BILAP (= Buddhism in Logic and Analytical Philosophy)

was founded to explore the ways in which Buddhism can fertilise both the tradition of Symbolic Logic and the Western Analytic tradition in Philosophy (that might prima facie be expected to be less sympathetic to it than the Continental tradition).

It will hold its inaugural meeting on the weekend of 18-20th November 2005, in Westminster College in Cambridge. (Westminster College is at the corner of Madingley Road, Queen's Road and Northampton Street.) Participants include Graham Priest, Jay Garfield, Chris Mortensen, Henk Barendregt, Rupert Read, Koji Tanaka, Jan Westerhoff, Mario D'Amato, Yasuo Deguchi, Ray Martin and Tom Tillemans.

This meeting is possible only because of the generous funding provided by The St Luke's Institute.

All sessions will be on the saturday and the sunday. An exact programme will be posted here later (there is a provisional programme at the bottom of this page) but we know even at this stage that all sessions will be in the downstairs lecture theatre in Westminster College.

If you want to attend, contact

Return to Thomas Forster's home page

Talks and abstracts
Jan Westerhoff

MAdhyamika negation and NAgArjuna's tetralemma

The catuSkoTi or tetralemma constitutes an argumentative figure which goes back right to the earliest Buddhist texts in the Pali canon. In its most basic form it consists of an enumeration of four alternatives: A, not A, both A and not A, neither A nor not A. Despite receiving a considerable amount of study in contemporary Western commentarial literature its interpretation remains controversial, as we find passages in the Buddhist scriptures where one of the four alternatives is accepted, where all four are accepted, and also where all four are denied. Further difficulties surround the questions whether the four alternatives are supposed to be jointly exclusive and exhaustive, and what kind or kinds of negation are involved in their formulation. This paper will present a systematization of the employment of the tetralemma in MAdhyamika literature, concentrating on the writings of NAgArjuna. The account will explain the more puzzling features of the tetralemma and analyze how it fits in with NAgArjuna's philosophical method.

Chris Mortensen

Zen and the Unsayable.

An account of that which can be known but not said is proposed, utilising the idea of non-verbal content. This is used to "explain" one of the Zen koans. Two further koans are also analysed with an aim to explain their soteriological significance.

Mark Siderits

Is Reductionism Expressible?

Reductionists about things of a certain kind claim that while there are things of that kind, they just consist of things of some other kind. I claim that the force of this 'just' is best explained using the Buddhist device of the two truths, conventional truth and ultimate truth. But there is reason to believe that the two truths must be semantically insulated from each other: no statement that is conventionally truth-apt can be ultimately truth-apt, and vice versa. If so, then there is reason to believe that reductionisms-including the Buddhist theory of non-self as standardly formulated-would be inexpressible. I explore various ways of trying to resolve this apparent difficulty.

Mario D'Amato

Why the Buddha never uttered a word

In various Mahayana sutras and treatises, the claim is made that the Buddha never uttered a word, that the vast corpus of texts comprising the word of the Buddha should be understood as illusory fingers pointing to non-existent moons. In this paper I will examine just what such a claim is supposed to mean by considering it in relation to Yogacara models of the awareness of a Buddha. I will offer a constructive interpretation of this claim, arguing that the realization of buddhahood would entail the ability to be continuously aware that signs do not in fact actually refer to the objects to which they purport to refer, even while engaging in the use of signs: engaging in speech without uttering a word.

Yasuo Deguchi (Kyoto) Jay Garfield (Smith) Graham Priest (Melbourne)

The Way of the Dialetheist: Contradictions in Buddhism

Any western philosopher who opens Buddhist texts and commentaries cannot but be struck by the fact that they regularly contain apparent contradictions. What is one to make of this? Is Buddhism committed to dialetheism (the view that some contradictions are true)? In this paper we will examine the various ways in which contradictions appear in Buddhist texts, and how they function there. And we will argue that at least some forms of Buddhism are indeed committed to dialetheism.

Jay Garfield (Smith) Graham Priest (Melbourne)

Mountains are Just Mountains: the Logic of Emptiness

Both the traditional Buddhist catuskoti and the relevant logic of first degree entailment employ the thought that things may be true, false, both or neither. Nargarjuna can be thought of as adding a fifth possibility: none of the above - which can be thought of as emptiness. In this paper we apply these observations to give an account of the function of language in the three main stages of zen progress: conventional reality, the great death, and awakening (the return to conventional reality).

Henk Barendregt

The Abhidhamma Model of Consicousness AM_0

Based on personal experience with vipassana meditation and theoretical studies under respectively Thai and Burmese teachers an interpretation of part of the Abhidhamma will be given. The Abhidhamma is considered as a form of phenomenological psychology, obtained as side effect of meditation used as trained introspection. The Abhidhamma describes in a cryptic way an intricate model of consciousness on three levels. The first level consists of a discrete, serial stream of `atoms of awareness' called cetas. Secondly, a linear sequence of cetas may form a `molecule', called vithi, being a cognitive-emotional conscious unit. Finally, each ceta has a substructure of conscious mental factors (comparable to `elementary particles'), called cetasikas, acting in parallel. An important part of the Abhidhamma is the Patthana, that describes the mechanism of conditioning by `kamma' between these cetasikas and cetas. A short sketch of the Abhidhamma model will be given, thereby reflecting the author's present understanding and non-understanding. Through the model a natural interpretation will be given of notions like `neurosis', `psychosis' and also various coping mechanisms. Thereafter the model is used to describe the process of mental purification by the practice of mindfulness towards insight. The effects of mindfulness in psychotherapy fit in this explanation. Finally some methodological considerations and views on the compatibility of the Abhidhamma with neurophysiology are discussed.

Koji Tanaka

Title: Dharmakirti, Frege and Kant on the Nature of Logic


Kant held that (pure general) logic is a maximally general science. He took this to mean that logic is concerned with understanding (and thought) as such. Moreover, he inferred from this that logic deals with abstractions from the objects that we sense (as oppose to conceptualise). Frege rejected this inference of Kant and argued that logic does tell us something, in fact a lot, about objects (i.e., numbers), etc., though his argument isn't as strong as one might hope. Now, the major Buddhist logician (from a Tibetan point of view), Dharmakirti, seems to have held a view of logic very similar to Frege's. His view seems to be that, though logic is concerned with understanding (and thought) as such, it can tell us objective truths about the objects that we perceive (though logic isn't grounded in the objects). Thus, by demonstrating that Dharmakirti's view of logic is coherent and arguing for the view, we can show that Frege's refutation of Kant's view is successful. It is envisioned that this will lead to a reinvigoration of Frege's conception of logic which has given way to Tarski's metamathematical approach to logic.

Rupert Read



Previous attempts by Western philosophers to connect Wittgenstein with Zen Buddhism (e.g. by Canfield) have in the main simply been ignored, ridiculed (e.g. by Hacker) or intelligently yet in the end unsympathetically critiqued (e.g. by Phillips). I wish to consider sympathetically the inclination to find real commonalities between Wittgenstein and Buddhism. To do so, it is necessary to look deeper at/for those commonalities than Canfield or even Garfield do.

I submit that the logic of 'throwing away the ladder' and of 'leaving everything as it is' are logics that have precise antecedents in Buddhism, especially in Zen. I focus especially on parallels between Wittgenstein's 'metaphilosophy', both early and late, and the writings and sayings of Dogen and of Shunryu Suzuki.

Ray Martin

Ironic Engagement


Parfitian Reductionists claim that a person, or self, just consists in the existence of a brain, a body, and a series of interrelated physical and psychological events. Buddhist Reductionists may go further. It is a consequence of either sort of Reductionism that persons (and selves) are fictional entities. But what then becomes of future-oriented egoistic concern, including prudence? Critics have claimed that if Reductionism were true, then egoistic concern would go by the boards, resulting in a kind of nihilism. Reductionists have responded by claiming that egoistic concern can be justified on moral grounds. I question this strategy for defending Reductionism. In addition, presumably the sort of egoistic concern that a Buddhist Reductionist at least, and perhaps also a Parfitian Reductionist, would think can be justified on moral grounds would have to be one that is purged of attachment to the self that leads to suffering. For most of us, this is not an option that we can simply choose. Nor is it clear what sort of egoistic concern that would be if it were available. Mark Siderits has suggested recently that what's called for is an ironic engagement with our future selves. I explore this suggestion.

Karma Phuntsho

Reason or Beyond! The Variability of Logic and Epistemology in the Delineation of Emptiness

Since the early days of Buddhism in Tibet, we see two major traditions of approach to and presentation of Emptiness: one that is rationalist / intellectualist in its tendency and the other that is mystical and paradoxical. The tension betwen the two has persisted through ages often erupting into serious controversies. One of the most heated Tibetan philosophical debates is between the dGe lugs pa school and its opponents on the delineation and application of Emptiness. While the former considered logical and epistemological rules indispensible for delineating and understanding Emptiness, the latter rejected the viability of any logical rules and epistemic and linguistic operations. I shall discuss the arguments of the two factions and touch on the surrationalism, to which the latter party resorts as a reason beyond reason.


0915 D'Amato

1030 Dhawan

1145 Barendregt

1300 lunch

1415 Siderits

1530 Raymond

1645 Tanaka

1800 Deguchi

1915 dinner


0915 Westerhoff

1030 Mortensen

1145 Garfield

1300 lunch

1415 Priest

1530 Tillemans

1645 Read

1800 Phuntsho

1915 dinner