Thoughts on Realisms interlinked by Arindam Chakrabarti/3

Main thesis: While we move from realism about objects to realism about subjects and other subjects, Arindam’s commitment to naïve realism decreases. Since I have discussed in the first two previous posts about how Arindam’s methodology makes him do philosophy while talking with other philosophers, let me now say that he is moving from talking mostly with Naiyāyikas to engaging closely with Abhinavagupta. And in fact in his interview with M. Keating Arindam had complained that I had called him a ‘staunch realist’ in a previous post. I now know why, given that he is less of a realist in this second part of the book.
(The inclination towards Abhinavagupta is highlighted also in Ram-Prasad’s book review.)

First, the facts: The first part defended realism about objects, this second part is about the knowing subject. Arindam argues against fictionalism (especially in chapter 15, entitled “Fictionalism about the mental”), and in favour of the persistence through time of the knowing subject as proven through memory and recognition, but also through our capacity to correct our errors (how else could one correct oneself, if there were not a subject who is aware of the mistake and goes back to it?).

This leads to an important subtopic, namely the epistemology of the knowing subject, which occupies at least two chapters, namely “In Defense of an Inner Sense” (chapter 13) and “Our Knowledge and Error about Our Own Cognitions” (chapter 14).

Another interesting subtopic regards the nature of the defended subject. I have already revealed that Arindam does not defend the Naiyāyika ātman (which is inherently quality-less), but rather a full-fledged knowing subject, closer to an aham than to an ātman. Ram-Prasad’s review says that Arindam is more comfortable with P. Strawson’s concept of person. In Sanskrit terms, one might want to go back to the dialogue with Abhinavagupta (who gets the idea of aham, I believe, from Mīmāṃsā), but Arindam also adds further remarks on the usage of the first-person pronoun (chapter 10). This, in turn, leads to the problem of solipsism and the existence of other knowing subjects (chapter 11). The connection with Abhinavagupta also enables Arindam to discuss a topic which is very much discussed in the Pratyabhijñā school, namely how can one know a subject qua subject? Does not one transform it into an object, thus violating its nature, as soon as one approaches it (chapter 12)?

In fact, chapter 11 (a refutation of solipsism entitled “The Self at Other Times and in Other Bodies”) is connected with both the establishment of a first-person-like subject (the topic of chapter 10) and with the inaccessibility of subjects to objectification (dealt with in chapter 12). If we can know other subjects qua subjects, we can at the same time establish the existence of other subjects and the possibility of their non-objectification. Arindam does not mention it, but I can’t avoid thinking of Buber’s “I and Thou” for its emphasis on two modalities of knowledge (an objectifying one, which knows others as things, and a relation one, through which subjects enter in a dialogue).
Chapter 12 also discusses anuvyavasāya, the second cognition occurring after a first cognition during which one becomes aware of having had that first cognition. If we know our cognitions only through anuvyavasāya, then we are not only objectifying other subjects while knowing them, but even ourselves. In fact, we can’t know even ourselves qua subjects. By contrast, if Prabhākara is right and each cognitive act includes an awareness of the object, the subject and the cognition, we can know ourselves from within.

Chapter 13 discusses the elusive inner sense faculty (manas) and its domain. Manas is generally invoked to explain one’s perception of inner qualia, such as pleasure and pain and to justify the phenomenon of attention (and lack of thereof) and the impossibility of simultaneous perceptions.
Further, chapter 14 also discusses how manas works as the sense faculty for the successive awareness of a just occurred awareness event. In this case, the contact (sannikarṣa) at stake occurs not directly between manas and the object of the preceding awareness event, but rather via the awareness event itself. It is through this mānasapratyakṣa (my label, Arindam does not use it), that we can move from the perception of an apple to the awareness of “I have seen an apple”.
Moreover, Arindam also mentions manas’ role in the context of language-based knowledge: “In Navya Nyāya semantics, the resulting understanding of meaning is not classified as knowledge by testimony (śabdabodha) or information gathered from words, but as make-believe awareness generated by the manas (āhāryamanasa bodha), which can creatively put together a cow and chairing [found together in a non-sensical poem]” (p. 152). The āhārya (‘artificial’) suggests that manas can also play an active role, and in fact Arindam points out to this possibility while discussing the Yuktidīpikā stance about it. Can this work also in Nyāya? This artificial language-based understanding seems to suggest that manas can concoct a non-committal understanding. Along this line, is manas also able to lead to synaesthetic judgements (“I like this music more than I enjoyed the smell of the jasmine flowers”)? I would be inclined to say that it cannot (since it is a sense faculty, it cannot be responsible for judgements), but any synaesthetic judgement by the buddhi presupposes the manas as being able to run from one sense experience to the next so as to make the buddhi able to formulate a comparative judgement. Let me also follow Arindam’s lead and add an “Unscientific post-script”: Can manas also be responsible for proprio-perception (perception of one’s own body and its position in space as standing, sitting etc.)? Of inner sensations such as hunger? Or are they awareness events and as such cognised like any other awareness event?

Chapter 14 discusses epistemology and intrinsicism (svataḥprāmāṇy) and extrinsicism (parataḥprāmāṇya) in connection with some theories in Analytic epistemology, primarily internalism vs externalism, and then also fallibilism and reflexivism. I discussed aspects of this topic elsewhere (in a nutshell: I think that intrinsic validity disjoins elements that are generally found conjoined in internalism, namely access to cognitions and no external reasons needed). I am also not completely convinced of the connection between infallibilism and intrinsicism. On p. 160, Arindam writes: “If intrinsicism is correct, then once a true cognition is registered, it would be impossible to entertain a doubt about whether it is knowledge or error. But in certain circumstances, when for the first time cognition about an unfamiliar object occurs, it is often made the subject of subsequent doubt”. The last step evokes Gaṅgeśa’s distinction between familiar and unfamiliar circumstances and doubt being the default response only in the latter case. Gaṅgeśa’s was a good step forward if compared to the previous position considering doubt the default attitude in all cases (so that we would not be able to prepare a coffee with our usual coffee machine in the morning before having verified that it is really a coffee machine, that the tin really contains coffee, that the liquid coming from the tap is really water etc. etc.).
Still, I don’t think that the one described by Arindam is a counter-argument against intrinsicism. A svataḥprāmāṇyavādin would say that even in the case of an unfamiliar object, we initially cognise it as X, even if immediately thereafter we might switch on the light, correct ourselves and realise it was not an X but a Y. Overturning the previous cognition is not excluded by svataḥprāmāṇya (in fact, it is its very foundation!), that rather attacks the idea that doubt is our first response to familiar (or unfamiliar) circumstances.

A last word on methodology and the need of Global Philosophy, by Arindam himself: “Within the insular power-enclaves of philosophy, even a mention of non-Western theories […] is punished by polite exclusion. Well-preserved ignorance about other cultures and mono-cultural hubris define the mainstream of professional philosophy in Euro-America. In many cases, the discovery of exciting connections, sharp oppositions, or imaginable parallelisms is greeted with condescension or cold neglect” (p. 145).

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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