APOHA (Sanskrit—exclusion; properly speaking, anyapoha—exclusion of another [meaning] or anyapohavada—the doctrine of the exclusion of another)—a technical term of Buddhist philosophy to designate a theory of meaning.
As a consequence of the acceptance of the theory of non-persistence (anityata) and non-substantiality (anatman), Buddhist logicians rejected the possibility of any general concepts arising which would grasp external reality which changes from moment to moment (ksanikatva) and is unrepeatable (lacking similarities). Generalization (the creation of a universal) is a process that makes mental images distant from perceptions (which grasp individual beings) and which leads to non-reality; concepts are therefore illusory. Words refer to concepts and have no real relation to things, nor do they carry any content that could apply to things. A universal (a general concept) arises by a distinction of an object from among objects different from it. The meaning of a word may therefore be only an exclusion of contraries, e.g., the meaning of the word “cow” is “non-non-cow” (the exclusion of non-cow).
Dignaga (c. 480–540) first introduced this theory, and Dharmakirti developed it. Under the influence of a critique of realistic Brahman schools (especially nyaya, mimansa, and the school of grammarians) the theory developed in two directions: Shantaraksita (725–788) emphasized the positive aspect (the meaning of a word is a positive but illusory mental image), and Dharmottara (c. 750–810) emphasized the negative aspect (the meaning of a word is a negative, and a universal is a negative designation of a difference). This second interpretation was accepted as final by the opponents of apoha. A discussion between the proponents and the opponents of apoha continued at least until the mid twelfth century.
To explain how apoha functioned, Shantaraksita and Kamalashila used a distinction between two kinds of negation; of names (limiting, paryudasa) and of propositions (excluding, prasajyapratisedha). The law of the double negative held only when there were two negations of the same type, while apoha applied at the same time to both types. Contemporary logicians are greatly interested in this approach and the particular analyses associated with it.
Although it is rather popular to call apoha “Buddhist nominalism”, this theory is neither ontological nominalism nor semantic nominalism. The thesis that the individual is the objection of verbal congition is also rejected, as is the thesis that the conditions of truth can be formulated in terms of the immediate relations between a word and a thing. Apoha is rather a kind of conceptualism where the truth (agreement with reality) of concepts and words is purely illusory.
E. Frauwallner, Beiträge zur Apohalehre, Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, 37–44 (1930–1937); T. Stcherbatsky, Buddhist Logic, Le 1932; A. Kunst, Probleme der Buddhistischen Logik in der Darstellung des Tattvasamgraha (Zagadnienia logiki buddyjskiej wg Tattvasagrahy-Siatnerakszty [Problems of Buddhist logic according to Tattvasagraha-Shatnerakshti], Kr 1939; K. Kunjunni Raja, Indian Theories of Meaning, Adyar 1963, Madras 1969²; A. Akamatsu, Évolution de la théorie de l’apoha: L’Apohaprakarana de Jnanaśrimitra, P 1979; Analytical Philosophy in Comparative Perspective, Dor 1985; Buddhist Logic and Epistemology, Dor 1986; M. St. Zięba, Teoria znaczenia jako wykluczenia innych znaczeń (anyapohavada) w ujęciu Śantaraksity i Kamalaśili [Theory of meaning as the exclusion of other meanings ((anyapohavada) in the thought of Shantaraksita i Kamalashila], Lb 1987 (mpsKUL).
Maciej St. Zięba