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  • An Exclusive Volume on Exclusion
  • Pradeep P. Gokhale
Apoha: Buddhist Nominalism and Human Cognition. Edited by Mark Siderits, Tom Tillemans, and Arindam Chakrabarti. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. Pp. 344. Paper $29.50, isbn 978-0-231-15361-4.

I. Introduction

Apoha theory could perhaps be understood as a part of the Buddhist program of emancipating people from the clutches of attachment. Diṅnāga and thereafter Dharmakīrti, when they developed their epistemology of perception, inference, and language, pointed out that through perception we are associated with unique particulars, which are momentary. We try to give an enduring status to them through thought and language by constructing universals. Thus, thought and language amount to false constructions, and they also mark our attachment to the world. Hence, the realization that helps in preventing such an attachment would imply that inference and language do not really ‘refer to’ or ‘associate themselves with’ what is there, at least in the way in which perception does. But even such a realization cannot be reached without inference and language. In other words, bhāvanāmayī prajñā can be achieved only through ṥrutamayī prajñā and cintāmayī prajñā. Inference and language are also important for a successful practical life. So they must ‘somehow’ be related to the actual world. Here the apoha theory tells us that they do that only in a negative way, that is, by way of exclusion of what they are not about. Hence, the theory helps in reducing attachment by explaining how thought and language are associated with the world in the most minimal way.

The essays in Apoha: Buddhist Nominalism and Human Cognition, edited by Mark Siderits, Tom Tillemans, and Arindam Chakrabarti, are not about the emancipatory role the apoha theory plays except in a very indirect way or through stray remarks like the one in Amita Chatterjee’s essay: “For soteriological considerations Dharmakīrti would leave the scheme content gap wide open—beginning with and ending in an abstraction free world” (p. 257).

An Exemplary Collaborative Work

The fourteen chapters along with the introduction focus on metaphysical and epistemological issues concerning the Buddhist theory of apoha. They deal with the theory from different standpoints — traditional and modern, Buddhist, non-Buddhist, and [End Page 605] neutral. They contain many overlapping themes with a large number of cross-references, but every chapter makes a different point and develops a different aspect in a meaningful way. Though the volume is based on a conference held on the theme at Cret Berard, Switzerland, in May 2006, it does not represent seminar proceedings in any accepted sense of the term. The volume is an ideal example of the way a seminar can mature through mutual discussions and consultations into an interactive anthology. The editors and contributors of the volume deserve congratulation on this count.

Some essays in this volume are attempts to understand the complex nature and implications of the apoha theory presented by Diṅnāga or Dharamakīrti and/or a later Buddhist philosopher. These essays are generally sympathetic to the theory but are also critical and impartial. (Those by Tom Tillemans, Ole Pind, John Dunne, Shoryu Katsura, Georges Dreyfus, and Parimal Patil can be included in this category.) A few concentrate on the criticism leveled against the apoha theory by realists like the Naiyāyikas and Mīmāṁsakas. (Those by Pascale Hugon, Masaki Hattori, and Prabal Kumar Sen are of this kind.) There are also a few that are attempts to understand and evaluate the theory in the light of some classical and contemporary models developed in the Western tradition. Thus, the apoha theory is correlated and compared with the philosophical psychology of Austen Clark (by Jonardon Ganeri), with cognitive theory (by Amita Chatterjee), or with classical or modern semantics (by Bob Hale and Brendon Gillon). Of course what I have given here is a broad and superficial classification, because the above-mentioned authors are not exclusively concerned with the specified approaches. Their approaches overlap with those of many others. A few essays are quite exhaustive in their approach. The contribution by Mark Siderits and the introduction written jointly by him and Arindam Chakrabarti fall into this category. The...