"No Unity, No Problem: Madhyamaka Metaphysical Indefinitism” Philosophers' Imprint,forthcoming According to Madhyamaka Buddhist philosophers, everything is ontologically dependent on something else. But what would a world devoid of fundamentalia look like? In this paper, I argue that the anti-foundationalist “neither-one-nor-many argument” of the Indian Mādhyamika Śrīgupta (c. seventh/eighth century) commits him to a position I call “metaphysical indefinitism.” I demonstrate how this view follows from Śrīgupta’s rejection of mereological simples and ontologically independent being (svabhāva), when understood in light of his account of conventional reality (saṃvṛtisatya). I clarify how—contra recent claims in the secondary literature—the Madhyamaka metaphysical dependence structure is not a straightforward infinitism since it does not honor strict asymmetry or transitivity. Instead, Madhyamaka dependence relations are irreflexive and extendable, admitting of dependence chains of indefinite (though not actually infinite) length and dependence loops of non-zero length. Yet, the flexible ontology of Śrīgupta's Madhyamaka can accommodate a contextualist account of asymmetry and support a revisable theory of conventional truth, delivering significant payoffs for the view, including the capacity to accommodate developments in scientific explanation.
"The Truth about Śrīgupta’s Two Truths: Longchenpa’s 'Lower Svātantrikas' and the Making of a New Philosophical School" Journal of South Asian Intellectual History, forthcoming Longchen Rabjampa (1308–64), scholar of the Tibetan Buddhist Nyingma tradition, presents a novel doxographical taxonomy of the so-called Svātantrika branch of Madhyamaka Buddhist philosophy, designating the Indian Mādhyamika Śrīgupta as the exemplar of a Svātantrika sub-school which maintains that appearance and emptiness are metaphysically distinct. This paper compares Longchenpa’s characterization of this “distinct-appearance-and-emptiness” view with Śrīgupta’s own account of the two truths. I expose a significant disconnect between Longchenpa’s Śrīgupta and Śrīgupta himself and argue that the impetus for Longchenpa’s doxographical innovation originates not in Buddhist India, but within his own Tibetan intellectual milieu, tracing back to his twelfth-century Sangpu Monastery predecessors, Gyamarwa and Chapa.
"Somethings and Nothings: Śrīgupta and Leibniz on Being and Unity" with Jeffrey K. McDonough Philosophy East and West 70, vol. 4 (2020): 1022-1046 This paper argues that Śrīgupta and Leibniz accept similar metaphysical principles concerning unity, aggregates, and being. It then shows how, from those shared principles, Śrīgupta and Leibniz arrive at similar conclusions concerning the reality of ordinary bodies and radically different conclusions about fundamental ontology. Penultimate Draft
Introduction to Reality: A Tibetan Critical Edition, Annotated English Translation, and Philosophical Introduction to Śrīgupta's Tattvāvatāravṛtti Under contract with the Harvard Oriental Series, Harvard University Press This monograph includes an analysis of the Commentary on the Introduction to Reality (Tattvāvatāravṛtti) by the Indian Madhyamaka Buddhist philosopher, Śrīgupta, together with a Tibetan critical edition and annotated translation of this text, which has never before been available in English. In this work, Śrīgupta advances the “neither-one-nor-many argument,” which sets out to prove that all things lack ontological independence, and by implication, that everything depends for its existence on something else. I present a detailed reconstruction and analysis of the argument, showing how Śrīgupta rejects the possibility of ontological independence by way of rejecting the possibility of mereological simples, both material and immaterial. Śrīgupta's other important philosophical contributions are brought to light, including his influential threefold criterion for conventional reality (saṃvṛtisatya) and his argument for the possibility of conceptual enlightened cognition (vikalpajñāna), which is standardly supposed to be non-conceptual.
WORKS IN PROGRESS*
“A Case against Simple-mindedness: Śrīgupta on Mental Mereology” There’s a common line of reasoning which supposes that the phenomenal unity of conscious experience is grounded in a mind-like simple subject. To the contrary, Mādhyamika Buddhist philosophers beginning with Śrīgupta argue that any kind of mental simple is incoherent and thus metaphysically impossible. Lacking any unifying principle, the phenomenal unity of conscious experience is instead an ungrounded illusion. In this paper, I present an analysis of Śrīgupta’s “neither-one-nor-many argument” against mental simples and show how his line of reasoning is driven by a set of implicit questions concerning the nature of and relation between consciousness and its intentional object. These questions not only shaped the debate space for the succeeding centuries of dispute among competing Buddhist schools of thought on the topic, but they are also questions to which any defender of unified consciousness or a simple subject of conscious experience arguably owes responses.
“Parts within Parts: Madhyamaka Mereological Indefinitism” This paper develops a view of mereological indefinitism, a subspecies of Madhyamaka metaphysical indefinitism. It clarifies how this picture differs from contemporary “gunky” mereological models and demonstrates its payoffs in terms of ontological and ideological parsimony and its capacity to honor pragmatic concerns. It further shows how Madhyamaka mereological indefinitism offers promising strategies for resolving a variety of familiar metaphysical puzzles concerning identity, colocation, composition, and persistence.
“Locke’s Relational Account of Persons” This paper argues that the Lockean person is, metaphysically speaking, a relation. I present an analysis of the unusual structure of Lockean relations show how persons conform to that structure. Along the way, I shed light on a historically overlooked distinction between the Lockean self and the Lockean person. It is the person—not the self—that is a diachronic forensic entity tracking moral accountability, and it is the self—not the person—that is the synchronic object of knowledge of the cogito. The person is a diachronic identity relation between past and present selves, which are its relata.
“Epistemological Payoffs of a Relation Interpretation of the Lockean Person” In this paper, I argue that understanding the Lockean person as a relation yields epistemological payoffs for Locke's account of personal identity by affording an account of qualified privileged access in first-personal judgments of personal identity. That persons as relations are mind-dependent accommodates the epistemic privilege of the first-person stance, and that persons as relations must answer to substances as their truth-makers provides a basis for excluding infallibility. In this way, the relation-interpretation of persons precludes false memories from constituting persons. Moreover, the metaphysics of Lockean relations provides truth conditions for personal identity judgments that ground moral accountability without entailing circularity.
“Metaphysical Payoffs of a Relation Interpretation of the Lockean Person” This paper demonstrates how understanding Lockean persons as relations delivers metaphysical payoffs for Locke’s account of personal identity. I show how persons are relativized to the first-person, present perspective from which one makes judgments about one’s personhood. This relativized, metaphysically light account of persons not only honors the non-substantialist spirit of Locke’s account of personal identity, but also obviates Reid’s transitivity objection. I further show how sameness of consciousness serves as a metaphysical grounding criterion for persons qua relations without entailing circularity or endorsing a substantialist account of consciousness.