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  • Perceiving Particulars Blindly:Remarks on a Nyāya-Buddhist Controversy
  • Stephen H. Phillips


The discussion by Mark Siderits in this issue—"Perceiving Particulars"—and two pieces by Monima Chadha—the first her article "Perceptual Cognition: A Nyāya-Kantian Approach" (Chadha 2001) and the second her reply to Siderits in this issue—have taught me much.1 I have little to add beyond agreeing on the whole with Siderits and making a few tweaks concerning Nyāya. Chadha astutely captures the insight of Gaṅgeśa, the fourteenth-century Naiyāyika cited by her (and by Siderits): indeterminate perception does not have a "particular as such" as its object (viṣaya), but only, as she says, a non-particular individual such as a universal or another qualifier that is in principle recurrent (recurrent out in the world), perceivable [End Page 389] again, and thus expressible by a (repeatable) word. Nevertheless, the holism of Wilfred Sellars and Kant and the attack on the "given" are not in the spirit of the Nyāya approach to epistemology, which is thoroughly externalist, as Siderits suggests. In several places (one presented below), Gaṅgeśa shows us controversy within Nyāya about indeterminate perception, including a rival Naiyāyika opinion that bare particulars are indeterminately grasped. This is not his own view, which is that positing indeterminate perception of qualifiers and not also of qualificanda is all that we need. But all in all the issue is not such a big deal, since perception does generate determinate knowledge of particulars, although these are always at least barely clothed.

The notion of a "bare particular"—that is, the qualificandum thought about as distinct from all of its qualifiers—is an abstraction from what we directly perceive. We know it only by inference (specifically, by an inference of the sāmānyato dṘṣṭa type). Indeterminate perception is also known only by inference. Even in Navya Nyāya, the big deal is what is known determinately in perception, which is the principal way we know anything (the jyeṣṭa pramāṇa). And, clearly, determinate perceptual awareness is often of a particular—"The pot is blue" and "That's a pot," for instance. The particular known—indeed, the bare particular—is an intrinsic part of the viṣayatā, "intentionality," which is the relation between the knowing cognition and the world known.2

Contrary to what Chadha says in her first article, "seeing as" does not require mental construction, according to Nyāya. The property bearer (dharmin = viśeṣya, "qualificandum") is grasped by the sense organ and is known directly in determinate perception as well as the qualifier and the qualificative relation. In two subtypes of perceptual awareness, (a) recurrent experience and (b) the recognition of something perceived previously, Chadha is right: the mind is operative, responsive to the firing of saṃskāra, "memory impressions," and fusing previous perceptual data into a current perceiving: (a) "A cow," "Another," "Another," and (b) "This is that Devadatta (I saw yesterday)." But hardly all cases of determinate perception require the mind (in Chadha's sense). The object known is minimally a complex of a property bearer (the particular as such), property, and an ontological relation tying them up, a-inherence-pothood (where "a" designates the pot as bare particular, "the subject of qualification"); the determinate perception, "That's a pot," makes that particular as qualified known.

So, you say, I am agreeing with Chadha, whose argument is directed against the particular as such being known (either determinately or indeterminately) in perception. Yes, but the point is that the particular is known in perception; the particular-as-such is known in perception, although it would be fantasy to think it even possible that we could ever see her, this property bearer, well, not so much bare as disembodied. A rough analogy is seeing a door. We say we "see the door" when we see only one side of it, not the back. We see the thing as a door without grasping everything about the door that its being a door entails.

Indeterminate perception of qualifiers is a controversial posit that does various work for Gaṅgeśa and other...


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