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Reviewed by:
  • Classical Indian Philosophy
  • Vasanthi Srinivasan
Classical Indian Philosophy. By J. N. Mohanty. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2000. Pp. ix + 181.

Classical Indian Philosophy by J. N. Mohanty examines Indian epistemology and metaphysics from the Sūtra period through the seventeenth-century Navya-Nyāya in a lucid and rigorous manner. On every page, Mohanty's masterly and sophisticated grasp of both Indian thought and Western philosophy shines forth. In a welcome departure from the usual treatment of individual schools, the book is thematically organized around theories of knowledge, categories, causality, self, state, and religion.

After a historical overview, chapter 2 deals exhaustively with Indian theories of knowledge (pramāṇa śāstra). Starting with the notions of cit or consciousness and jñāna or cognition, Indian thinkers debated (1) the ontological nature of consciousness, (2) whether cognition is itself cognized, (3) whether cit is intentional, and finally (4) whether cognition has its own form or is formless. Regarding (1), Nyāya-Vaiśeṣikas claimed that consciousness is a quality of the self that arises when a sense organ is in contact with its proper object, the mind is in contact with the sense organ, and the self is in contact with the mind. Sāṃkhya and Vedānta thinkers held that consciousness is ever-present and is identical with the self. Vijñānavādin Buddhists agreed that consciousness is identical with the self even while construing the self as an aggregate of cognitive events rather than an enduring entity. These schools regarded cognitions as self-shining while Nyāya thinkers argued that a primary cognition (C1) is known only through another cognition (C2). Besides the problem of infinite regress, the author points out that the desire to know C1 can only arise if there is a pre-reflective awareness of its cognitive status.

The rest of the chapter deals with different sources of cognition (pramāṇas) such as perception (pratyakṣa), inference (anumāna), sound/utterance (śabda), comparison (upamāna), non-perception (anupalabdhi), and postulation (arthāpatti). All schools accepted perception as true cognition although they differed on the nature and types of perception. For most Buddhists, perception was preconceptual while for Jainas and the grammarians it was conceptual. The Vedāntins distinguished between indeterminate and determinate perception, and Naiyāyikas between outer and inner perception as also ordinary and extraordinary perception. Inference, accepted by all but the materialists, gave rise to logical theories on rules of evidence and the structure of a good argument. Gautama's Nyāyasūtra and Dignāga's hetucakra are indispensable guides here. Discussing the Naiyāyika psychological account of inference, Mohanty notes its correspondence to the logical sequence, and claims: "the logical structure represents not how we ought to infer, but how, as a matter of fact, we do infer" (p. 23). Regarding verbal testimony or sound, debates revolved around [End Page 282] theories of meaning. On word meaning, the Mīmāṃsakas held that words designate universals while the Naiyāyikas held that they designate particulars qualified by universals. A related issue was whether words are dependent on or independent of sentence meaning. Sentence meaning was attributed by some to stated facts and by others to action imperatives. Common usage was seen as the most important route to knowing word or sentence meanings.

Finally, the author takes up theories of false cognition that focus mainly on perceptual errors. Summarizing the materialist, idealist, and realist approaches to the snake-rope example, Mohanty suggests three criteria that have to be accounted for by theories of error: first, the nonveridical and veridical perceptions of a snake are exactly similar to begin with; second, there is the fact of correction of illusion, with which the nonveridical perception is first recognized to be nonveridical; and, finally, the theory must include a reflective interpretation of the entire experience as it arises, unfolds, and is rejected but is still recalled and marveled at (p. 33). While most theories of error are unsatisfactory because they either dismiss the object of nonveridical perception (the snake) as nonexistent or as a memory image, Advaita Vedānta alone takes seriously the fact that the snake is perceptually presented; instead of...


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