The Buddhist Understanding of Negative Judgment

by Aik Theng Chong, The Buddhist Channel, Dec 22, 2011

Singapore -- On the Theory of Negation, the Buddhist logicians maintained that reality is not split in existence and non existence, it consists of existence only. A non-existing or absent thing is imagination, it can produce no sensation directly.

But a thing which has produced a sensation can be interpreted by our intellect to involve the absence of another thing whose present does not exist. Negation is never a direct or original attitude of the mind as pure sensation always is. It is always the work of the understanding which calling in memory, interprets a given sensation on its negative side and consists in repelling a hypothetical visibility.

Negative judgment is about an absent thing which has been hypothetically imagined as present. It is an inference class of perception. It is the domain of our imagination and has meaning and validity providing us with an indirect valid source of knowledge than can guide our purposive actions.

To the Buddhist, when we said, ‘there is no Buddha statue here’, the absent of the Buddha statue, the direct cognition, the visual sensation is produced by the empty place and not by the absent statue.

The absent statue is a representation called forth by memory and constructed by the intellect. It is pure ideality of the absent. It is ideality of negation. But it is a trustworthy productive imagination, a perception of an existence object, a source of knowledge capable of guiding our purposive actions.

To a realist, negation is based on the positive perception of an absent thing, (the absence is present). Perception of an absent thing is impossible as it is a contradiction said the Buddhist. For example, if the Buddha statue is not here, it would not be perceptible since it is absent. If it is perception, the thing is present it cannot be absent, it should be found on the negative perception of a present thing (the presence is absent).

This situation happens when we actually perceived the Buddha statue in the same act of cognition of the empty space since all conditions necessary for its perception are fulfilled. The empty space which the Buddha statue is absent and the cognition of the space for which it is intent upon for its use are both negation of a possible visibility, since they are the real source of the negative judgment.

The non-cognition of the Buddha statue is a negation of a hypothetical visibility. However, it is imagined on a basis of a positive perception, i.e. the empty space and consists of a sensation followed by an image constructed through the understanding.

To the Buddhist logicians, cognition is always a new cognition, cognition of the object not yet cognized. Enduring cognition is recognition it is repeated cognition after the first flash of awareness. It is not a separate knowledge. Knowledge does not consist of knowledge and non-knowledge, so is reality does not consist of
reality and unreality. But every perception of ours is preceded by a non-perception of the same object. Perception is always interrupted perception, if it is not the case, it is not perception.

Negation is non-perception and non-perception always refers to a possible
perception to follow within the borders of our sensuous experience.

When we see a stove and simultaneously imagine the present of a pot on it, and by repelling the hypothetical present pot, what we get is a negative judgment that - 'there is not pot on the stove’. Negation has meaning only with an attempted positive assertion. But positive assertions that can be ascribed to a subject are limited whereas predicates that can be denied are infinite.

However actually denied are only those whose presence can naturally be expected for the given subject. If we are to imagine that an elephant is now seating on the stove, the negative judgment concluded would be that - 'there is no
elephant seating on the stove’. This would sound ridiculous and such knowledge would be erroneous. One can see that for such error to occur in a negative judgment, it would be minimal.

Of course we can also find negative judgment stating an unnecessary obvious fact like the well know utterance that - 'Alexander could not have conquered any countries without an army’. The statement is logically correct and without error. Then, what is needed is for one to decide on the usefulness and purpose for such knowledge, if there is any at all.