Not One, Not Many, and No Final Ground: Śāntarakṣita’s Mereological Anti-realism as Metaphysical Infinitism


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Buddhist Studies


South Asian Studies


This dissertation engages in a philosophical study of the anti-essentialist neither-one-nor-many argument forwarded by the eighth-century Indian Buddhist Middle Way philosopher, Śāntarakṣita, in his Ornament for the Middle Way (Madhyamakālaṃkāra). Undertaking a rational reconstruction of Śāntarakṣita’s thought utilizing conceptual resources from contemporary metaphysics, I argue that Śāntarakṣita’s neither-one-nor-many argument commits him to a kind of mereological anti-realism, according to which not only wholes, but even their parts are merely fictional unities. When this mereological anti-realism is understood in light of Śāntarakṣita’s account of the two truths, a dependence structure emerges that, I argue, represents a form of metaphysical infinitism. This infinitist view is then defended against foundationalist challenges and characterized as a virtuous, rather than vicious, regress. Finally, persons are taken up as a test case for this view, as I address the question of how this radical anti-foundationalist view could afford an account of moral accountability that is well-founded.