UK hardback edition

 

 

 

 

 

Other papers on this website:

The 1993 AHP transcript-Part 1

The 1993 AHP Transcript-Part 2

The 1993 AHP Transcript-Part 3

Selections from the 1993 AHP transcript

David Granger's Aesthetics Paper

PhD Commentary

An Open Letter to Sam Harris

Art & the MOQ by Robert Pirsig

An Introduction to
 Robert Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality

Khoo Hock Aun's Paper

An MOQ Summary by Robert Pirsig

David Buchanan's Art & Morality Paper

Pirsig Annotations on Copleston

Gavin Gee-Clough's "Brisbane Winter" Paper 

 Henry Gurr's MOQ presentation

 

Sneddon Thesis

- Part One

 

Sneddon Thesis - Part Two

David Buchanan's 2006 Paper

Observer Interview

The MOQ & Time

The MOQ & Education

Pirsig & Pragmatism

Chai at the Lazy Lounge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Some notes on the Tetralemma"

by Paul Turner

January 2006
 

(revised July 2012)

 

 

In the past Ant has bemoaned the lack of a decent explanation of the Buddhist tetralemma even though it is often thrown around in MOQ Discuss....  I'm currently analysing Nagarjuna's MMK [Mulamadhyamakakarika] and it is used extensively throughout.  Taking some tips from Garfield (the Buddhologist, not the sarcastic fat feline!) I've summarised my understanding below for my own benefit and maybe others:

                

Logic is a set of rules that define valid inference.  The validity of inference provided by syllogistic logic and its descendants is based on an assumption that propositions and the relationships between them are made and inferred in one context, whether this is tacit or stated within a premise.  Because the rules of inference defined by the syllogism operate within a single context, contradictory propositions cannot be contained within a single structure of thought without being illogical.   

 

The tetralemma (catuskoti) provides alternative rules of valid inference.  The tetralemma is a logical formulation of the dual context of the Buddhist principle of “two truths,” or “two worlds.”  Because the rules of inference defined by the tetralemma operate across two contexts, contradictory propositions can be contained within a single structure of thought without being illogical. 

 

The two truths of Buddhism are typically designated “conventional” and “ultimate” or alternatively they are described as “the world of everyday affairs” and “the world of the Buddhas.”    

 

Conventional truth applies to facts about the everyday reality of things, people and events.  It is designated conventional in the sense of being the product of human interests and dispositions and does not correspond to anything independently or inherently true.  Syllogistic logic works very well for justifying beliefs in the context of conventional truth. 

    

Ultimate truth applies to the world of the Buddhas and is inexpressible in the sense that, in the absence of convention, there is no candidate for predication, including the ascription of existence/non-existence itself.  Significantly, the conventional and ultimate truths have the same consequence – nothing can be said to exist by virtue of its own essence.  Syllogistic logic has no meaning with respect to ultimate truth. 

 

The tetralemma comprises the inferred relationship of four propositions and is expressed positively or negatively*.  Where p is any proposition and ¬p is its negation, a positive tetralemma takes the form of: 

 

 

p

¬p 

Not p

p & ¬p 

Both p & not p

¬(p V ¬p) 

Neither p nor not p

 

 

The positive tetralemma is an expression of the conventional validity of the two truths.  The positive import of the two truths is that whilst it is stated that nothing is inherently real, i.e., nothing exists by virtue of its own independent essence, the familiar everyday world is, nonetheless, conventionally real and exists in a way which does not contradict experience.  With this acceptance of conventional truth we are not left with an absurd conception of reality in which nothing exists in any sense whatsoever.  Thus the extreme standpoints of (naïve or philosophical) reification and nihilism are repudiated in favour of a “middle way.”  

 

The positive tetralemma operates as follows. The truth of the first proposition can and should be subject to the syllogistic rules of inference, then, from any given proposition which is true of the conventional world, the three remaining propositions are validly inferred.  

 

e.g.: 

 

The self is real (conventionally real, i.e., it exists in a dependent reality along with everything else we derive from experience)
The self is not real (ultimately unreal, i.e., it has no essence)
The self is both real and not real (conventionally real but ultimately unreal)
The self is neither real nor not real (neither ultimately real nor completely nonexistent)

 

 

*(I should note here that there is some dispute over whether Siddhartha Gautama endorsed the use of the positive tetralemma, but Nāgārjuna is less controversially interpreted as doing so.) 

 

Another example: 

 

Electrons are real (conventionally real, i.e., they exist in a dependent reality along with everything else we derive from experience)

Electrons are not real (ultimately unreal, i.e., they have no essence) 

Electrons are both real and not real (conventionally real but ultimately unreal)   

Electrons are neither real nor not real (neither ultimately real nor completely nonexistent)    

 

 

A negative tetralemma takes the form of: 

 

 

¬p 

Not p

¬(¬p) 

Not not p

¬(p & ¬p) 

Not (p & not p)

¬(¬(p V ¬p)) 

Not (neither p nor not p)

 

 

The negative tetralemma is an expression of the self-negating “logic” of the ultimate truth (the emptiness of emptiness!) which denies the validity and inference of any philosophical assertion of any kind including that of the attribution of existence and non-existence to anything.  The import of the negative tetralemma is that, unlike its positive counterpart, it denies the validity of the doctrine of two truths which, by comforming to logic, is itself designated a conventional truth.  The negative tetralemma can be seen as a paradoxically logical formulation of the inapplicability of logic to whatever proposition it is applied, insofar as that proposition is related to the world of the Buddhas.    

 

An example of the negative tetralemma as applied to nirvāna: 

 

It is not the case that nirvāna exists 

It is not the case that nirvāna does not exist 

It is not the case that nirvāna both exists and does not exist 

It is not the case that nirvāna neither exists nor does not exist 

 

 

To put all of this in the context of the MOQ, conventional truth, the world of everyday affairs, applies to static reality and its difference from and relationship to Dynamic Quality.  As such, the positive tetralemma would be used to express, in a logical way, the reality of subjects, objects, and so on and their strictly static existence whilst acknowledging their contradictory “unreality”, i.e., their lack of individual essence, that is entailed by their dependence on Dynamic Quality.  Ultimate truth, the world of Buddhas, thus applies to the preintellectual “context” of Dynamic Quality.  The negative tetralemma would be used to prevent any logical treatment of Dynamic Quality as a putative metaphysical “entity” of which properties and attributes may be predicated. 

      

The earlier examples of a positive tetralemma, in MOQ terms, are translated as: 

 

The self is real (i.e., it exists in static reality along with everything else we derive from experience)  

The self is not real (from a Dynamic perspective)  

The self is both real and not real (it is real from a static perspective but not from a Dynamic perspective)   

The self is neither real nor not real (neither ultimately real from a Dynamic perspective nor completely non-existent from a static perspective) 

 

 

Electrons are real (they exist in static reality along with everything else we derive from experience) 

Electrons are not real (from a Dynamic perspective) 

Electrons are both real and not real (they are real from a static perspective but not from a Dynamic perspective)   

Electrons are neither real nor not real (neither ultimately real from a Dynamic perspective nor completely non-existent from a static perspective)    

 

 

The negative tetralemma is a hard-nosed formulation of the inexpressibility of Dynamic Quality.  An example would be its treatment of the proposition that "Dynamic Quality exists in time."    

 

It is not the case that Dynamic Quality exists in time 

It is not the case that Dynamic Quality does not exist in time 

It is not the case that Dynamic Quality both does and does not exist in time 

It is not the case that Dynamic Quality neither does nor does not exist in time 

 

 

The negative tetralemma is purely about the validity and inference of propositions with respect to the context of Dynamic Quality.  And, simply put, nothing valid can be said or inferred.  But even one who is aware of that may be led from a given proposition to infer otherwise.  I think the fourth lemma is the most likely proposition that even the most dedicated mystic may make but is avoided by a thoroughgoing application of the negative tetralemma.  In this case the fourth lemma implies the independent existence of time to which Dynamic Quality can be propositionally related.   

 

For more insight into the tetralemma in its original Buddhist context, I recommend “The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way” by Jay Garfield. 

 

Everything is real and is not real 

Both real and not real 

Neither real nor not real 

This is Lord Buddha’s teaching 

 

Mulamadhyamakakarika, XVIII, 8

 

==================

 

 

From: Paul Turner (paul@turnerbc.co.uk)
Sent: 04 September 2005 20:24:52
To:'Anthony McWatt' (anthonymcwatt@hotmail.com)
 
 
I have been writing about the Buddhist "two truths" (in connection with the
MOQ) on the MD recently and I get the impression it is a device that not
many people are aware of.
 
>I’m not really sure where this all fits in with Magliola, centric Buddhism
>and the tetralemma.  But until I read a clear and concise explanation of
>the latter there is little point in me commenting on this further conceptual 
>framework.
 
Okay.  I intend to put something together regarding Magliola and Pirsig,
after I've finished working on my "Two Theses" suggestion.  I've had a bit
more correspondence with Bob [Pirsig] about the latter which I copy below.
 
Best regards,
 
Paul
 
-------------------------------------------------

Dear Bob,
 
Thanks for the reply, particularly as you are on holiday.  I hope the
sailing is going well.  
 
It has occurred to me that the description of Dynamic Quality as
'pre-intellectual' is mainly applied within the context of thesis (1) in
which only Dynamic Quality and intellectual patterns have been described.
Would you agree that within the context of thesis (2), in which all levels
of patterns have been described, Dynamic Quality would be better described
as 'pre-static'?
 
Best regards,
 
Paul
 
----------------------------------------------------------
 
>From: Pirsig 
>Sent: 30 August 2005 14:38
>To: Paul Turner
>Subject: Re: Two theses of the MOQ
>
>Dear Paul Turner,
>
>    We and the boat are back from a refreshing vacation...
>    Getting back to armchair abstractions I'm leery of saying that 
>Dynamic Quality is pre-static because that places Dynamic Quality within a
>framework of time which is itself a static pattern.   In my own mental
>concept of Dynamic Quality according to thesis (2), Dynamic Quality is 
>coexistent with all static patterns and not subordinate to any of them.
 
-----------------------------------------------------
 
Dear Bob,
 
In case I was unclear, what I was thinking of as 'pre-static' was something
like 'at the cutting edge of awareness before any static patterns have
emerged' rather than in the static temporal sense e.g. 'pre-Socratic'.  I
can see how your objection may still apply but I want to be clear on what I
meant.  If it does still apply, do you think 'pre-intellectual' is still an
apt description of Dynamic Quality (to the extent that any description is
apt) with respect to thesis (2)?  It seems to me that it unnecessarily
relates Dynamic Quality to the intellectual level.
 
Best regards
 
Paul
 
-----------------------------------------------------
From: Pirsig 
Sent: 2 September 2005
To: Paul Turner
Subject: Re: Two theses of the MOQ
 
I think I finally see your point and agree that pre-static is better than
pre-intellectual. because  all patterns, not just intellectual patterns,
discover Dynamic Quality.  But from the perspective of the Buddha's world
Dynamic Quality is not just pre-static.  It  has been there all along
coexistent with the patterns that are discovering it.  The Dynamic Quality
is the envelope that contains both the discovered and the discoverer.  That
is why, In the few diagrams I have made of the evolutionary structure of the
MOQ, Dynamic Quality is not part of the diagram.  Dynamic Quality is
represented by the paper the diagram is written on.  I like that device
because there is no diagram in the world that can contain the paper it is
written on. It's a good analogy, I think.
 
 
----------------------------------------------------
 
If you enjoyed the above notes by Paul, you will no doubt also be interested to read his 
 
paper on the Two Contexts of the Metaphysics of Quality.  
 
It can be found via the following link: