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Pramāṇa Are Factive—: A Response to Jonardon Ganeri

From: Philosophy East and West
Volume 60, Number 4, October 2010
pp. 535-540 | 10.1353/pew.2010.0005

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Recently, Jonardan Ganeri reviewed the collaborative translation of the first chapter of Gaṅgeśa's Tattvacintāmaṇi by Stephen H. Phillips and N. S. Ramanuja Tatacharya (Ganeri 2007). The review is quite favorable, and we have no desire to dispute his kind words. Ganeri does, however, put forth an argument in opposition to a fundamental line of interpretation given by Phillips and Ramanuja Tatacharya about the nature of pramāṇa, knowledge sources, as understood by Gaṅgeśa and, for that matter, Nyāya tradition. This response is meant to answer the argument and reassert an understanding of pramāṇa as factive, that is, as knowledge sources that are inerrant. We argue that this is the best reading of Gaṅgeśa himself and of Nyāya tradition, and is defensible on purely philosophical grounds.

Ganeri summarizes Gaṅgeśa's approach to epistemology as understood by Phillips and Ramanuja Tatacharya under a few headings. Gaṅgeśa is a naturalist; that is, he seeks to understand pramāṇa as "natural processes, part of the universe's causal web" (Phillips and Ramanuja Tatacharya 2004, p. 7; cited in Ganeri 2007, p. 350). He is furthermore a fallibilist about cognition. Cognitions may be true or false, veridical or non-veridical, and a cognition that an individual initially acts on as though veridical may be shown to be non-veridical later. Finally, Gaṅgeśa is an infallibilist about pramāṇa: "no cognition that is produced by one of the attested sources of knowledge can be false" (Ganeri 2007, p. 350). This last notion troubles our critic. Ganeri asks "is the infallibilism on offer compatible with naturalism?" His answer is no:

Such a picture of the sources of knowledge seems to be at variance with a naturalist account, in which they are "natural processes" and "part of the universe's causal web." As natural organisms, we are certainly equipped with mechanisms and processes that put us in cognitive contact with the world we inhabit, processes which serve pretty well in a variety of circumstances, but are by no means infallible.

(p. 351)

Philosophers who search for infallible sources of knowledge are led away from ordinary perception, inference and language" and instead towards "the natural light of reason" or "clear and distinct ideas" or "authorless Vedic revelation."

(p. 351)

If there are infallible natural causal processes that generate only true awarenesses, and if these processes can be typed in any significant way and so made subject to causal laws and generalizations, then they must be very different in character from ordinary perception, inference, and language. I doubt that there are any naturally infallible causal cognitive processes; but even if there are, they will not be discovered by the philosophical methods Gaṅgeśa employs in his work, nor will they have anything much to do with the sources of human knowledge he describes.

(p. 353)

Claiming that there is incoherence in trying to understand pramāṇa according to their operation within the natural world along with thinking of them as factive, Ganeri insists that one or the other must be jettisoned: either the naturalism or the infallibilism must go. His preference is clear: get rid of the factivity requirement and keep the naturalism. He suggests further that classical Naiyāyikas take this route, mentioning the Navya-Nyāya search for excellences (guṇa) and faults (doṣa) that impact cognition-forming processes as well as a putative distinguishing on the part of some Naiyāyikas, between correct and incorrect pramāṇa (guṇa-ja and doṣa-ja pramāṇa).

Ganeri also appeals to the work of other scholars such as Sibajiban Bhattacharyya and Sukharanjan Saha. The latter is quoted: "We are of the opinion that pramāṇais to be understood here as only a truth-conducive and not as a truth-ensuring factor" (Saha 2003, p. 61; cited in Ganeri 2007, p. 352). Ganeri implies that Gaṅgeśa himself does not provide enough information to determine whether or not he embraces the factivity thesis, that is, that any genuine pramāṇa must produce cognitions that are true. Therefore, the brunt of Ganeri's case is his sense of...

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