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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Where is the subject during errors?

The Prābhākara view distinguishes three elements within a cognition: the act of cognition, the object cognised and its cogniser. It also claims that they are inseparably known through every single cognitive act, insofar as no cognition of an object is possible without a cognising subject and without a cognitive act itself. Nor is one only aware of the sheer cognised object, without any frame. One knows a known object. This also means that, in the Prābhākara view, a cognition is a piece of knowledge only insofar as it is self-aware. It is not, as in Sāṅkhya and Nyāya, a mechanical act to which the conscious subject adds awareness. In order to be a knowledge, it must be intrinsically conscious.

What about acts of cognition which are not self-aware? A cognitive act which were not self-aware could not be a case of knowledge, because it would necessarily lack the important component of presentness. But are such cases conceptually possible? An interesting example is discussed by Rāmānujācārya in the epistemological chapter of TR (TR I). Rāmānujācārya mentions the case of the memory of silver which arises in one's mind while seeing a piece of mother-of-pearl on the beach. One sees mother-of-pearl and automatically remembers silver. This is said to be only an incomplete cognition and cannot be a piece of knowledge. Now, one could ask, who is the agent in the case of such cognitions? And how comes that s/he seems not to be included in such cognitive acts, since s/he is said to be necessarily included in acts of knowledge? Do they just arise due to saṃskāras and, hence, automatically or is a knower nonetheless present?

In fact, in the case of a conscious recollection of silver, one would simultaneously be aware of oneself and of the act of recollection. By contrast, the recollection of silver evoked by a lustrous piece of mother-of-pearl seems to be necessarily unconscious, since if it were conscious, one would be able to distinguish it as a separate piece of cognition and one would not conflate the remembered silver with the apprehended lustrous thing. Does not its “incompleteness” exactly refer to the fact that it lacks the element of a knower and of an act of cognition?

If this interpretation is correct, such cognitions would arise independently of a subject, which would else necessarily be included in the knowledge act. They arise due to saṃskāras and are, hence, not acts of knowledge performed by an agent, but only results of the saṃskāras' function. Hence, they can occur independently of an agent.

Do readers have a different understanding of the way saṃskāras function? And of the Nyāya or Sāṅkhya epistemologies?

On mother-of-pearl mistaken as silver, see also this post.

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