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  • Foundations of Dharmakīrti's Philosophy
  • James Duerlinger
Foundations of Dharmakīrti's Philosophy. By John D. Dunne. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2004. Pp. xvii + 467. $39.95.

Foundations of Dharmakīrti's Philosophy, a substantial revision of John Dunne's doctoral dissertation, is a well-documented and clearly argued book. It satisfies a longstanding need for students to have recourse to a single comprehensive analytical and history-based account of the basic ideas of the South Asian Buddhist philosopher Dharmakīrti (seventh century C.E.), since it is devoted to explaining them in analytical terms with the help of a critical use of its earliest South Asian commentators, Devendrabuddhi (ca. 675 C.E.) and Ś ākyabuddhi (ca. 700 C.E.). The main body of the book contains four basic chapters, to which an introduction and conclusion are added, along with an appendix of translations. There is a bibliography of the primary sources consulted and secondary sources cited, as well as an excellent index. Since it is impossible, in the brief space of this review, to discuss the details of Dunne's exposition and argument, I will summarize most of the main topics he discusses so that readers relatively new to the subject may appreciate the breadth and depth of this introduction to Dharmakīrti's philosophy.

In the introduction (pp. 1–13) Dunne tells us that the aims of the book are to explain "the content and style of Dharmakīrti's reasoning" and to help develop a scholarly consensus on the interpretation of Dharmakīrti's philosophy by setting out and attempting to resolve the most basic questions about its ontology, logic, and epistemology. The first aim is satisfied in the main body of the book while the second is satisfied not only there but also in its 665 footnotes, many of which are quite lengthy. The first chapter provides a contextual overview of Dharmakīrti's philosophy; the second, third, and fourth chapters include carefully constructed resolutions of the most difficult issues that scholars have raised about it; and the appendix of translations includes translations of texts whose meanings are discussed in the book.

Dunne tells us that the difficulty of explaining Dharmakīrti's philosophy is due not only to its elements being so tightly intertwined that an account of each part presupposes a familiarity with others, but also to the many different ways it can be, and has been, interpreted. It is in an attempt to avoid at least some of these difficulties that he bases his account (1) on Dharmakīrti's Pramāṇavārttikka and on his Svavṛtti, which is an extensive autocommentary on the first chapter of the Pramāṇavārttikka, and (2) on a critical use of the commentaries on the Pramāṇavārttikka by Devendrabuddhi and Śākyabuddhi. He also makes judicious use of contemporary studies of different aspects of Dharmakīrti's philosophy by scholars such as Ernst Steinkellner, [End Page 608] Tom Tillemanns, Richard Dreyfus, Eli Franco, Shō ryū Katsura, Masatoshi Nagatomi, Karl Potter, and Richard Hays. Conspicuously absent, however, are references to contemporary native Indian scholarship.

For the sake of readers new to the subject, Dunne has placed introductory material in the first chapter, "Pramāṇa Theory: Dharmakīrti's Conceptual Context" (pp. 15–52). This chapter enables readers to understand Dharmakīrti's dual role as a Buddhist philosopher who presents a critique of realist theories of wholes of spatial and temporal parts, universals, and relations, and as a "Pramāṇa Theorist" who attempts to explain, without this antirealist framework, how perception and inference are trustworthy instruments of knowledge. It is in this chapter that the main differences and similarities between Dharmakīrti's theory of the instruments of knowledge and those of the Naiyāyika Uddyotakara, the Vaiśeṣika Praśastapāda, and the Mimāṃsaka Kumārila are discussed.

In the next chapter, "Dharmakīrti's Method and Ontology" (pp. 53–144), Dunne explains how Dharmakīrti appears to employ incompatible ontologies because he uses a sliding scale of analysis in which more accurate descriptions of what we perceive and think are meant to supersede less accurate ones. The least accurate form of...