Negative Certainties: Nāgārjuna’s Challenge to Kant on the “Togetherness” of Intuition and Concepts

Ellen Ying Zhang

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The classical Indian philosopher Nāgārjuna (150–250 C.E.) had an account of “negative certainties” that directly challenges the traditional Kantian notion of the “togetherness” of intuition and concepts. Viewing this “togetherness principle” from the perspective of Madhyāmika Buddhism, via Nāgārjuna’s arguments on the relationship between intuitions and concepts, as well as on the twofold nature of truth (i.e., “conventional truth” [samvrtisatya] and “ultimate truth” [paramārthasatya]), I explicate Nāgārjuna’s skeptical view of the semantic dependence of intuition on concepts in light of his notion of “conceptual proliferation” (prapañca). I then argue that the “togetherness principle” fails to distinguish conceptual and non-conceptual intuitions, as Kant himself seems to do when he defends “pure intuition”, identifying consciousness with objectively representational content that is essentially independent of concepts. I conclude by appropriating Kant’s notion of non-conceptual intuitions in conjunction with his Critical position on mystical experience, thus bringing Kant into conversation with Nāgārjuna and post-Nāgārjuna Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism. I contend that we need to draw a line between “intuitive experiences” and discursive, “post-experiential interpretations”; the latter, as maintained by Nāgārjuna, belongs to conventional truth—i.e., they are always conceptually dependent.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKant on Intuition
Subtitle of host publicationWestern and Asian Perspectives on Transcendental Idealism
EditorsStephen R. Palmquist
Place of PublicationNew York and London
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780429491771
ISBN (Print)9781138589247, 9780367732523
Publication statusPublished - 8 Nov 2018

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in Eighteenth-Century Philosophy


Dive into the research topics of 'Negative Certainties: Nāgārjuna’s Challenge to Kant on the “Togetherness” of Intuition and Concepts'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this