My previous post was a review for Bernardo Kastrup’s new book Brief Peeks Beyond. This is an excellent book discussing the most profound topics and I was very happy to recommend it to amazon readers everywhere.
Yet I cannot quite agree with its author in every respect. We have discussed our disagreement on a number of occasions but they remain unresolved. Such are the subtleties of the issues that it is not easy to pin them down and fully dissect them.
Two problem arise for me in BK’s books. Given that they are about philosophy, religion and science this is approximately none at all, but both of them seem crucial.
First, the cosmological doctrine being promoted is called ‘monistic idealism’. Second, it is proposed that the universe is logically absurd.
There may be no disagreement as to the facts. BK explains his idealism as being consistent with the Buddha’s nondualism and thus not a new theory but a re-presentation or re-conceptualisation using a more simple, modern, scientific and manageable language. If so then I will not be arguing with it.
Yet in this case the phrase ‘monistic idealism’ seems highly misleading. In some circles Mind-Matter has long been considered a formal dilemma and here ‘idealism’ would suggest the adoption of an extreme view. For the sake of maintaining a consistent language I would be happy with ‘idealism’ as a synonym for nondualism only where it is qualified with ‘Absolute’ or ‘Transcendental’ and even then would prefer to avoid it.
The categorisation of Mind as the monistic basis of all phenomena requires an initial reduction of the world to two phenomena, Mind and Matter, and then that we subsume one within the other. A great deal of my blog is devoted to suggesting that as a method for solving metaphysical dilemmas this does not work. It has never worked, and hence the stagnation of the discipline.
For a formal solution, a solution that works as mathematics, it would be vital to have three terms to work with. We would need a word like ‘Tao’, defined as undifferentiated and thus indefinable in positive terms, in addition to the dualistic terms required for bivalent logic. All formal system require at least one undefined term.
Without this third option we cannot speak of a ‘neutral metaphysical position’, and I believe that this is the position upon which rests the whole edifice of mysticism. It may be possible to speak of nondualism as a form of idealism and also as a form of monism, but to give the doctrine these labels without some prominent ‘scare’ quotes would cause me many problems since I spend much of my time arguing that idealism and monism are logically absurd and false. So while I may agree with BK’s worldview and do seem to in nearly all respects, I could never endorse the phrase ‘monistic idealism’. It would cause linguistic havoc.
What about the idea that the universe is logically absurd? Again, most of my blog is devoted to arguing for exactly the opposite view. I like to think it is demonstrated well enough to withstand objections. The issues are technical, to do with the correct application of Aristotle’s ‘laws of thought’, and they have been explored here in various posts.
I will not rehearse the debate here but will simply state my conclusions. If we reject all positive metaphysical theories then our position is irrefutable in the dialectic. This is demonstrable. To say that the resultant view is logically absurd is to say that it is refutable, and in this case Buddhist doctrine can be refuted. In fact, of course, it is irrefutable. It can only be reached as a result of logical analysis, as Nagarjuna, Bradley, Brown and others have shown, and must be reached if our analysis is complete. It certainly cannot be shown to give rise to ‘true’ or formal contradictions but, rather, denies even the possibility of such things.
Accordingly, if ‘monistic idealism’ leads to the idea that the universe is logically absurd then perhaps this indicates that it would need a tweak in order for it to make complete sense. If, on the other hand, it is supposed to be a synonym for nondualism then I am fully geared to do battle on behalf of the sanity, logical coherence and non-absurdity of the Buddha’s view. There are a few people who share Bk’s view including most notably Graham Priest and George Melhuish, but I believe they are all mistaken.
At any rate, if they are not mistaken then a lot of my blog is nonsense. I have testified that my introduction to Buddhism and the nondual doctrine was working out that it must be true. If it is logically absurd then I could not have done this.
This post hardly moves the discussion forward but it is a sketch of the issues and of my position. I’ll ask Bernardo if he wants to comment but don’t see this a something we’re ever going to get to the bottom of in a blog chat. It’s not a parochial post though. I feel that the two main issues here are important across most of philosophy and cause endless problems. Crucially, and very unfortunately, it leads to the view that for mysticism we must abandon Aristotelian logic. As I spend much of my time trying to persuade folk that it is possible to work out in logic that the Buddha’s view is correct I could never endorse breaking, modifying or ignoring Aristotle’s ‘laws of thought’. They are the principle tool we would need for any success at all.
I’m not sure about BK but it is clear that the approach taken by Priest, Routley and Melhuish does not lead to an understanding of metaphysics. Rather, it leads to a paradoxical universe in which no such understanding would be possible. I do not think it a good idea to take ones metaphysical ideas from people who claim no understanding of metaphysics, even though this seems to be normal practice in the profession.
The mistake that I feel is made by Priest, Routley, Melhuish, Kastrup and indeed most western thinkers who look into the logic of the via negativa or ‘doctrine of the mean’, as well as most of those who don’t, and which once made will prevent us from solving philosophical problems, is described here…