Friday, 20 April 2012

Upamana once again

The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something - because it is always before one’s eyes.) The real foundations of his enquiry do not strike a man at all. Unless thatfact has at some time struck him. - And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.
Philosophical Investigations #121 by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

I quote this in full because the valid means of knowledge (pramana) known as upamana (comparison) is so fundamental and basic to consciousness of the world, i.e. classification, differentiation, exclusion and inclusion, specification etc., that we no longer see it as such. Moreover the continued use of a single example in its traditional Nyaya explication misleads us as to this global nature. I refer back to my earlier thoughts on the matter at
upamana
but I will reproduce the entry on upamana in Vedanta Paribhasa in full. My present thinking on the matter arises out of my comments on the topic at the blog:cidabhasa


To save going back and forth to my earlier note I will reproduce in full the entry on upamana in V.P.

Now comparison is being described. The instrument of the valid knowledge of similarity is comparison. For instance a man who has seen a cow's form in cities and has gone to a forest, where his eyes have come in contact with a gayal (gavaya - bos gaurus) has the cognition, "This thing is like a cow". Then he has the conviction, "My cow is like this." Here by a process of agreement and difference, the knowledge of the likeness of a cow which exists in a gayal is the instrument, and the knowledge of that likeness of a gayal which exists in a cow is the result.

this is not possible through perception, for then the cow's form is not in contact with the eyes. Nor is it possible through inference, for that likeness of a cow which exists in a gayal cannot be the sign (reason) for inferring the likeness of a gayal in a cow. Nor can it be urged that this is possible through the following inference:

My cow is like this gayal.
Because it corresponds to its likeness existing in a gayal.
That which corresponds to its likeness existing in a thing is like the latter.

As Caitra, who corresponds to his likeness existing in Maitra, is like him.

For even without this sort of inference, the cognition, "My cow is like this," is a matter of common experience, and has also the apperception, "I am comparing the two,". Hence comparison is a distinct means of knowledge.

In my first comment on the general topic at cidabhasa I began at the aspect of genus/species differentiation.
Whenever the example chosen is always the same you can be virtually certain that the proposer does not understand what is at issue and is staying close to the shore of the canonical. Even the translation of upamana sends one in the wrong direction. It’s not really a comparison but more of a slipping back from the specific into the generic. You don’t know, by virtue of having no experience of, a bos gaurus but you do know a bos bos. By falling back into the generic concept of bos, (an unexperienceable conception), divided hoof, horned etc you can recognise another species the bos gaurus. The knowledge gained from a reliable source that there exists such creatures is an unnecessary addendum in my opinion. Zoologists find new species without that.

Why is this a valid means of knowledge not reducible to any other? I believe that it is due to the mystery of how general concepts arise, if in fact they do arise. We know what red, green, yellow objects are by ostensive definition but how is the concept coloured arrived at. This is a concept which is required for the experience of various colours but which itself cannot be arrived at by experience. Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations talks of the procedure of going on as in 2, 4, 6, 8 now go on. We know what the answer is but how can we be taught what going on is. All our examples of it assume it.

This may be part of Plato’s puzzlement about universals and curiously enough Shankara in B.S.B. I.iii.28 offers the notion of vedic words which is not a long way off the same aporia.

In short we have a means of attaining valid knowledge which is embedded within us. It is not reducible to any other means of knowledge and is therefore a pramana. This is of course anathema to the empiricist tradition.

In my second comment on Cidabhasa blog I get down to the task of discovering in the V.P. treatment of upamana a deictic demonstration of a facet of differentiation i.e. the discovery of similarity.

The text that I am familiar with on the subject of pramanas is Vedanta Paribhasa and of course the bos gaurus comes out to play there too. Now the question I put to myself is: suppose upamana is a separate pramana distinct from perception and inference etc. Does the classical account bear the weight of this position? The empiricist account with perception as its mainstay seems to be a stronger candidate for the power behind the naming of this strange beast. We have seen domestic cattle, we have seen their hooves and horns, we now see this new creature. By a sort of mental Venn diagram it moves partially into the cow area. Prior to this we have been primed by a reliable source so we can now name it with confidence.

To answer this story I propose the view that you can’t gain the concept of common as in common features without having the concept common already and that is not perceptible or inferential etc. If I accept the notion of upamana as a pramana this is the direction I find I am pushed in. On the face of it this seems to be a sustainable interpretation.

Here by a process of agreement and difference the knowledge of the likeness of a cow which exists in the gayal is the instrument, and the knowledge of that likeness of a gayal which exists in a cow is the result.
(Vedanta Paribhasa)

knowledge of the likeness is the common of common feature

In Vedanta Paribhasa the establishing of the concept of upamana as a means of knowledge not reducible to any other is done by showing that the alternatives are impossible.

This is not possible through perception, for then the cow’s form is not in contact with the eyes. Nor is it possible through inference for that likeness of a cow which exists in a gayal cannot be the sign (reason) for inferring the likeness of a gayal in a cow. Nor can it be urged that this is possible through the following inference:
My cow is like this gayal.
Because it corresponds to its likeness existing in a gayal.
That which corresponds to its likeness existing in in a thing is like the latter.

The latter reasoning underscores the question begging aspect of seeing common features.
(End Comment)

Now that last sentence might be better expressed as the circularity of abstracting the concept ‘common’ from features that we know are common. In short upamana is a power which is innate like perception itself. It might well be said to be the eye of the mind in that it distinguishes ‘forms’/eidoi. Henry Bergson uses the term ‘cut’ for this cutting out of whole cloth. What is this whole cloth? More, much more can be written on this topic. Anon.

Lastly I leave you with an alteration of Leibniz’s Question: Why is there something rather than nothing? -- Why are there some things rather than an undifferentiated continuum?

2 comments:

Vidya said...

The explanation of upamāna in nyāya is quite different from vedānta and mīmāmsa though all of them admit it as a valid means of knowledge. There the word-meaning idea is distinctly stated whereas in vedānta does not need that.

That said I am not quite sure I understand the following "upaminomi" line of reasoning which seems to be assuming that cognition takes only a certain path.
May be this is due to the fact that they
do not consider mind as an indriya etc.


"For even without this sort of inference, the cognition, "My cow is like this," is a matter of common experience, and has also the apperception, "I am comparing the two,". Hence comparison is a distinct means of knowledge".

ombhurbhuva said...

Vidya:
Thanks for your explication.
Does that last paragraph represent the core Nyaya view. If it does I can see some problems with it. Suppose you see a white bird, a seagull say. Now to recognise that bird under all the headings that it could be put under would require that your comparison engine/mind would be at work for a while. Compare that counter intuitive picture with our normal experience of having concepts ie immediate recognition. Besides that apperception requires an inner comparison which Wittgenstein in his private language critique in Philosophical Investigations exploded.

My understanding of D.A. based on the account given by Prof. Bina Gupta in her book Perceiving in Advaita Vedanta (an examination of the account of perception in V.P.), is that he was an expert in Nyaya logic. As well the translator of the edition I use, (Advaita Asrama , Swami Madhavananda,) says in his introduction that D.A. uses the method of Navya-Nyaya. Obviously there will be differences. Today I managed to download a copy of Perception by Matilal so I will be furthering my education. It looks comprehensive.