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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nyāya on trust

This is a hosted post by Matthew Dasti.

I would argue that when they are not arguing past each other, Nyāya’s view is similar to Mīmāṁsā’s, insofar as they both accept that cognition may be unreflectively justified when it is “free from defeaters”.
Vātsyāyana and Gaṅgeśa suggest that in the absence of review or certification, pramāṇas provide cognition with positive epistemic status. Vātsyāyana indicates the status of such cognition by claiming that it is nirṇaya, a definitive ascertainment or conclusive determination. In the Nyāya-sūtra (1.1.41), nirṇaya has a technical meaning, referring to the desideratum of philosophical inquiry, a conclusive determination regarding an object at issue (artha-avadhāraṇa). Uddyotakara defines it as artha-paricchedaḥ avadhāraṇam, the determination which is a definitive ascertainment of an object (NV 1.1.41). In the context of philosophical dispute, a judgment is deemed nirṇaya only after a final settlement is reached, having examined reasons for and against a position. But Vātsyāyana notes that in perception (for example), an immediate, unreviewed cognition born of the contact between sense faculty and object is nirṇaya. Uddyotakara is more explicit: “some claim that definitive ascertainment is simply inferential; that it is nothing more. We deny this. . . in the absence of [inference], definitive ascertainment may be produced as the result of the [mere] functioning of a pramāṇa” (NB 1.1.41). . . In further support of this reading of the Nyāya view, we may note that Gaṅgeśa suggests that cognitions that are certain (niścaya) are provided by the deliverances of putative pramāṇas. Gaṅgeśa stresses the deep tie between cognitions which are certain and unhesitating action, niṣkampa-pravṛtti, suggesting that the former is a condition on the latter. That cognition is fundamentally conceived of as a guide to action is a characteristic feature of Nyāya. Gaṅgeśa repeatedly argues that certainty about an object, provided by an initial, putatively veridical cognition, is required for unhesitating action, but not certainty about the high-grade epistemic status (prāmāṇya) of the original cognition itself (see, e.g., Phillips/Ramanuja Tatacharya 2004: 130, 588).

Gaṅgeśa notes that “a cognition whose own veridicality is in fact not grasped makes certain another’s veridicality, since it is itself not blemished by any suspicion about its non-veridicality” (Trans. by Phillips in Phillips/Ramanuja Tatacharya 2004: 131). Matilal (1986: 168) summarizes this point: “If c2 [cognition2, and so on] ascertains the knowledge-hood of c1, and no doubt about the falsehood of c2 arises, there is no need to look for c3, etc. to ascertain the knowledge-hood or otherwise of c2.”

The game of certification may go on so long as legitimate doubt or challenge exists, but in its absence, a cognition stands on its own.

So, while I would suggest that Mīmāṃsā and Nyāya differ over the theoretical reasons for default trust in cognition (and this, I think is a big part of the svataḥ/parataḥ dispute), default trust is very important to both systems.

This post is a reaction to the discussion initiated in this post.
On svataḥ prāmāṇya in Mīmāṃsā, check this post.


michael reidy said...

Hi Matthew,
Dharmaraja Adhvarindra has it (Vedanta Paribhasa) that the validity of knowledge is also spontaneously apprehended. I wonder how that would tie in with the well worn concept of knowledge as justified true belief. In this slogan the default position is one of tentative assertion awaiting establishment. This seems to me not to be a very great spur to action as cognition ought to be but rather a recipe for dithering. However it must also be admitted that doubt is a rational backdrop.

elisa freschi said...

Dear Michael,
Vedānta is based on Mīmāṃsā epistemology and the Mīmāṃsā position would be that every piece of cognition is self-justified, insofar as it is a cognition. Hence, we do not await establishment, the establishment is fully there, from the very beginning. And we can safely act on the basis of such a cognition. That a falsification might later arise is a risk intrinsic in every enterprise.
Nyāya seems to me quite different, insofar as a) it emphasises doubt, 2) it stresses that cognition are not valid per se, but await an external confirmation, but I hope Matthew will answer about it.

Matthew said...

Hi Michael,

I think that your sense is right that the JTB model of belief was historically tied to a kind of internalism which lacked the pragmatic concern for action which is central for many pramana theorists. And Elisa, again, I would suggest that Nyaya is totally on board with default trust. The role of doubt is to trigger second-order concern over the status of cognition. But unless there are good reasons to doubt, we may operate with mere default trust, and that's fine. To make a distinction, Nyaya would say that we may have default justification, without claiming that all of the justificatory goodness, so to speak, comes from the initial cognition itself. What Nyaya has over Mimamsa, I think, is the fact that clearly, cognitions may be justified, and yet become more justified when reviewed and proven veridical. So, there is something to be said for justification beyond mere defaault entitlements.

elisa freschi said...

Hi Matthew,
thanks for joining in. I see your point and may even agree. I would only ask you to add a further specification to "Nyāya". The fact that doubt is among the padārthas and Jayanta's praise of it as the element which makes one *initiate* a cognitive journey incline me to think that –at least for *some* Naiyāyikas– doubt has a role before a cognition is acquired and not only thereafter, if need arises.
In short: I would circumstantiate your claim and link it to specific thinkers rather than to the impersonal Nyāya (but I know I did the same, speaking about Mīmāṃsā as if it were a single entity…).

Matthew said...

To be brief, it seems to be there in the passages I cite above. Generally, doubt is taken to incite investigation, but is not needed at a default level.

And Jayanta has a non-standard view of doubt, I think. I read a bunch of passages of his a few years ago which left me with that conviction, though I'd have to look them up again to confirm it now.

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