- Reviewed by
The greatest strength of Pradeep P. Gokhale's Lokāyata/Cārvāka: A Philosophical Inquiry is its much-needed enrichment of the vocabulary for the study of the Indian Lokāyata/Cārvāka school. For too long this school has been studied in the rather limited terms of its opponents in texts such as Mādhava's Sarvadarśanasaṃgraha, which identify a single Cārvāka position advocating extreme empiricism in epistemology, materialism in metaphysics, and hedonism and irreligiousness in ethics. Gokhale establishes frameworks for understanding the diversity of epistemological, metaphysical, and axiological positions of Cārvāka philosophers that ought to be considered by anyone writing on the school in the future.
Chapter 1 introduces Gokhale's pluralist approach to understanding Cārvāka. Concerning the various names for this school—Lokāyata, Cārvāka, and Bārhaspatya—Gokhale suggests that while these names have separate histories, they all designate "a family of systems or a family of philosophical trends" (p. 19). While recognizing this diversity, Gokhale follows the practice of most scholars in tending to use "Cārvāka" inclusively to refer to this family, which will also be my practice in this review. Gokhale criticizes what he calls a singularist approach to Cārvāka in the works of scholars such as Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya and Ramkrishna Bhattacarya, who conceive of Cārvāka as a single school with a more-or-less unified set of positions. In opposition, Gokhale supports a pluralist approach according to which "Cārvāka" is to be understood as a family-resemblance term that refers to Indian philosophers with irreligious intentions. Other scholars such as D. R. Shastri and Eli Franco have supported pluralist approaches, but Gokhale's book offers a more fine-tuned and sophisticated version of pluralism. Part of the reason for this is that, while Gokhale [End Page 645] is well versed in the available historical evidence, he considers his inquiry to be more philosophical than historical (pp. 21–22), which allows him to set out philosophically plausible positions that may not always be directly apparent in the primary texts.
Chapters 2, 3, and 4 cover Cārvāka epistemology, highlighting skepticism, extreme empiricism, and mitigated empiricism, respectively. Chapter 2 focuses on Jayarāśi (ca. 770–830 c.e.). While singularists tend to claim that Jayarāśi cannot be a member of the Cārvāka school on account of his rejection of materialist principles and perception as a means of knowledge, Gokhale's pluralist model includes Jayarāśi as the primary example of a skeptical branch of the Cārvākas. Jayarāśi can be called a Cārvāka, argues Gokhale, due to his negative doctrines (i.e., critiques of religious philosophy) and acceptance of worldly practices in everyday matters. Gokhale reads Jayarāśi as an epistemological skeptic who denies all means of knowledge (pramāṇas), and offers an interesting treatment of Jayarāśi's response to the "paradox of skepticism" (i.e., the charge that skepticism is inconsistent or self-refuting) by comparing Jayarāśi's response with those of other skeptics like Nāgārjuna and Śrī Harṣa (pp. 37–45).
Chapter 3 concerns extreme empiricism, which is the view that "perception is the only means of knowledge and inference is not a means to knowledge at all" (p. 49). This is the view typically assigned to the Cārvākas. Gokhale counters what he sees as misunderstandings of this view. Extreme empiricist Cārvākas do not mean to deny reasoning in general or even that inference (anumāna) can sometimes yield knowledge; their argument is that inference cannot be considered to be a proper means of knowledge because it does not necessarily yield knowledge. They support this view with a dilemma of inference (where it is argued that the object of inference cannot be a particular, a universal, or a particular characterized by a universal) and with critiques of the possibility...