Friday, June 18, 2010

How do Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā arguments for the subject differ from some Western ones?

It easy to see how several of the Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā arguments in favour of the existence of a subject have been implemented also by Western thinkers.

The appeal to common sense is particularly evident in Roderick Chisholm's claim that there are some pre-analytic facts about the self which are “innocent until proven guilty”. In this way, he can discuss common-sense notions (such as that of the self and of its ownership of feelings, thoughts and desires) in order to state that either one accepts them, or one is bound to give a satisfying explanation of such a well-spread error.

This would, however, not apply necessarily to a Buddhist thinker, who would reply that common sense is, in fact, our gaoler and, therefore, we cannot rely on it if we want to escape worldly existences.

The continuity-argument is also the key point of Chisholm's dealing with mereology. In several of his essays, Chisholm ponders the problem of what happens of a thing whose parts have, gradually, all been substituted. Does it still exist as such? Chishom does not yield a definitive answer, but he is sure that even if we were to say that it still “exists”, this would only be in a loose sense. This position is called “mereological essentialism”, as it states that parts are essential to things and that things cease to exist if they loose their parts. On the other hand, argues Chisholm, I do not cease to exist if I loose a hand. Hence, persons can be said to last in a sense in which things cannot. I am the same person as one year ago, although the material components of my body might be altogether different. On the other hand, a chair whose parts have been replaced may be said to last only in a loose sense. Hence, from mereological essentialism one can conclude that we are not to be identified with our bodies.

One might propose a different kind of link between body and subject. But Chisholm stresses the sharp distinction between body and what he calls “person”. In doing so, he argues, in an Indian garb, about the necessity for qualities to inhere in quality-endowed substances:
Therefore it is not possible for modes to have modes; and it is necessary that every substrate be a substrate. A further consequence is that the person is not a mode of his body. For it is obvious that the person has modes. […]
Could I be a mode of my body? It is certain that I have modes; there is one for each of my psychological properties. But we have seen that modes themselves do not have modes. Therefore I cannot be a mode of my body.
(Chilsholm, Self-Profile in Roderick M. Chisholm, pp. 71, 73).

Further, his concept of “person” might be said to be especially close to the Mīmāṃsā one, since it includes the abilities to think and desire, which are not necessarily included in the self in classical Indian philosophy (Advaita Vedānta excludes desire and Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika denies thought as characteristic of the self). In fact, Chisholm writes:

We could use the term “mind”, as Descartes had used the term “mens”, to refer to that which has psychological properties – to that which thinks, senses, believes, desires. In this case, we would be using “mind” to mean the same as “person” and hence to designate such entities as you and me.
(Chilsholm, Self-Profile} in Roderick M. Chisholm, ed. by Rogdan Bagu, p.71).

Finally, Chisholm is quite close to the (nearly) Pan-Indian way of distinguishing a subject from its instruments, even the ones allowing it to think and perceive, such as the sense-faculties and the inner sense (or “mind”, manas). Observe his reply to an imaginary objector:

“Persons, being thinking things, must have a complex structure. […] After all, you can't think unless you have a brain. And those little things [what Chisholm calls “persons”, see below about the body/subject problem] don't have brains!”
The hypothesis being criticized is the hypothesis that I am such a microscopic entity. But note that I do have a brain. And therefore, according to the hypothesis in question, the microscopic entity has one, too –the same one that I have, the one that is inside my head. It is only a confusion to suppose that the microscopic entity […] has another brain which is in fact inside of it.

The brain is the organ of consciousness, not the subject of consciousness –unless I am myself my brain. The nose, similarly, is the organ of smell and not the subject of smell –unless I am myself my nose. But if I am one or the other –the brain or the nose– then, I the subject, will have some organs that are spatially outside me.

How far is, on the other hand, Chisholm's approach from the Mīmāṃsā one?

  1. Mīmāṃsakas are quite clear about the fact that the subject is not a material substance, whereas Chisholm does not rule out the possibility of the “person” being a material substance with no parts, possibly situated in the brain.
  2. The body is according to Mīmāṃsakas not just a material substance whatsoever. It is linked with the subject through the latter's karman and it is the abode of its experiences.
More in general, the point seems to be that, according to Chisholm the postulation of an extra entity, purely psychical, such as what one commonly refers to as “mind” has no epistemological grounds. Psychical properties can be ascribed also to a material substance (according to what he calls a “double aspect theory” (Chisholm, On Metaphysics, p. 123). Hence, “we” can well be a material substance having also psychical properties. But what material substance are we? As already seen, we cannot be our body, since this is an ens successivum, whereas a person is not (On Metaphysics, pp.124-5):
[T]he theory does not imply that there is certain matter that is incorruptible. It implies rather that there are certain material things –in all probability, certain material particles or subparticles– that are incorrupted and remain incorrupted as long as the person survives.

The theory would be, then, that I am literally identical with some proper part of this macroscopic body, some intact, nonsuccessive part that has been in this larger body all along. This part is hardly likely to be the Luz bone, of course; more likely, it would be something of a microscopic nature, and presumably something that is located within the brain.
(On Metaphysics, p. 126).

This also means that neither “liberation” nor further existences are possible.

According to Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā, on the other hand, the material substance constituting a body can become the vehicle of experience of its guest, the subject, which is intrinsically linked to it through its karman. In sum, the material body is the result of mental properties like the good or bad actions (intended by Mīmāṃsakas as initiations of actions and not as body movements) done in one's past.


michael reidy said...

This is a very interesting and stimulating topic and a very large one. As you say the core of it is the puzzle (aporia) of how a thing can remain the same though changing. Early Aristotle and the Advaitins go for material as the core element in identity. Clay and vessels, gold and rings, bangles and chains. The chariot of Milinda and the ship of Theseus meet each other. There is proffered the idea that identity based on attributes or elements is merely notional or namarupa.

However that won't do for the piercing sense of identity that we have of our self through all our changes. Here I think the pan(chewing)indian parts company with the occidental ruminant. For the Sankhya and the Advaitins who took it from them the mind is inert, it is a part of prakriti or nature and afflicted by the gunas.

"Assuming the likeness (of the intellect), it moves between the two worlds; it thinks, as it were, and shakes, as it were. Being identified with dream, it transcends this world - the forms of death (ignorance etc)."((From Brh.Up. IV.iii.7))

What though is the knot between consciousness and the brain or the chitjadagranthi? Chisholm about whom I know approximately zero seems to espouse a double aspect theory which has a decent lineage. At the core of this and it requires a calligraphy that is beyond a broad brush is the idea that there is a fundamental reality that is unknowable but that is articulated into a dyad that we can know. The intuition you ascribe to Chisholm that the core of identity lies in an unchanging element in the brain seems just wrong and wrong in an old physics way. Complexity and fractals as the basis of a theory of identity may also be wrong but at least they are more interestingly so.

elisa freschi said...

You are right, the Western "self" is endowed with characteristics Indians by and large attribute to the mind, the aha.mkaara or other element of prak.rti. But I was trying to suggest that this is possibly not always the case. Mimamsakas seems to accept the Sankhya depiction of the mind only superficially, since they then describe the self as eminently desiring and active.
I know less than zero about complexity and fractals as applied to personal identity, but would be glad to read more about it… any suggestion?

michael reidy said...

This is more or less a metaphor for the soul put in physical terms. The soul is the form of the body says Aristotle but what does he mean. Is it the way we make our world, our poetry, which is evident no matter how thinly we slice our events? This is the fractal aspect. James Gleick in his book on 'Chaos' (penguin) speaks of the notion of self-similarity. Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart have a book called 'The Collapse of Chaos' (penguin). Googling on personal identity and fractals gives 25,200 hits. The idea is out there.

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