Can Words Carve a Jointless Reality? Parmenides and Śaṅkara

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Chiara Robbiano


Parmenides and Śaṅkara are two ontological non-dualists who regard any division—for instance, between everyday objects or individuals—as conventional. Both Parmenides and Śaṅkara, by arguing for the undividedness of absolute reality, provide a vantage point from which to consider the possible arbitrariness of all divisions, which originate from human distinctions, rather than reflect gaps between different joints of reality. Human distinctions—and words used to draw them—are secondary to a reality that cannot be cut at its natural joints, since it does not have such joints. Reality can only be cut in useful pieces, according to the cutter’s perspective and purpose—thus no individual, science, or discourse can claim to know the allegedly real divisions of reality. In spite of this, Parmenides and Śaṅkara regard distinctions as both useful for everyday life and necessary for doing philosophy. I visualize their non-dual reality as an undivided background that can be both known immediately and non-dually, and foregrounded by means of distinctions, such as being and not-being, atman and non-atman —while they make it clear that such distinctions are just useful words. Epistemological dualism might be a useful tag for both of their philosophies. A reflection on these two philosophers is an example of borderless philosophy: an inquiry into conceptual tools that come from different philosophical traditions, and that provide a vantage point for reflection on our practices—in this case, our use of words that create distinctions rather than divisions.

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How to Cite
Robbiano, C. (2018). Can Words Carve a Jointless Reality? Parmenides and Śaṅkara. Journal of World Philosophies, 3(1), 31-43. Retrieved from
Author Biography

Chiara Robbiano

Chiara Robbiano graduated in Philosophy in Genoa, Italy. Her PhD thesis (Leiden, the Netherlands) on Parmenides was published by Akademia Verlag (Becoming Being, 2006). She has taught at the universities of Leiden and Utrecht for several years and is now an Assistant professor of Philosophy and Honours Director at University College Utrecht (Utrecht University, the Netherlands). She is publishing her work on comparative philosophy (Parmenides and Śaṅkara, Plato and Nishida) in, among others, Philosophy East and West, Ancient Philosophy, and in books on Greek and Eastern Thought.