Negation Phenomena: Implicative and Non-implicative

Existents and Nonexistents

Existents (yod-pa) are defined in Buddhism as what are validly knowable (shes-bya).

Nonexistents (med-pa) are what cannot be validly known, conventionally (tha-snyad) or ultimately (mthar-thug). The word turtle-hair exists, made by combining the words turtle and hair, and can be validly known. Nevertheless, “turtle-hair” cannot be validly known, because there is no such thing. In other words, we may conceptualize “turtle-hair,” but the conceptualization does not refer to anything existent.

Affirmation Phenomena and Negation Phenomena

Existents include affirmation phenomena (sgrub-pa, affirmingly known phenomenon, affirmation) and negation phenomena (dgag-pa, negatingly known phenomenon, negation, refutation).

An affirmation phenomenon is an item, or a truth about an item, defined in terms of the establishment (sgrub-pa) of something, without an object to be negated (dgag-bya, object to be refuted) being explicitly precluded by the sounds that express it.An example of an affirmation phenomenon is “apple.” The sounds that express the word “apple” do not negate anything.

A negation phenomenon is an item, or a truth about an item, defined in terms of the exclusion of something else (gzhan-sel, elimination of other), in which an object to be negated is explicitly precluded by the conceptual cognition that cognizes the phenomenon. An example of a negation phenomenon is “not an apple.” In order to conceptualize “not an apple,” one needs previously to have known “apple” (the object to be negated here).

[For more detail, see: Affirmation and Negation Phenomena: Gelug Definitions]

Implicative and Non-implicative Negation Phenomena

Items that fulfill the above definition of being a negation phenomena are of two types, implicative and non-implicative.

An implicative negation phenomenon (ma-yin dgag, affirming negation) is an exclusion of something else in which, after the sounds of the words that exclude the object to be negated have negated that object, they leave behind in their wake, explicitly or implicitly, something else. Consider the example, “a table without a tablecloth.” Once the sounds of the words “a table without a tablecloth” have excluded “a tablecloth” (the object to be negated here), they explicitly leave behind “a table.” Another example is "that isn't a tablecloth on the table." Once the sounds of the sentence have excluded that it is "a tablecloth on the table," it implicitly leaves behind, namely that it is something else on the table, just not a tablecloth.

A non-implicative negation phenomenon (med-dgag, non-affirming negation) is an exclusion of something else in which, after the sounds of the words that exclude the object to be negated have negated that object, they do not leave behind in their wake, explicitly or implicitly, something else. Consider the example, “the absence of a tablecloth” or “there is no tablecloth.” Once the sounds of the words “the absence of a tablecloth” or “there is no tablecloth” have excluded “a tablecloth” (the object to be negated here), they do not explicitly or implicitly leave behind anything.

There are two types of non-implicative negation phenomenon: the non-implicative negation of something existent and the non-implicative negation of something totally nonexistent. An example of the former is “the absence of a tablecloth”; an example of the latter is “the absence of turtle-hair.” Even though a tablecloth may be absent here, it could be present elsewhere. However, when it is the case that turtle-hair is absent here, it cannot be present anywhere else either, since turtle-hair has never existed, doesn’t exist now, and never will exist.

There are also two types of non-implicative negation of something totally nonexistent: the non-implicative negation of a totally nonexistent item and the non-implicative negation of a totally nonexistent mode of existence. An example of the former is “the absence of turtle-hair”; an example of the latter is “the absence of impossible existence.”

Each Indian school of Buddhist tenets asserts voidness (stong-pa-nyid, emptiness) as a non-implicative negation of a totally nonexistent mode of existence, but defines the impossible mode of existence differently.

Objects To Be Negated, Bases for Negation, and Objects Left Behind in the Wake of a Negation

One must differentiate an object to be negated from its basis for negation (dgag-gzhi) – the item devoid of the object to be negated. For “a table without a tablecloth,” the object to be negated is “a tablecloth” and the basis for the negation is “the table.” For “the absence of a tablecloth on the table,” the object to be negated is “a tablecloth on the table” and the basis for the negation is “the table.” For “a turtle without turtle-hair,” the object to be negated is “turtle-hair” and the basis for the negation is “the turtle.” For “the absence of the impossible existence of a tablecloth,” the object to be negated is “the impossible existence of a tablecloth” and the basis for the negation is “a tablecloth.”

One must also be clear about what is an object left behind in the wake of a negation (bkag-shul), like an oil slick left behind in the wake of a moving motorboat. Non-implicative negation phenomena do not leave anything behind in the wake of their negations; implicative ones do.

For example, in a non-implicative negation of an impossible mode of existence, such as “the absence of the impossible existence of a tablecloth,” nothing is left behind in the wake of the negation, not even the basis for the negation, namely “a tablecloth.” Note that here the object to be negated is “the impossible existence of a tablecloth.” Even in the case of “the absence of the impossible existence of a tablecloth on the table,” nothing is left in the wake of the negation. There, the “table” is merely the location of the basis for the negation, which in this case is “a tablecloth on the table.”

In the case of the implicative negation “a tablecloth devoid of impossible existence,” “a tablecloth” is the object left behind in the wake of the negation. In this case, “a tablecloth” is also the basis for the negation.