Thursday, December 23, 2010
The following ones are the criteria I suggested in order to evaluate the degree of success of a project involving the critical edition, translation and study of the fifth chapter of Jayanta Bhaṭṭa's Nyāyamañjarī:
• Increase of interest among scholars for Indian linguistics and philosophy in general and the NM in particular.
• Publication of the research's results on international and peer-reviewed journals. The journals involved should a wide dissemination of the research's results, to a European, US, Asian and Japanese audience, focusing mainly on South Asia, or on Asia in general, on philosophy and philology. In order to improve the dissemination of the research's results, particular attention should be given to the open access of articles and research reports.
• Dissemination of the research's results through the research's website and partnerships with related websites, such as TEI: Text Encoding Initiative, Perseus, TITUS, GRETIL, SARIT (the present team is already in touch with some of them). As a first presentation of the project, a page should be created also on Academia (http://www.academia.edu/).
• Dissemination of the research's results and their usage also by scholars external to the present group. In order to evaluate it, I suggest the following criteria: (i) Access to the research's website and its achievement of a leading role among scholars interested in the NM, in (Indian) linguistics, philosophy of language and epistemological investigation on language as instrument of knowledge. (ii) Use of materials elaborated or collated by the present team in further articles, books, research projects by other scholars. (iii) Most importantly, the edition and translation produced should become the standard reference works for scholars working on the NM.
• The research's team becoming the centre of attraction for international research on the NM, (Indian) linguistics, philosophy of language and epistemology, as testified also by the success of the international seminars organised.
• The adequacy of the translation and the quality of the explanatory glosses and commentaries of the NM could be verified also through the degree of usability of the output edition for scholars not provided with a special training in Sanskrit and in Indian philosophy. In order to test it, one should plan to organize some presentations of our results within international conferences devoted to linguistics, philosophy of language and epistemology of language (i.e, on the role of testimony and of language in general as an instrument of knowledge). One should be able to explain the importance of the NM for contemporary disciplines, and to stimulate the interest and the curiosity of scholars working in different fields of humanities.
• Particularly, no Sanskrit philosophical term must remain without a translational equivalent in modern terminology.
• Furthermore, since the final outcome of our project must be an internet site presenting the electronic edition of NM 5, the usual criteria for web sites apply here, that is:
- clearness and completeness in covering the declared scope;
- accuracy of the presentation and authority of the sources;
- possibility to obtain the output edition in other formats than HTML (such as PDF file, CD-ROM, etc);
- feedback with users;
- speed and responsiveness of the user interface;
- searchability of the resource.
• More technically, the outcome web resource must be compliant with the standards involved, such as the XML standard elaborated by the Text Encoding Initiative for cases similar to ours (with special variants intended for the encoding of manuscripts and for morphological tagging of texts), HTML5, Unicode Collation Algorithm, and SQL for database queries. In addition to these, some further formal standards may be taken into consideration in case our project is accepted as a part of a greater project, such as the TITUS electronic database of Indo-European texts (University of Frankfurt, Germany).
Do readers have other suggestions, particularly in different connections?
Monday, December 20, 2010
A good example is, in my opinion, the translation of vyāpti, the invariable concomitance holding between the elements of an inference, e.g., between fire and smoke.
Vyāpti is a nomen actionis from the root vyāp-, which literally means 'to pervade'. Hence, many (most, I would say) authors translate vyāpti with 'pervasion'. This has almost become a terminus technicus in the works dedicated to Sanskrit logic. But is it a good choice? Is not it only understandable by an elite, which hence runs the risk to appear non-interested in communicating with any scholar outside itself?
To elaborate, 'pervasion' seems to me to be not-understandable for non-Sanskritists. It does not correspond to any logical term (as, instead, probans for hetu) in Western logic, nor is it intuitively understandable (as 'invariable concomitance' for vyāpti, which at least describes what is at stake). 'Pervasion' is just a literal translation of the Sanskrit term, which tries to reproduce the metaphor in English. Personally, I (and I suspect many others) only understand it, because I automatically translate it back into Sanskrit.
However, against 'invariable concomitance' Michael Williams (Manchester) made me aware of the fact that it does not point out that a vyāpti is not necessarily a commutable relationship. For instance, wherever there is smoke, there is necessarily fire, but it is not the case that wherever there is fire there is smoke. Indeed, according to the Ancient Indian Physics, there is fire in a piece of melting iron, though there is no smoke accompanying it.
Hence, one could use a paraphrase, such as "Smoke is invariably concomitant with fire", thus implying that the opposite is not necessarily the case.
Moreover, 'pervasion' is delusory also as for the 'direction' of the relationship. In the standard example, the point is that there is no smoke without fire. But, if one says that "Fire pervades smoke", does the listener understand that fire is a larger set than fire? Or does not s/he imagine fire 'permeating' (i.e., becoming diffused within) smoke, thus implying that smoke is a smaller set?
Friday, December 17, 2010
Jayanta was active in Kashmir, in the late 9th c. CE and belonged to the pracīna ("old") tradition of Nyāya ("Indian logic"). His opus magnum, the NM, is introduced by him ("maṅgala", vv. 4-8, p.1 of NM 1895, the editio princeps) as a mere re-arrangement of former exegeses of Gautama's Nyāyasūtra (the root text of the Nyaya tradition, henceforth NS), in acknowledgment of his debt to his predecessors. Jayanta also clarifies at the very outset of the NM (NM 1895:12) that his work focuses on the classification of categories utilised in Nyāya and on the definitions of these categories; he thus informs his reader that the third type of sūtras present in the NS, the parīkṣāsūtras ("examining aphorisms"), will be discussed by him only occasionally.
Jayanta was acquainted with earlier commentaries of the NS, including works that are still extant such as the Nyāyabhāṣya, which was probably his main source, and others which are lost, such as Śaṅkarasvāmin's commentary. He was also conversant with major works of the main interpreters of the Indian philosophical context, from Buddhist Pramāṇavāda ("epistemology"), to Mīmāṃsā (more precisely Pūrvamīmāṃsā, "Vedic ritual exegesis"), Vyākaraṇa ("grammar"), etc. Thus the NM is a key link in the history not only of Nyāya, but of other traditions as well.
The NM unfolds in 12 books called āhnikas ("daily lessons"). It is conceptually structured in two major parts: the first 6 books treat the pramāṇas (means to acquire knowledge, such as sense perception, inference and language); the second 6 the prameyas (objects of knowledge) and the other 14 padārthas ("categories") listed in Nyāyasūtra 1.1.1. Of the four pramāṇas accepted by the Nyāya tradition, śabdapramāṇa ("language as an instrument of knowledge", "verbal testimony") alone is discussed in books 3 to 6.
Why has this masterpieces rarely quoted and copied? Why has it not been as influential within Indian Philosophy as contemporary interpreters would expect?
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Hence, maintains Kumārila, prescriptive sentences include in themselves a force causing to be a specific result (the undertaking of the action). Such linguistic bhāvanā is located, according to Kumārila, in the prescriptive component of a finite verbal form.
The topic of bhāvanā, in sum, is a stimulating one insofar as it focuses on the peculiarity of prescriptive sentences, which are not considered as an exception among normal, descriptive ones. Unfortunately, it has still not been sufficiently studied and even the exact meaning of the two terms "arthabhāvanā" and "śabdabhāvanā" is not yet settled. Along with the paucity of insightful studies on bhāvanā within Indian philosophy, also any appraisal of their possible significance for Western linguistics and philosophy of language lacks altogether.
The above sketch will possibly demonstrate how a direct translation of these theories within a Western terminology is not easy. The Indian debate on language does not reproduce the subject-partition we are used to and a Western reader may feel uneasy while reading of the epistemological value of language as a means for communicating knowledge side by side with discussions on the semantic value of optative endings (which are used, in Sanskrit, to convey an illocutionary speech act). However, I believe that theories which are alien to the Western mainstream may prove efficacious in providing further stimuli, especially insofar as they propose new questions and new fields of investigations.
One of such fields might be the primacy of the illocution within linguistic communication, another the connection between linguistics and epistemology, coalescing in the analysis of language.
Within it, the purpose of NM 5 is to examine the nature of language and, hence, its ideal readers are not just expert in Sanskrit but are also versed in the treatment of some important problems of language studies (such as the problem of word reference, and the problem of the sentence meaning relatively to the different speech acts).
Language, explains Jayanta, is experienced as words and sentences (elements smaller than the word, such as phonemes and morphemes, are not taken into account since they do not convey any meaning per se). Since words are the constituents of sentences, their nature is investigated in the first part of NM 5. The main focus is on the meaning and the reference of words. Three solutions are suggested and discussed: word meaning as an individual (a token, in modern terminology), word meaning as a universal category (akin to a what is called a 'type' in modern terminology), and word meaning as the exclusion (apoha) of everything else (akin to the Saussurean conception of differential meaning of the linguistic sign and his notion of linguistic value). The controversy whether the individuals or the universals are to be considered preeminent is a classical topic of Western philosophy, but in India it has characteristically a linguistic bias.
The Indian theory of Apoha has been elaborated by the buddhist Pramāṇavāda in order to account for the conundrum of the efficiency of language in referencing reality although it is does not either correspond to the former nor describe it as it is. In fact, language is conventional and moreover results from human super-impositions on reality. External objects are not accessible as such to mediate knowledge (the reasons for that are linked to the ontological presuppositions of Pramāṇavāda; this opinion, however, is shared by several Western philosophers). Hence, words cannot directly denote their reference, since there is no one-to-one relationship between words and objects. Still, we understand each other while talking. This is possible because, though words do not denote the same object for everyone, yet, they denote in the same way the exclusion of whatever is not meant. So, utterances such as "Bring the cow!" are usually followed by someone bringing an actual cow because the word "cow" denotes "whatever is not a non-cow". In short, the word "cow" denotes the exclusion of whatever does not fit with the mental image of a cow.
The Pramāṇavāda further elaborates on these basic assumptions, while Kumārila Bhaṭṭa tries to defeat the Pramāṇavāda stance from the viewpoint of direct realism. As in the case of the controversy about universals, typically Indian is the linguistic viewpoint on ontology.
Monday, December 6, 2010
Did readers working on their own find a different solution?
Thursday, November 25, 2010
In all these cases, Sanskrit seems to be much less difficult than usually thought, and relatively easy to master, if one does not take into account its semantic richness.
In fact, I mainly read sentences structured as follows:
A [is] B. Because of C.
This can be expressed as:
- 1. B A [asti/bhavati…]. C-tvāt.
- 2. B A [asti/bhavati…]. A hi C.
- 3. B A [asti/bhavati…]. tathāhi A1 [asti/bhavati] C.
(with A1 included in A).
There are also negative versions of the above, showing that the opposite cannot be admitted. Apart from pure negations (na hi…), one might read:
4. B A [asti/bhavati…]. A nonB-anupapatteḥ.
If the sentence is more complex and the author wants to elaborate further on C, s/he can add a further reason:
5. B A [asti/bhavati…]. C-tvāt, D-tvena.
And B A [asti/bhavati…] can again be expressed in several ways:
- 6. B A [asti/bhavati…].
- 7. A-[VI ending] B-tvam.
- 8. A-[IInd ending] prati B-tvam.
- 9. A B-tvena [dṛśyate…].
If one wants to stress that B is the predicate:
- 10. B eva A [asti/bhavati…].
Or, mostly in comments:
- 11. A B ity [arthaḥ/bhāvaḥ/yāvat]
Moreover, an objector might have something against it:
Which forces the siddhāntin to reply:
Either he partially corrects the objector:
Or he altogether refutes him:
tad ayuktam. yataḥ…
tan na sambhavati. E-tvāt
Monday, November 22, 2010
Wolfgang Fasching (in his contribution to the Sussex conference I already discussed) suggests that nonetheless the ātman is what "I" truly am. Independently of all this-wordly connotations, "I" am first and foremost an ātman. This seems to be linked with Husserl's (and Zahavi's) claims about the mineness of experience. So re-phrased, the question sounds: Can ther be an "I" (and a "my") beyond or before this-worldly subjectivity? If one transcends not only one's identification with the body and some similar accidents (e.g., one's first or family name), but also whatever belongs to one's being different from the others, is there still an I left?
Fasching answers affirmatively:
Yet one could reply that my present experience is mine (the experience I am experiencing) totally independent of any distinction I draw to what is not me (i.e. of my having an I-concept).
That is, my experience would be felt as "mine" even if I would not feel my experience and myself distinct from the others and their experiences. Is it really so? Can there be an I which does not ipso facto posit a non-I? Does not "my experience" presuppose that I am experiencing something different from the experiencer?
I am not asking a metaphysical question, but a phenomenological one. I am not interested in knowing whether experiencer and experienced are ultimately real, but whether the event of experience can be experienced as belonging to one without implying its postulating an experienced object.
Fasching quotes Zahavi saying that
first-personal givenness ‘is not a contrastive phenomenon’, it ‘does not arise thanks to any discrimination between self and the world […].
But, he then asks, why should one call this non-contrasted experience of subjecthood "mine"? Because, Fasching explains, eventually the non-conventional subject we identify which does not exist, and "we" are nothing but that non-contrastive experiencer. Hence, the ātman is ontologically 'me'. What about its being 'me' from a phenomenological point of view? I tend to doubt it. Do Vedāntic readers have other clues?
Thursday, November 18, 2010
These objections are expressed in the text translated below, which is an excerpt of Utpaladeva's ĪPK-Vivṛti. Utpaladeva (the X c. Kaśmīrian founder of the "School of Recognition [of oneself as identical with the Supreme Lord]"), in fact, elaborates on these themes in his well-known Īśvarapratyabhijñākārikā (stanzas on the recognition with the Lord, ĪPK). The stanzas have been commented by the author twice. His vṛtti is an essential comment, often just clarifying the meaning of the stanzas. The vivṛti, on the other hand, is an elaborated philosophical commentary, which could also be read on its own. To the only extant fragments of this text, Raffaele Torella dedicated several essays and many seminars. In this post, I will examine the text of the Vivṛti ad 1.4.5, edited by this scholar in Mélanges tantriques à la mémoire d'Hélène Brunner.
[Obj.:] But it is impossible that something (e.g., whatever an object) is illuminated if it does not penetrate into the light. Nor is there, by saying so, a singleness of what is illuminated and what illuminates, because the grasped-part, like an illuminated pot, distinct from the grasper, although it is [ultimately] inseparated from the light, shines forth [as if separated from it]. In the same way, in the case of yogins (who can allegedly have access to other people's minds) the cognition of other cognisers apperas as a "this", i.e., as something else. Else, there would follow an error [since yogins would not be able to distinguish other people's cognitions from their own]. Therefore, if [as you claim] the cognition cannot be grasped by another cognition, how can there be a unity of memory, which has as content a [previous] experience and the experience [itself]?The text seems at first quite difficult, partly because of the overlapping terminology. "Grasper" is in fact the same as "light" and "illuminator" and they all refer to the agent of cognition.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
But if it is so, why do not we organize conferences which resemble more the coffee breaks and less the reading rooms?
Apart from my past proposals (see under the label "methodology"), I am now considering the idea of a conference embedding a workshop. One could discuss the general problems involved by the conference in an open session, where stimulating questions may come from the public (I would not allow than 30' for each speaker and in any case not less than 15' for discussion, right after each presentation). Within the conference (e.g., on the second out of three days, or about midday of a single day), a more restricted circle might meet and discuss the technicalities the general theme implies. The restricted circle would involve only people who are really interested (and have registered, say, two weeks in advance). One would discuss problems which are yet to be solved in a more specific way.
For instance, the general session might be about the use of manuscript sources (are they reliable? unavoidable? dependent on the scribe's mood?) and the workshop on conventions for reproducing lacunae (or the like).
What do readers think? What worked for you? From which conference did you come back happy and enriched?
Sunday, November 14, 2010
A comment by VS on my last post proposes the above solution and suggests that contradictions might be due to different textual layers. This is certainly true in many cases, but
- 1. it does not solve the intrinsic problem of whomsoever wants to make sense of the text prescribing the contrary-to-duty obligation. This applies to people who believe in that text (e.g. Mīmāṃsakas and the Veda, Christians and the Bible, etc.), to people who depend on it (such as law scholars having to do with a Costitution) and to thinkers who, like me, apply the principle of charity in order to make sense of the texts they analyse.
- 2. contrary-to-duty obligations may perhaps arise also outside texts.
Whatever the case, for sure contrary to duty obligations might arise out of the mixture of two different sources. For instance: What should one do, if one has promised to harm someone, given that a) one should do what one has promised to do and b) one should not harm others?
Thursday, November 4, 2010
How can the Veda, which is an instrument of knowledge (pramāṇa) prescribe something which should not be performed? And how can we state that it should not be performed, if it is in fact prescribed in the Veda? Obviously not because of some over-ranking moral principle (such as "Morality"), since the Veda is the only Absolute acknowledged by Mīmāṃsakas and much of their philosophy would collapse if only they would not adhere to this economy of principles. Hence, Mīmāṃsakas state that the śyena should not be performed because of the Vedic rule "One should not perform any violence" (na hiṃsayāt). However, one might object that violent acts (namely, animal sacrifices such as the Agnīṣomīya one) are prescribed elsewhere in the Veda and are indeed performed. So formulated, the problem amounts to the presence of contradictory statements within the Veda. Nor could one or the other be eliminated, since the Veda is a valid instrument of knowledge in all its parts.
How can one logically explain cases of conflicting obligations, such as the Śyena one? One might suggest that the only condition that would allow one to perform the Śyena, namely the desire to harm one's enemy, entails itself something forbidden. This leads to an interesting ethical dilemma, i.e., is desire to perform violence in itself to be punished? The inclusion of desire within ethics implies a stoic approach to emotions, which seems to harmonize with Rāmānujācārya's one one (in Tantrarahasya IV).
Thursday, October 28, 2010
In other words,
This knower, after having grasped with a means of knowledge an object, either craves for it or wishes to leave it. The desire of such a person, set in motion by crave or disgust, is called initiation of the action (pramāṇena khalv ayaṃ jñātārtham upalabhya tam īpsati va jihāsati vā. tasyepsājihāsāprayuktasya samīhā pravṛttir ity ucyate).
The Mīmāṃsaka reply to this Naiyāyika view is that to believe that cognition (jñāna) is enough for will to arise does no hold. The intellectual view of Nyāya is thus refuted. Desire is, according to Mīmāṃsā, a primary factor which cannot be explained away through its antecedents.
Instead, many other Indian philosophical schools explain desire as a consequence of
(erroneous) cognitions. See the Buddhist 'dependent origination' (pratītyasamutpāda), the Naiyāyika discussion on 'connection with a recollection' (smṛtyanubandha) and 'ignorance' (avidyā) in connection to the arousal of desire…
What do readers think? Is desire a consequence of (erroneous) cognition? Can it be explained (away) in this way?
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
More in general, the issue here sketched raises thought-provoking questions for all theological discourse. How can, in fact, the non-human be expressed in terms accessible to human beings?
However, let me situate the problem within the school I know better, Mīmāṃsā.
According to both the Bhāṭṭa and the Prābhākara school of Mīmāṃsā, the relation betweeen a word and the entity it means is perpetual (nitya). Nonetheless, this does not amount to say that everyone, upon hearing for the first time a word, automatically understands its meaning. Rather, one needs first to acquire proficiency in language use through the usage of elder people and through the ensuing activities (both these aspects may be referred to as vyavahāra). E.g., after having heard one's grandfather ordering:“Bring [the] cow!," one sees one's father bringing a cow. Through many similar instances, one eventually learns the meaning of the words “Bring!” and “cow”.
But, according to the Prābhākara, the meaning conveyed by the Veda is a duty (kārya) which is unprecedented (apūrva). Hence, how could it be possible to learn the relation between a word and a meaning such as the unprecedented duty through the usage of the seniors? And if this is not possible, how could one understand the meaning of the Vedic words referring to it? In fact, though the relation between Vedic words and the unprecedented duty is fixed, a meaning can be grasped only by people who have previously understood, by means of the linguistic usage of senior speakers, its relation with the word signifiying it. Nor can it be said that one can learn the meaning of Vedic words referring to an unprecedented duty through the Veda itself, as in this case there would be a vicious circle (the elders' usage would depend on the Veda, whose understanding depends on the elders' usage).
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
- 1. Did Uttara Mīmāṃsā evolve out of Pūrva Mīmāṃsā?
- 2. Were PM and UM once the same school?
- 3. Did PM and UM just become similar?
Pre-Halbfass scholars of Indian Philosophy usually assume something like n.1, and in fact Vedānta adopt the whole hermeneutic structure of PM.
Asko Parpola (WZKS 1981 and 1993) holds theory n.2, and maintains that the basic text of the Ur-Mīmāṃsā, the original "Mīmāṃsāsūtra" was composed of what became later known as the Mīmāṃsāsūtra and of what became later known as the Brahmasūtra. The names PM and UM refer, hence, to the first and the second part of a text (and not of an earlier and a later school).
Johannes Bronkhorst (see his Introduction to Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta: Interactions and Continuity) upholds n.3. In summary, he maintains that the Vedānta evolved in a very different milieu than the Brahmanic milieu of PM, namely the śramaṇic milieu of Jainas and Buddhists. Later, the Vedānta adopted the hermeneutic strategies of PM because they were prestigious and thus granted it acceptance and favour.
Against 2: Parpola's evidences are interesting, but far from being conclusive, especially insofar as he could not locate an early source talking of "PM" or "UM", not to speak of the absence of passages referring to a "pūrva-Mīmāṃsāsūtra" and to an "uttara-Mīmāṃsāsūtra".
Against 3: Why are so many Vedāntic authors (such as Bādārayaṇa) reverentially quoted in the earliest texts of the PM? This would not have been the case if the two originated in altogether different milieus. Could one maintain that Vedānta authors later used these names (and their texts?) to support positions which were completely new?
Do readers have an opinion about it?
Monday, October 25, 2010
*Since* the method of (ancient) Nyāya includes the methodological doubt and inquires *without limitations* and in all domains of knowledge, the label "philosophy" is appropriate for it, although Vātsyāyana etc. did not ask the same questions as Socrates or Kant. But outside ancient Nyāya and Sāṅkhya the situation (=i.e., the appropriateness of the label "philosophy") becomes more complicated. And the fact that Nyāya is considered philosophy does not exclude the reflection we need to do on the modern usage of this term (=philosophy) in the Indian context.I like the last sentence, but for the last words. In fact, as Angot himself points out, we need to question our usage of "philosophy" altogether, since we have no problem in considering Nietzsche, the Aquinas, Epicurus, and so on as "philosophers". As another French philosopher, P. Hadot (also quoted by Angot) notes, "philosophy" in Ancient Greece (and in India? and in some Christian authors? and in the contemporary "Applied Philosophy"?) includes a practice of life. This is quite far from the "philosophy" at the time it "became professionalizes in Europe, by the end of the 18th c." (p. 24). As for Angot, he is fine with this use of "philosophy", if only –so it seems– the requisite doubt and scope mentioned above are also there.
(my translation, my parentheses and emphases, p. 23)
But does this make sense?
A part from possible problems within Western philosophy, I wonder:
- whether a generalised doubt is altogether possible
- why should not specialised inquiries not be considered "philosophy"?
Friday, October 22, 2010
Angot then adds, without any apparent explanation, that philosophy after the Nyayabhasya "surrendered to religion". Abhinavagupta could be a great philosopher, but only insofar as he was first of all a theologian, and so on. On the contrary, authors until the NBh could doubt everything, including the Veda. They were, Angot suggests, like the sophists in Ancient Greece.
What do readers think? So much food for thought and I've only read the first 12 pages;-)
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Sven Wortmann, using Brian Black's narratological approach (already discussed in this blog here), read a paper at the IIGRS2 conference in Cambridge on these themes. He maintains that through a narratological reading one can identify the cases where a norm is broken. Specifically, one could use as identification marks the following ones:
- 1. the text explicitly indicates the content as counter-normative
- 2. other texts indicate it as such
- 3. the content becomes a motif
- 4. the content is deleted in other parallel or later texts
A last interesting questions regard the context of this allegedly counter-normative motives: have they been composed by kṣatriyas? By urbanised (i.e., progressive) brahmins?
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
However, Sartre maintained that the most fundamental level of consciousness is pre-egological and Husserl supported (only) a transcendental ego –that is, one which does not appear as such in consciousness. Buddhist thinkers were explicitly non-substantialist, at least after Vasubandhu.
Does time-consciousness entail a (transcendental, at least) ego?
Husserl's claim that there is a moment of retention within every instant of experience, might help one in avoiding to postulate an ego and yet account for time-consciousness. However, one might object, such a retention is itself momentary and hence cannot account for long-term memory.
While dealing with such questions, Matt MacKenzie admitted that retention is one of the conditions of possibility of memory, and it is still not the depiction implied by memory. In order to get it, one needs to add an account of the sedimentation of retention-traces (in Sanskrit one would call them vāsanā or saṃskāra). This is the role of the depository consciousnessm the ālayavijñāna. A presentist (and at the conference on Self: Hindu Responses to Buddhist Critiques this role has been performed by Jan Westerhoff) could instead object that there are, in fact, NO RECORDS of the past. What appears as a record of the past is in fact a present cognition, which we misinterpret as relating to the past. In other words, it only "looks" as a record, but it exists in the present as something else.
Friday, October 8, 2010
During the open discussion following the paper of Wolfgang Fasching I have summarised before, Joel Krueger (who asked, by the way, some among the most interesting questions during the whole conference) challenged Fasching's approach from the point of view of Gilbert's ecological psychology. In summary, Gilbert proposed that the only world we experience is a world made of already meaningful objects. That is, they are already meaningful, even before me attributing them a meaning. Consequently, they are also able to tell me some information about myself. Hence, the world itself is a continuous space of self-specifying information (=information specifying myself, yourself, etc.). If this all is true, we would need nothing more than a consciousness interpreted as sheer openness.
Instinctively, I would have objected like Irina Kusnetsova did, that is by claiming that objects can convey self-specifying information only in relation of me. They are telling insofar as I "interrogate" them, they tell me about me because they tell me how I like or dislike or am attracted, etc. them.
Once again, I am back at the problem that if all we want to establish is a sheer consciousness, without personal characteristic, then it seems that even less than that would do (just the saṃskāras instead of the owner of memories, for instance). A full-shaped sense of mineness seems to me the minimal requisite to distinguish between a "mental state" and a subejct.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
An acknowledged methodology, I believe, might be challenged and discussed, whereas an apparent “non-methodology” might be much riskier and subtler. In fact, an absolute absence of methodology is just impossible. Hence, authors who avoid methodological questions, or claim they do not need to face them, actually implement one methodology and suggest to their readers that this is the “natural”, the “right” or the only plausible one. In some cases, this amounts to say that one subliminally absorbs a methodological approach (for instance, one teachers' one) and then tends to reproduce it uncritically. In others, a similar procedure may have the negative output of making its upholders sure that there is no space for authentic research outside it. Hence, adopting another methodological approach would be tantamount to being no “appropriate” researcher at all.
In the Self: Hindu Responses to Buddhist Critiques conference, the phenomenologist Wolfgang Fasching was probably the only speaker being a "pure" philosopher (with no training in Indian languages). The fact that everyone enjoyed is paper and that some of us thought it was the best one, is a further evidence of the fact that one can start thinking philosophically about Indian texts –even as an outsider lacking an accurate knowledge of Sanskrit. Obviously enough, this does not imply that no further work on primary sources is required, nor that everyone can understand all kind of Sanskrit texts. Nonetheless, Fasching's paper was an interesting example of philosophical acumen applied to Advaita Vedānta.
The paper examines the idea (possibly akin to the one proposed by C. Ram-Prasad in the same conference) of an ego-substance "beyond or behind the experiential realm":
Such an entity would have to remain a purely metaphysical conjecture […] and it is not even clear whether the position of such an ego-entity would in fact provude us with an adequate answer to our question [namely: what *is* this experiencing I that constitutes the essential subjectivity of experience?] […] On the other hand, […] we cannot seem to do *without* an I that experiences its experiences, since mineness belongs to the very essence of experience itself. (p.3)
Fasching maintains that the Advaita Vedāntic ātman is a fitting answer for the above question:
So the self in the Advaitic sense is not a particular entity I could find in addition to the things in the world which I experience as being external to me –it is rather the world-experiencing itself (p.4).What are we left with, now? Is this self-as-consciousness still something graspable, or is it nothing more than a minimal requisite, a "purely metaphysical conjecture"? In fact, several questions at the end of Fasching's presentation, focused on similar objections. M.MacKenzie claimed, for instance, that mental states are such because they are undergone, *but* asking "undergone by *whom*?" points to nothing more than a grammatical problem. Ram-Prasad added further insights on the evolution of the Advaita Vedāntic teaching on this point after the disapperance of Buddhism from India. In fact, until Buddhist opponents challenged them, Advaita Vedāntins sticked at their claim of a difference between vṛttijñāna (intentional knowledge of the world) and sākṣījñāna (consciousness). But thereafter, departing from Madhusudana Sārasvati, one wanted to avoid to end up with the sākṣin as a substance.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Conferences are difficult to organize and often also expensive. Do they yield enough benefits to justify one's efforts?
In fact, some of the benefits produced consist in (please tell me if I missed some important ones): 1. enhancing the prestige of the organising institution and of the speakers, 2. allowing the participants to meet and get in touch with previously unknown colleagues, 3. allowing the participants to strengthen one's personal relationships with colleagues and friends, 4. enabling the participants to listen to interesting papers, 5. enabling the participants to engage in fruitful discussions.
I especially value point 5, considering 4 to be reached also through intense reading (especially since the internet has now made much more material easily available, and enables exchanges of pre-print drafts in a smoother way). Point 3, which lies often at the basis of a fruitful common enterprise can be achieved, I hope, through point 5.Let me now speculate a little bit more on why should an open discussion be a value in itself. We all know geniuses who have been able to produce incredible achievements while leaving in complete isolation. The following lines do not address them, since their case is so unique that no educational or cultural system may realistically try to contribute to their genius, not to speak of “creating” it. But what about all other average students and scholars? They must certainly read and study on their own, but why should they from time to time try to meet and confront? This has to do, in my opinion, with the value of non-technical knowledge in general and humanistic knowledge in particular. In fact, why should one care for the furthering of non-technical knowledges, which lack any practical output? A possible answer is their indirect connection with technical ones. A further answer is their intrinsic value for reasons different than the ones implied in the definition of a “practical output”. Reading novels may be said, for instance, beneficial to one's ability to prove empathy for others, and, hence, to one's ability of being a good citizen, a caring relative, a compassionate human being. The study of distant cultures may be similarly held to enhance one's openness towards other people, while fretting one's prejudices. A mind trained in logic might be more able to distinguish among valid arguments and fallacies in other people's claims and hence be less liable to be cheated. All these (and many other) outputs are, in my opinion, further enhanced by encounters and sincere exchanges with others.
Am I too utopistic and far off the mark?
The first paper discussed at the conference "Self: Hindu Responses to Buddhist Critiques" was Brian Black's "The rhetoric of Self in the Upaniṣads and Majjhima Nikāya". Notwithstanding the generic title, Black focused on two among the most ancient Upaniṣads, that is the BĀUp and the ChUp.
One of his main points was the stress on the plurality of voices in the Upaniṣads. Sometimes the ātman is described as passive, others as dynamic and these diverse theories cannot be reduced to one.
Hence, in order to make sense of them it is better to take into account their literary and social dimension. In this connection, Black frequently mentioned Bronkhorst's theory as exposed in his Greater Māgadha. Bronkhorst maintains that there were two distinct cultures at the time of the Upaniṣad/Pāli Canon, a brahmanical one in the North West and a "śramaṇic" one around Māgadha, with the first bearing no influence on the latter. Black suggests that this theory make help us to make sense of seeming exceptions, such as the Sāṅkhya system (which, according to Bronkhorst, belongs to the Greater Māgadha culture and not to the brahmanic one, hence its stress on duḥkha).
However, I am not sure whether Black's own paper supports Bronkhorst's view, since Black acutely showed how the contents of the theory of the self in the Upaniṣads and in the Majjhima Nikāya are utterly different, although their narrative frames are often quite similar. Moreover, in the Nikāya theories about non-self are debated in "rehearsals" for verbal encounters with opposers ("if someone should ask you this, you should answer that"). The main audience is made of monks and nuns, often anticipating such possible confrontations. Although Black stated that there are no examples of direct confrontations with Brahmans, the dialectic context seems to me to point to deeper interactions than envisaged by Bronkhorst. Moreover, Black showed how the Buddhist discours on the non-self shares many points in common with the Upaniṣadic rhetoric of the self (Upaniṣadic metaphors, for instance, are reversed; and dialectic stategies are repeated –although with a different purpose).
Last, Black's respondant, Kate Wharton, asked whether it is not that the Buddhist emphasis on the charismatic Buddha implicitly contradicts the rhetoric of non-self, whereas the Upaniṣadic plurality contradicts the rhetoric of a single self. In fact, maintains K.Wharton, both Buddhists and Brahmans agree that the self is not the body, nor is it sensations, etc. What, hence, really distinguishes the two sorts of texts is the cohesive narrative of the Nikāyas, which are built around the Buddha as philosophical hero. He is the real "glue" of the Nikāyas, more and over the non-self doctrine.
Monday, September 27, 2010
During the conference on Self: Hindu responses to Buddhist Critiques, Matt MacKenzie proposed an updated version of Śāntarakṣita's account as the best solution to the debate on self and subjectivity. According to his interpretation (provided that I understood it correctly), Dharmakīrti maintained, as Brentano, that every consciousness act is a complex of subject and intentionality. Śāntarakṣita, instead, pushed the Buddhist position closer to the Advaita one insofar as he identified prakāśatva ('the fact of being luminous', that is, reflective, auto-aware) of the consciousness, with the fact of being sva-prakāśatva ('the fact of being self-luminous', self-aware). Further, he described such svaprakāśatva as the essence of consciousness, which could not present objects unless it were svaprakāśa. In other words, the fact of being self-luminous is not an accident to consciousness, but its true essence. Consciousness throws light on objects insofar as it is self-reflective.
At this point, there seems to be not much difference left between Śāntarakṣita's and the Advaita Vedānta position, apart from the issue of temporality. In fact, as argued also by C. Ram-Prasad, the two positions would be undistinguishable if not for that.
But here comes the most intriguing move of MacKenzie. Actively engaged in the philosophical enterprise initiated by Śāntarakṣita's innovations, MacKenzie proposed to emend the latter's proposal. In fact, temporality is a problem for Śāntarakṣita's account, according to MacKenzie. Its problematicity is proved by the tension, within Yogācāra Buddhism, between the stress on momentaryness (kṣaṇikatva) and that on the depository-consciousness (ālayavijñāna). In fact, the latter accounts for temporal continuity and causal connections, but risks to contradict the former.
However, maintains MacKenzie, this is a false choice. It is possible to have both non-substantialism and diachronical persistence, IF ONLY we give up momentariness. Hence, getting rid of momentariness improves the Yogācāra account of consciousness as it allows for phenomenological temporality. An external reader (such as myself) might ask how can temporality be phenomenologically present, although not substantially real. MacKenzie can answer this rebuttal through Husserl's account of the phenomenological time-consciousness. According to it, every experience is made of retention (of the past moment)-experience of the present moment-protention (towards the next). In this way, we can experience a melody as melody (through retention of the last heard note, experience of the present one, protension towards the next expected one).
I am still in trouble, since retention seems not to last long enough to make sense of recollections or only of experiences interrupted by gaps (such as that of looking for one's drink while watching a movie).
- 1. all papers have been precirculated and, contrary to my expectations, have actually been read by most speakers/listeners. I guess readers will automatically understand that this implies that the audience was limited in number and made of only quite interested and active members.
- 2. hence, every speaker had 15' to read excerpts of his/her paper (which seemed to me not to be the best use of one's time), to propose a fil rouge through it, to summarize it, or to explain its etiology (as Brian Black did –and I have to admit I enjoyed this a lot). Next, a respondant had 10' to comment on the paper and then 35' of open discussion followed. As a rule, I enjoyed this last part most, since the other speakers/listeners have been able to propose several interesting insights and criticisms. It was the first time at a conference I really had the feeling of talking through philosophical traditions. Which leads me to the next point:
- 3. The most quoted authority (again, contrary to my expectations) has been Edmund Husserl. His phenomenological account has been mentioned by both supporters and deniers of an enduring self. Does this mean, as John Taber asked at last, that in fact Indian Philosophy has nothing "new" to offer to Contemporary Philosophy, since the latter has already achieved on its own what Indian philosophers realised (perhaps, some centuries in advance)? Or does it only mean that we have to come to terms with the unknown (Indian philosophy) in "our" terms (hence, through Husserl)? Once this "unknown" has found its way in our thought through such a doorway, it may still plant interesting seeds in it…
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Could one not argue, then, that we need a more transcendental self which make the transcendental self possible? If one has acknowledged once the necessity of something beyond experience in order to account for experience, how can one stop requiring always higher order entities to justify the previous ones?
In other words, how can we be sure that the homunculus (if there is a small man within oneself which controls the external man, than one could argue for the necessity of an even smaller man within the small man and so on) argument does not apply to the Advaita Vedānta self?
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
In this way, if I am not misunderstanding him, Ram-Prasad (in Siderits 2010, forthcoming), describes the Nyāya and Advaita ātman. He also adds the further note that the Nyāya ātman is the substance of which consciousness is a quality, whereas the Advaita one is itself tantamount to consciousness.
But of what "use" is this ātman, which cannot be experienced? Theoretically, even if one could prove its existence (and this can be done, according to Ram-Prasad, through the very fact that one remembers, apart from the memories' contents), one still had to prove its connection with one's "personal" feeling of being an I. One's true explanandum, hence, would not be explained through this unconditioned ātman.
This, however, contradicts centuries of poetry about love as an uncontrolled emotion surprising one at once, about spleen, about depression and sadness as inescapable. One could almost argue that the lack of control on emotions seems to be a characteristic mark of many extra-ordinary artists and historical figures (or is it only a "selective" lack of control?).
Personally, I met many people who live fatalistically, wishing and hoping that the future will bring them something better and enduring the present instead of trying to change it. However, I never met someone who could claim no-control whatsoever on his/her thoughts. Emotions seem in this sense to be different from, e.g., inductions, as they imply less effort and can hence be thought of as "externally" determined.
All of this seems connected with the belief on a persistent self (on this connection, see here), an agency that pervades present and future moments and can hence influence them. But the two beliefs are not necessarily connected. One could belief in a persisting agency and at the same time in its being a victim of events –in particular, emotional ones. And Theravāda Buddhism is an example of cultivation of emotions'control without believing in a self.
Do we negate a distinctive character of emotions (and, hence, miss an important potential inhering in them) if we assume that they can/must be controlled?
Monday, September 13, 2010
In fact, if in the mind of person A all the memories of person B were implanted, A would no longer be just A. She would be affected by B's experiences, tastes, etc. Hence, memory is not enough to establish a lasting person –at least if one wants it to face such extreme cases.
But, I wonder, why should one not accept that A-after implantation is a different person from A-before it? In fact, they share the same body –but this is no argument, if one does not share a reductionist viewpoint. They also share A's former memories. Is this enough not to admit their being different? An interesting literary (and medical) case would be that of Robert M. Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, where the case of a person undergoing an Electroshock is depicted. The author claims to be not the same person his wife and children would recognise as him –notwithstanding his sharing the same body and many memories with him.
Friday, September 10, 2010
1. Knowledge informs and motivates action; and
2. it is action which takes the person to the highest good."
I wonder whether there is not a third claim (explicit, at least in Someśvara):
3. knowledge is a sort of action. Hence, it is not an alternative to it.
I am presently reading Ram-Prasad's Indian Philosophy and the Consequences of Knowledge (Ashgate 2007). The III chapter is dedicated the debate between Kumārila and Śaṅkara on action and knowledge. In Ram-Prasad's interpretation, Kumārila argues that it is not true that correct knowledge stops wrong actions, although it is true that correct knowledge may lead to right action. Hence, the superiority of action over knowledge:
This [difference] is vital for Mīmāṃsā. If knowledge is allowed to stop action, then that amounts to acknowledging that knowledge is the later and superior mode for the attainment of the highest good, since knowledge would then exist without action. On the other hand, if knowledge only leads to action, as in the symmetry Kumārila upholds, then knowledge becomes only the way to –and therefore an auxiliary of– action; and action remains as the later and superior mode. [p.106] […]
Śaṅkara seems to make almost the same point about the possibility of cognition and actions being without mutual influence.
«Whether it is a failure of cognition or a doubtful cognition or erroneous cognition, miscognition is always removed by true cognition; but not by action in any form whatsoever, for there is no contradiction between them (i.e. action and cognition)» (Śaṅkara III.iii1, p. 245).
Now, all of this only makes sense if it is possible to imagine knowledge as not being part of action, that is a state of awareness/consciousness, possibly what Indian authors meant with cit. Then, however, coming to know something could not amount to any genuine "progress". Consciousness should have been always there. And also the act of "disveiling" it could not be understood as the active removal of something…how then?
(I just came back from holiday, sorry for the long silence)
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
That is, does the critique of the concept of a subject also embed a critique of any possible individuality? Are individuality and subjectivity well distinguished in Western philosophy in general? And in Western common sense?
I just stumbled in this statement by Birgit Kellner (in her contribution to Hans-Dieter Klein's Der Begriff der Seele in der Philosophiegeschichte, 2005):
[…] hier wird kein Unterschied gemacht zwischen personenbezogenen Termen wie Eigennamen , "Person" oder "Seele", und dem Personalpronomen "ich" –eine Differenzierung von Subjektivität und Individualität ist zumindest in diesem Bereich buddhistischer Philosophie nicht auszumachen (B. Kellner, Der Begriff der Seele in der buddhistischen Philosophie, p. 192).
Kellner discusses here Vasubandhu's critique of the ātman in his Abhidharmakośa (chapter pudgalapratiṣedha) but her point is perhaps more general. In fact, whenever the aham ("I") is considered as different from the ātman, this is rather out of different concerns, primarily because it is a theorised concept (a vikalpa), and not something which could be directly and intuitively grasped.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
The phenomenon of Memory seems to me perhaps the biggest obstacle to the theory that there is no enduring self. If there is no such one, how could one be aware of one's memories?
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Monday, August 2, 2010
Consider the diachronic case first: imagine that a series of seff-conscious thoughts or 'I-thoughts' occurs in the same brain, one at a time, while none of them ever involves any awareness of any thought earlier … than itself. […]
Some may want to say that there is nevertheless a single thinker, simply because a single brain is the locus of all thoughts. But why should the fact of non-mental diachronic singlesess decisively overrule the natural judgement that there is no plausible candidate for a diachronically single mental self in this case? ('The Self' in Models of the Self, edited by Gallagher and Shear, 1999)
Friday, July 30, 2010
I claim that it is in the limiting case possible for a being to lack any significant sense of itself as an agent, and as something that has a personality, and as somehting that has long-term persistence, and still experience itself as a self or mental subject at a given time.
Many disagree … I won't say more about it now, except to note that there are recognized pathologies that can involve the weakening or loss of all three of these aspects of ordinary human self-experience –aboulia, apraxia, depersonalization, passivity phenomena in schizophrenia, autism, and loss of time sense…. [p.46]
I want now to consider the ontological question:… Do there in fact exist (1) subjects of experience that are (4) single (3) mental (2) things during any gap-free period of experience, whether or not they can persist across gaps in experience?
I think there are. … I will call them SESMETs (Subjects of Experience that are Single MEntal Things). I think that gap-free periods of experience are always short in the human case… So I think that many SESMETs exist in the case of a human being. In all essentials, in fact, I agree with William James… He holds that "the same brain may subserve many conscious selves" that are entirely distinct —numerically distinct— substances. […] On this view the apparent continuity of our conscious experience […] derives from the fact that SESMETs "appropriate" […] the experiential content of their predecessors´ experiences. They do so in a way that is entirely unsurprising in sofar as they arise […] from brain conditions that have considerable similarity from moment to moment even as they change.
I understand that the reference to the brain and to the SESMET as a "thing" could not be endorsed by modern and classical Buddhists. But what about the rest of the claim? Is this more similar than my preceding, Humean proposal, to the Pramāṇavādin conception of the self? (I refer to the Pramāṇavādins since they developed a consistent philosophy of Buddhism).
As far as I am concerned, I share the doubt Strawson attributes to a hypothetical reader (p.48): even if they were true, these SESMETs seem to be useless as they are too far away from our experience of ourselves.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
In interpreting and critically explaining these arguments, I am moving beyond the usual historical and philological task of restating, in English, complex arguments formulated in Sanskrit. I am committed to viewing these arguments not just as historical artifacts from someone else's intellectual past but as an interculturally available source from which we can learn today. What is at stake for Ratnakīrti (and I hope for some of us) in these arguments is nothing less than the nature of rationality, the metaphysics of epistemology, and the relevance of philosophy to the practice of religion (p.4).