Nāgārjuna’s Catuṣkoṭi

Journal of Indian Philosophy 34 (4):367-395 (2006)
  Copy   BIBTEX


The catuṣkoṭi or tetralemma is an argumentative figure familiar to any reader of Buddhist philosophical literature. Roughly speaking it consists of the enumeration of four alternatives: that some propositions holds, that it fails to hold, that it both holds and fails to hold, that it neither holds nor fails to hold. The tetralemma also constitutes one of the more puzzling features of Buddhist philosophy as the use to which it is put in arguments is not immediately obvious and certainly not uniform: sometimes one of the four possibilities is selected as ‘the right one’, sometimes all four are rejected, sometimes all four are affirmed. It seems that this confusion is only exacerbated by the plethora of treatments we find in the modern commentarial literature, many of which try to analyze the tetralemma by recourse to notions of modern logic. Despite some important work done during the last decades a comprehensive study of the origin and development of the catuṣkoṭi from its use in the earliest Buddhist literature up to its later employment in the Buddhist philosophical works of Tibet, China, and Japan remains yet to be written. The present paper is obviously not intended to fill this gap, but has the specific objective of giving an interpretation of Nāgārrjuna’s employment of the tetralemma which makes both logical sense and is in accordance with his general philosophical position.

Similar books and articles

Nāgārjuna’s Arguments on Motion Revisited.Jan Westerhoff - 2008 - Journal of Indian Philosophy 36 (4):455-479.
Nāgārjuna.Jan Christoph Westerhoff - 2010 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Nāgārjuna's Critique of Language.Chien-Hsing Ho - 2010 - Asian Philosophy 20 (2):159-174.
The philosophy of Nāgārjuna, as contained in the Ratnāvalī. Nagarjuna - 1977 - Calcutta: Saraswat Library. Edited by Heramba Nath Chatterji.
The philosophy of Nāgārjuna.Vicente Fatone - 1981 - Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
The no-thesis view: making sense of verse 29 of Nagarjuna's Vigrahavyavartani.Jan Westerhoff - 2009 - In Mario D'Amato, Jay L. Garfield & Tom J. F. Tillemans (eds.), Pointing at the Moon: Buddhism, Logic, Analytic Philosophy. Oxford University Press.
Nāgārjuna and the doctrine of "skillful means".John Schroeder - 2000 - Philosophy East and West 50 (4):559-583.


Added to PP

1,139 (#11,246)

6 months
118 (#35,095)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Jan Westerhoff
University of Oxford

Citations of this work

Nāgārjuna’s Negation.Chris Rahlwes - 2022 - Journal of Indian Philosophy 50 (2):307-344.
A Russellian Analysis of Buddhist Catuskoti.Nicholaos Jones - 2020 - Comparative Philosophy 11 (2):63-89.

View all 8 citations / Add more citations