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?
  • 1
    I love you, I hate you, I love you and I hate you, I neither love you nor hate you. – user4894 Sep 8 '14 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 Sep 9 '14 at 21:00

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 Sep 9 '14 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'; – Mozibur Ullah Sep 9 '14 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 Sep 9 '14 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. – Mozibur Ullah Oct 8 '14 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 Oct 10 '14 at 20:24
  • 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. – Mozibur Ullah Oct 10 '14 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. – Mozibur Ullah Oct 10 '14 at 21:49

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