The Philosophy and Physics of Relationality and Inherent Nature: Shunyata and Svabhava in Madhyamaka Buddhist Philosophy, Western Analytic Metaphysics, Philosophy of Science and Physics
Paul, Robert Alan
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Proponents of Middle Way (Sanskrit: Madhyamaka) Buddhist philosophy argue that all phenomena lack inherent nature. This dissertation provides an analysis of the meaning of inherent nature and the lack of inherent nature in the basic physical character of non-living physical phenomena as indicated by certain interpretations of ancient and contemporary Middle Way Buddhist philosophy, contemporary Western analytic metaphysics, philosophy of science, and physics. The primary intellectual focus in the dissertation is Madhyamaka. I explicate an interpretation of Madhyamaka that is both amenable to discourse and dialogue with the other disciplines, and also consistent with at least some extant Madhyamaka interpretations. The discourse and dialogue with other disciplines results in a revision of some of the arguments of Madhyamaka—specifically making it consistent with modern physics. However, that revision does not deny the foundational view of Madhyamaka that there is no inherent nature in phenomena, but rather supports it within the revised interpretation. Additionally, I also find that this foundational view provides at least heuristic guidance in development of a generic interpretive framework (‘contextualization’ and Physics Pluralism) that I then apply in criticism and revision of some arguments in modern analytic metaphysics and in philosophy of science.That generic interpretive framework is used within this dissertation in examination of Western analytic metaphysics and philosophy of science. While I find independent support for that framework within contemporary philosophy, the framework also reflects an interpretation of Madhyamaka that I develop as a variation of the classic two truths view of Madhyamaka. My interpretation of the classical expression of the two truths is that there is relative existence of inherent nature that may be reflected in our conventions of discourse and habit, while ultimately no inherent nature can be found when the phenomena are analyzed more fully. In my modified interpretation of the two truths that corresponds to modern physics, for some phenomena inherent nature is found within specific (‘local’) contexts of discourse or domains of physics theory applicability, yet when we take a ‘global’ view that acknowledges many domains and relationships between domains we find an ultimate relationality rather than inherent nature.
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