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On Philosophy


This paper demonstrates a problem with the philosophical question. To do so, it employs a style of reasoning employed by the Buddhist philosopher Nāgārjuna. Often identified as the neither identical nor distinct argument, this style of reasoning is employed by Nāgārjuna in his Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. The paper concludes by noting that the philosophical question, unreflectively pursued, leads to contradictions.

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  1. In fact, a widely held view about philosophy is that there is no progress in philosophy, unlike, for example, in the natural sciences (Priest, 2020, pp. 300–302). On the nature of philosophy, see Priest (2006).

  2. In the introduction to their translation of the MMK, Siderits and Katsura (2013, p. 8) describe the neither identical nor distinct argument in the following way: “This is meant to refute a hypothesis to the effect that x and y are related in some way R. If they were, then x and y would have to be either two distinct things or else really just one and the same thing (under two different descriptions). But if x and y were distinct, then x exists apart from y. And if x exists apart from y, x is not characterized by R. So it cannot be ultimately true that x bears R to y. If, on the other hand, x and y were identical, then x would bear relation R to itself, which is absurd.” For Nāgārjuna’s use of the neither identical nor distinct argument, see MMK 2.18, 10.1, 18.1, 21.10, 27.15–16. References to the MMK are to the Siderits and Katsura (2013) translation.

  3. On the difference between the “is” of predication and the “is” of identity, see Priest (2017, p. 62). Note that the difference, noted by Abelard (1079–1142) and then by Leibniz (1646–1716), did “not... become well understood until the end of the nineteenth century” (Priest, 2017, p. 124).

  4. For an example of predication, consider the statement “The knife is sharp.” Here, we are attributing a property (sharpness) to an object (the knife).

  5. For an example of identity, consider the statement “The man who defeated Romney is the man who defeated McCain”; or the statement “I am Jonathan Neale.” Here we are making a statement of identity.

  6. An example of an essential property is the property of heat in the case of fire (Westerhoff, 2007, p. 19). An example of an accidental property is the property of heat in the case of water (Westerhoff, 2007, p. 19). For more on the essential/accidental property distinction, see Ishii and Atkins (2020).

  7. The question of whether y stands for a single essential property or a set of essential properties is irrelevant to our inquiry. Our concern is with the form of the answer, not the content.

  8. I thank the two anonymous reviewers of the journal for their comments and suggestions on an earlier version of this article.


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Correspondence to A. K. Jayesh.

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The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose. The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the author.

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Jayesh, A.K. On Philosophy. J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res. 38, 385–388 (2021).

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  • Nature of philosophy
  • Philosophy and contradictions
  • Philosophical questions
  • Nāgārjuna and philosophy