Thoughts on Realisms interlinked by Arindam Chakrabarti 1/ [UPDATED]

Author: A philosopher of two worlds, pupil of amazing scholars of Nyāya and of Analytic philosophy, completely accomplished in both worlds in a way which is hard to repeat

—Book: It puts together Arindam’s research of 27 years. Thus, it is a collection of articles, but very well edited together, possibly because they deal with a topic very much at the heart of Arindam’s global philosophical enterprise, one that I am going to discuss below.

—Target reader: A Mark Siderits, i.e., someone who is completely committed to the project of “fusion philosophy” (more on that below), who is able to roam around Sanskrit texts and is committed to Anglo-Analytic philosophy AND to its confidence in neurosciences. Thus, this target reader, unlike in Sanskrit philosophy, demolishes the idea of a stable unified subject, but believes in the world of atoms and mind-independent objects of hard sciences. This point is crucial to explain why Arindam often explains how denying the subject *will* lead to denial of the object as well, rather than explaining that denying the object will lead to denying the subject (as it would happen in Sanskrit philosophy and European one).

—Topic: Arindam is an outspoken realist. He grounds his realism in the self-evident reality of hard sciences, based on which we cannot be illusionists nor idealists. However, he also claims that one cannot be a realist about objects without being also a realist about subjects AND even about universals and relations (!). So, basically if you want to be a good scientist, you are committed to defend also a robust understanding of the subject and you can’t avoid defending also universals and relations, such as inherence. Once you open the door a little bit and allow for the idealism / not realism about universals, you WILL UNAVOIDABLY end up undermining the whole realist enterprise.

—Methodology: I spoke already about “fusion philosophy”. This is not comparative philosophy, insofar as what Arindam does is not a descriptive comparison nor a detached description of two or more comparable points of view. Rather, he has a problem he cares about (realism) and uses the best possible arguments to drive his point home. And he finds the best arguments in Nyāya and in contemporary anglo-analytic philosophy, with some addition of neuro-sciences, but also of other philosophical traditions. They are anyway all subservient to finding the truth. There is no interest in being complete or exhaustive, nor in exploring different points of view as a good thing in itself. This also explains why Arindam does surprisingly little to justify his methodology and espouses some possibly naïve terminological choices, such as speaking of “Indian vs Western philosophy”. 

—”Object”: not just atoms, but also mid-sized objects, like the ones we encounter every day, chairs etc. Here the key is its persistence through time (via re-identificability at different moments of time) of the object, which is invariably linked to the persistence through time of the subject.

—”Subject”: Which subject is Arindam defending? One that is the complex knower of Sanskrit philosophy, i.e., the unified knower who is able to perceive with different sense faculties and remember and is then able to desire and act based on what they cognised. Against Hume and the Buddhist and neuro-scientific idea that it is enough to have unrelated sensations + a superimposed sense of their unity.

—”Universals”: You cannot be a realist, says Arindam, unless you are also a realist about universals. You need universals to recognise things as tokens of a certain type. And, since Arindam is the intelligent crazy person he is, he adds a great example: A piece of music exists independently of its specific realisation. Similarly, a universal exists independently of its specific instantiations. Now, you might say that it’s hard to be a realist about universals, since these are products of our mind. No, replies Arindam basing himself on P.K. Sen. If you think that you can’t perceive universals, it means that you have a wrong theory of perception. He therefore welcomes conceptual perception and expert perception as evidences for the perceptibility of universals.

—”Properties”: This includes also universals and what Sanskrit philosophers call upādhis ‘pseudo-universals’, such as generalisations

—Indefinability of truth: Arindam defends the Nyāya precept according to which it is possible to uphold simultaneously these two things:

A. Everything that exists is *in principle* knowable

B. Not everything that is knowable is known at any point of time

Why is this important? Because if existence and knowability are invariably connected, then Dharmakīrti’s argument about the sahopalambhaniyama is doomed to failure.

UPDATE: The sahopalambhaniyama says that objects are never experienced outside of cognition, hence there is no reason to assume that they exist outside of cognition.

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.

4 Replies to “Thoughts on Realisms interlinked by Arindam Chakrabarti 1/ [UPDATED]”

  1. Hi elisa

    I set up a book symposium at the APA on Arindam’s book. I had Stephen Phillips, Monima Chadha, and Timothy Williamson comment on the book. It was an excellent discussion of his work across many areas. I am hoping to do another symposium either in 2022 or 2023 on Stephen Phillips’ work on Gangesha.

    Thanks for posting this up.

  2. Elisa, Could you please expand a bit on your concluding comment for those of us who are not near as well-informed on this topic as you and your fellow bloggers? (And unfortunately, I have only just begun to acquaint myself with Arindam Chakrabarti’s provocative work.)
    Many thanks.

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