Monday, September 27, 2010

Reflective consciousness AS the self/Thinking beyond the history of Indian Philosophy

Granted that consciousness is reflective, that is, aware of itself, do we need anything like a "self" on top of that?

During the conference on Self: Hindu responses to Buddhist Critiques, Matt MacKenzie proposed an updated version of Śāntarakṣita's account as the best solution to the debate on self and subjectivity. According to his interpretation (provided that I understood it correctly), Dharmakīrti maintained, as Brentano, that every consciousness act is a complex of subject and intentionality. Śāntarakṣita, instead, pushed the Buddhist position closer to the Advaita one insofar as he identified prakāśatva ('the fact of being luminous', that is, reflective, auto-aware) of the consciousness, with the fact of being sva-prakāśatva ('the fact of being self-luminous', self-aware). Further, he described such svaprakāśatva as the essence of consciousness, which could not present objects unless it were svaprakāśa. In other words, the fact of being self-luminous is not an accident to consciousness, but its true essence. Consciousness throws light on objects insofar as it is self-reflective.

At this point, there seems to be not much difference left between Śāntarakṣita's and the Advaita Vedānta position, apart from the issue of temporality. In fact, as argued also by C. Ram-Prasad, the two positions would be undistinguishable if not for that.

But here comes the most intriguing move of MacKenzie. Actively engaged in the philosophical enterprise initiated by Śāntarakṣita's innovations, MacKenzie proposed to emend the latter's proposal. In fact, temporality is a problem for Śāntarakṣita's account, according to MacKenzie. Its problematicity is proved by the tension, within Yogācāra Buddhism, between the stress on momentaryness (kṣaṇikatva) and that on the depository-consciousness (ālayavijñāna). In fact, the latter accounts for temporal continuity and causal connections, but risks to contradict the former.

However, maintains MacKenzie, this is a false choice. It is possible to have both non-substantialism and diachronical persistence, IF ONLY we give up momentariness. Hence, getting rid of momentariness improves the Yogācāra account of consciousness as it allows for phenomenological temporality. An external reader (such as myself) might ask how can temporality be phenomenologically present, although not substantially real. MacKenzie can answer this rebuttal through Husserl's account of the phenomenological time-consciousness. According to it, every experience is made of retention (of the past moment)-experience of the present moment-protention (towards the next). In this way, we can experience a melody as melody (through retention of the last heard note, experience of the present one, protension towards the next expected one).

I am still in trouble, since retention seems not to last long enough to make sense of recollections or only of experiences interrupted by gaps (such as that of looking for one's drink while watching a movie).


michael reidy said...

The core difference between the self-luminous theory and the advaitic is that the self-luminous leaves the representational position very much on. How do you retain the qualified self-luminous aspect of the mind and the reality of an external object as Advaita insists. You have to bring in the nature of the mind and the nature of the object both of which are material and inert in this account. The mind being subtle and transparent and 'next' to the self which is pure consciousness can reflect that light perfectly. The object which is inert is also opaque and requires the mind to be revealed. Up to the point of being revealed it exists as an unknown object so there are no Berklean vanishings. Consciousness which pervades the mind thus revealing the mental modification (vritti) is known as Saksin (witness consciousness) in this aspect. The overarching consciousness of which the object is an upadhi, as also is the mind, is the single unchanging reality which is modulated by avidya/Maya as subject and object. The witness by the way is pure consciousness with the individual mind as limiting adjunct/upadhi.

Complicated right ;-) Find a discussion of Yogacarya in B.S.B. II.ii.28 and perceptuality in Vedanta Paribhasa chapter on perception. l

elisa freschi said...

Dear Michael,
thanks a lot for this clear explanation. Nonetheless, I still cannot see how could the Advaitic position not be representational, since ultimately no outer object exists. You are right, also the individual understanding of the object does not exist as such, but the consciousness does. Hence, how could one avoid saying that the object is nothing but a representation (call it vṛtti) in it?

michael reidy said...

Representationalism is ruled out by a substratum ontology. Both the vritti and the object have the same substratum i.e. consciousness. The identity between the vritti and object is not a numerical identity but the identity of the substratum. It is more tidy than the representational which is an uncertain thing that can become the immaterial of Berkeley. It leaves everything as it seems to be and allows the unknown object to continue existing even though no one is thinking of it or knows of it.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks for the further elucidation. I agree that the "unknown object to continue existing even though no one is thinking of it or knows of it" (although this was true also for Berkeley, since God's omnipresent perception enabled all objects to exist–although unknown to us). Still, the object ultimately does not exist as such (it is nothing but the product of māyā, it is not paramārthasat). In this sense, I cannot see any big difference from Vijñānavāda.

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