Second day at the IABS: The Section on Pramāṇavāda

I am not completely convinced by the reasons behind the partition in panels and sections here, nonetheless, I heard two interesting papers readers might also find intriguing:

  • Alex Watson delivered a talk which could have perhaps be a better fit for the panel on Buddhism and Philosophy of Mind, since it focused on attention. Alex derived his topic and its sub-topics from discussions within contemporary philosophy of mind and tried to move them to India. He noted that the Sāṅkhya school presupposes a fully detached ātman, so that shifts of attention are only explained through saṃskāras. By contrast, according to Nyāya the ātman can decide to point the manas to one or the other sense and thus focus its attention to one or the other object. Shifts of attention are also conscious decisions. Finally, the Abhidharma-Pramāṇavāda view is that some shifts of attention are due to saṃskāras, whereas other shifts (or continuities of attention, I guess) are due to the impulse taken by the previous moment of awareness. In this sense, the Buddhist view is mid-way among the two, but it differs from both insofar as it does not assume an ātman at all and just refutes any “ghost in the machine” (the image is Alex’) and prefers to have “just the machine”. The Naiyāyika perspective is at odds, Alex observed, in many cases, for instance when it comes to justify why we have so many problems focusing our attention on a topic. The Buddhist view is much more satisfactory insofar as it just assumes that among the possible objects we can direct our attention to, the “winner” is just the most powerful one.
    However, I wonder how I could focus my attention on Alex’ talk for its whole length, given that there were many attractive people in the room… It is hard not to imagine that some central ruler decided to ignore them.
  • In this connection, Viktorya Lysenko aptly noted that one should be aware that manas cannot be translated as ‘mind’, since it is unconscious.
  • Toshikazu Watanabe discussed the relation of Bhāviveka, Dharmapāla and Dharmakīrti, dealing, among other things, also with the sattvānumāna. His conclusion was that the relationship between Bhāviveka and Dharmakīrti is very close and that he would thus suggest to push Dharmakīrti’s date back of some decades, in order to connect him more closely to his predecessor Bhāviveka.

How do you introspectically think attention might work? (Further comments are also always invited.)

This post is a part of a series on the IABS. For its first day, see here. For the first part of the second day, see here. Please remember that these are only my first impressions and that all mistakes are mine and not the speakers’ ones

About elisa freschi

My long-term program is to make "Indian Philosophy" part of "Philosophy". You can follow me also on my personal blog:, on Academia, on Amazon, etc.

3 Replies to “Second day at the IABS: The Section on Pramāṇavāda”

  1. As a counterbalance to Alex Watson’s point, Naiyayikas recognize unconscious attention shifts. Indeed, from early on, examples like waking up and having our eyes focus without being directed, and the way that loud sounds pull our attention, are recognized as relevant to questions of mental control over attention. Since effort (prayatna, etc.), is the property of the self that governs bodily and mental changes, this lead to an interesting way that effort was described as both conscious and sub-conscious. Sub-consious effort is the way that selves provide organization and governance to bodily/mental functions without conscious choice.

    Very late, commentators on Vishvanatha said that unconscious effort doesn’t make sense and that this should just be described as “karmic” functioning.

    Also note the notion of “effort born of simply being alive” (jIva-pUrvaka-prayatna) in praZastapAda, which is this sort of sub-personal “effort”, a property of the self that accounts for things like metabolism and undirected attention shifts.

    Perhaps of relevance: some time back, Joerg Tuske had a paper in Asian Philosophy about the divided mind in the Nyayasutra. In short, he argues that Nyaya’s view of manas, which allows for irrationality, provides a better argument for a separate self than their primary arguments for the self.

    I entirely sympathize with Viktorya Lysenko’s point, but for somewhat different reasons. The translation “mind” for manas is deeply misleading given the way that “mind” often functions as “self” in English. I feel compelled to keep it untranslated with an explanatory footnote or say “inner organ”, again, with an initial footnote. (I know the term is better for antaHkaraNa, but what can you do?) Hopefully, we are at the end-times for this this translation, as we have (hopefully) entirely jettisoned “knowledge” for “jNAna”, which has led to such infelicitous phrases as “false knowledge”.

    Thanks for the missives, Elisa.

    • Thanks for the very interesting points, Matthew. It is a pity you are not here, I’m sure we would have had many interesting discussions. As for unconscious effort, the issue has been taken up today by Mark Siderits. I will come back on that. Regarding Alex’ talk, instead, he might be right when he says that “we [meaning me, the Atma-vadini, and he as upholder of the Buddhist view] have different intuitions”.

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