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Friday, September 10, 2010

Action and knowledge

Can one construe knowledge as not being an action? Can it be, in other words, just a status and not a process? Only if it can, then the Advaitic claim that knowledge is not something one achieves, makes sense.

I am presently reading Ram-Prasad's Indian Philosophy and the Consequences of Knowledge (Ashgate 2007). The III chapter is dedicated the debate between Kumārila and Śaṅkara on action and knowledge. In Ram-Prasad's interpretation, Kumārila argues that it is not true that correct knowledge stops wrong actions, although it is true that correct knowledge may lead to right action. Hence, the superiority of action over knowledge:

This [difference] is vital for Mīmāṃsā. If knowledge is allowed to stop action, then that amounts to acknowledging that knowledge is the later and superior mode for the attainment of the highest good, since knowledge would then exist without action. On the other hand, if knowledge only leads to action, as in the symmetry Kumārila upholds, then knowledge becomes only the way to –and therefore an auxiliary of– action; and action remains as the later and superior mode. [p.106] […]
Śaṅkara seems to make almost the same point about the possibility of cognition and actions being without mutual influence.
«Whether it is a failure of cognition or a doubtful cognition or erroneous cognition, miscognition is always removed by true cognition; but not by action in any form whatsoever, for there is no contradiction between them (i.e. action and cognition)» (Śaṅkara III.iii1, p. 245).

Now, all of this only makes sense if it is possible to imagine knowledge as not being part of action, that is a state of awareness/consciousness, possibly what Indian authors meant with cit. Then, however, coming to know something could not amount to any genuine "progress". Consciousness should have been always there. And also the act of "disveiling" it could not be understood as the active removal of something…how then?

(I just came back from holiday, sorry for the long silence)


michael reidy said...

In Upadesasahasri Shankara notes: " the intellect has no consciousness and the Self no action. The word 'knows' can, therefore, reasonably be applied to neither of them." (Chap.XVIII. #54)

As I think I mentioned before the intellect is regarded as inert i.e. without consciousness in advaita. Thus knowing cannot be asserted of it. Being pervaded by the Self its interactions with the world have knowledge as a precipitate. My understanding of this is a panpsychist one. By being or existing any entity whatever reflects consciousness or awareness according to the level of its material complexity. All things inform each other. Thus emergentism is avoided.

"The Self is said to be knowing things on account of the superimposition of the agency of the intellect on it. Similarly the intellect is called a knower owing to the superimposition of Consciousness on it." (ibid.#65)

elisa freschi said...

Thanks for this interesting comment. Please, forgive me if I try to simplify your point:

knowledge as an action cannot belong to the Intellect (buddhi) nor to the self (ātman), since the latter lacks agency and the former consciousness.

However, I guess that Śaṅkara's praise of jñānamārga does not refer to this meaning of jñāna, but rather to jñāna insofar as it coincides with Consciousness. Isn't it?

mchael reidy said...

For Sankara everything is within reality, there is nothing that is outside it so that strictly there is nothing to do to get there. Being conscious is already being there, just being is being there. Mysteriously then, jnana (realisation) is not an event.

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