Friday, 8 February 2019

Animal Faith

Shankaracarya declares the natural and spontaneous faith of animals in objective reality.

Moreover, there is no difference (of the learned) from the animals (in regard to empirical behaviour). Just as animals and others turn away from sound etc. when these appear unfavourable after their ears etc. come into contact with them, and they move towards these when they are favourable; and just by noticing a man approaching them with a raised stick, they begin to run away thinking, “This one wants to hurt me”, and they approach another carrying green grass in his hands, similarly even the wise are repelled by the presence of strong, uproarious people with evil looks and upraised swords, and are attracted by men of opposite nature. Therefore the behaviour of men with regard to the means and objects of knowledge is similar to that of animals.
(from the Preamble to Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya)

As soon as I would put out my hand with an apple in it the pony in the field would come running over. Must I put Descartes before that horse?


Anonymous said...

if spontaneous why add the need for cognitive reflection/narration?

Stuart W. Mirsky said...

". . . by noticing a man approaching them with a raised stick, they begin to run away thinking, 'This one wants to hurt me' ”

But this would not be the case since there is no reason to think an animal without language could even formulate such concepts. Presumably, the quote is merely from a more naive era than our own, when the role of language in conceptualization and world formation had not yet been explored or explicated and so we can simply discount the anthromorphic element in the thought expressed above and just focus on the fact of animal faith itself which is an important point. And yet there is something in this that requires us to consider the role of language in understanding why we humans may be prone to Descartes like musings and animals without language would not be. It's only our capacity for abstraction and generalization which language makes possible that leads us down this path of supposing that, to interact with reality we must be able to justify its appearance to us in some abstract way. Animal faith, common sense or, better, the role of practice and success in our behaviors (the pragmatic way of explaining truth claims and beliefs) all override abstract reasoning when it comes to dealing with the world. And that's because such reasoning has strayed too far when we seek to use it to replace the sense of certainty we derive just from interacting with our world. Before there can be claims of truth or falsity there must be the practical effects of physical interaction with our world. Valuation is thus a more basic function for us than truth assertion.

ombhurbhuva said...

Stuart W. Mirsky:
Thanks for your comment which I missed .
That of course is just a human projection or what a human would think or say in the same circumstances. As Wittgenstein said: If a lion could speak we would not understand it. There is no commonality of forms of life. The general idea is that there is objective cognition of threat or reward. Here is an interesting article on animal cognition:

It’s obvious if you accept Darwinian evolution that our cognition passed through those earlier stages and fetched up where our rationality wants to prove everything as you say.