Candrakīrti and Jayarāśi on Dignāga’s Epistemology (Part One)

In his Pramāṇasamuccaya, Dignāga claims that there are two means of knowledge (pramāṇas): perception (pratyakṣa) and inference (anumāna). Perception has as its object the particular (svalakṣana); inference has as its object the universal (sāmānyalakṣana). The key distinguishing feature between the two is that “perception is free from kalpanā (imagination, conceptual construction)” (Pramāṇasamuccaya, 1.3a). This is an exclusive dichotomy: any means of knowledge must be either perception or inference, but not both.

The Madhyamaka philosopher, Candrakīrti, offers the following argument against Dignāga: “… if it is said that there are two means of knowledge (pramāṇas) through adherence to two characteristics – particular and universal, then that characterized thing, of which there are two characterizing marks (i.e., particular and universal), does that exist, or on the other hand, does it not exist? If it exists, then there is another third object of knowledge (prameya) than those two, so how are there two means? On the other hand, if that which is characterized does not exist, then the characterization is also without a basis, so how could there be two means of knowledge?” (Prasannapāda, p. 20, lines 20-23).

The Cārvāka skeptic Jayarāśi gives what I call “The Impossibility of Considering Duality Argument.” Jayarāśi begins with the notion that perception apprehends itself and inference apprehends itself, but neither can apprehend the other according to Dignāga. Jayarāśi concludes, “Thus, talking or thinking about the number [of means of knowledge] being two is impossible” (Tattvopaplavasiṃha, 3.3a). Eli Franco spells out the presupposition that makes the argument work:

In order to determine the number of means of valid cognition, one has to have them all as the object of one and the same cognition. However, according to the Buddhists, a cognition is not apprehended by another cognition, but only by itself. Nor is there an ātman which could coordinate the different cognitions. Thus, one may perceive perception by perception, and inference by inference, but never both at the same time. Consequently, whatever the number of means of valid cognition may be, there is no way of knowing it. (Franco 1994, 430 n. 184) 

Thus, Jayarāśi’s argument rules out the possibility of even considering the Buddhist thesis that there are two means of knowledge. He ends his chapter on Buddhist epistemology with the following: “And when this (i.e., there being two means of knowledge) is not possible, saying ‘There are only two means of knowledge’ is the gesticulation of a fool” (Tattvopaplavasiṃha, 3.3a).

Are Candrakīrti and Jayarāśi giving roughly the same argument against Dignāga?

In Part Two I will ask: Do Candrakīrti and Jayarāśi raise serious problems for Dignāga’s epistemology?

Works Cited

Candrakīrti. (1960).  Prasannapadā. Ed. P. L. Vaidya. Madhyamakśāstra of Nāgārjuna (Mūlamadhyamakakārikās) with the Commentary Prasannapadā by Candrakīrti. Dharbanga: Mithila Institute.

Dignāga. (2005). Pramāṇasamuccaya, Chapter One. Ed. Ernst Steinkellner.

Franco, Eli. (1994).  Perception, Knowledge and Disbelief: A Study of Jayarāśi’s Scepticism,Second Edition. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Jayarāśi Bhaṭṭa. (1994). Tattvopaplavasiṃha. Ed. and Trans. Eli Franco. In: Perception, Knowledge and Disbelief: A Study of Jayarāśi’s Scepticism, Second Edition. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Cross-posted to my blog.

5 thoughts on “Candrakīrti and Jayarāśi on Dignāga’s Epistemology (Part One)

  1. Thanks, Ethan, very interesting.
    For what it is worth, I do not think that Candrakīrti and Jayarāśi are describing the same objection:
    1) Candrakīrti: if a qualificand (qualified by either svalakṣaṇa or sāmānyalakṣaṇa, particularity or universality) exists, then there is a further third thing and the bipartition of pramāṇas no longer holds. If such a qualificand does not exist, then the whole thing is baseless, as the two characteristics (particularity and universality) do not have a support.
    2) Jayarāśi: If pratyakṣa works *only* on sense-perceivable items and anumāna *only* on inferable items, then how does one know about their number —given that in order to get at it one should know at once both pratyakṣa and anumāna?

    • Thanks, Elisa. I don’t think the two objections are quite the same, either. Could we put it this way? Candrakīrti’s objection focuses on the object of knowledge (prameya), while Jayarāśi’s focuses on the means of knowledge (pramāṇa)?

      I think the similarity is that both objections exploit a self-referential problem for Dignāga: namely, given the content of his epistemological theory, that theory itself could never be established. In Part Two, I might try to explain this in terms of what Graham Priest calls an inclosure schema. Priest thinks this schema applies to a large number of ideas in the history of philosophy, including some of Nāgārjuna’s arguments (although Nāgārjuna does this on purpose, according to Priest and Garfield).

  2. I really wonder if Diṅnāga did or would say that perception itself (as opposed to the objects of perception) is off-limits to inference. If it were, then Diṅnāga would have bigger problems than just the number of pramāṇas…

    • That’s a great point, Andrew. Jayarāśi in fact considers an objection from a Buddhist pūrvapakṣin that we know the fact of the duality of pramāṃas by inference. Jayarāśi doesn’t think this works, though, since an inferential cognition about a perceptual cognition is not itself a perception. Also, due to momentariness, by the time you have an inference the original perception is gone. At best an inference could be caused by a perception (maybe that’s enough for the Buddhists, I’m not sure).

      This may also relate to an issue discussed by Dan Arnold that the Dignāga-Dharmakīrti theory runs into the problem addressed by Sellars’s “Myth of the Given” (according to which a non-conceptual cognition couldn’t enter into “the space of reasons” since reasons must be conceptual). If Arnold is right, this may have been a problem later addressed by Dharmottara in defense of Dignāga-Dharmakīrti epistemology.

      I’ll have more to say on these issues in Part Two.

  3. Pingback: Candrakīrti and Jayarāśi on Dignāga’s Epistemology (Part Two)The Indian Philosophy Blog | The Indian Philosophy Blog

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