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  • Yet Another Attempt to Salvage Pristine Perceptions!
  • Monima Chadha

In a recent debate in this journal, Arindam Chakrabarti (2004) astutely identifies a new problem space that has opened up in the debate on nirvikalpaka perceptions. He indicates that the problem space is a grid arising out of the possible answers to three distinct but interrelated controversies. In this comment I primarily concern myself with the first two of these controversies. It is to be expected that the discussion will have some bearing on the third issue, but I will not have much to say about that directly. I begin by listing the first two controversies, in Chakrabarti's terms:

  1. 1. Do all our perceptions involve the use of concepts, or recognitions of general features, or do some perceptions involve purely concept-free content?

  2. 2. Are our perceptions necessarily or possibly self-aware or are there awarenesses that the subject of the awareness is necessarily unaware of?

A little familiarity with the influential view about the Nyāya notion of nirvikalpaka pratyak???E63;a makes it seem that it falls squarely within the second disjunct in each of the questions, namely that it is a purely concept-free perception and that the subject is necessarily unaware of it. This conjunction smells of incoherence, and this is a theme that Chakrabarti has pursued much in his work. Before we discuss his arguments in detail, I wish to note some points about the very formulation of the controversies.

Regarding the first, the way the disjuncts are presented reveals that Chakrabarti endorses a tight relation between concepts and recognitional abilities involving general features. I think it is right to say that a subject who possesses the concept F has reliable (though fallible) recognitional abilities to identify F's. However, I do not think that the converse is necessarily true. That is to say, a subject who has reliable (though fallible) recognitional abilities to identify F's possesses the concept F. Animals are a case in point: everyone agrees that pet dogs have the capacity to recognize their masters—they may even have the capacity for recognizing masters of other dogs that they play with—but at the very least it is controversial whether the dog has the concept of master. Once we admit that having recognitional capacities with respect to a certain general feature does not automatically result in the possession of the concept of the corresponding universal, then we can allow that some concept-free perceptions may involve the recognition of general features.

Regarding the second, we can say that the subject is necessarily unaware of indeterminate perceptions only if we qualify this by saying that the subject is unaware of the indeterminate perception at the moment it arises. By force of the Nyāya argument, I will show that the subject can be made aware at a later time that an indeterminate [End Page 333] perception must have occurred at an earlier time. So, in effect, this comment questions the influential view with respect to nirvikalpaka pratyak???E63;a, according to which it is a purely concept-free perception that the subject is necessarily unaware of. I argue that indeterminate perceptions involve dispositional recognitional capacities and that the subject can be made aware of such perceptions at a later time by force of an inference; therefore they are not such that the subject is necessarily unaware of them. Some may object that in using this strategy to make indeterminate perceptions intelligible I may succeed in making some notion of indeterminate perceptions intelligible but have deviated so far away from the Nyāya notion that I certainly cannot be said to address the concerns that haunt Chakrabarti. Not so, as we shall see that most of the materials I use for arguing for this position are from Nyāya texts and other sources that are respected by Nyāya-inspired epistemologists.

In the seminal paper, Chakrabarti proposes to banish nirvikalpaka pratyak???E63;a from Nyāya epistemology, for he thinks that on the whole admitting non-conceptual perceptions is likely to cause more harm rather than benefit the coherence and plausibility of their overall epistemological position (Chakrabarti 2000). In another recent article Chakrabarti...