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  • Dharmakīrti and Priest on an Inconsistent Theory of Change—A Comment to Mortensen
  • Koji Tanaka


In his article "Dharmakīrti and Priest on Change,"1 Chris Mortensen presents accounts of change (and motion) given by the Buddhist philosopher Dharmakīrti (along with his commentator Dharmottara) and the contemporary Western philosopher Graham Priest. He notices that the two accounts have striking similarities yet take opposing views on the issue of inconsistency. According to Mortensen, Dharmakīrti rejects and Priest accepts an inconsistent theory of change. Mortensen expresses sympathy for Dharmakīrti's position, though he argues that Dharmakīrti's position needs some qualifications.

In this essay, I reexamine the accounts of change given by Dharmakīrti and Priest. In order to make explicit the philosophical nature of the essay, I will follow Mortensen's reading of Dharmakīrti and Priest as much as possible. Priest's arguments, as presented by Mortensen, are those in Priest's In Contradiction.2 With respect to Dharmakīrti, Mortensen for the most part follows Stcherbatsky's reconstruction of an argument given in Dharmakīrti's early work Nyāyabindu.3 Now, Stcherbatsky's reconstruction (of Dharmakīrti's philosophy in general) has been recognized as problematic in recent years.4 Yet to raise textual questions of this kind is to argue against Stcherbatsky and not Mortensen. Hence, I am not critical of Mortensen's reading of Dharmakīrti. Rather, the main aim of this essay is to examine Mortensen's own reconstruction of Stcherbatsky's reading of Dharmakīrti. I will argue that Mortensen's Dharmakīrti has no resources to argue against Priest once we understand the full extent of Priest's argument, contrary to what Mortensen claims.

Priest on Change

Graham Priest, in his In Contradiction, argues for an inconsistent account of change. He does this by arguing against the orthodox, consistent account of change. Priest calls such an account the cinematic view of change. This account states that an object occupies a different spatial location at each temporal point and that change is thought of as a series of pictures patched together where each picture represents the object at different spatiotemporal points. According to Mortensen, Priest offers two arguments against this consistent account of change.5 First, according to the cinematic [End Page 244] view of change, an object is represented as being in a state of rest at each spatiotemporal point. Hence, there is no time at which the object is changing. Therefore, change becomes impossible in the cinematic view.

Priest's second argument is concerned with a "Laplacean universe" in which any instantaneous state in the future is determined by the state at any prior instant. Now, one cannot rule out a priori a Laplacean universe, and thus it is a possibility. However, the cinematic account of change makes a Laplacean universe a priori false. For the cinematic account makes it impossible that an instantaneous state determines any subsequent instantaneous state since each state is represented as a state of rest.

Mortensen provides only two of Priest's arguments. In fact, Priest offers another argument that seems to be his main argument for his inconsistent account of change.6 In another place, Mortensen acknowledges this third argument and shows strong sympathy for it.7 Priest's third argument appeals to Zeno's arrow paradox. The cinematic account of change has it that an arrow doesn't advance at any given spa-tiotemporal instance. There is nothing that contributes to the movement of the arrow at any given instance. Yet, the arrow reaches its destiny in the end. "How can going somewhere be composed of an aggregate of going nowheres?"8

It is in response to the third argument against the cinematic account of change that Priest develops his inconsistent theory. He argues that change is possible because there are spatiotemporal points in which an object is changing. In such an instance, the object is said to be in a state of flux. Priest argues that a state of flux is contradictory by appealing to what he calls "Leibniz' Continuity Principle" (LCP). This principle essentially states that whatever the state holds up to a limit also holds at...


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