Thoughts on Arindam Chakrabarti’s Realisms Interlinked / Part 2

Almost all the chapters I will deal with in this second post (“Part 1” in the book) are about a defence of objects. The next bunch of chapters will be about a defence of subjects and the last one will be about other subjects", meaning not justother stuff” but also literally “other subjects”, like the ‘you’.

Basic thesis:
Arindam does not keep his card hidden. He speaks of a suicidal movement of our thought about reality''sloping from Naïve-realism to Absolute Skepticism through Idealism”, a suicidal movement that needs to be “blocked” (p. 75). It can be blocked, Arindam says, at three levels: 1. at a very early level, like Nyāya did (and Arindam wants to do), 2. by embracing some form of idealism while rejecting skepticism, 3. by embracing skepticism at the empirical level, but accepting the possibility of a mystical insight.

philosophia perennis: p. 101: ” ‘Contemporary; is a slippery word. Whether in language or in thought, those who worship what is current tend to ignore the timeless universal structures of human experience, thinking, and speech”
interaction with sources: ND asked in a meeting whether Arindam could have written the book by just “omitting the footnotes”, like Jan Westerhoff did with Madhyamaka philosophy. Now, my impression is that this is ethically unfair BUT ALSO impossible for Arindam’s book, since this is not based on a single argument (so that you can “delete” the footnotes), but rather on a dialogue among positions. It emerges from a tea-time-like conversation among colleagues in which it would be impossible to say “One might say that…” unless you specified which colleague is speaking, because their being a positivist or an idealist sheds a different light on their question. See, on this point, Arindam’s own perception of his contribution (p. 114): “In the context of the insightful infightings of the contemporary Western philosophers of language and the medieval Indian thinkers, I put forward my own conclusion about the meaning and reference of “I”.” We will see an example of this way of arguing already in chapter 6.

Defence of objects:
The main purpose of the first chapters is to go against idealism. Arindam presupposes that we can talk about “idealism” in general, as an over-arching category applicable to Berkeley, Śaṅkara and Yogācāra (and many more). However, behind this general framework, his discussions are more to-the-ground and focus on one specific speaker at a time.

Chapter 6 (pp. 65–75) focuses on how other idealists defeated idealism. It starts with 4 points in favour of idealism (in its Yogācāra fashion), namely:

  • 1. mid-sized objects lead to antinomies because they have parts (this will be refuted through the assumption of samavāya, p. 87);
  • 2. an object cannot be at the same time the cause of cognition and the thing featured in it. Atoms, for instance, cause the cognition, but don’t feature in it. Chairs etc. feature in the cognition, but don’t produce it.
  • 3. the well-known sahopalambhaniyama (discussed in a previous post).
  • 4. the argument from dreams shows that it is possible to experience objects without their mind-independent existence (this will be the topic of chapter 8).

Then, Arindam moves to Śaṅkara’s refutation of the Yogācāra position. For instance, how can something inner and mental appear as external, if we have never encountered anything external to begin with? How could we feign the external? (This is connected with the dream argument, as we will see below). Arindam suggests that Kant would be less vulnerable to this objection, since he could say that there is a specific function of our cognitive apparatus responsible for projecting things as external.

Arindam here reads Śaṅkara (and Kant) as accusing the Yogācāra of confusing the “phenomenal with the illusory” and he reads therefore Kant as an idealist who confutes idealism through the introduction of phenomena.
Here, by the way, Arindam attacks the Yogācāra because of a lack of distinction between saṃvṛtisat `conventionally real’ AND other forms of unreality. One should have been more nuanced, he thinks, in distinguishing between 1. what is phenomenal, 2. what is absolutely impossible (triangular flavours driving furiously) and 3. what is the result of illusions, dreams and illusions error. (By the way, Arindam’s first book was on absence, so let us consider him an expert here).

Arindam uses again Kant as an idealist defeating idealism when he uses him in order to justify the possibility of permanence of objects over time, given that we perceive ourselves as changing over times, something must remain stable so as to appreciate the change. But time is the form of our inner experience, so that no permanent element can be detected inside, unless through a comparison with something outside. (Arindam himself is not completely convinced by this argument, p. 73).

Chapter 7 focuses again on the sahopalambhaniyama problem and replies that difference […] tolerates relatedness" (p. 79). It is true that we access objects through the mind, but this does not mean that they don't exist also independently of it. Arindam takes advantage here of a characteristic of the English language (and of many others) and insists on paying attention to the `of' when we speak of a `cognition *of* blue':I cannot experience or imagine a tree unless it is made as an object of some kind of awareness, but there is as much difference between the tree and my awareness of the tree as there is between the tree and its roots and branches. Inseparability does not mean identity” (p. 90).
It is a priori impossible to demonstrate the existence of uncognised things, but the very fact that everything is knowledge-accessible, says Arindam, presupposes that it really existed prior and independently of being cognised (p. 81). As suggested in a previous post, this thesis is closely linked with the one about how cognitions are never self-aware.
This chapter also gives Arindam a chance to discuss how he sees Nyāya realism. The objective world of Nyāya is a “world for the self”, that exists to enable selves to suffer and enjoy, thus different from the Cartesian dualism (where selves don’t really interact with matter) or from the world of imperceptible quarks in contemporary physics (p. 81).

Chapter 8 is about the Dream argument: How can we recognise something as a dream unless we wake up?

Chapter 9 on the Accusative is a good chance to discuss Arindam’s use of linguistic arguments. For some decades people working on Sanskrit philosophy thought that the linguistic turn was going to be the way Sanskrit philosophy could finally be vindicated. After all, did not Sanskrit philosophers understand ahead of time that the only way to access reality is via cognitions and that cognitions are inherently linguistics? Thus, analysing language is the best approach to reality after all. This dream was somehow scattered when philosophy of language became less popular in Anglo-Analytic philosophy. Still, Arindam has already explained that following contemporary fashions is not the only thing that counts. Hence, he could nonetheless write a fascinating chapter (chapter 10) on the reference of I', moving from Wittgenstein to Abhinavagupta. The main problem is what is the reference ofI’ (is it the ahaṅkāra? The ātman? Is it an empty term, because the very fact that it cannot go wrong means it cannot be correct either).

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.

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