On Why I Cannot Quite Agree with Bernardo Kastrup

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…


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6 Responses to On Why I Cannot Quite Agree with Bernardo Kastrup

  1. dondeg says:

    Hi Peter (again!)

    Another interesting post. Thanks for the summary of your ideas. It helps me better realize that your view is relatively alien to me, therefore of interest because it’s new. I think I am too influenced by existentialism, post-modernism, and Monty Python to be too formal about anything, and hence it takes me some effort to follow your meanings. Perhaps the closest in my mind to what I think you are saying is my distinction of “graspable/ungraspable”, where the core of things is ungraspable, but out of this emerges local pockets of graspable-ness (for lack of a better term). They are comparable ideas, not in content or meaning, but structurally as serving as a kind of “bottoming out” logic for our respective ways of thinking.

    I’ve not read BK, but just based on what you said here, it seems his idea of the universe being logically absurd is akin to my idea of ungraspable. I wouldn’t call my idea logically absurd however, because, in my thinking, this is too structured of a term. Even the illogical has structure, as we see in everyday life about us. Look at a typical sitcom on TV for example, or the Kardashians. They are quite absurd, completely lack logic, yet both exist and are highly structured. One can easily grasp the levels of absurdity of these kinds of things, how they are variations of the playing out of basic biological instincts in a rather arbitrary and ego-driven social context.

    My idea of “ungraspable” is really just my way of expressing my understanding of the Tao that cannot be spoken, etc. Of the essence of Taoism and Zen. I know that I don’t really know enough about Buddhism to comment much how this ties in. I am reading an interesting book right now: The Origins of Yoga and Tantra Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century by Geoffrey Samuel.

    It’s giving me some insight about Buddhism and the integral role its played in Indian religious history. But he is not getting so much into the doctrines of the various forms of Buddhism. What is interesting though is he is showing the integral role Buddhism and Buddha played in the evolution of what he calls “Asceticism methods”, which loosely translates to the various forms of yoga. In this context, “nondual” refers to Buddha’s experience, which centuries later was rationalized by people like Nagarjuna.

    Reading the history of all this is having an interesting effect on me. First, the history is extremely sketchy. Samuel is a good author for constantly keeping this before the Reader. Second, it is funny to see the intellectual and discursive analysis of methods and thinking that transcends the discursive intellect. Again, Samuel does a nice job not offending the Reader on this front. But the net effect on me is to only want to expose the methods as much as possible so as many people as possible can try to have the types of experience Buddha and others have described. It seems to me that as the experience becomes more prevalent, the discursive intellectual to and fro will subside and be replaced by understanding. Maybe I’m too optimistic.

    Anyway, I think I am rambling now so will wrap up here. Again, Peter, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Always very interesting and thought provoking!

    Best wishes,


    • PeterJ says:

      Thanks for the comment, Don.

      Not quite on target though, I think. Ungraspable would be not the same as logically absurd. It would be quite possible to show logically that by reduction the world (reality,truth) is ungraspable. The logic is graspable and points towards the ungraspable. That is, the logic that proves emptiness is graspable even while emptiness is not.

      It would be just be that reality outruns the distinctions on which ordinary logic depends. This would make reality prior to ordinary logic but not contrary to it.

      For a really good discussion I’d recommend ‘Nagarjuna’s Middle Way’ by Mark Siderits and Shoryu Katsura.(2013). It’s very good although might be arguable in a couple of places. Nagarjuna uses logic to prove the ungraspable, and ends up with a perfectly reasonable universe. Or I would say so. Others would disagree, most notably Graham Priest. I feel they do the great philosopher and the Dharma itself an injustice.

      • dondeg says:

        Hi Peter
        Yes, I see your point. I think my language was hazy above. I agree with what you are saying. It is what Nicholas of Cusa called “learned ignorance”. Basically to understand that we cannot understand something. It really is amazing how much so many different sources converge, yet there is this endless discursive stuff going on. I guess everybody needs to figure things out in their own way and time. If we were all the same, it would be pretty boring. Great to hear from you, Sir! Best, Don

      • PeterJ says:

        The convergence of the sources was what struck my most when I started investigating this stuff. I expected endless disagreements but from metaphysics to psychology to mathematics to the sutras and beyond there seems to be harmony and agreement. One just has to find the most careful thinkers in each field. It amazed me then and still does now.

        I expect you’re right, we all have to do it in our on time and in our own way.

        Thanks for the great comments.

  2. dondeg says:

    “One just has to find the most careful thinkers in each field.” Just wanted to highlight that. It’s very important!

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