Monday, February 8, 2010

But, after all, … reality is multifold (tò ón pollakōs légetai)!

Independent of its original meaning, the syādvāda theory and several other tenets of Jainism challenge today's attitude to Identity and Difference. I will not pause here on the possibility to just tolerate differences (e.g., through relativism) because I am afraid this attitude cannot really make place for the contribution these differences can offer to the world. On the other hand, the idea that there is only a legitimate view, no matter how liberal this is, has as result a significant impoverishment. This is not just a pity for the sake of ideo-diversity (which cannot be argued for as an end in itself), it is a pity because in this way we risk to miss the chance to understand reality, which is often much more complex than we would think (at least: until now it has always been the case that reality was much bigger, wider and more complex than our forefathers would have thought). The last two centuries have witnessed important changes, such as the discovery of the subconscious, that of the double nature of photones, that of the indecidibility of an electrone's position. This makes me think that the challenge of difference has to be taken seriously. It is possible that the quest for non-contradiction just does not hold. I am not saying that we should give up the attempt to think consistently, on the other hand, I think we should explore more possibilities (Jainism? Aristotle?) to think through what appears contradictory, without just pretending to explain it away. Differences may be here to stay.


Amod said...

Hi Elisa - I think it's important here to be clear about what it is we're saying about contradictions. In Jain syādvāda/anekāntavāda, the different and competing views, which appear to be contradictory, are all in fact true - but only partially true. The Jina, on the other hand, can see a total truth which includes all of these and is not contradictory.

Similarly (regarding your comment on my blog), there's no contradiction in saying that different people feel differently. "I feel that my children are the best," "Paul feels that his children are the best," and "my children are just as good as Paul's" are statements that harmonize with each other entirely. But that's at least partially because we know feeling and truth can be separate. If I have chills from the fever, it is true that I feel that the room is cold, and it is also true that the room is not in fact cold. My feeling is incorrect and I know that it is incorrect.

That said, I have been exploring the possibility of true contradictions a little bit as well: that was the idea of my post on dialetheism.

elisa freschi said...

Hallo Amod,
yes, I also liked your post on dialetheism.
I still cannot agree with your need for a purely subject-independent countercheck for every claim we make. MY feeling of cold while I'm ill is NOT incorrect, insofar as it is a feeling. It would only be incorrect if I would claim that the room-temperature is under, say, 15 C/59 F. I think your point about "feeling and truth can be separate" should be read as "(subject-dependent) feeling and subject-independent outer truth can be separate". If you mark them in this way, you do not run the risk to think that one (the subject-dependent one) is a minor truth, whereas the other is the 'real' Truth.
From a Jaina point of view, I am no expert, but I do not think that the 8 statements of the syādvāda are just partially true whereas there is an absolute Truth –this would make Jainism the same as Advaita Vedānta in its paramārtha/vyavahāra distinction. Rather, all 8 statements can be true and the Truth is made of them. There is no over-ruling Truth. The point holds, I think, even if I might be wrong about Jainism (and surely several Jainas just understood anekāntavāda as the statement of just partial truths).

Amod said...

Hi Elisa - I'm not a Jainism expert either, but I'm pretty sure that in traditional views of the subject the Jina has a access to a full truth which is significantly better than the partial truths that others have. Else why would it be worth trying to be a Jina? In the proverb of the blind men and the elephant, normal people are blind men; the Jina can see properly. (I am talking about premodern Jainism here, not postcolonial reinterpretations in which anekantavada is glossed as "intellectual ahimsa" or other connotations it never had before). This isn't the same as the samvrti/paramartha distinction, because there are multiple "samvrtis" that would be equally true, but the connection is interesting anyway - I hadn't thought of the connection in those terms before.

On feeling: well, we may mostly agree here, in that there's no contradiction between outer truth and a partially subject-dependent feeling. I would still want to qualify it, though, by saying feeling is only mostly subject-dependent: it is possible to be wrong about one's feelings. That was the subject of our debate before, of course, and we seemed to come closer by the end. I will admit that the kind of cases I describe, in which one is wrong about one's own feelings, are relatively rare ones.

elisa freschi said...

Hi Amod, yes I think we got closer (so, non-communicability is not the rule and it is worth trying to speak!). I am also ready to admit that there are exceptional cases in which one might be unreliable as regards one's feelings (although I am sure you would not label them as "exceptions").

As for Jainism: as a rule, I think *most* Jainas (or Hindūs or Buddhists) were just Jainas (or Hindūs, or Buddhists) because they were born in a Jaina family or because of other non-rational reasons. But I see your point. I am also sure that many, less insightful Jainas, did in fact advocate the ultimate truth of their assumptions. But the advantage of the Jaina position lies, if I am not wrong, rather in the fact that it is right because it is the only one which does not commit to the exclusion of others –and such an exclusion is inevitably wrong.
Last, thanks for your interesting remarks on the developments of the doctrine of anekāntavāda. You know I have been trained as a philologist, and I am always happy to detect the historical changes a concept underwent. Yet, I am not sure that the anekāntavāda *never had any* connotation of ahiṃsā. In fact, as early as the Ācārāṅga Sūtra (I rely on Jacobi's translation) there are statements to the fact that telling lies, quarrels, producing dissent and divisions are all acts of violence. What would the opposite of that? Acknowledging that the other has right to have her own position, in my view. And this is done through the anekāntavāda. What do you think?

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