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Friday, January 8, 2010

Conceptual/non-conceptual perception

The disagreement about conceptual/non-conceptual perception is one of the main topics of dispute in classical Indian philosophy and, accordingly, in two of its protagonists, Kumārila Bhaṭṭa and Dharmakīrti.
The latter claims that only the very first moment of perception is of real perceptual nature. Any further elaboration of it is already conceptual and, hence, non perceptual. Kumārila's definition of perception, instead, is broad enough to accommodate also its conceptual moment. This means that, according to Dharmakīrti's account only the first, indistinct impression of "a brown mass" is perceptual, whereas Kumārila would say that we have perceived a chair.
This does not amount to say that Dharmakīrti negates the existence and importance of conceptual elaborations of perceptual data. In fact, our whole worldly existence depends on them and their distinct presence was acknowledged also in the Pāli Canon (see Del Toso's blog). What Dharmakīrti disagrees about is their perceptual nature.
Does the dispute, therefore, boil down to a merely terminological problem? Not really, since to be perceptual means, in Dharmakīrti's epistemology, to be infallible. Hence, to deny perceptual status means also to deny validity to the idea of a "chair" and of any other (conventional, would Dharmakīrti say) object.


krishna said...

Your notes on Kimārila’s interpretation of savikalpa pratyakṣa remind me the concept of pratyavamarśa of the Pratyabhijñā school of Kashmir Śaivism. On account of that, I guess that Abhinavagupta’s position on pratyavamarśa, as determinate consciousness involved in perception, could help us to understand some of the main PHILOSOPHICAL points of Kumārila’s criticism of Dharmakīrti on this subject (I think, for instance, to Abhinavagupta’s Īśvara-pratyabhijñā-vimarśinī ad Īśvara-pratyabhijñā-kārikā I.5.18-19 and I.6.1-3, where the “application” of a name to the object perceived appears to be thought as directly involved in the very perception, because “speech” is said to be strictly associated, abhilāpa-yoga, with the indeterminate perception). What do you think: is this suggestion of mine going in the right direction?

elisa freschi said...

Thanks for your comment, Krishna. The main difference between Kumārila and Abhinavagupta's criticisms of Dharmakīrti, as far as I can tell, lies in their different attitudes. Abhinavagupta follows Bhartṛhari in maintaining that a subtle degree of vāc is present everywhere and identifies it with Consciousness, hence, with Īśvara himself. Kumārila, on the other hand, is a hard empiricist (for whatever does not regard the Veda). Hence, Abhinavagupta agrees with DhK in maintaining that only the first part of one's perception counts as perception BUT adds that even in this first part language is present (please feel free to correct me, since I cannot check now the passages you mention). On the other hand, Kumārila inserts sequence in (immediate, according to DhK) perception.
Or can one detect a real distinction of stages even within Abhinavagupta's account?

krishna said...

Dear Elisa, thank you very much for your brief but extremely clear exposition! As you say, a distinction of stages between perception and “nominalization” is not detectable in Abhinavagupta. What I was trying to understand, and now I have caught it, is the way in which Abhinavagupta differentiates from Kumārila – the philosophy of whom I do not know very well! – on perception as far as the naming activity is concerned.

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