Above is my attempted sketch of the stances as outlined by David Chapman on Meaningness.  On the bottom are the “confused stances” which are mixes of Eternalism vs. Nihilism  and of Monism vs. Dualism.  Note that Nihilistic Monism is a rare stance so that there are practically only the Big Three confused stances.  The center of the confused stances symbolizes those who are uncommitted to a particular fixed stance.  The only virtue of this uncommitted stance is that for some, this position allows one to more clearly see the “4th Option” of Meaningness — the “Complete Stance” which allows all these possibilities.

The “Complete Stance” is then seen to contain all possibilities without a fixed quality — it is thought of as a spacious stance (thus the dotted borders in contrast to the thick borders of the confused stances).  The “Confused Stances” are just locked-down, fixations on aspects of the “Complete Stance”.


  1. Having thought about this a bit more, I’d say that “wishy-washy don’t know” isn’t a stance, it’s the condition of not being “committed” to any stance. See for an explanation of “committing to a stance”.

  2. Thank you, David, I have thus drawn up a third version which, I agree, captures things a bit more.

    I must add my model of “Many Selves” and say that none of us is a solidified, homogeneous person living in any position. We drift between positions and have tendencies. As you said, your tendencies are Nihilistic whereas your ‘commitment’ is for MeaningNESS. I think we are multiple selves — is the common day meaning of the term.

  3. Yes, I call that “the nebulosity of selfness”…

    I’m most prone to nihilism, but I find myself falling into all the others at times (including monism, my current bête noire). Stances are unstable.

  4. karmakshanti

    I must say you are a diagram geek. All of these issues are well covered in Buddhist philosophy, and the Tibetans have been refining the analysis of them for centuries. Their basic conclusion: none of the alternatives above are the case. The most readable primer on this analytical refining that I know is this book:

    The key philosopher of the last stage of this analysis is Nagarjuna and his stance is called the Madyamika or Middle Way. I’m pushing 60 and I simply no longer have the mental flexibility to use Madyamika argumentation on the fly, so you are better off reading Nagarjuna than me and you can find links to his books here:

    To simplify and outline the view, however, I can say this. The key concept is called Avoiding The Four Extremes. Any assertion that “things exist” is in error. Any assertion that “things do not exist” is also in error. Any assertion that things both exist and non-exist is also in error. And, finally, any assertion that things neither exist nor non-exist is in error. The formation of this concept was actually stated by the Buddha himself. What Nagarjuna developed was a method of argument that demonstrates it rather than merely asserting it.

    Nagarjuna’s argumentative method shows that every one of these stances leads to logical contradiction. What is left when you abandon them is what is known as shunata or “emptiness”. This is not just absence, as when we say the parking lot is “empty” when there are no cars parked there. From Nagarjuna’s vantage point, the parking lot is empty even when it is full.

    “Parking Lot” is a totally mental concept overlaid upon “mere appearance”, based on the appearance of parking space lines, and/or parked cars. This concept has no fundamental reality “on its own side” separate from those appearances. Our problem is that we constantly and mistakenly view our concepts as real things from which appearances derive.

    This leads to what is known as the Two Truths: Relative Truth of “mere appearance” overlaid by mental concepts and Absolute Truth of the inherent emptiness of both concepts and appearances. From its own frame of reference it is Relatively true that we live in a stable world of parking lots [and so forth] on the outside and of a “mind” or “self” or “soul” or “spirit” on the inside. From the vantage point of Absolute Truth none of these things are permanent and none of them are ultimately real.

    The rest I’ll have to leave to Nagarjuna.

  5. @ Karmakshanti
    — this diagram, as my post states, is of some thoughts put forward to a David, a Vajrayana practitioner who is trying to discuss these issues without using Buddhist terms and such. You may enjoy visiting his site as linked above. He is very well aware of your mini-sermon and his “mental flexibility” is high! You’d probably enjoy him.

  6. I like this diagram system. For me it is pretty obvious that all the “extremes” are just unliberated features of reality and they all correspond to four elemental neuroses (and their liberated facets). The fifth element, space is naturally in the middle, and permeats all of them somewhat.

  7. Thanx, Dr Pepper — but the ideas were presented to me by David. Good points.

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