Friday, 27 February 2015

Mandana Misra on Adhiropa/Apavada (from The Method of Vedanta)

The usual understanding of material causality that is offered in advaitin commentary and explication is one that I have questioned in the past. In summary it takes the form - in all the objects made of clay only the clay is real the names of the artefacts are merely names of clay. To put it in Aristotelian terms the substantial reality is clay and the objects that are made of it accidental modifications. My objection was that clay is always instantiated in some form or other, there is no ‘pure’ clay.

Sri SSS in The Method of Vedanta (pg.292/3) writing of the view of Mandana Misra (Sureshvara?) in his work Brahma Siddhi :

The method of false attribution followed by subsequent retraction (adhiropa-apavada) is also accepted. On this we have the following texts.

(Mandana Misra's view):
A thing can be described in words even when it is not known through any other means of knowledge apart from speech, and when there is no prior knowledge of of its connection with its name......

What is without particulars can be known through revelation. It is highlighted through the very negation of particulars. It is like the essence of gold. The essence of gold is never perceived unconcealed by some particular form, (my italics) whether it be a natural lump or a fashioned artefact like a necklace. And these latter are not the essence of gold. For when any of these forms are lost, the gold persists in another. But the entity that cannot be distinguished in perception from the particular form concealing it can be known mentally through the negation of the particulars and communicated to others. This method of communication is exemplified in the Veda in the text ‘This Self is expressed as “neither this not that”’. And it has been said by one of another school, ‘ When all universals have been eliminated , what remains over is the real’. (Bhartrhari, Vakya Padiya III.ii.21). Others again have said, ‘That which has no plurality is communicated through attribution followed by retraction’. (B. Siddhi p.26)

((Sri SSS adds a significant note))
It should be noted that there is here a certain difference from the doctrine of false attribution followed by later retraction taught by Bhagavatpada Sankara in that it is not taught that the attributions are false.

To put it another way, the concept ‘gold’ can be had without reference to anything given in sense perception. This incidentally is the position of Peter Geach in his classic Mental Acts. The notion of ‘false attribution’ cautioned against in Sri SSS’s note is the one generally offered and it seems to lead to there being a ‘real’ physical, actual clay that has no particular form.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Joycean Triad and a Poltroon with a Wooden Sword

The other day I had the very great pleasure of discovering error on the internet. Joyce Images is an excellent site which marries the myriad references in Ulysses to images of the day mostly in the form of postcards. I informed the editor:

Nice site and I am enjoycing it. I notice a small error on page 8 of telemachus where you identify an 'irish triad' as an 'irish bull'. A version of that triad (three things to be distrusted) Three things to be distrusted: a cow's horn, a dog's tooth, and a horse's hoof. 'Smile of a Saxon is an obvious varient. cf: Kuno Meyer Triads

May I add a little note which is missed. 'whose mother is beastly dead' said by Buck Mulligan and upsetting to Kinch - beastly dead is the inverse in English of 'beo beithioch' which is the Irish for 'beastly alive' a common expression.

Again fine work gathering up all those references and finding pcs to match,

‘That has the true scholastic stink’ with a verb sap. matiness. Scholars are touchy folk but correction from the likes of me is like a kindly hour before dawn in the stocks before the burghers emerge.

The triad collection of Kuno Meyer is a great find and I recommend it as a source of poetic compression.
Kuno Meyer

Three slender things that best support the world: the slender stream of milk from the cow's dug into the pail, the slender blade of green corn upon the ground, the slender thread over the hand of a skilled woman.

Three smiles that are worse than sorrow: the smile of the snow as it melts, the smile of your wife on you after another man has been with her, the grin of a hound ready to leap at you.

Three signs of a fop: the track of his comb in his hair, the track of his teeth in his food, the track of his stick behind him.

Three idiots that are in a bad guest-house: the chronic cough of an old hag, a brainless tartar of a girl, a hobgoblin of a gillie.

Three things that constitute a comb-maker: racing a hound in contending for a bone; straightening a ram's horn by his breath, without fire; chanting upon a dunghill so that all antlers and bones and horns that are below come to the top.

One triad I two thirds remember (must talk to the brother) is - Three useless things that are as good as three right things: X, dirty water to quench a fire, a poltroon with a wooden sword (claiomh adhmaid ag cladhaire).

Proposals for X - a liars breath to blow out a candle.

Addendum 27/2/15: Aida of joyce images tells me that the image of Irish Bull refers to the smile of the Saxon. She wasn’t aware of the peculiarly Irish (and Welsh) tradition of triadic sayings. There’s a lot in Joyce and certainly he loved the obscure and recondite. Visit her site and experience the pantographical panoply of Dublin in June 1904

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Stamp of Approval from An Post

The apparent political unanimity on the same sex marriage referendum, with everyone singing off the one multicoloured hymn sheet is unusual nay uncanny. Even An Post has brought out a stamp with an explicit hurrah for equality. Its designer admits to this but the official line is otherwise:

The stamp’s designer, Oonagh Young, has admitted the inclusion was deliberate on her part. In a social media message she stated: ““I designed the ‘love&marriage’ stamp for An Post, including red equals symbol for marriage equality. Spread the love.”
However, when contacted, a spokesman for An Post insisted that the stamp was designed some time ago and has “no connection with any debate or referendum”, and went on to describe Ms Young’s comment as “poorly worded”.
(Iona Institute statement)

Myles na gCopaleen (Flann O’Brien) would identify this as Taurus Magnificus Hibernis and demand that it be put down and then fed hay. The impertinent use of a semi-state outfit to promote one side of a referendum may fetch up in the courts. Someone took their eye off the bull.

Friday, 20 February 2015

What is the stars?

To answer Captain Boyle’s question (Juno and the Paycock) and say that the stars and all the furniture of the cosmos is an illusion, in the simplistic way that some proponents of advaitic vedanta do, would be wrong. Or should I say non-wrong because that 'all’ is not describable as real or unreal. Our attempt at closure fails because the criteria of closure are only operative, if at all, within the cosmos. For this reason the jnanis direct seekers into positive methods of inquiry:

For this reason, from the standpoint of the highest truth Advaitins should not be considered and spoken of as people who proclaim the falsity of the world. They should be considered, rather, as people who proclaim the sole existence and (undifferentiated) reality of the self. A false notion cannot be real while it lasts and then undergo obliteration at the time of correction. We find in the world that a rope, for example, will remain exactly what it is, even it be falsely imagined as a snake or the like. And in the same way, the Absolute remains what it is, even when it is falsely imagined as the world and soul and so forth. This is the finally accepted truth.
(pg. 116 The Method of Vedanta by Sri SSS.)

The sentence beginning with A false notion seems to be backsliding into illusionism away from the positive inquiry of such as Ramana Maharshi with his Who Am I atma vichara or Nisargadatta’s reflection on I am. I rather take it to be a saving irony because analogies as such are still within the cosmos. There is no final answer in them.

Boyle: An’, as it blowed an’ blowed, I ofen looked up at the sky an’ assed meself the question — what is the stars, what is the stars?

Joxer: Ah, that’s the question, that’s the question — what is the stars?
Boyle: An’ then, I’d have another look, an’ I’d ass meself — what is the moon?
Joxer: Ah, that’s the question — what is the moon, what is the moon?
“Juno and the Paycock”, Seán O’Casey (1924)

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Hindu Mormon Lock

Christian Proselytization
Arvind Sharma seems to take exception to the activity of Christian missionaries in India who attempt to proselytize. It offends some sentiment of parity of esteem because Hindus feel that there are many paths to the same goal. Christians evidently do not share this view. Sharma tries to make out that Christians are not being true to the intuitions of the primitive church re the scope of universality. Though he can find a couple of theologians who have reservations about universality I find that such a swerve from long standing belief and practice to be incredible. What to do? In Ireland we call the sliding bolt on a door a ‘mormon lock’ which allows us to view but not admit those missionaries. My own response is to say that I’m very happy with my religion and wish you all the best and I have no desire to waste your time in empty conversation.

May I recommend the installation of such a ‘device’.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Bhartrprapanca's Bhedaabheda (Identity and Difference)

You have established your philosophy camp. The next thing is to secure the perimeter. The primary boundary is that of the past of your tradition with its errors and insights, the secondary is that of the contiguous thought that may be confused with your own. Thus after a round-up of the main points of Sri Bhagavatpada (Sankara) Swami Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati (hereafter Sri SSS) deals with the vedic tradition of enlightenment gained through the karma of sacrifice and ritual. Firmly he rejects this with a stern adherence to the doctrine that only knowledge can banish ignorance.

(Liberation is said figuratively to be the ‘result’ of knowledge, because metaphysical knowledge puts an end to the obstruction caused by Ignorance , while Ignorance cannot be destroyed by action.) Nor can one conceive of any other obstruction to liberation apart from ignorance of a kind that might be removed by action. For liberation is eternal, and is nothing other than the true nature of the seeker himself. (Bhr.Up. Bhasya XVIII. 67 intro)

In Chap.IV of The Method of the Vedanta Sri SSS deals with contiguous error namely the identity and difference (bhedaabheda) doctrine which he associates with Bhartrprapanca Sankara’s ‘contemporary’. I mark that term given that Sankara’s dates are disputed and that Bhartrprapanca is known only from references in various works including Sankara’s commentary on the Brhad.Up.

The difference in identity is often explicated by the use of a master analogy. Water which is one and identical is manifested in different forms such as waves, foam etc. We recognise this difference and identity simultaneously.

In the same way, the Absolute is both dualistic and non-dualistic. The sea consists of water, waves, foam, bubbles and so forth. And the waves, foam, bubbles and the rest, that arise from the water, are just as much the nature of the sea as the water is. True, they come and go; but they are perfectly real for all that. And all this world of duality is perfectly real too, comparable to the water and the waves in the illustration. The Absolute in its supreme form is comparable to the water of the sea.

Sankara uses the concept of material identity also in a different way in discoursing on ‘clay’ and vessels of ‘clay’ in his commentary on Ch. Up. Personally I do not find his ontology convincing but that is a separate issue. Here Sri SSS applies the principle of non-contradiction to Bhartrprapanca’s theory. A thing cannot both be and not be one with itself at the same time.

Duality and non-duality are contradictories. The theory would therefore be in danger of undermining the Vedic texts which speak of Consciousness as a single homogeneous mass. If the Absolute were of both dualistic and non-dualistic nature like the sea or the tree (branches, boughs etc), it would have parts, and so inevitably would be impermanent.

The austere monism of Sankara rejects any assimilation of the Real and the Un-real even to the suggestion of a gradual wearing away of maya by action (ritual).
Some hold that all ritual leads to the cessation of bondage. As one is liberated successively from each ‘death’, meaning from each new body, so one attains a new one, not for the sake of attaining it but for the sake of getting rid of it. Thus until duality is finally destroyed, all ( as the Upanishad says) is death. But when duality is finally destroyed, then one is truly released from the prospect of undergoing further death. Before that, one can only speak of liberation in a relative or secondary sense. (Brhad. Up. commentary III.ii.1, intro.)

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Why are so few philosophers theists?

It’s always dangerous to state the obvious. One provokes the ho-hum response and gets relegated to the parliament of bores. We do our best and what thanks do we get for it? No thanks, nothing but abuse. So then, opening the box - why are so few philosophers theists and why are so many of the specialists in philosophy of religion Christian theists? Is it that in the cradle the fairy dust of inquiry has fallen on so few? I think so. Most people are satisfied with the answers which their society has given them if not to the point of utter confidence then to the feeling that ‘it will be alright on the night’. As that Irish marching song has it,

We're on the one road
Sharing the one load
We're on the road to God knows where
We're on the one road
It may be the wrong road
But we're together now who cares

The aspirant to philosophy is inclined to say, ‘hmm, let me check the map’ and so if they depart from the deep rutted track it may be away from theism. Some few amongst that group cannot quite relinquish what the majority of rational seekers reject. They hope to more firmly establish their adherence, to make it rational.

Is the smart money on atheism? My view is that there’s a hive mind operating in academic philosophy. It is clear that there is congregation around the queen bees of the day. They were mostly all Idealists, then they were Logical Positivists, then Linguistic Analysis reigned and now Analysis has set itself firmly against the Continental and finds an identity in that. Last and late, the dismal whimsy of trolleyism.
cf philosopher swimmers

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

So Big by Edna Ferber

So Big by Edna Ferber is a sly and duplicitous book. It subverts by a studied ambiguity the values of the religion of beauty and art for art’s sake. Selina claws out of the vile clay of a failing truck farm a good living and can send her son Dirk to college and then to Architecture school. Just post the Kaiser war there was little building in Chicago and the firm that he works for keeps him at mere draughting. The other woman, Paula, who rejected Dirk for a rich banker regrets her decision. Her relationship with Dirk is founded on her money loving character, natured and nurtured because Daddy is a world size meat-packer. Using her influence she gets Dirk who is malleable into the bond sales racket. His handsome solidity makes him a natural and before long his cleanly limbs are English tailored. Anglophile America is mocked and the native born flapper is filleted in this book. Fox hunting is taken up by the North Shore gilderatti but the men won’t wear the scarlet coat. When Ferber allows herself to point her pencil she’s better than the pastel crayon of sentiment that pinks the sunset over the prairie.

Selina’s late husband a stolid, phlegmatic Dutchman one of the many of that truckfarming area just outside of Chicago is the other element of Dirk’s genetic inheritance. Selina’s father was a gamblin’ man with a taste for the finer things of life that he indulged when he was in ‘velvet’. This was the era of genetic science and determinism and it is taken for granted that it will out except for rare mutations. Such is Roelf the son of the Pooles with whom Selina lodges during her time as a school marm. His artistic flair makes him run away to study art in Paris (France). Rather unrealistically all the artists in this book after an initial garret tempering become famous and successful. Dallas O’Hara from Texas is the love out of reach for Dirk the Bond-wallah. She’s the free spirit who finances her higher art with advertising illustrations which run to $1500 a pop. There’s an Indian english word for transparent fantasy - ‘filmy’. Hollywood has made two versions of this book but I do not by that suggest that it is any sort of trash. It’s quite well written and at 215 pages prior to steriod enhanced Americana and one is grateful for shorter mercy. Tart at her best -
'It's terrible," she said. "I think there ought to be a Movement for the proper pronunciation. The people ought to be taught; and the children In the schools. They call Goethe Street 'Gerty'; and pronounce all the s's in Des Plaines. Even Illinois they call 'Illiwois' She was very much In earnest. Her breast rose and fell. She ate her salad rapidly. Dirk thought that large blondes oughn't to get excited. It made their faces red.

On Flappers and typists:
BETWEEN these girls and the girls that worked in his office there existed a similarity that struck and amused Dirk. He said, "Take a letter, Miss Roach," to a slim young creature as exquisite as the girl with whom he had danced the day before; or ridden or played tennis or bridge. Their very clothes were faultless imitations. They even used the same perfume. He wondered, idly, how they did it. They were eighteen, nineteen, twenty, and their faces and bodies and desires and natural equipment made their presence in a business office a paradox, an absurdity. Yet they were capable, too, in a mechanical sort of way. Theirs were mechanical jobs. They answered telephones, pressed levers, clicked buttons, tapped typewriters, jotted down names. They were lovely creatures with the minds of fourteen-year-old children. Their hair was shining, perfectly undulated, as fine and glossy and tenderly curling as a young child's. Their breasts were flat, their figures singularly sexless like that of a very young boy. They were wise with the wisdom of the serpent. They wore wonderful little sweaters and flat babyish collars and ridiculously sensible stockings and oxfords. Their legs were slim and sturdy. Their mouths were pouting, soft, plnk,
the lower lip a little curled back, petal-wise, like the moist mouth of a baby that has just finished nursing. Their eyes were wide apart, empty, knowledgeous. They managed their private affairs like generals. They were cool, remote, disdainful. They reduced their boys to desperation. They were brigands, desperadoes, pirates, taking all, giving little. They came, for the most part, from sordid homes, yet they knew, in some miraculous way, all the fine arts that Paula knew and practised. They were corsetless, pliant, bewildering, lovely, dangerous. They ate lunches that were horrible mixtures of cloying sweets and biting acids yet their skin was like velvet and cream. Their voices were thin, nasal, vulgar; their faces like iiiose in a Greuze or a Fragonard. They said, with a twang that racked the listener, *'I wouldn't of went if I got an Invite but he could of give me a ring, anyways. I called him right. I was sore."

I like ‘knowledgeous’. This is a good read which won a Pulitzer in 1925 when ‘wholesome’ was part of the criterion for consideration but there’s an outsider’s mockery there too that arose out, and I speculate here, of her Jewish alertness. Selina’s pert nose and her ‘Mayflower’ physiognomy is mentioned more often than strictly necessary . I recommend it as an example of how working within constraints can develop nuances and counter-stories in fiction.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Bergson and Memory

This radical powerlessness of pure memory is just what will enable us to understand how it is preserved in a latent state. Without as yet going to the heart of the matter, we will confine ourselves to the remark that our unwillingness to conceive unconscious psychical states is due, above all, to the fact that we hold consciousness to be the essential property of psychical states so that a psychical state cannot, it seems, cease to be conscious without ceasing to exist. But if consciousness is but the characteristic note of the present, that is to say of the actually lived, in short of the active, then that which does not act may cease to belong to consciousness without therefore ceasing to exist in some manner. In other words, in the psychological domain, consciousness may not be the synonym of existence, but only of real action or of immediate efficacy; and, limiting thus the meaning of the term, we (pg 182) shall have less difficulty in representing to ourselves a psychical state which is unconscious, that is to say, ineffective.
(pg.181, Matter and Memory)

How different this is from the thought of Sartre who envisaged consciousness as always on, that if there was repression then what was repressed must be something that we are aware of at some level. This is of course in line with the Freudian theory and ‘the return of the repressed’. In the Bergsonian psychology repression might even be a good thing as being the elimination of an impediment to present effective action. Moving on is removing as it were.

Nevertheless it is a startling conception of memory cutting across all sorts of blocks to its acceptance. First of all there is the receptacle notion. There is a place cerebrally located where memory resides in a permanent form. Memory manifests as a consciousness and as we are generally conscious it participates in that. There is as well the fixed view that memory moves from the present to the past, that we draw down from that deposit, from here to there. Bergson proposed memory as a virtual entity, a power that lies unconscious in the background and a practical response to present needs. This division of present and past in relation to memory may be a mirage when the concept of duration is considered. All our past is rolled up and there as a power in each moment. Therefore the action from the past on the present must be understood in that context.

The contrast between the limit cases of pure memory and pure perception and how this affects his view of matter and the twin poles of realism and idealism might be considered in a further note.