Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Epistemic Liberalism in Nyāya?

Is it legitimate to infer a unique kind of cause from a generic effect? Is inferring it "epistemically liberal"? Or is it just admitting a blatant exception one needs for one's own theistic agenda?

I already discussed in a previous post the product-producer inference and its role in Nyāya philosophy. In the article I referred to in the post, Matthew Dasti understands the argument as an argument from design and not as a cosmological one. The point, hence, is not that a first cause is inferred, in order to avoid a regressus ad infinitum, but rather that the complexity of the products cannot have occurred by chance. Hence, a producer must exist. I agree with Dasti, insofar as the product-producer argument seems to me the Indian version of the watchmaker one (which runs as follows: If you were to find a watch in the desert, would you not assume that some watchmaker did it? Similarly, we need to postulate the existence of a Creator…). Dasti's approach is quite sympathetic to the Nyāya position. He seems to imply that all opposition to this argument favours tighter epistemological boundaries to inference. Yes, the product-producer inference is risky, but it is worth taking risks, if we want inference to yield fresh pieces of information. This move, concludes Dasti, is a move towards epistemic liberalism, in which Naiyāyikas oppose Buddhists and Mīmāṃsakas. Now, I might be oversympathetic towards the Mīmāṃsā stance, but I am not fully convinced by Dasti's generalisation from the inference of God's existence to general epistemic liberalism. Dasti writes:

As I have discussed elsewhere, for Nyāya, default trust is the best attitude to take in our cognitive lives (p.16).

Now, I tend to think the same about Mīmāṃsā. But I read differently the Naiyāyika position. Jayanta (the X c. Naiyāyika whose views are also discussed by Dasti) explicitly upholds the parataḥ prāmāṇya view (NM 3, vol. 1, p.240-3), according to which a cognition is not by default valid, as it is the case for Mīmāṃsā. The validity of a cognition depends on additional factors, such as the subsequent ascertainment that the instrument of knowledge upon which it is based is sound. Now, it is possible that other Naiyāyikas hold different views. Certainly, Jayanta's eulogy of doubt is quite unique. But why does not Dasti consider the apparent inconsistency between his statement and the parataḥ prāmāṇya position?


Jayarava said...

"but rather that the complexity of the products cannot have occurred by chance."

I call this "argument from failure of imagination".

elisa freschi said...

Well, Kant already explained how the argument only leads you to the need for something, not to its existence. Moreover, this need tells us a lot about our cognitive structure (we tend to identify patterns in all sorts of items), but probably not that much about the world.
In the Indian context, the answer to your criticism would be that to imagine that the watch we found in the desert did not come out by chance, but has been made, is "less cumbersome" (laghu). It is not clear whether economical principles should rule the ontology of the universe or only our understanding of it (I hope to blog about it in the future). What's your understanding of the lāghava/gaurava opposition?

Matthew Dasti said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Matthew Dasti said...

Dear Elisa,
Thanks for kindly reading my paper and for your thoughtful comments. I guess there are a few things I’d say in response.

First, I think that in suggesting that Nyāya is being more liberal re: inferential boundaries in the argument for īśvara, I am not making the claim that they are more liberal in toto. The question of inferential boundaries and the question of default trust in cognition are different issues. Just as one can be liberal about money but conservative about sexual mores, one can advocate a strong trust in prima-facie veridical cognition while being conservative about the scope of general-to-particular inductive reasoning.

Second, I would argue that when they are not arguing past each other, Nyāya’s view is similar to Mīmāṁsā’s, insofar as they both accept that cognition may be unreflectively justified when it is “free from defeaters”.

[NOTE BY ELISA F.: the rest of the comment was indeed too interesting and we hence decided to post it as a separate post. See: http://elisafreschi.blogspot.com/2011/03/nyaya-on-trust.html]

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