An article on Aeon published the concept of catuskoti, a principle in use during the age of Buddha. It states that for any given statement, there are four possibilities i.e. it might be true (and true only), false (and false only), both true and false, or neither true nor false.

  • How does this principle apply to real world events?
  • Can it be applied to everyday life and if so how?
  • 3
    I love you, I hate you, I love you and I hate you, I neither love you nor hate you.
    – user4894
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 21:53
  • i see it just as the logic of his time and place. emptiness could've just as well been expressed in what we know as logic
    – user6917
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 21:00
  • @user4894 - I share your view. But to avoid the use of two pairs (as opposed to Atristotle's one pair A/not-A) requires a definition for contradictory pairs. Aristotle gives this so deals with 'neither/both' at the definition stage. Nagarjuna does not define contradictory pairs so needs to deal with the two pairs on different axes. But I'd agree it's just ordinary logic. I don;t know why Priest cannot see this and find his article for Aeon wildly misleading and lacking in comprehension. . .
    – user20253
    Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 13:02

8 Answers 8


I think the first two concepts are not that strange: "I am having a cup of coffee" is true and only true. "I am having a cup of tea" is false and only false.

But also "neither false nor true" is very common. For example if you have sentences with a wrong presupposition: "My cup of tea is cold". Since I don't have a cup of tea, it makes no sense to say if it is cold or not. It isn't true that it is cold. But also it isn't true that it is hot, or warm or has any given temperature at all. Also there is some debate if sentences about the future can be right or wrong. What about "Tomorrow the sun will shine"? Sure: Once it is tomorrow, you will know if the sun is shining. But then that sentence isn't saying anything about the future any more, but about the present: "Now the sun is shining." That wasn't the question. The question was about "Tomorrow the sun will shine". Is it now true or false?

Also "true and false" sentences are not that rare: If you are on a train, it is perfectly true, that the station is moving away from you. Someone at the station would object: He is not moving away, you are moving away. In special relativity there are dozens of examples like these. All of them not abstract at all but very commonplace.


The point of the Catuskoti is to discuss subjects outside the context of the context of the everyday, or Lebenswelt as the author of the article points out; even the ordinary formal logic of Western Philosophy isn't designed for ordinary discourse.

The broad message might be that all statements can't be assigned truth values; the standard sentence that displays this is the liars paradox.

Another example for the mathematically inclined is that infinitisimals can be made rigorous in a logic that denies the Aritotelian law of contradiction; and this in a geometrical manner.

  • How can you discuss subjects outside of everyday context? It may not be common but it can still be part of everyday context.
    – Motivated
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 18:27
  • We don't see 'instantaneous motion'; but that is the basis of calculus; you could say that is part of your everyday context if you study calculus; but thats missing the point; you still don't experience 'instantaneous motion'; Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 18:30
  • "all statements can't be assigned truth values sic" pretty much the most sophisticated treatment of buddhism IMVHO, whether or not i agree with it.
    – user6917
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 21:01

The philosopher of science David Albert applied catuskoti to superposition in Quantum mechanics, in his book Quantum Mechanics and Experience:

So what we're faced with is this: Electrons passing through this apparatus, in so far as we are able to fathom the matter, do not take route h and do not take route s and do not take both of those routes and do not take neither of those routes; and the trouble is that those four possibilities are simply all of the logical possibilities that we have any notion whatever of how to entertain!

  • The problem I have with this explanation is that we are able to discuss this in a straight-forward manner using the apparatus of QM; so somehow we know what's happening but not exactly. Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 11:17
  • @MoziburUllah, what do you mean by "we know what is happening"? QM can give us predictions, but according to a comment by Feynman no one understands it: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics."
    – nir
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 20:24
  • 1
    Well, this is always true - Newton made a similar remark about the mysterious nature of Nature and specifically that of gravity - ie action at a distance. My point is that there is a world of difference between having inexplicable phenomena and no model; and having inexplicable phenomena and a model. The question of assigning meaning to QM belongs to that discipline called 'Interpretations of QM' - and there is a lot of work on it. Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 21:41
  • In the path integral interpretation the electron takes all possible paths; in terms of the Catuskoti it is the contrapositive of the third option (where the Catuskoti is modified to take n propositions and n is taken to infinity); this is not to say this interpretation itelf doesn't itself problems; it is by the way a method Feynman introduced. Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 21:49
  • It is very easy to take one formulation of QM and make some wild conclusions from it. The problem is that QM is very abstract and very different from our classical experiences, and there are tons of different ways to "fit" our classical intuitions onto QM – each coming with its own pitfalls if we "interpret it too much". The ideal approach to the philosophy of QM is to consider many of these formulations (eg. at least the wavefunction formalism and the path integral formalism) and find things they have in common – which is not what David Albert does here.
    – csha
    Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 13:13

"I love you, I hate you..." is a little bit false, because hate is not the negation of love. Hate is a different situation. If I don't love somebody, it doesn't mean necessarily I hate him/her. Love is one side, hate is the other side, and the don't love is the middle, in terms of sense. I think this is the correct: I love you, I don't love you, I love you and I don't love you, I neither love you nor don't love you.


This logical form applies all the time in ordinary life. It is really just two contradictory pairs orthogonal to each other, so is just Aristotle's logic in an extended form.

Aristotle doesn't need to deal with 'neither/both' since he does so in his definition for contradictory pairs, leaving him with just A/not-A. The catuskoti approach is required where no definition is given for contradictory pairs. But in the end it's the same logic in both cases.

I would suggest not paying much attention to Priest in Aeon on this matter. He does not understand Nagarjuna, the most prominent user of this logic. There is a rebuttal of his article and his view published on the blog of Bernardo Kastrup under the title 'Nagarjuna and the Law of non-contradiction in Buddhist philosophy'.

It's usually best not to take too seriously those who write about Buddhism but do not claim to understand it.


With the attitudes of love and/or hate toward our fellow human beings (as ourselves, and God or Nature), we always default to either one mode or the other.

  • Apathy is a passive (thoughtless or uncaring) form of hate.
  • Violence is an active (aggressive or hostile) form of hate.
  • Tolerance is a passive (accommodating or hospitable) form of love.
  • Caring is an active (proactive or thoughtful) form of love.

For those who automatically default to 'hate' mode, very little can change their attitude. Even if they "like" or "need" someone, they continue to hate them although they might not always show it. They're likely to lie about it, even to profess love for them.

Hate is a function of dominance, manipulation, and control.

For those who automatically default to 'love' mode, again very little can change their attitude. Even if they are terrified of someone, they continue to treat them fairly anyway, only acting defensively when necessary for survival, protection, or well being of self and/or others.

Love is a function of respect and appreciation.

Even when acting defensively, those who automatically default to 'love' mode are motivated by a sense of righteousness, justice, and morality -- not by hate.

Their actions might be swift and final whenever absolutely necessary, but there is no inclination to torture, vindictiveness, revenge, or harsh punishments.

With the modes or attitudes of love and hate for the human species and for God or Nature, there is no "might", "maybe", "neither", or "both".

But then the default mode of love I just described can't be compared to individual marriage, romance, familial, social, or even national relationships or loyalties; because people can and often do become romantically or legally involved with a partner or partners -- without love ever entering the picture.

Likewise, assuming the default mode of love doesn't mean we want to become somehow involved with everyone we meet.

Likewise, someone whose default mode is to hate may intentionally involve themselves with others for reasons irrelevant to love.

  • How do the default modes relate to catuskoti?
    – Motivated
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 4:55
  • Hello, @Motivated. You asked, "Can it be applied to everyday life and if so how?", and I believe it can be, as it is very simple and logical. However, my own application of it to love and hate is quite unlike the way some others may see it. You didn't specifically ask about love and hate, although it seems to be a matter of great concern and significance with many people (including myself, of course). So here, I attempted to apply catuskoti to love and hate the way that I would do so. I thought it might be worth presenting a different perspective on that particular problem.
    – Bread
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 11:00
  • The "default modes" of love and hate mean that relative to catuskoti, one either loves or does not love. The third and fourth possibilities are delusional. If one appears to both love and not love, then one really doesn't love. If one appears to be completely neutral about or detached from love, again, one really doesn't love. Without love there is only some form of hate, the least or most 'benign' of which is apathy.
    – Bread
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 11:10
  • Thanks. I am unclear as to what you mean by "delusional". Additionally, what does it mean to love and not love as well as to be neutral or detached?
    – Motivated
    Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 8:38

In logic, the value "neither true nor false" is used a lot in three-valued logic, interpreted as "unknown", "unknowable/undecidable", or "irrelevant". This can lead to logical conclusions and reasoning including unknowns. Reasoning with unknowns is common in everyday life. As an example, if you know one shop sells apples, but you don't know if a second shop sells apples, you can still be sure that you will be able to buy apples if you visit both shops.

Another common example are loaded questions such as "Did you stop beating your wife" where neither "yes" nor "no" may apply, because the premise is hopefully wrong.

The fourth value (both true and false) is less common in everyday life though. In law and morality (or whenever rules apply), situations can occur though where the same action is both required by one rule and forbidden by another rule. In such cases reasoning can still be possible by weighting the different rules. Like when you have the duty to help a person in danger but are forbidden to enter the restricted area where the person lies. But I am not aware of any useful everyday inference that could be done other than realizing a system of rules is inconsistent. Other examples for this value (true and false at the same time), just to illustrate:

  • "women (or men): can't do with them, can't do without them"
  • "damned if you do, damned if you don't"
  • "I know that I know nothing"
  • "this sentence is a lie"

I created the article 'Catuṣkoṭi' on English Wikipedia. Some people have built on what I started, but how the article now stands, is pleasing. I feel the work showcases the relevance that the Catuṣkoṭi has to practical living and forming a sound worldview. I hold that the article could do with restructuring and for a section on the relationship and intersection of Apoha Theory (and the nature of the gestault), coupled with the hermeneutics and exegesis of the Catuṣkoṭi. Hopefully, someone will follow my lead and iterate as appropriate. Does anyone have any comment on the piece?


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .