Thursday, February 27, 2014

512: Indian epistemology and logic

When we look at the development of the mind from birth, we see that it goes through distinctive stages. The first thing you discover is that there is you and an external reality which is not you.

The second stage is that you have no clue what this outside reality is, how it works, what it does, except that you experience that is does all kinds of things.

You come to the conclusion that it all is pure magic. You move and a tree in the wind moves too. So it lives like you live….with a mind. When you are three years old, everything lives and feels, from teddybear to goblin.

There seems to be a parallel in the development of the mind of the homo sapiens. When he experienced consciousness and his relation with an external reality, he didn’t understand and concluded to what we now call animism. The world is a living thing like he himself was.

Then he invents gods and all knowledge about the gods and the world is revealed. A next step could be that these revelations are written down in a book  and so on.

But the next step is that he begins to wonder how he really can KNOW things and then epistemology is born. And it is amazing to see how philosophy thus has developed.

That is what happened in India. Some began to question these gods and revelations as the true way to obtain knowledge.

Thus epistemology became primary in the sense that it must be engaged in prior to attempting any other philosophical endevour.

There is, however, a difference.  In Western philosophy truth and falsity are usually ascribed to statements, propositions, or beliefs. In the Indian tradition truth and falsity are ascribed to a cognition or an awareness

The limits of one’s metaphysical claims are always inviolably set by the parameters established by one’s epistemology. Before one can make claims, one must establish the basis on which such claims can be proven and justified. 

The Indians went so far as to concede, that if one wishes to debate with an opponent, one must first find a common epistemological ground upon which to argue. 

Failing that, no meaningful debate can take place. Since one’s ontology, which is one’s theory about what exists, depends on what one’s epistemology makes allowable, 

many Indian schools tried to include things in their list of valid means of knowledge, that would facilitate their claims. 

Hindus, for instance, considered their Scriptures to be valid means of knowledge, but other Indians, such as Buddhists and Jains, rejected the authority of the Hindu Scriptures. 

Therefore, if a Hindu debated with a Buddhist or Jain, he or she could not appeal to the authority of Hindu Scriptures, but had to find common epistemological ground. 

In the case of Buddhism that would be perception and inference; in the case of Jainism, it would only be inference. 

All schools except Jains accepted perception as a valid means of knowledge, meaning that sensory knowledge is valid, if qualified as non-erroneous or non-hallucinatory. 

What is not presently observed but is in principle observable can be known by inference. Inference or deduction, therefor, were an important matter.

This implies that the Indian philosophers not only wondered about the question, how can I KNOW, but also, if in a debate we come to a conclusion, how do I know it is a necessary conclusion.

One text dating from the third century BCE and important to tracing the development of logic in classical India is a Buddhist work, which exhibits awareness of the fact that the form of argument is crucial to its being good.

In the Caraka-samhita, a medical text (300 - 500 BC),  is found in a passage, which defines an argument to have five parts: the proposition (pratijña ), the ground or reason (hetu ), the corroboration (drótanta ), the application (upanaya ), and the conclusion (nigamana ).

This could be an example:
Proposition    : The mind is not eternal
Ground          : because it is detectable by the senses
Corroberation: It is like a pot
Application    :  As a pot is detectable by the senses, 
                        and is non eternal, so is the mind 
                        detectable by the senses.
Conclusion    : Therefore, the mind is not eternal

It is amazing to see, how thousands of years ago the homo sapiens already tried to figure out what goes on in his mind.
And if you then realize, that we have computers now………

Main Sources:
MacMillan The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1995
From Africa to Zen, R.C. Solomon & K.M. Higgins

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