Sunday, 1 August 2010

Unknown Object

In a metaphysical system where to be is to be known the unknown object has no cash value. Present it to Timothy Sprigge and you will receive a blank look for why should he pay the bearer for nothing at all. Where epistemology has parted company with ontology the unquestionably mental aspect of perception can cause the world to drop away as an otiose inference or be merely a postulate that draws on the offshore bank of the transcendental.

In his wonderfully entitled book The Vindication of Absolute Idealism pub. Edidburgh U.P 1983, Timothy Sprigge writes:
From our point of view and doubtless in effect from Bradley's, we interpret his contention most suitably as follows. We can form no conception of an intuitively and coherently fulfillable sort of an unexperienced reality; this being so, the proposition that there is such a reality is incapable of being a literal truth, for there simply no real judgement in the offing to be true.

What of the Advaitins with their vritti or mental modification? The mental modification is presented to the saksin or witness. Now this sounds mighty like representationalism or scientific realism and I have seen it interpreted as such by a teacher of Advaita who has a background in science; as though Locke were speaking in Sanskrit. He sees it as a matter of psychology.The tree in the yard is evidently not in my head so what is in my head? There is neuronal traffic and that appears to him to be a sound candidate that can represent the interests of the real tree. A nice picture but it simply isn't what Advaita is saying. It draws down the mind/body conundrum of how this cortical activity can be identical with consciousness. This does not arise in Advaita as there is no mind/body division.

The exceptionally succinct Vedanta Paribhasa of Dharmaraja Adhvarindra (ca.17th.C) frames the problem in a way which echoes the preamble to the Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Shankara (ca 8th.C.) Asks Dharmaraja: On what is the perceptuality of the object based? Unity is the answer, the substratum of the vritti and that of the object is one and the same pure consciousness. The object is a form of limitation or limiting adjunct, upadhi of pure consciousness. To simplify, what the object is in a gross way, the vritti is in a subtle way.

So where does the unknown object/ajnatasatta come into the picture and where does it fit in to the ontological picture which I have limned. In a curious way the answer has a resemblance to the view of Berkeley that God was minding the shop. All cognition is according to the Advaitins an unveiling of the ignorance which had covered the object of that cognition. The nescience that covered that object did not annihilate the being of that object. We by our cognition do not grant being to anything. The unity of being which underwrites perception continues whether the object is perceived or not. When we perceive that object simultaneously with its perception is the knowledge that it was previously unknown. Obviously this is non-empirical knowledge. One might say that the order of apprehension was (a) the object as previously unknown and, (b) the object now apprehended by a valid means of knowledge. So all the while that it was out of sight and out of mind the object was sheltering under the umbrella of being. For Berkeley this pure being, pure consciousness is identified with God and thereby the 'books in the cupboard' do not wink out when no one is thinking of them.

The object is joined into an ontological structure in the case of Advaita but in the purely epistemological schema of Immaterialism the object lacks a connection. God seems to be an ad hoc fix to placate common sense.


elisa freschi said...

Thanks for this interesting post.
The existence of what is not experienced is a conundrum also for philosophers who do not subscribe to Bishop Berkeley's esse est percipi (a common example is that of the "sound of a falling tree if no one hears it"). God's fixing the problem is the solution also for Malebranche and, I guess, many others.
I am not sure, on the other hand, why you say that Advaita Vedānta knows of no mind/body distinction. Would you say that the body is not a distinct upādhi of the only ātman from one's ahaṅkāra? Or do you mean that the opposition is not between mind and body, but rather between changeable and unchangeable (as in Sāṅkhya)? If so, I see your point and agree.

skholiast said...

I have the same inquiry as Elisa at the end (changeable/unchangeable). In my thinking re. "Eternal Objects" I am coming close to the Advaita answer, perhaps, but I am loathe to let go of as much particularity as that answer seems to entail (I emphasize seems; I am not an authority).

Also, it's a pleasure to read any reference, however fleeting, to Timothy Sprigge.

ombhurbhuva said...

Hi Elisa, Skholiast,
I haven't been paying attention to the blog so I missed your comments. Follow up if this response isn't clear.

Essentially the answer is that the unity of the substratum i.e. pure consciousness ensures that the conceptual distinction between mind and body does not reflect an actual division. Various analogies are given for the way the mind, body and intellect, acting in cohort as the Anthakarana or self-sense, are pervaded by pure consciousness. Mind, body and intellect are regarded as inert only appearing as conscious due to the 'reflection' of consciousness as a crystal in the presence of a red flower seems to be red. The flower is acting as an upadhi (root meaning 'burden') for the crystal.

"Now as the water of a tank, issuing through a hole, enters in the form of a channel a number of fields, and just like them assumes a rectangular or any other shape, so also the luminous mind, issuing through the eye etc., goes to the space occupied by objects such as a jar, and is modified into the form of a jar or any other object."Vedanta Paribhasa (chap. on Perception)

The mind therefore reveals the object. A distinction is drawn between the minds innate capacity to reflect consciousness and the object which requires the action of the mind to be revealed. The difference in the correlationist/idealism schema between the being of the object and the being of the object as known or unknown cannot be maintained because there is fundamentally just boundless being.

The concept of the upadhi/limiting adjunct would require a legion of analysts to clarify. For instance a jar is pure consciousness with the jar as limiting adjunct. The witness (Saksin) is pure consciousness with the limiting adjunct of the mind. All differentiations broadly speaking can be regarded as upadhis.

" The self is called light, because it is self-effulgent, for through this light, the self-effulgent Atman, this aggregate of body and organs sits, goes out and works, as if it were sentient, as a jar placed in the sun (shines)." (from the commentary on Brhadaranyaka Upanisad by Shankara pub. Advaita Ashrama trans. Swami Madhavananda)

Body, mind and intellect are distinctions drawn within the inert aggregate and not separate entities that give rise to an interaction problem.

Sprigge is very clear and strangely persuasive once you are drawn into that magic circle of the mind.