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Apoha: Buddhist Nominalism and Human Cognition

Mark Siderits
Tom Tillemans
Arindam Chakrabarti
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    When we understand that something is a pot, is it because of one property that all pots share? This seems unlikely, but without this common essence, it is difficult to see how we could teach someone to use the word "pot" or to see something as a pot. The Buddhist apoha theory tries to resolve this dilemma, first, by rejecting properties such as "potness" and, then, by claiming that the element uniting all pots is their very difference from all non-pots. In other words, when we seek out a pot, we select an object that is not a non-pot, and we repeat this practice with all other items and expressions.

    Writing from the vantage points of history, philosophy, and cognitive science, the contributors to this volume clarify the nominalist apoha theory and explore the relationship between apoha and the scientific study of human cognition. They engage throughout in a lively debate over the theory's legitimacy. Classical Indian philosophers challenged the apoha theory's legitimacy, believing instead in the existence of enduring essences. Seeking to settle this controversy, essays explore whether apoha offers new and workable solutions to problems in the scientific study of human cognition. They show that the work of generations of Indian philosophers can add much toward the resolution of persistent conundrums in analytic philosophy and cognitive science.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52738-5
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-49)
    Arindam Chakrabarti and Mark Siderits

    This is a book about the apoha theory of Buddhist nominalism.¹ The apoha theory is first and foremost an approach to the problem of universals—the problem of the one over many. That problem is one of explaining how it is possible, when we see a pot, to think of it as a pot and call it by the name “pot,” a name that applies to many other particular pots. What is the one thing, being-a-pot, that this particular shares with many other particulars? Is there really such a thing in the world, over and above the individual pots, or...

  5. 1 How to Talk About Ineffable Things: DIGNĀGA AND DHARMAKĪRTI ON APOHA
    (pp. 50-63)
    Tom Tillemans

    If one tries to tell something of a unifying narrative as to why the philosophy of language became what it did in the system known as “Buddhist logic,” the central thread must be the Yogācāra separation between language and concepts, on the one hand, and ineffable, unconceptualized, real particulars on the other. To adopt a frequently used philosophical notion, Yogācāra, and logician apoha theorists, were unwavering subscribers to a “scheme-content” distinction. They held that we can and should make a clear and radical separation between what our linguistic-conceptual schemes create and impose upon an uninterpreted content and that content itself,...

    (pp. 64-83)
    Ole Pind

    There is hardly a single aspect of Dignāga’s philosophy that has generated as lively a controversy on the Indian philosophical scene as his apoha theory. Although it is possible to form an idea of the nature of this debate through the writings of Uddyotakara, Kumārila, and Mallavādin, who each wrote detailed refutations of Dignāga’s views, most of the arguments against the apoha theory remain fairly obscure as long as they are not studied with reference to their proper philosophical context: Dignāga’s own writings. Unfortunately, most of his works on epistemology and logic are no longer extant in their original Sanskrit...

  7. 3 Key Features of Dharmakīrti’s Apoha Theory
    (pp. 84-108)
    John D. Dunne

    The apoha theory contains a number of occasionally technical and even counterintuitive elements, and the main purpose of this chapter is to present its most fundamental features in a straightforward fashion. At the outset it is critical to note that, while certainly unified in its overall scope, the apoha theory underwent historical development that led to divergent interpretations among its formulators, and any single, unified account of the theory would be problematic. Hence, this chapter will focus on a pivotal historical moment in the theory’s development, namely, its articulation by the Buddhist philosopher Dharmakīrti (fl. 625), especially as interpreted by...

  8. 4 Dharmakīrti’s Discussion of Circularity
    (pp. 109-124)
    Pascale Hugon

    In the mutually critical dialogue about the import of words between Indian realists and the proponents of the theory of apoha, a number of shared ideas related to facts of language figure as touchstones when putting the respective opponent’s theory to the test. Many of the disputations thus concern grammatical notions such as the use of subject and predicate terms, gender and number, qualification, and coreference. On a more general level, both parties are equally challenged to account for the practical success of language in transactional usage within a social community, that is, for the fact that we do set...

  9. 5 Apoha Theory as an Approach to Understanding Human Cognition
    (pp. 125-133)
    Shrōyū Katsura

    Śākyabuddhi’s (ca. 660–720) analysis of the three meanings of the expression anyāpoha had a considerable influence upon the subsequent development of apoha theory in India and Tibet (Funayama 2000; Sakurai 2000; Dunne 2004). As Hisataka Ishida makes clear, Śāntarakṣita (ca. 725–788) developed Śākyabuddhi’s classification of anyāpoha by interpreting it in terms of the two kinds of negation, namely, “implicative negation” (paryudāsa) and “absolute negation” (prasajyapratiṣedha), and Śāntarakṣita came to be criticized by Jñānaśrīmitra (ca. 980–1040) and Ratnakīrti (ca. 990-1050).¹ The three meanings of anyāpoha are as follows:

    1. The excluded particular (vyāvṛtta-svalakṣana) that is not the object...

  10. 6 The Apoha Theory as Referred to in the Nyāyamañjarī
    (pp. 134-148)
    Masaaki Hattori

    The Nyāyamañjarī (NMJ) was written by Jayanta, a Naiyāyika active in Kashmir during the second half of the ninth century. It deals with the sixteen topics enumerated at the start of the Nyāyasūtra (1.1.1), beginning with instruments of knowledge (pramāna) and objects of knowledge (prameya). But while it ostensibly adopts the format of a commentary on the first and fifth books of the Nyāyasūtra, about two-thirds of the entire work is devoted to an examination of instruments of knowledge, and it differs in its approach from other commentaries in that its arguments are developed freely without being overly concerned with...

  11. 7 Constructing the Content of Awareness Events
    (pp. 149-169)
    Parimal G. Patil

    In the hands of the exclusion theorists Jñānaśrīmitra (ca. 975) and Ratnakīrti (ca. 1000)¹—perhaps the last two innovative exclusion theorists in India the scope of the theory of exclusion was extended far beyond the semantic context in which it was originally developed.² While Dignāga (ca. 480–540) himself recognized the very close relationship between semantics and inferential reasoning,³ and Jñānaśrīmitra and Ratnakīrti’s predecessors Dharmakīrti (ca. 600–660), Dharmottara (ca. 740–800), and Prajñākaragupta (ca. 800) recognized, with ever increasing clarity, the extent to which the theory of exclusion also applied to perception,⁴ it was in the hands of Jñānaśrīmitra...

  12. 8 The Apoha Theory of Meaning: A CRITICAL ACCOUNT
    (pp. 170-206)
    Prabal Kumar Sen

    The Buddhist view regarding the relation between thought, language, and reality has been expressed in the Lakāvatāra Sūtra in the following manner: “The nature of things cannot be ascertained when they are subjected to critical examination. Consequently, they have been declared [by Buddha] to be beyond the ken of language, and also devoid of ultimate nature.”¹ This doctrine was stated and expounded further by Nāgārjuna in his Madhyamakaśāstra; and his followers such as Āryadeva, Candrakīrti, and Śāntideva followed suit. Their common refrain was that thought and language fail to capture the nature of ultimate reality.² For Nāgārjuna and his followers,...

  13. 9 Apoha as a Naturalized Account of Concept Formation
    (pp. 207-227)
    Georges Dreyfus

    Since its promulgation by Dignāga (480–540),¹ the apoha theory has evinced passionate responses from Indian thinkers. Hindu realists have forcefully rejected it as an attempt to mask the problems created by the Buddhist nominalist denial of abstract entities. Buddhist antirealists have responded to these criticisms by insisting on the value of this theory, which in their eyes provides the resources for furthering the nominalist project of explaining thought and language in a world of particulars. The fact that this debate went on for a long time and is still largely unresolved is a testament to the intricacies and ingenuity...

  14. 10 Apoha, Feature-Placing, and Sensory Content
    (pp. 228-246)
    Jonardon Ganeri

    The thesis that sensory experience presents something other than ordinary physical objects has much to recommend it, but any philosopher who endorses it must eventually attempt to bridge the gap it opens between sensory and cognitive (or nonconceptual and conceptual) content.¹ The Buddhist notion of “exclusion” (apoha) serves here as a functional term for whatever additional explanatory resource is needed to bridge the gap, and (as Tillemans observes in his contribution to this volume) the explanation might proceed either by “working up” from sensory experience or else by “working down” from conceptual content. In this chapter, I will concentrate on...

  15. 11 Funes and Categorization in an Abstraction-Free World
    (pp. 247-257)
    Amita Chatterjee

    A theory of meaning can contribute to an account of human cognition if and only if it is also a theory of understanding. Apoha semantics, even in its earliest formulation, was something more than a mere theory of reference. Dignāga in his Pramāṇasamuccaya definitely attempted to teach us how to pick out and talk about individuals that inhabit our world, but at the same time he showed us how to understand the meaning of predicative expressions without resorting to realism about universals. Dignāga’s theory therefore qualified as a theory of understanding too. I have a different reason for being enthusiastic...

    (pp. 258-272)
    Bob Hale

    Some Buddhist Nominalists thought, or can at least plausibly be interpreted as claiming,¹ that a commitment to universals can be avoided by explaining the meaning of general predicates or kind terms by exclusion, appealing to their theory of apoha. In broad terms, their idea seems to have been that whereas there is a strong temptation to think that different particulars to which a general predicate such as “animal” can be correctly applied must have something in common, there is no such temptation to suppose that different particulars to which such a general predicate does not apply must do so, so...

  17. 13 Classical Semantics and Apoha Semantics
    (pp. 273-282)
    Brendan S. Gillon

    As is well known, Indian Buddhist thinkers found universals (sāmānya) to be metaphysically repugnant. Yet, many Indian thinkers considered universals necessary to account for how general expressions, such as common nouns, manage to apply to an unbounded set of individuals. Indian Buddhist thinkers, however, believed that a satisfactory account of this linguistic phenomenon could be provided without appeal to universals. In particular, such thinkers, called apoha-vādins (proponents of exclusion), held that, through exclusion (apoha) and difference (anya) of individuals, an ersatz universal could be found that would provide an empirically adequate account of the generality of a general expression.


  18. 14 Śrughna by Dusk
    (pp. 283-304)
    Mark Siderits

    When I first began thinking about the apoha theory many years ago, it struck me as an interesting test case for the interpretive approach to Buddhist philosophy that I favored. In my work on classical Indian philosophy, I have always made liberal use of the principle of charity of interpretation. The basic idea is that the classical Indian philosophers must have been pretty smart people, so there is some reason to be suspicious of interpretations of their work that leave them open to simple and powerful objections. The apoha theory claims that we can start with the cognition of a...

  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 305-320)
  20. List of Contributors
    (pp. 321-324)
  21. Index
    (pp. 325-334)