Thoughts on Realisms Interlinked by Arindam Chakrabarti/4

This post is part of a series discussing Arindam Chakrabarti’s Realisms Interlinked. The previous posts are available here, here and here.

The last chapter (chapter 16) of the second part is a discussion of the Nyāya theories for the existence of the self and it includes also discussions about the no-ownership theory (mental states don’t need to be *of someone*) and against physicalism (pp. 189–191). I especially enjoyed the discussion about the inner sense faculty (manas, already discussed in chapter 13) and its role as a connector among sense faculties. How else could we compare different sense data, given that sense faculties do not have autonomous agency and cannot communicate with each other? However, this seems to be a lot of burden placed on the shoulders of manas.  It seems straightforward to accept a sense-faculty for inner sensations, but how can one justify its extension to other functions? manas seems to grow to incorporate also what Sāṅkhya authors would have called a buddhi ‘intellect’. Can it do so and remain a sense-faculty? Can it really be responsible, e.g., for anuvyavasāya and *still* remain a sense-faculty?

Next, the third part (“Other subjects”) starts. In this third part, the book’s title (“Realisms interlinked”) increasingly looses its cogency and the book is more and more about “objects, subjects and other subjects”, including also less closely connected topics, such as the brilliant article on the ontology of shadows and Arindam’s theory of śabdapramāṇa —but Arindam waves them together nicely, e.g., by discussing how śabdapramāṇa is part of our acknowledging the existence of epistemic others, i.e., others we can learn from.

To be honest, I enjoyed the first part, but I enjoy even more this latter part, since it is more experimental and draws from more sources (whereas the first part was closer to keeping the Anglo-Analytic and Nyāya paradigms). For instance, the wonderful chapter 18, on the vocative reminded me of Martin Buber’s masterpiece, “I and Thou” and how relating to one by addressing them is different than discussing about them. The latter way to speak reifies them, the former means entering into a relation. Thus, whereas it is contradictory to say “I am now talking to God. I do not know whether They exist”, it is not meaningless to address God asking for faith, because addressing is not about existence, but about relation. 

As hinted at above, Arindam follows different philosophical inspirations in this part, starting with Abhinavagupta, whom, as discussed in a previous post, is also responsible for his moving beyond realism. We had already seen this influence at play, for instance in chapter 12, and within the third part again in chapter 17, while discussing how it is possible to know about the existence of others. The whole chapter discusses the arguments by analogy in Dharmakīrti and its critique by Strawson, which Arindam labels as “devastating”. Why so? The argument by analogy is, according to Arindam’s reading of Strawson, an induction. But how weak is an induction, if it is based on a single case? Moreover, according to Strawson, there is strictly speaking not even a single case the induction can be based on. In fact, predicates such as “happy” or “depressed” are completely different if they are experienced from within and attributed from the outside to other alleged subjects. And in which sense is a predicate a predicate if it is not predicable of others? Thus, for predicates to be predicates, they need to be applicable to more than one person, even if in one case through direct access and in the other through behaviour-observation. At this point, Abhinavagupta is ready to step in. But before getting to his solution as understood by Arindam, let me pause a little longer on why following Abhinavagupta.

Why would Arindam be ready to sacrifice direct realism and follow Abhinavagupta on this dangerous path? Because Arindam likes intelligent thinkers, but also because Abhinava allows for a rich conception of the ātman, which is dynamically evolving (against the permanent self of Nyāya and Vedānta), and can therefore be an agent and a knower of intentional contents (the Sāṅkhya and Advaita Vedānta subject could be aware, but of no contents, the Nyāya subject had knowledge as an additional quality). 

Thus, while holding Abhinavagupta’s hand, Arindam ends up coming out of the plains of naïve realism and ends up in transcendental idealism or panpsychism. And here comes the solution for the problem of the existence of other subjects. In Arindam’s words:

“Post-Cartesian Western thought finds the problem of the Other Mind challenging and the very presence of the Other existentially constraining and self-annihilating. Abhinavagupta, on the other hand, finds the You to be a foundational middle-reality between the pure Self and the apparent non-Self, in contrast and continuity with which the Self discovers its own playful knower-hood” (p. 202).

Next come chapters 19 and 20, which discuss the epistemology of testimony. Arindam is here preaching to the convert when it comes to me, but let me repeat that unless we accept testimony, we have no way to ensure knowledge of basic facts, like our name and date of birth. Arindam also convincingly shows that testimony cannot be reduced to inference (pp. 217–8). Can the Nyāya theory of śabdapramāṇa, which is based on descriptive language, work also in the case of prescriptive language. As a Mīmāṃsaka, I am biased against it, but also Arindam’s reconstruction seems to allow for some doubts (“You are a person who is qualified by the agency to do X” does not seem tantamount to “do X!” —the prescriptive character appears to be just missing).

A last word on chapter 21, which is one of the best pieces of writing by Arindam in general and which allows me to go back to a point I discussed in the second post of this series, namely Arindam’s way of doing philosophy through a dialogue with other authors. In chapter 21 Arindam mentions a sentence by Wittgenstein. The interesting point is that the sentence looks trivially true. It says: “In paintings darkness *can* also be depicted as black”. No source is given, and I don’t know Wittgenstein good enough to be able to identify and reproduce the original German and check whether there is any additional shade of meaning, but as it stands, the sentence looks banal. However, Arindam is able to go deeper and disagree with the ontological theory about shade it presupposes. The key point that became clear to me only at this point is that Arindam is a great philosopher because (or also because) he is a great interpreter. He is able to let sentences by Nyāya philosophers (or by Leonardo, Turner or Goethe) disquiet him, and then keeps on thinking about them until he can identify what they implicitly presuppose, spell it out, and continue thinking philosophically about them until he can elaborate a theory that answers all the objections he has contemplated and taken seriously.

About elisa freschi

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

4 Replies to “Thoughts on Realisms Interlinked by Arindam Chakrabarti/4”

  1. The sentence “In paintings darkness *can* also be depicted as black” is from Wittgenstein’s *Remarks On Colour* (Anscombe’s English translation p.37). I don’t presently have access to the original German version.

  2. The original German for that sentence from Wittgenstein is “Im Gemälde kann das Dunkel auch durch Schwarz dargetellt werden”.

    • Herzlichen Dank! That was super kind of you. The context says what Arindam also states, namely that light is not = paleness and that shadow is not = dark colour. One can light a dark blue and this will not become pale blue and so on. That sentence concedes that, nonetheless, darkness can be represented by black colour in painted representations. It still seems to me that Arindam makes more out of it than LW himself. What do you think?

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