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  • How to Do Things with Candrakiīrti:A Comparative Study in Anti-Skepticism
  • Dan Arnold

If we had anything at all you could call certainty, then it would have to be based on a reliable warrant, or not based on a reliable warrant. But we don't! How so? If there were the possibility of doubt with respect to this, there could be a certainty opposed to it and dependent upon it. But when we don't have any doubt in the first place, then how could there be a certainty that is or is not opposed to it? Since there's no relation to another term, it would be like [demanding reliable warrants for showing] the length of a donkey's horn. And when, in this way, there's no certainty, then we will imagine reliable warrants for the sake of proving what?1

In this way, the Indian Buddhist philosopher Candrakīrti (fl. ca. 650 C.E.) begins a very interesting critique of another Buddhist philosophical project, one that could plausibly be characterized (with due qualification and circumspection) as founda-tionalist. Specifically, Candrakīrti's statement here initiates his response to an imagined interlocutor whose position seems very much like that of Dignaīga (fl. ca. 500 C.E.), the progenitor of an Indian Buddhist philosophical tradition that Western sczholars have sometimes simply dubbed that of the "Buddhist Epistemologists."2 Candrakīrti deploys this imagined interlocutor to challenge him to show how and why he is justified in his claims regarding the ultimately "empty" character of phenomena. That is, the Buddhist Epistemologist, as an important player in the then burgeoning Indian debate on prāmānya ("epistemic reliability"), wants to know what pramānas—what valid cognitive instruments, what reliable warrants—provide the epistemological foundations for Candrakīrti's position. As is suggested by this beginning to Candrakīrti's long and complex response to this challenge, Candrakīrti goes on to argue that if the questions and the phenomena under consideration are properly understood, then the epistemologist's question ought not even to arise. Indeed, Candrakīrti will argue that the epistemologist's imagined requirements are themselves evidence of what is precisely the problem to be overcome. In particular, Candrakīrti will argue that the Buddhist Epistemologist's demand for reliable warrants is a nonstarter, since the doubt that he thinks must be met cannot even arise in the first place if meaningful discourse is to be possible.

I would like to suggest that Candrakīrti's argument here has some striking affinities with some of the characteristic arguments of J. L. Austin. Given Candrakīrti's frequent appeal to what could reasonably be translated as "ordinary language,"3 this is not surprising, and affinities with Austin have, no doubt, been remarked on before. But in the present essay I would like to attend in particular to one section of Candrakīrti's response, and to suggest that here the affinities with Austin are particularly with the arguments developed in Austin's Sense and Sensibilia. The latter, it [End Page 247] seems fair to say, is one of the more seldom-studied and less influential of Austin's works. This is, perhaps, not surprising, given that its concern with epistemological questions may make this work seem irrelevant to the kind of "speech act" theory that is thought by many to be Austin's chief contribution.

The neglect of Austin's epistemological writings is, however, regrettable—and not least because, as I hope to show, Sense and Sensibilia in fact relates quite closely to the works that might be thought to be more characteristic of Austin's larger project. Indeed, it seems to me that Austin's Sense and Sensibilia develops a position with respect to epistemology that relates quite naturally to what might be compartmentalized as his "philosophy of speech acts." Moreover, the converse seems to me also to apply; that is, it seems to me that the linguistic problem that Austin diagnoses (and treats) at greater length in the more well known How to Do Things with Words logically relates to an internalist, foundationalist epistemology precisely such as Austin rejects in Sense and Sensibilia (specifically, that...


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