- Perceiving Particulars-as-such Is Incoherent—A Reply to Mark Siderits
I am honored by Mark Siderits' response to my article1 and thankful to him for the opportunity it affords me to clarify the arguments and develop the theses presented therein further. My discussion focuses primarily on a pair of epistemological theses drawing attention to what we can and cannot perceive.2 The negative thesis is that we cannot perceive particulars, and, indeed, the very idea of "perceiving a particular-as-such" (which represents the position of some Buddhist philosophers, specifically Yogācāra-Sautrāntikas) is incoherent. The positive thesis, which draws its inspiration from the Navya-Naiyāyikas, is that we can perceive only universal features. Siderits focuses his response on the negative thesis. He does not explicitly complain about the positive thesis, although, being an enthusiast for the Buddhist approach, he cannot help but be suspicious about it. He complains that the argument for the negative thesis is wanting, for I seem to have "misconstrued those realist intuitions that stand behind the Yogācāra-Sautrāntika." Not only that, in section 2 of his response, he claims that my argument rests on a controversial thesis that presupposes a mistaken internalism about conscious content. I will argue that the difficulties Siderits raises for my argument are based on a misinterpretation of the central claim that underlies the argument for the negative thesis. This, in turn, will help to develop further the argument for my positive thesis.
Before we turn to the arguments, I will attend to some terminological matters that Siderits draws attention to in the first section of his response. He complains that some distinctions, which are important in the context of this discussion, are conflated in my article. One of his suggestions—the distinction between particulars and individuals—is very helpful. The notion of "non-particular individuals" can be wheeled in here to clarify my theses and arguments.3 Henceforth, I will use "non-particular individuals" to refer to universal features.
Siderits also underscores the differences between Nyāya universals and Kantian concepts by emphasizing the distinct metaphysical positions held by these philosophers. I am not convinced that he has shown that Nyāya universals are essentially incompatible with Kantian concepts. But, in any event, highlighting the differences [End Page 382] distracts us from the epistemological concerns raised in my earlier paper, so I will not examine those differences here.4
Siderits rightly emphasizes the mind-independence of Nyāya universals: the thesis is indispensable to their metaphysics. Nyāya holds that some universals, namely those that pick out generic properties, are objectively real. Real universals are not mere mental constructions (figments of our imagination, as the Yogācāra-Sautrāntika puts it), or mere abstractions formed by putting together the common features of real particulars. Using the typical example of "cowness," the Naiyāyika explains that when we observe cows we not only grasp "that particular," we also grasp "cowness" as the common character manifested in distinct particular cows. For the Naiyāyikas, cowness is an example of a real universal: it presents a simple, indivisible property present in every cow and is directly grasped whenever we perceive a particular cow. Real universals are simple unanalyzable properties that exist "out there" and are cognized in perception. They are not complex ideas put together by the mind, and so in this sense they are mind-independent.
However, to say that universals are mind-independent does not amount to saying that the mind cannot be implicated in their perception. Siderits' sympathies lie with the Buddhists, and, like them, he holds that since perception is our link with mind-independent reality, the perceptual link must be independent of any intervention by the mind. Nyāya universals are not "mind-independent" in this latter sense. The Naiyāyikas hold that the perception of universals requires abstraction in singling out one feature or property from the given. Furthermore, they would agree that a subject's perceptual grasp of universals is revealed in acquiring dispositional abilities to recognize other instances exemplifying the same property. The Naiyāyikas would readily admit a mental component for the perception...