45. Motion Denied: Nāgārjuna on Change

Posted on 25 June 2017

Nāgārjuna applies his emptiness theory to motion, change, and cognition.

Further Reading

• M. Sprung (trans.), Lucid Exposition of the Middle Way: The Essential Chapters from the Prasannapadā of Candrakīrti (Boulder: 1979).


• K. Bhattacharya, “Nāgārjuna’s Arguments against Motion: their Grammatical Basis,” in G. Bhattacharya et al. (eds), A Corpus of Indian Studies: Essays in Honour of Professor Gaurinath Sastri (Calcutta: 1980), 85-95.

• K. Bhattacharya, “The Grammatical Basis of Nāgārjuna’s Arguments: Some Further Considerations,” Indologica Taurinensia 8-9 (1980–1), 35–43.

• K. Bhattacharya, “Nāgārjuna’s Arguments against Motion,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 8 (1985), 7-15.

• I.W. Mabbett, “Nāgārjuna and Zeno on Motion,” Philosophy East and West 34 (1984), 401-20.

• M. Siderits and J.D. O’Brien, “Zeno and Nāgārjuna on Motion,” Philosophy East and West 26 (1976), 281-99.

• J. Westerhoff, “Nāgārjuna’s Arguments on Motion Revisited,” Journal of Indian Philosophy 36 (2008), 455–479.


Jorge 20 December 2021

Hello Peter,

I'm a bit confused about Nágárjuna's use of Sanscrit grammar to justify his arguments and at the same time reject language's capability to accurately describe the world. Especially since it seems (to me) like a bad move to at the same time (if time is even a thing) discredit language's capacity to accurately describe the world while relying on its particular quirks to build arguments that so strongly disagree with our common experience of the world.

Another question I have (this being a 'time' related episode) is about your experience of these sorts of comments like mine. For me, the casual listener just now catching up with this podcast, this episode is extremely fresh since I just stopped listening to it a minute or two before writing this comment, but for you, it's over 4 years! Of course, you had to write and research this episode (in conjunction with Jonardon Ganeri) so your engagement with the material is quite more involved than mine, but I can't remember what I ate last Thursday for breakfast (or if I had breakfast at all), so I find it strange to imagine random people on the internet asking me about what I wrote almost half a decade ago.

Once again, thank you for your podcast, I am extremely delighted with what I've already listened to and am looking forward to hearing what is yet to come. I would also like to say that I am so glad I didn't skip either the Indian or the Islamic philosophy sections of it (as I was tempted to do) because of how rich and interesting they ended up being. All throughout this past year, this podcast has been acting like a sledgehammer tied to a pendulum, regularly breaking down my prejudices and pre-conceived notions about philosophy, religion, and history itself. For this, I am very thankful.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,




Thanks for the comment Jorge! And happy holidays to you too. You are right that sometimes people ask fairly specific questions about old episodes and I have to go back and look at the scripts to see what they are talking about (the only real problem is if it is an interview, where I have no script). But I love the fact that people are now interacting with ten years (plus) of episodes and that they are all still here getting listeners.

As for this question about Nagarjuna I think the best way to think about it might be as an "internal critique" of what we might think of as a commonsense view or description of the world; insofar as it relies on features of the Sanskrit language he is just assuming that our (where "we" = Sanskrit speakers) way of talking about something like motion is actually incoherent on closer inspection. That is consistent with a more skeptical view of language more generally, I would say, indeed the latter would be just an extrapolation: just as our description of the motion case is incoherent, in fact all language is somehow falsifying reality because it obscures dependent arising, etc.

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