♦ Vātsyāyana’s critique of the materialistic theory of cognition

As is well-known, according to Indian Cārvāka/Lokāyata materialism (on account of which see here) cognition (jñāna, but also caitanya) emerges only where and when the material elements (earth, water, fire and air) are mixed up to constitute a physical living body. This perspective has been, of course, criticized by lots of non-Cārvaka philosophers in lots of works. In what follows I refer and translate a passage from Vātsyāyana’s commentary on the Nyāyasūtras, where we find a sketch of the materialistic argumentation in favour of the physicity of cognition and its Naiyāyika rebuttal.

Following Vātsyāyana’s Nyāyasūtrabhāṣya ad Nyāyasūtra 3.2.35-36, the first of these two aphorisms would expound a theory, attributed to a general partisan of materialism (called bhūtacaitanika, that is, an upholder of the doctrine that cognition is from material elements), according to whom activity (ārambha) and inactivity (nivṛtti) – that in Nyāyasūtra 3.2.34 are said to be occasioned by desire and aversion (which are, in their turn, defined as marks/properties of ātman) – would belong to the physical body. The second aphorism, on the contrary, represents the Naiyāyikas’ answer:

atra bhūtacaitanika āha | [Nyāyasūtra 3.2.35:] talliṅgatvād icchādveṣayoḥ pārthivādyeṣv apratiṣedhaḥ || ārambhanivṛttiliṅgāv icchādveṣāv iti yasyārambhanivṛttī tasyecchādveṣau tasya jñānam iti prāptaṃ pārthivāpy ataijasavāyavīyānāṃ śarīrāṇām ārambhanivṛttidarśanād icchādveṣajñānair yoga iti caitanyam |

[Nyāyasūtra 3.2.36:] paraśvādiṣv ārambhanivṛttidarśanāt || śarīre caitanyanivṛttiḥ | ārambhanivṛttidarśanād icchādveṣajñānair yoga iti prāptaṃ paraśvādeḥ karaṇasyārambhanivṛttidarśanāc caitanyam iti | atha śarīrasyecchādibhir yogaḥ paraśvādes tu karaṇasyārambhanivṛttī vyabhicarataḥ na tarhy ayaṃ hetuḥ pārthivāpy ataijasavāyavīyānāṃ śarīrāṇām ārambhanivṛttidarśanād icchādveṣajñānair yoga iti |

ayaṃ tarhy anyo’rthaḥ talliṅgatvād icchādveṣayoḥ pārthivādyeṣv apratiṣedhaḥ | pṛthivyādīnāṃ bhūtānām ārambhas tāvat trasasthāvaraśarīreṣu tadavayavavyūhaliṅgaḥ pravṛttiviśeṣaḥ loṣṭādiṣu ca liṅgābhāvāt pravṛttiviśeṣābhāvo nivṛttiḥ | ārambhanivṛttiliṅgāv icchādveṣāv iti pārthivādyeṣv aṇuṣu taddarśanād icchādveṣayogas tadyogāj jñānayoga iti siddhaṃ bhūtacaitanyam iti |

kumbhādiṣv anupalabdher ahetuḥ | kumbhādimṛdavayavānāṃ vyūhaliṅgaḥ pravṛttiviśeṣa ārambhaḥ sikatādiṣu pravṛttiviśeṣābhāvo nivṛttiḥ | na ca mṛtsikatānām ārambhanivṛttidarśanād icchādveṣaprayatnajñānair yogaḥ | tasmāt talliṅgatvād icchādveṣayor ity ahetur iti ||

«There, the adherent to the doctrine that cognition is from material elements says: [Nyāyasūtra 3.2.35] “Because they are marks of those [activity and inactivity, which takes place only in presence of a body], there [can] not [be] negation of desire and aversion in these [bodies] made by earth etc.” Desire and aversion are the marks of activity and inactivity; [therefore,] activity and inactivity [are characteristics] of some thing, of which [also] desire and aversion [are characteristics, and] it is proper [to think] that [also] knowledge [must be a characteristic] of that [very thing]; moreover, the [body] made by earth – because activity and inactivity are observed [to be the marks] of bodies not [composed by] igneous and aereal [elements] – does possess desire, aversion and knowledge, and hence cognition.

[Nyāyasūtra 3.2.36] “[We Naiyāyikas reject all this,] because activity and absence of activity are observed in [inanimated things like] axes etc.” [This functions as a] rebuttal of [the idea that] cognition is in the body. [If] it were proper [to admit] that the combination of desire, aversion and knowledge [belongs to the body] because activity and inactividy are observed [in it, then] cognition [should be a property also] of instruments like an axe etc., because activity and inactivity are observed [also there]. But, [if only] the body possesses desire etc., then activity and inactivity of instruments such as an axe etc. deviate from [your argument], and in that case this [of yours] is not a [valid] reason [for upholding that]: moreover, the [body] made by earth – because activity and inactivity are observed [to be the marks] of bodies not [composed by] igneous and aereal [elements] – does possess desire, aversion and knowledge.

[Objection by the materialist:] in that case, this [sūtra], “Because they are marks of those [activity and inactivity], there [can] not [be] negation of desire and aversion in these [bodies] made by earth etc.” has [to be interpreted according to] another meaning. Activity is [a property] of elements like earth etc., insofar as there is a particular spontaneous attitude in moving or immovable [living] bodies, which is a mark of the component limbs of those [very bodies], and inactivity is the absence of that particular spontaneous attitude in [for instance] a lump of clay etc., because of the absence of that mark. Desire and aversion are the marks of activity and inactivity; as those [activity and inactivity] are observed in the atoms of those [elements like] the earthy one etc., there is conjunction with desire and aversion. Because there is conjunction with those [two], there is [also] conjunction with knowledge. Thus it is established that cognition [belongs] to elements.

[Answer: your argument] is not a [valid] reason because of the non perception [of activity and inactivity] in [objects like] a jar etc. [Indeed, if we follow your reasoning,] activity [should be also] a particular spontaneous attitude that is the mark of the [whole] structure of the portions of clay of a jar etc., and inactivity [should be] the absence of that particular spontaneous attitude in [things such as] gravel etc. [where there is no structure of parts]; but [in these inanimate things] there is not conjunction with desire, aversion, effort and knowledge [simply] because activity and inactivity of jars and gravel are observed. Therefore, “Of desire and aversion, because they are marks of those” is not a [valid] reason».

The materialistic perspective can be summarized as follows: (a) activity (ārambha) is a mark of only the living beings (both movable, as animals, and immovable, as vegetals); (b) activity is due to a particular spontaneous attitude (pravṛttiviśeṣa) that is peculiar to those living beings; (c) this particular spontaneous attitude can be peculiar to living beings because in primis it is a mark of the material elements that constitute their parts, and manifests itself only when and where the elements attain the form and nature of a living being. Moreover, (d) cognition is by the materialist proved to belong to the material elements on the basis of its link with desire and aversion (as the sentence tadyogāj jñānayoga, «because there is conjunction with them, there is conjunction with cognition», reveals), which are seen in their turn as the marks of activity and inactivity.

The materialist perspective is criticized by Vātsyāyana as follows. If the materialist upholds that desire and aversion exist where activity and inactivity exist, we have to consider that activity and inactivity can be observed also in non living beings, as for instance in an axe (whose activity depends on someone’s utilization of it). Vātsyāyana’s point is to reject the idea according to which activity and inactivity are primarily defined as marks of physical bodies, which are in their turn thought as an assemblage of different component parts, each of them subjected to activity and inactivity. According to Vātsyāyana, indeed, also inanimate objects have parts – like for example a jar, which has a lip, handels etc. –, but nobody would admit that these parts do actually experience desire, aversion etc.

Two main critical points against materialism follow from these considerations. (A) Cognition cannot be a simple or mere property of the elements, otherwise it should be present in each element, with the consequence that every single body would have a number of cognitions according to as many elements concure to constitute it (this is supported by Nyāyasūtrabhāṣya ad Nyāyasūtra 3.2.37. (B) Cognition can be neither a property of the parts that constitute a body as such, otherwise it would/should exist in almost every body, because the majority of the existents are formed by different parts linked together (like in the case of a man, a jar etc.).

References

Nyaya-Tarkatirtha, T., Tarkatirtha, A. (1936-1944). Nyāyadarśanam: with Vātsyāyana’s Bhāṣya, Uddyotakara’s Vārttika, Vācaspati Miśra’s Tātparyaṭīkā and Viśvanātha’s Vṛtti. Calcutta: Metropolitan Printing & Publ.


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