In recent scholarship there has been a persistent tendency, especially among North-American scholars, to deny that Indian Yogācāra philosophy is a form of idealism. The discussion has naturally focused on the interpretation of Vasubandhu's Viṃśikā, a foundational text of the school, as well as one of the most accessible, which other researchers have taken to be denying the existence of a material world external to consciousness.
In this article, after noting some of the points in favor of a non-idealist reading of the Viṃśikā, we shall offer a new reading that supports the old “standard”, but still widespread, interpretation that it indeed intends to deny the existence of physical objects outside of consciousness. We suggest that Vasubandhu develops in the Viṃśikā an extended argumentum ad ignorantiam where the absence of external objects is derived from the absence of evidence for their existence. This reading is the result of examining argumentation strategy rather than investigating the logical structure of individual proofs in isolation, and it takes cues from Vasubandhu's strategy for refuting the existence of a self in Abhidharmakośabhāṣya IX. In addition, our reading looks at the entire Viṃśikā, rather than isolating a purported argumentative “core” (vv. 11–15), and draws attention to the relevance of some of its subtleties. Finally, we also suggest that Vasubandhu might have opted for a less direct argumentation strategy to prove the non-existence of the external world because of specific soteriological aspects of the doctrine of vijñaptimātratā.