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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Requirement of absence

Although absences are commonly encountered in all cognitive enterprises, Western mathematics, physics, linguistics, hermeneutics etc. seem to have presupposed them rather than focusing on them as a specific topic. Hence, although the zero may seem to today's Westerners logically entailed in the concept of number, as if the zero were the origin of numbers, it is only due to Indian mathematicians that a 'zero' (śūnya) has been assumed. Plotinus, on the other hand, viewed in the One the origin of all numbers.

Similarly, although the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika categories resemble in many respects those of Aristotles, 'absence' (abhāva) is only listed among the former ones. And the same applies to absence as an instrument of knowledge (abhāvapramāṇa).

In order to recognise an absence, the first requirement is a paradigm against which it can be checked. I cannot recognise the absence of a student from my class, unless I know who should be there. Similarly, detecting the absence of a certain ritual element in a ritual text requires that one knows what the standard ritual text should say.
Moreover, detecting an absence leads one to find a way to fill it, that is to supply an element which can fulfil the role of what is absent. Hence, all discussions on absence in hermeneutics and ritualistics will regard also these two features (standard paradigm and supplying procedures).

This might partly explain why both these functions interact in the semantic history of a key term within Indian ritualistics (Śrauta Sūtra) and Mīmāṃsā, i.e., tantra.

On tantra, see here. On the related topic of prasaṅga, see here.

4 comments:

ombhurbhuva said...

The advaitins have a pramana called 'anupalabadhi' i.e. the non-apprehension of existence. You are told that the book is on the table in the dining room but when you go there you don't see it, you have a non-apprehension of its existence. That is an item of valid knowledge. We have to be careful and not call that knowledge an apprehension of non-existence which is of course impossible. That would never do.

There's a chapter in Vedanta Paribhasa on this pramana.

elisa freschi said...

Dear Michael,
abhāvapramāṇa is acknowledged as a distinct instrument of knowledge even in Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā (you can find some of my papers on abhāvapramāṇa here). I am intrigued by your view, why do you say that grasping a non-existence is impossible? It would be impossible for direct perception, which works through contact, since there cannot be contact with something which does not exist. But if abhāva is a distinct padārtha (is it a distinct padārtha in the Vedānta Paribhāṣā?), why should the chance of grasping it through an ad hoc pramāṇa be ruled out?

michael reidy said...

Elisa,
As I see it here is where the counterpositive/counter correlate/pratiyogin comes into play. The bare apprehension of non-existence is unlimited, anything may be asserted to be non-existent at a locus. Non-apprehension limits the absence to the counterpositive which was previously asserted to exist at that locus/anuyogin i.e. the book on the dining room table. From that point you can then go on to assert apprehension of non-existence as a derived claim. Strictly though can one apprehend perceptually what does not exist?

elisa freschi said...

Dear Michael,
thanks for your reply. No, one cannot apprehend perceptually something non existent. THEREFORE, absence has to be an instrument of knowledge distinct from perception.
And you are right, absence in general cannot be apprehended. But absence in general is also not conceived in Mīmāṃsā and Vaiśeṣika texts, which rather speak of four types of absence (previous-absence, posterior-absence, reciprocal-absence and absolute-absence). The latter refers to logical impossibilities and is also not without its pratiyogin. Hence, what one seizes while looking for the pot is not "absence", but "absence of the pot". Last, I agree, the theory of pratiyogin and anuyogin makes things more logical.

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