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  • There's Nothing Wrong with Raw Perception:A Response to Chakrabarti's Attack on Nyāya's Nirvikalpaka Pratyakṣa
  • Stephen H. Phillips

In the lead article of the fiftieth anniversary issue of Philosophy East and West (January 2000), Arindam Chakrabarti elaborates seven reasons why Nyāya should jettison "indeterminate perception" and view all perception as determinate, that is to say, as having an entity (a) as qualified by a qualifier (F) as object (Fa). In his notes, Chakrabarti invites a reply "so that," as he says, "I may know why immaculate perception is needed by Nyāya after all." The following is a response that shows not so much why indeterminate perception is needed by Nyāya but why it is identified as a causal factor necessary to the arising of some (not all) determinate perception defined as "perception of an entity as qualified." Here I follow Gaṅgeśa Upādhyāya, the fourteenth-century founder (with the help of a few less well known predecessors and contemporaries) of "New Logic," Navya Nyāya. Gaṅgeśa devotes an entire section (about one eighteenth) of the perception chapter of his monumental Tattvacintāmaṇi (Jewel of Reflection about Epistemology) to nirvikalpaka pratyaksṣa,1 and he is a chief target of Chakrabarti's chastisement.2

Now, first of all, I want to follow Gaṅgeśa's ground rules. The Naiyāyika is not concerned with strategies about how to look good in debates (with Buddhists or anyone else). His attitude is truth-seeking, not eristic, and thus no reply will be given to Chakrabarti's agonizing about how best to show ourselves in controversies with (in particular, Buddhist) adversaries (and Wilfrid Sellars). Gaṅgeśa's reflections are vāda—and the section is rightly titled nirvikalpaka-vāda, vāda being "inquiries among friends"—directed to uncovering real causal factors, not to winning a debate or countering sophisms. Deception, or counter-deception, is sometimes appropriate—for instance, to protect a student or other judge from fallacies advanced by people of bad character. But not here. So I will lay out Gaṅgeśa's argument for identifying nirvikalpaka pratyaksṣa, and then run through Chakrabarti's list of reasons for rejecting it with an eye to the objection's salience to Gaṅgeśa's project. In other words, Chakrabarti's objections will be taken up with an eye to the truth as it appears to a Naiyāyika, not with an eye to how our team should best present itself to outsiders. I have little to say about Chakrabarti's complaints about appearances—in fact, I find them delightful. Don't let him fool you. There's no greater Naiyāyika enthusiast than Chakrabarti himself, and he knows how to distill a controversy to show the wisdom [End Page 104] of Nyāya in contrast to revealing a deficiency, as he appears to be doing here. He does this to make us think broadly about Nyāya in a contemporary context. And at the end I join him in making some very general comments about Nyāya's realism. First, Gaṅgeśa's argument and a rebuttal of Chakrabarti's seven reasons from Gaṅgeśa's point of view.

There is no direct, apperceptive evidence for nirvikalpaka pratyaksṣa; rather, it is posited by force of the following inference as the first step of a two-step argument. "The perceptual cognition, 'A cow' (for example), is generated by a cognition of the qualifier, since it is a cognition of an entity as qualified (by that qualifier appearing), like an inference." The second step takes a person's first perception of an individual (Bessie, let us say) as a cow (i.e., as having some such property) as the perceptual cognition figuring as the inference's subject (or pakṣa) such that the cognizer's memory not informed by previous cow experience could not possibly provide the qualifier, cowhood. The qualifier has to be available, and the best candidate seems to be its perception in the raw, a qualifier (cowhood), that is to say, not (as some are wont to misinterpret the point...