that went on for three more centuries in India.

It then came down to the present day preserved in lively traditions of the Tibetan philosophical training colleges. Perhaps the greatest master of this subject in Tibet was Tson Khapa Blo Bzan Grags-pa (1357-1420), whose texture of thought and analysis can probably be treated best to that of Wittgenstein and his followers.

Thurman’s major opinion about Wittgenstein, is that one of the most remarkable things about him is that he had great courage, and ability to make a radical change in his thinking and publicly repudiate his earlier statements.

Thurman quotes Wittgenstein: “In PI 46-47 , he mentions his earlier attempt to find an absolutistic peg in reality on which to hang language through meaning, and he then repudiates it:

"What lies behind the idea that names really signify simples?--... (then quoting Plato) "what exists in its own right has to be... named without any other determination... its name is all it has."...

Both Russell's 'individuals' and my 'objects' (Tractatus...) were such primary elements.... (However).... it makes no sense at all to speak absolutely of the simple parts of a chair'.” (p.3)

Thurman draws a parallel with Tson Khapa: “Thson Khapa also describes the 'habitual mode of intellectual presumption' ('[[sgro'dogs kun btags kyi 'dzin tshul) in parallel terms, calling that 'essence' in things that anchors their names "intrinsic identity" (svalaksana), indispensable for the egocentrist, impossible for the nonegocentrist” (p.3.), quoting one of his works:

“What sort of mental habit holds things to be intrinsically identifiable?.... the Philosophers... investigate the meaning of the conventional expression "person" in such cases as this "this person performed this action and experienced this result," by such analysis as "is the 'person' the very same thing as 'his' aggregates?

Or is 'he' something different from them?" When they discover whichever possibility, sameness or difference, to be the case, it gives them a basis for establishing that 'person', and they are then able to establish his accumulation of action, etc.

If they do not find any such basis, they are unable to establish anything at all, and hence they cannot rest content with the simple use of the expression 'person'.”

Thurman believes that Tson Khapa was able to return to the surface of the question with the nonegocentrists view by appreciating the conventionality of the expression, content with that.

Further, he was able to isolate the mental habit that had caused him the whole problem, revealing the egocentrist's dependence on the ‘private object’, internally designated via the ‘private language’.

Tson Khapa mentions the ‘private language’ explicitly in a language in which a person could write down or give vocal expression to his inner experiences - his feelings, moods, and the rest - for his private use. The individual words of this language are to refer to what can only be known to the person speaking; to his immediate private sensations. So another person cannot understand the language.

It is clear he does not mean simply the private use of language, the internal enunciation of the usual public means of communication. Rather he means to imagine a logically private language, a language in principle unique to the individual who invents and employs it, in Buddhist terms, an absolutely private not relatively private language.

Thurman thinks that Wittgenstein has also arrived at the thought of an absolute private language: “But why does Wittgenstein bother to imagine such a thing? He does so as that is the best way to make explicit the unconscious assumptions of 'reality', 'massiveness', 'ab soluteness', 'facticity', 'objectivity', and so forth, that we habitually impose upon our perceptions.

Thus, logical privacy is the natural absurd consequence forced upon the philosophical egocentrist, as he tries to give an account of his absolute 'given', 'simple', 'first', 'individual', 'essence', 'self', and so on, that is, element constitutive of reality, self-evident, irreducible, and indispensable to the coherence of his world.

The egocentrist is indeed so strongly attached to his groundedness on this supposed solid basis, he perceives any challenge as mere nihilistic skepticism.

Thus he is best approached by the nonegocentrist, (for whom the very nonsolidity of things itself is their actual workability) , critically, by demonstration of the absurdity of his absolutism via either such as Wittgenstein's hyperbolic imaginings of private language...” (p.3)

Since the question is now seen to lie at the core of a fundamental polarity in philosophy, before tackling the actual refutations of privacy, ancient and modern, Thurman gives a partial typology of philosophical egocentrism and nonegocentrism.

This typology is the following: The outlook of philosophical egocentrism is characterized by an avid grasp of the ‘given’, a sort of ‘private object’, self-evident and indubitable, the substance of all order, whether it be used to justify materialism, skeptical nihilism, phenomenalism, positivism, idealism, or any other form of ancient or modern absolutism.

The egocentrist does employ critical methods in dealing with predecessors and adversaries, but once he feels he has found the ‘essence’, he proceeds constructively, systematizing reality dogmatically according to discovered ‘laws’, ‘principles’, and so forth.

This essence then becomes the foundation of practical life in social reality, and any relativistic account of language, meaning, morals, and so on, is dismissed as anarchistic and nihilistic. He is absolutistic even in empirical matters.

Finally, he considers philosophy a constructive activity, an elaboration of formal structures of truth, beauty, and goodness.

Hence his contribution is always dated, useful in the period as a temple and perhaps later as a museum, an edifice that stands quite apart from the person himself.

In contrast, the nonegocentrist outlook is essentially critical of all givens, not by taking as given the essential unreliability of everything as does the absolutistic skeptic, but by never being satisfied with any supposedly analysisproof element, and by sustaining the critical process itself as a valid mode of thought, tolerant of less than absolute security.

“The nonegocentrist's attitude toward the empirical is thoroughly relativistic and conventionalistic.

Having found that life goes on even without any irreducible element, he works flexibly with what there is consensually established and yet does not abdicate the task of refining the consensus.

He considers philosophy itself a therapeutic process rather than a constructive metascience.

Instead of building up grand solutions, he dissolves problems critically, finding the inconsistencies in the terms of the question. He perceives perplexity, 'misknowledge', a disease, and the clarity and insight afforded by critical analysis a cure.

His philosophy tends to be less dated, less systematic, and more informal than the egocentrist's, since his refinement of thought, intensity of insight, and attention to self-transformation render philosophizing more accessible to perplexed thinkers of later eras.” (p.4)

How do Wittgenstein and the Buddhist nonegocentrists fit into this typology?

It will readily be granted that the mature Wittgenstein was primarily critical in approach, and the Buddhists were well known for their critical attitude toward the ‘given’ as naively accepted in their host cultures.

Vipasyana, or ‘transcendental analysis’ is the main type of Maháyána meditation. Prajná, the highest wisdom, is glossed as dharmapravicaya, literally, the ‘analysis of things’, and it is symbolized as a sword that cuts through the knot of perplexity.

Thurman thinks that the most striking of all is the similarity of the actual texture of critical analysis of the two nonegocentrists.

First he quotes Wittgenstein’s famous passage from the Philosophical Investigations:
“Again, does my visual image of this tree, of this chair, consist of parts? And what are its simple component parts?

Multi-colouredness is one kind of complexity; another is, for example, that of a broken outline composed of straight bits. And a curve can be said to be composed of an ascending and a descending segment....

But isn't a chessboard for instance, obviously and absolutely composite?--You are probably thinking of the composition out of thirty-two White and thirty-two black squares.

But could we not say, for instance, that it was composed of the colours black and white and the schema of the squares?

And if there are quite different ways of looking at it, do you still want to say that the chessboard is absolutely composite?.... (Is the colour of a square on a chessboard simple, or does it consist of pure white and pure yellow?

And is white simple, or does it consist of the colours of the rainbow?--)”

Then he states that Wittgenstein applies the same type of analysis to his feelings as to objects, as in PI 642, which proves that the wordself’ (so far as it means something like ‘person’, ‘human being’, ‘he himself’, ‘I myself’), is not an analysis of any such thing, but the state of a philosopher's attention when he says the wordself’ to himself and tries to analyze its meaning.

Examples from the Buddhist philosophical literature could be plenty, but Thurman finds Tson Khapa's description of the critical techniques of his predecessors particularly striking, from EE , p. 161: “.. the absolute status of anything is refuted by showing first of all, in the face of no matter what assertion of Buddhist or non-Buddhist scholar, the impossibility of an indivisible, a thing without a plurality of parts such as periods of time, parts of physical objects, or aspects of cognitive objects, and then by demonstrating that, whereas conventional objects may exist as unitary things while established as composed of parts, as far as absolute status is concerned, there are inevitable inconsistencies; for example, if part and whole are absolutely different, there can be no connection between them, and if part and whole are absolutely the same, then the whole becomes a plurality....

To give the actual line of argument... "to refute absolute production of one thing from another, the cause is first restricted to being permanent or impermanent, and production from a permanent thing is rejected. Then, production from an impermanent thing is restricted to being either sequential or simultaneous, and production from a simultaneous cause is rejected.

Then, a sequential cause is restricted to being either destroyed or undestroyed, and production from a destroyed cause is rejected.

Then production from a previously undestroyed cause is restricted to being either obstructed or unobstructed, and production from an obstructed cause is rejected."

The refutation thus far is rather easy. "Then, production from an unobstructed cause is restricted to being either wholly unobstructed or partiaily unobstructed; then, in the former case, an atom and (its aggregative effects such as) a molecule must be confused as a single object, (the causal atoms) being wholly unobstructed; or else, in the latter case, as (the cause, the indivisible, etc.) would have parts, production would be relative ( (and not absolute).”

Here the opponent, as the interlocutor in the PI passage, is a philosophical absolutist, a substantivist, who is “bewitched by language” into perceiving things to be absolutely true, “really real” before him, and the Wittgensteinian and Madhyamika nonegocentrist critical analyses intend to force him to look deeper into things and processes by examining his account of them to actually try to find the essence assumed to correspond to the name, the ‘metaphysical entity’, the ‘simple’, the ‘indivisible’.

The absolutist’s failure to find any such analysis-resistant essence is the first step on the road to liberation of his intelligence from the spell of language.
Thurman picks up the line of thought from here: “Relativism or conventionalism about the empirical, which includes language primarily, is a central component of the nonegocentrist outlook, the key to the nonegocentrist's avoidance of nihilistic skepticism and mysticism.

The egocentrist tends to engage in one or the other of these alternatives when his critical analysis goes further than usual, and he sees through his previously accepted 'givens', such as 'self', 'matter', 'object', or 'sense-contents', and so on, and he feels his universe crumble.

And even if he never reaches such a frontier, he perceives the nonegocentrist as courting chaos and typically accuses him of nihilism.

Wittgenstein responds to the charge, in PI 304: “ Not at all. It is not a something, but not a nothing either! The conclusion was only that a nothing would serve just as well as a something about which nothing could be said. We have only rejected the grammar which tries to force itself on us here.

The paradox disappears only if we make a radical break with the idea that language always functions in one way....

He goes still further in response to another challenge, in PI 118: “Where does our investigation get its importance from, since it seems only to destroy everything interesting, that is, all that is great and important? (As it were all the buildings, leaving behind only bits of stone and rubble.) What we are destroying is nothing but houses of cards and we are clearing up the ground of language on which they stand.” (p.4)

Thus it is precisely the reaffirmation of language, free of any supposed absolute substratum, as a practical, conventional process, an ordinary activity of human beings, a "form of life, " (Lebensform) that sets the nonegocentrist analytic philosopher apart from the skeptic and the mystic, who makes the classic absolutist mistake of thinking that lack of an absolute basis is no basis at all, lack of an absolute process is no process at all, lack of an absolutistic, privately grounded language is no language at all,

lack of a mathematically absolute, perfect logic is no logic at all, and so on. Wittgenstein is most explicit about the sheer conventionality of language, as in the following group of statements: “

(About) the 'language of our perceptions',... this language, like any other, is founded on convention. (PI 355)...

One objects: "So you are saying that human agreement decides what is true and what is false?"--lt is what human beings say that is true and false; and they agree in the language they use.

That is not agreement in opinions but in form of life (PI 241)...Here we strike rock bottom, that is, we have come down to conventions. (BBB , p.24) ...When philosophers use a word--'knowledge', 'being', 'object', 'I', 'proposition', 'name'--and try to grasp the essence of the thing, one must always ask oneself: is the word ever actually used in this way in the language-game which is its original home.

What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use. (PI 116)...

The meaning of a word is its use in the language (PI 43)...

When I talk about language (words, sentences, etc.) I must speak the language of everyday. Is this language somehow too coarse and material for what we want to say? Then how is another one to be constructed? (PI 120)...

And main source of our failure to understand is that we do not command a clear view of the use of our words (PI 122)...

Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it.

For it cannot give it any foundation either. It leaves everything as it is (PI 124)...

Essence is expressed by grammar (PI 371). Grammar tells what kind of object anything is. (Theology as grammar) (PI 373).”

Thurman believes that the buddhist Prásangika counterpart of this conventionalism can be most clearly seen in Candrakirti’s critique of Bhavya’s (a contemporary thinker) use of the “head of Ráhu” example as justification for employing the expression “hardness is the intrinsic identity of earth” as a conventionally acceptable expression.

(Ráhu is a mythological demon who is all head and no body, so “head” and “Ráhu” refer to the same thing, as do “hardness” and “earth”.) “Candra states: “

Moreover, this example is incorrect because the expression... "Raahu" does exist among mundane, established without analysis, and does apply to its referent... "head," just like the conventional designation "person," (EE, p. 171).”

Thurman also quotes Tson Khapa, who here comments: “... it is correct, according to conventions of social communication, for a speaker to dispel the doubt of a listener with the expression... 'Ráhu' since the latter has formed the notion of a... head from hearing that word and is wondering "whose head? "

The speaker thus wishes to eliminate the possibility of reference... to any head other than that of Ráhu.

However, this example does not correspond to the case of the expression "hardness is the intrinsic identity of earth," there being no earth which is not hard, and hence no need to dispel any such doubt (EE, 172).

Thurman thinks that the main target of the critique is the notion of ‘intrinsic identity’ which would not occur to the ordinary hearer. “Hardness of earth” might fit with the example, but there is no room for notions of ‘intrinsic identity’ - the hearer would not wonder ‘whose intrinsic identity’? but only ‘whose hardness’?

Thurman says Candrakirti returns the attack, by saying that conventionally ‘head’ and ‘Ráhu’ are different, hence the example cannot illustrate a supposed case of essential nondifference. But then, rejoins the essentialist (Bhavya), when one investigates the referents of the expressions, they prove to be the same thing.

Candra then succinctly states his conventionalism about language: “If you propose that the example is indeed applicable since (... Raahu) is proved to be nothing other than ... 'head', since only the latter can finally be apprehended,

I say that is not so; for, in the usage of mundane conventions, such a sort of analysis (as that seeking essential identity, etc.) is not employed, and further, the things of the world are existent (only insofar) as unexamined critically (EE, p. 173)”.

Candra states that once one looks analytically for ‘head’, ‘Ráhu’, or anything else, nothing can be found to withstand analysis, but still those things are there when unanalytically accepted.

He pursues this idea then with a key concept:

“Although analytically there is no self apart from form etc., from the mundane superficial (lokasamvrtya) point of view such (a self) has its existence dependent on the aggregates... (EE, p. 174).”

Let’s show Thurman’s comment on this line of thought:

“Conventionally, even the abhorrent (to the nonegocentrist) 'self' is reinstated, as 'part of the grammar' of mundane communication.

And thus the feared nihilism, which the absolutist imagines lurks at the end of the analysis that seeks a self and cannot find anything, is avoided through the reaffirmation of the mutually dependent, mundane, conventional, nonanalytic existence of 'self'.

Candra finally shows his awareness of how such nihilism cannot be avoided by any means other than such thoroughgoing conventionalism, saying: "otherwise, the superficial (reality) would no longer be the superficial and would either lack validity entirely or would become (ultimate) reality..." (EE, p.175).

Thus, no 'simple' analysis-resistant referential base can be found to anchor the conventional, which is precisely why it works as sheer conventionality, free of the extremisms of absolutism and nihilism.”

Here it should be noted that Candrakirti’s opponent in this is by no means a naive absolutist, but is only trying to uphold the ‘intrinsic identity’ (svalaksana) of things conventionally, having already, as he thinks, ruled them out absolutely.

Candrakirti’s thrust is thus to show the incompatibility of the concepts of conventionality and intrinsicality. Finally, to forestall any misunderstanding about the sort of analysis that can be involved in calling the conventional ‘nonanalytic’, Tson Khapa comments (with intriguing implications for Wittgenstein’s ‘everyday’ use of language, even philosophically): “

We might suppose here, as the mundane person engages in a great deal of analysis--"Is it happening or not?" or "Is it produced or not?"--that it must be improper to reply to such inquiries "It happens" or "it is produced.”

However, this type of (conventional) inquiry and the above analytic method (seeking absolute referential bases) are utterly different.

As Thurman states: “The mundane person is not inquiring into coming and going through analysis into the meaning of the use of the conventional expressions 'comer', 'goer' 'coming', 'going', out of dissatisfaction with (the fact that they are) merely conventional usages.

He is rather making spontaneous inquiry into the spontaneous usage of the expressions 'coming' and 'going' (EE, p. 178).”

The mature Wittgenstein's refusal to pretend to a system, his insistence on ordinary language (which so frustrated logical absolutists such as Russell), gains support when juxtaposed to Candrakirti’s view of language, conceptual analysis, and philosophical investigation as conventional procedures, ‘programs’ (Thurman’s expresion) that function on the surface, the superficial level (samvrti).

The question asked at this point is: “Indeed, how could language, logic, and understanding exclude themselves from the universal relativity that permeates all causal processes?” (p.7)
The philosophical nonegocentrist’s attitude toward philosophy as therapy is attested to in Wittgenstein’s writings, as in the following famous passages: “ For the clarity we are aiming at is indeed complete clarity. But this simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disappear.

The real discovery is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want to.--The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions that bring itself into question.--

Instead, we now demonstrate a method, by examples and the series of examples can be broken off.-- problems are solved (difficulties eliminated), not a single problem. There is not a philosophical method, though there are indeed methods, like different therapies (PI, p.133) ....

The philosopher's treatment of a question is like the treatment of an illness (PI, p.255)....What is your aim in philosophy? --To shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle (PI, p.309).”

After the general establishment of a nonegocentrists’ ‘family resemblance’, Thurman forces us to reflect deeply upon the many historical and cultural notions we have that make the whole idea “seem so outlandish a priori”. Thurman: “

Tson Khapa introduces the refutation as follows: “ In general, the two masters (Buddhapalita and Candrakirti) took as the ultimate in subtle and profound philosophical reasonings those reasonings proving the perfect viability of all systems such as causality in the absence of any intrinsic reality such as that (already) rejected as intrinsic identifiability even conventionally, as well as those reasonings negating the negandum of intrinsic identity by the very reason of relativity, asserted clearly as the relativity of all things,

transcendental as well as non-transcendental.

Moreover, they took this refutation of logical privacy as the most subtle among them (EE, p. 218).”
Thus, the refutation of logical privacy is stated to be a form of the refutation of intrinsic identity (svalaksana), at the final level of subtlety.

‘Intrinsic identity’, as we have seen is the egocentrist’s designative base, the essentialist private object, necessary for private or independent reference and language.

Thurman goes on like this for the rest of the article, making his line of thought more and more difficult to follow.

I simply don’t have the desire to give a further account of his reasons of why he comes to the following conclusion.

(His method of treating the problem and what he is aiming at can be clearly seen from what I have already reasembled.)


Although I feel quite at home among sanskrit philosophical terms, I had found Thurman’s way of reasoning quite difficult to follow. Despite of this, his attitude towards philosophy had a great impact on me, and his final conclusion could be heeded by many modern philosophers.

That’s why I’ll quote it in whole:

“In closing, I cannot resist a brief comment on the implications for philosophy of the remarkable fact that Wittgenstein and his successors are very close to the Prasangika tradition in many ways, without ever knowing anything about them directly, simply from pursuing the deepest questions of philosophy in a rigorously critical way, and in spite of the enormous temporal and cultural differences involved.

It means that philosophy today is crippled by prejudices of a very nonphilosophical sort--racial, cultural, and historical.

It means that our ingrained sense of the "progress" of knowledge is highly suspect, not because of some sentimental appeal to some imagined primitive stage of nature, but because even rigorous technical matters were as well and even better explored in ancient times by people in supposed "non-technological cultures and times.

After all, we greatly respect Wittgenstein as a shining star in the firmament of philosophy, even if some of his twinklings elude us, and many of the finest philosophical minds today follow him indirectly if not directly in many aspects of their thinking.

If the type of critical vision he achieved and cultivated on his own was highly developed systematically already in a great tradition with thousands of members in the most populous nations of earth, (not that very many perhaps ever reached the greatest heights or depths), then there must have been a rather bountiful crop of unsung, unpublished Wittgensteins over the twenty centuries during which Indian,

Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, and Mongolian scholars pursued the goddess of wisdom, (the Sophia of philosophy as Prajnápáramitá, "Transcendent Wisdom") whose attainment was defined as the ultimate liberation from the "fly-bottle" of perplexity.

Such being the case, or even the possibility, it behooves us not to rest content with our one river of Western tradition, but to explore and reveal to our young the great ocean of world philosophy.

It is all ours, we are all human beings, and the Indian or Chinese heritage belongs as much to us as to the Chinese or the Indians.

Especially the philosophical heritage of the nonegocentrist, critical tradition which was born from liberation from cultural conditioning at the deepest levels, perceptual and ideological,

never belonged to any race, culture, or even linguistic tradition, but always to those members of whatever such tradition who dare to question what seems self-evident right before them, what is authoritatively told to them, what seems safe and natural to them--those whose sensibilities demand the surpassing peace that comes with the eradication of perplexity.”

The word I have rendered in the preceding passage as "logical privacy" is the Tibetan ran rgyud, which renders the Sanskrit svaatantrya, previously rendered in this context by Stcherbatski as "independence."

Mention of the Tibetan as well as the Sanskrit here is important, since it was mainly in Tibet that followers of Candra's thought elaborated this question in great detail.

The usual Tibetan translation for Sanskrit svaatantrya (adjectivally, svatantra) is ran dban, which is also the normal Tibetan expression for 'independent', meaning literally 'self-powered', opposed to 'other-powered' (gzan dban, paratantra) .

In this crucial philosophical context, a context which generated centuries of discussion and volumes of commentary and rigorous analysis, why did the Tibetan translators and scholars use ran rgyud, which literally means "own-continuum," translating back into Sanskrit in most contexts as svasa.mtaana, often "own personality" or even "own mind"?

To be sure, Tson Khapa himself glosses ran rgyud with ran dban, (just as Saunders and Henze gloss 'private language' as a language whose words are "conceptually independent of publicly observable phenomena"), but that does not alter the fact that he and his colleagues persisted in using ran rgyud, talking of the ran rgyud problem,

(which would not have been necessary if ran rgyud was identical with ran dban), in all of its contexts. Looking at these, we note that ran rgyud is used nominally, as direct object of 'gog pa, to refute, sgrub pa, to establish.

"Independence" here, while not wrong, is too vague, and does not specifically connect to the philosophical issues involved.

ran rgyud is also used adjectivally with "reason" (hetu, ]]li^nga\\), "thesis" (pratij~naa), position (, "probandum" (]]saadhya\\), "syllogism" (anumaana), and "validating cognition" (, all of which are essentially linguistic phenomena, although to my knowledge it is never used with "language" (]]bhaa.sya\\).

In all of these cases, it is contrasted, not with "dependent" (paratantra), but with "public" (]]paraprasiddha\\, literally, "other-acknowledged") reason, thesis, and so forth.

Finally, it crops up in the name of Bhaavaviveka's Maadhyamika subschool, Svaatantrika, the "school of those who use private arguments," as opposed to Candra's Praasa^ngika, the "school of those who use consequences" (prasa^nga) of their opponent's absolutisms, the most public form of philosophical approach.

By derivation, the former can be aptly called the "Dogmatic Maadhyamikas" in contrast to the "Dialectical Maadhyamikas," as long as it is understood that the reason for their dogmatism, albeit only conventional, is their tacit resurrection of intrinsic identity in the form of logical privacy as the basis of language used rigorously in philosophical arguments.(8)

Tson Khapa, in typical Tibetan philosophic style, first cites the Indian Jayaananda's attack on the private reason and then goes on to reject it as the wrong approach.

In this regard, a certain pandit argues "the private reason would be appropriate if there were substantiation by validating cognition of both reason and the invariable concomitance proving the probandum; but it is not appropriate, such not being the case.

For it is wrong to assert that a reason can be authoritatively substantiated for both protagonist and antagonist, since the protagonist does not know what is established by validating cognition for the antagonist, not able to know the other's thoughts either by perception or inference, nor does he know what is established by right knowledge for himself, as it is always possible his judgment is in error."

(But we respond that) this (approach) is utterly wrong; for, if such were the case, it would also be inappropriate to refute (an antagonist with a public) syllogism) based on his own assertions; for one could not know that antagonist's position, not knowing his thoughts, and one's own refutation by advancing his fallacies could be wrong, as it would always be possible that one's judgment about those fallacies could be mistaken (EE, p. 218).

This false start on the refutation of privacy is strikingly reminiscent of Saunders and Henze's formulation of the opening "prong" of the assault on the private language, where the possibility of a private language is challenged on grounds of the unreliability of subjective memory impressions which are not independently checkable or substantiated.(9)

But, just like Jayaananda's, this attack is not conclusive, since the criterial demand itself is too stringent, and the antagonist is able to throw the same doubt back at public discourse--"you think you can check public impressions based on other's testimony, etc., but couldn't you hear them wrong?"--and so forth.(10)

The Wittgensteinian is then required to come back stressing the conventional acceptability of public substantiation and so on, which anticipates Tson Khapa's progression, to which we now return.

Tson Khapa elucidates Candra's assault on a customary private syllogism of Bhaavaviveka.

This passage in the Prasannapadaa I, is considered the locus classicus of the refutation of logical privacy. Bhaavaviveka is arguing against a /.../?

respective private objects, encountered by each in a private perception of the subject of the syllogism (eye-consciousness, and so on), the reason employed (its existence), and the concomitance perceived in the example, which are named in the argument and understood by each via each object's conventional intrinsic identity (, which Bhaavaviveka maintains consistently to be indispensable for conventional functionality.

The Saa.mkhya himself is much more grossly absolutistic, believing that inner phenomena such as eye-consciousness are absolutely existent, self-produced, and so on.

And this is why Bhaavaviveka feels it necessary to qualify his argument, adding "absolutely" (paramaarthata.h) , which Candra seizes upon as evidence of his subtle absolutization of the conventional. Candra attacks as follows:

“Your use of the thesis-qualification "absolutely" is unnecessary from your own standpoint, since you do not accept self-production even superficially... and as it relates to others' standpoints, it is better to refute outsiders without any such qualifications, since outsiders muddle the two realities and should be refuted in terms of both.

Further, as it is inappropriate to refute the claim of self-production in conventional terms, it is also inappropriate to employ such qualifications in that context; for the mundane person assents to mere arisal of effect without any analytic inquiry as to whether it is produced from self or other, etc.

Again, if it is the case that you wish to refute even the superficial production of the eye, etc., which your antagonist believes to be absolute, this then entails with respect to yourself the thesis-fault of groundlessness, since you yourself do not accept eye, etc., as absolutely existent (EE, pp. 228-229).

Candra here is basically challenging Bhavya to give an account of his supposed privately based discourse, asking him how can he find any common ground of discussion with his antagonist, since each exists in a private, logically inaccessible world of private objects, and so forth.

Sensing these difficulties, Bhavya sidesteps the necessity of the qualification "absolutely," and instead tries to show his argument's conventional viability, arguing for the accessibility of a general subject of the syllogism, mere eye-consciousness, and so on, disregarding all qualifications.

He gives the plausible example of the argument between the Buddhist Vaibhaa.sika and the Brahmanical Vai'se.sika about the status of sound, which proceeds on the basis of the general subject "mere sound" not qualified as either "etheric sound" (unacceptable to Vaibhaa.sika) or "material sound" (unacceptable to Vai'se.sika) .

This, Bhavya argues, evades the thesis-fault of groundlessness, restores a "bare datum" as the private object, in principle accessible to both parties as basis of private syllogism.

This apparently reasonable tack proves calamitous for Bhavya, as it enables Candra to expose his subtle absolutism, his commitment to a private object as the objectively real basis of perception, hence of justification, language, even causality.

Tson Khapa paraphrases Candra's argument here: “It is wrong to posit mere eye, etc., disregarding qualifications in light of two realities, as the subject of the syllogism proving the absence of the self-production of eye, etc.;

because, (according to your own system), the validating cognition must be unmistaken about the intrinsic reality of eye, etc.;

and because, as unmistaken cognition does not mistake intrinsic reality, the object it encounters cannot be an erroneous object which falsely appears to have intrinsic identifiability when in fact it does not (EE, p. 231 following P, pp. 8 ff).

Candra argues that Bhavya cannot have a 'mere object', general and unqualified, and still uphold his 'private system', since according to that even a 'bare datum' can only exist if encountered by a validating cognition which must not mistake the object's intrinsic identity.

Such a bare datum thus must be absolutely real, even to be there for an absolutist who requires its certification by a private, unmistaken, validating cognition.

Tson Khapa clarifies this point: “... in a philosophical system that claims that whatever exists, exists in its own right objectively, a (cognition) that errs in its perception of intrinsic identifiability cannot be established as discovering its proper object.

Any sort of validating cognition, either conceptual or nonconceptual, must be unmistaken about the intrinsic identity of its validated object....

Thus, a validating cognition must derive its validity from an object which, not being merely a conventiozal, nominal designation, has an objectivity or intrinsic reality as its own actual condition. And this is just what (Bhavya's) own system claims (EE, p. 231, italics mine).

The refutation here comes down to the hyperbolic private object, just as it does in the modern one. How uncanny is the resonance of Saunder's and Henze's description of the private "experiential-datum" needed to anchor the term in private language.

 (A private language is) A language, each word of which refers to experiential data, although each of these words is conceptually independent of publicly observable phenomena.

(When we say that an experiential-datum term, "E," is conceptually independent of publicly observable phenomena, we mean this: the existence of an E neither entails nor is entailed by the existence of any publicly observable phenomena; nor is it part of the meaning of "E" that publicly observable phenomena provide evidence for the existence of an E) (PLP, pp. 6-7).

To recapitulate, Bhavya tries to reestablish his private syllogism by employing a mere, general (that is, publicly observable and ostensible) object as a basis of discussion, thus tacitly acknowledging the publicness of objects, subjects, syllogisms, language, and so forth, which he cannot rightly do in the framework of his system, which posits intrinsic, not conventional, objectivity to genuine phenomena and hence cannot tolerate their mere relativity and superficiality.

And Candra holds him to his own basic outlook without letting him pay lip service to conventionality, saying, as it were, your "bare datum" must be absolute, intrinsically identifiable, and hence privately cognizable and substantiable, if only for you to perceive it at all, since for you nothing can even exist unless it is thus established.

Candra then follows this point with a refutation of Bhavya's example itself, pointing out its inapplicability. Candra agrees that the Vaibhaa.sika and the Vai'se.sika each can point out a mere sound to argue about, since both tacitly share a sense of the perceptual objectivity, the private "givenness" of the object, its "thereness," as it were.

However, as Tson Khapa paraphrases: “... the case is different when the advocate of the emptiness of intrinsic reality proves to the advocate of nonemptiness of intrinsic reality that eye, etc. are not self-produced. For not only can they not discover any objective existence or even any objective nonexistence, but also they can not point out to each other "such a thing a 'this' we both encounter as the actual thing to use as subject of our argument (EE, p. 236).

This is perhaps the most subtle point to grasp, either in the Wittgensteinian or in the Praasa^ngika context, because of our innate perceptual absolutism, reinforced by culture through language, but the attainment of the accomplished nonegocentrist philosopher comes down even to this.

In looking for an object to use as the subject of a syllogism, the nonegocentrist (that is, advocate of emptiness) cannot find anything whatsoever, when he looks with a truthdeterminant analysis at objects supposed to have a cognitively objective status according to the egocentrist (nonemptiness advocate) .

Of course, conventionally all sorts of unanalyzed objects are right there without having to be looked for, relative, designatively dependent, publicly observable and so forth, easily accessible to the nonanalytic attitude of everyday consciousness.

However, when he adopts the attitude called "philosophical cognition analytic of ultimacy" (don dam dpyod pai rigs 'ses) , which he does when advocating emptiness to the absolutist in the attempt to cure his absolutistic illness, he cannot find any single thing that is intrinsically identifiable, privately cognizable, or ostensively definable or even accessible.

Under this analysis, both public and private disappear, as they can only exist in mutual dependence.

Only such an appreciation of the transformative power of analytic vision can ever make clear the otherwise cryptic statement of Wittgenstein, the remarkable PI 398:

"But when I imagine something, or even actually see objects, I have got something which my neighbor has not!"--l understand you.

You want to look about you and say: "at any rate, only I have got THIS!" What are these words for?

They serve no purpose.--Can one not add: "there is here no question of a 'seeing' and therefore none of a 'having'--nor of a subject, nor therefore of 'I' either?" Might I not ask: in what sense have you got what you are talking about and saying that only you have got it? Do you possess it?

You DO NOT EVEN SEE IT! And this too is clear: If as a matter of logic you exclude other people's having something, it loses its sense to say that you have it. (Double underscore added.)

Here again we find Wittgenstein levelling the clincher at his opponent, preceding what Saunders and Henze call the "ascription argument" and attribute to Strawson, namely, that no "private" object, perception, or language can exist without the public notion of "person," which thus vitiates the logical privacy of them;

as they put it, "the traditionist (just like Svaatantrika) cannot treat the notions of 'I' and 'my experience' as logically primitive to with respect to the notions of 'he' and 'his experience' because one who does not possess the latter notions lacks the former notions as well"(11) (parentheses added).

This argument topples the traditionist's adherence to the private language, enables Wittgenstein to exclaim to his absolutist interlocutor "You do not even see it!" (PI 398), and enables Candra to demolish Bhavya's sense of the plausibility even of his example, as the two parties in the supposed private argument cannot find either any objective existence or any objective nonexistence!

Thus all three end up on the same point, from which proceeds the methodology of the nonegocentrist.

He does not try to employ private syllogisms, reasons, and so forth, since antagonist and protagonist are so far apart there is no ground of discussion established in any satistactory manner, but rather makes his own analytic, critical attitude available to his antagonist dialectically, leading him through logical ramifications of his position that end up with absurd consequences. The antagonist thus is able to see the awkwardness of his original position and gracefully abandon it.

As Wittgenstein proposed, the nonegocentrist should "yield to the temptation to use this (absolutist's) picture (of the world) but then investigate how the application of the picture goes" (PI 374) (parentheses added).

And, thus confirmed by the more systematized Praasangika methodology, it is now obvious why Wittgenstein refused to appear too systematic or formal in his mature investigations, why he adopted an inner dialogue form, and why many of his points are made through asking obviously unanswerable questions. Indeed, it is amazing how well he managed, all alone as he was, not knowing that he was in fact a luminary of the "anti-traditionist's tradition," and was applying to European absolutism the same critique earlier applied to Indian absolutism by the proponents of the Middle Way!

In closing, I cannot resist a brief comment on the implications for philosophy of the remarkable fact that Wittgenstein and his successors are very close to the Praasa^ngika tradition in many ways, without ever knowing anything about them directly, simply from pursuing the deepest questions of philosophy in a rigorously critical way, and in spite of the enormous temporal and cultural differences involved.

It means that philosophy today is crippled by prejudices of a very nonphilosophical sort--racial, cultural, and historical. It means that our ingrained sense of the "progress" of knowledge is highly suspect, not because of some sentimental appeal to some imagined primitive stage of nature, but because even rigorous technical matters were as well and even better explored in ancient times by people in supposed "non-technological cultures and times.

After all, we greatly respect Wittgenstein as a shining star in the firmament of philosophy, even if some of his twinklings elude us, and many of the finest philosophical minds today follow him indirectly if not directly in many aspects of their thinking.

If the type of critical vision he achieved and cultivated on his own was highly developed systematically already in a great tradition with thousands of members in the most populous nations of earth, (not that very many perhaps ever reached the greatest heights or depths), then there must have been a rather bountiful crop of unsung, unpublished Wittgensteins over the twenty centuries during which Indian,

Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, and Mongolian scholars pursued the goddess of wisdom, (the Sophia of philosophy as Prajnaparamita,

"Transcendent Wisdom") whose attainment was defined as the ultimate liberation from the "fly-bottle" of perplexity.

Such being the case, or even the possibility, it behooves us not to rest content with our one river of Western tradition, but to explore and reveal to our young the great ocean of world philosophy.

It is all ours, we are all human beings, and the Indian or Chinese heritage belongs as much to us as to the Chinese or the Indians. Especially the philosophical heritage of the nonegocentrist, critical tradition which was born from liberation from cultural conditioning at the deepest levels, perceptual and ideological, never belonged to any race, culture, or even linguistic tradition, but always to those members of whatever such tradition who dare to question what seems self-evident right before them, what is authoritatively told to them, what seems safe and natural to them--those whose sensibilities demand the surpassing peace that comes with the eradication of perplexity.


7. Candrakirti, Prasannapada, Vaidya ed. (Darbhanga,
1962), p. 1.
8. Confer EE, Chapter V,n. 98.
9. PLP, pp. 28ff
10. PLP, p. 62ff.
11. PLP, p. 139. 6