The Principle of Sufficient Reason in Asian Thought: Three Case Studies

In Michael Della Rocca & Fatema Amijee (eds.), The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A History. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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The Principle of Sufficient Reason is very seldom, if ever, referred to in the works of whom we might think of as the eminent Asian metaphysicians. In spite of this, the big picture metaphysical views available in the thought of philosophers such as Nāgārjuna, Fazang and Nishida appear to share certain structural features with views more familiar to us from our own tradition; views that explicitly accept or reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Nāgārjuna looks to develop a kind of metaphysical infinitism, Fazang an extreme form of coherentism, and Nishida a species of foundationalism. These three positions - infinitism, coherentism and foundationalism - are typically thought to exhaust the spread of possibilities by those working within the Western tradition. In spite of their similarities to positions advanced within our own tradition, the cosmologies of many of the giants of Asian philosophy are characterised by their rather striking conclusions. Amongst such conclusions for Nāgārjuna is that everything is empty; for Fazang that everything is identical to everything else; and for Nishida that everything depends on absolute nothingness. If the Principle of Sufficient Reason is playing a role in the derivation of such striking conclusions, then it looks that there are more options regarding the metaphysical structure of the world available to us than our own tradition typically courts. If, on the other hand, these striking cosmological conclusions are arrived at without any consideration of sufficient reason, then there may well be ways of reasoning about the overarching structure of reality that are powerful but unfamiliar to Western thinking. In this contribution, I explore what, if any, role the PSR might be playing in the thought of Nāgārjuna , Fazang and Nishida, and what we might be able to learn from it.

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Ricki Bliss
Lehigh University


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