South Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - The Evolution of Buddhist and Nyāya Views on Non-Conceptual Perception

Friday, July 6
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Casuarina, Lower Ground Floor

This paper seeks to explain one of the few points where Buddhists and Naiyāyikas actually arrived at an agreement – namely, that non-conceptual perception (nirvikalpaka-pratyakṣa) are cognitions which lack any association with names or predictive properties ("nāmajātyādiyojanārahitam"). 


I trace the evolution of Buddhist and Nyāya views on nirvikalpaka-pratyakṣa and claim that there is a common trend in their development from Vasubandhu to Dignāga, and from Vātsyāyana to Vācaspati Miśra and Gaṅgeśa. That trend, I suggest, can be illuminated with a distinction made in contemporary discussions of non-conceptual content between "state non-conceptualism" and "content non-conceptualism." Roughly, the "state view" holds that a mental state is non-conceptual if a subject doesn't possess the concepts necessary to articulate that state's representational content.


On my reading, both Buddhist and Nyāya thinkers ultimately shifted from presuming state non-conceptualism to advocating forms of content non-conceptualism. To explain this shift, I cite two philosophical and exegetical reasons. First, contemporary defenders of non-conceptualism have argued that the state view is ultimately untenable, and collapses into a content view. Second, Buddhists and Naiyāyikas came to view concept-possession as grounded upon the operation of memory-traces (saṃskāra), rather than on linguistic mastery. With this refined theory of concept-possession, the line between non-conceptual and concept-laden states was preservable only through positing an essential difference between non-conceptual and conceptual contents. Finally, I examine how, even having reached a shared definition of nirvikalpaka perception, the different theoretical commitments of Navya Nyāya and Buddhism led to a divergence over the conscious character of non-conceptual states.

Amit Chaturvedi

University of Hawai’i, United States

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