Buddhists, Brahmins, and Belief - Epistemology in South Asian Philosophy of Religion

Buddhists, Brahmins, and Belief - Epistemology in South Asian Philosophy of Religion

Product ID: 24128

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Author: Dan Arnold
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass
Year: 2008
Language: English
Pages: 318
ISBN/UPC (if available): 9788120832930


In Buddhists, Brahmins, and Belief, Dan Arnold examines how the Brahmanical tradition of Purva Mimamsa and the writings of the seventh-century Buddhist Madhyamika philosopher Candrakirti challenged dominant Indian Buddhist views of epistemology.

Arnold retrieves these two very different but equally important voices of philosophical dissent, showing them to have developed highly sophisticated and cogent critiques of influential Buddhist epistemologists such as Dignaga and Dharmakirti.

His analysis – developed in conversation with modern Western philosophers like William Alston and J.L. Austin – offers an innovative reinterpretation of the Indian philosophical tradition, while suggesting that premodern Indian thinkers have much to contribute to contemporary philosophical debates.

In logically distinct ways, Purva Mimamsa and Candrakirti’s Madhyamaka opposed the influential Buddhist school of thought that emphasized the foundational character of perception. Arnold argues that Mimamsaka arguments concerning the “intrinsic validity” of the earliest Vedic scriptures are best understood as a critique of the tradition of Buddhist philosophy stemming from Dignaga. Though often dismissed as antithetical to “real philosophy,” Mimamsaka thought has affinities with the reformed epistemology that has recently influenced contemporary philosophy of religion.

Candrakirti’s arguments, in contrast, amount to a principled refusal of epistemology. Arnold contends that Candrakirti marshals against Buddhist foundationalism an approach that resembles twentieth-century ordinary language philosophy – and does so by employing what are finally best understood as transcendental arguments. The conclusion that Candrakirti’s arguments thus support a metaphysical claim represents a bold new understanding of Madhyamaka.


“Buddhists, Brahmins, and Belief is cross-cultural philosophy at its best, dazzling foray into the heart of Indian and Western ideas of knowledge, reality, and truth.”
- Roger R. Jackson, Carleton College, editor and translator of
Tantric Treasures: Three Collections of Mystical Verse from Buddhist India

Buddhists, Brahmins, and Belief is a landmark in the study of Indian philosophy and in Buddhist studies, a rigorous and subtle exploration of epistemological and ontological foundationalism in a cross-cultural context, and a great read. Arnold’s graceful deployment of a wide range of Indian and Western texts and arguments is a model of how to do cross-cultural philosophy.”
---Jay Garfield, Smith College, author of Empty Words: Buddhist Philosophy and Cross-cultural Interpretation

“No one has addressed the core problems of epistemology more trenchantly than Indian thinkers. And no one has provided a more probing and accessible exposition of their many-sided controversies than Arnold.”
- Sheldon Pollock, Columbia University, author of The Language of the Gods in the World of
Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India

“In Buddhists, Brahmins, and Belief, Dan Arnold succeeds in advancing our knowledge of philosophical debate and dialogue in India, while demonstrating the relevance of the ancient Indian debates to current discussions in the philosophy of religion.”
- Matthew Kapstein, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, author of Reason’s Traces: Identity and Interpretation in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist Thought

“Dan Arnold offers a very readable and valuable treatment of some of the most difficult and important topics in Indian Philosophy. This is an excellent and innovative take on an extremely rich and important period, a veritable feast for those interested in getting a deeper understanding of this very rich source of insights.”
- Georges Dreyfus, Williams College, author of The Sound of Two Hands Clapping: The Education of a Tibetan Monk

“A deeply illuminating and in some respects revolutionary interpretation of the Madhyamika critique of Dignaga’s epistemology. Arnold’s book is also a philosophical achievement in its own right, deploying with admirable care and precision the distinction between truth and justification to argue that the principal purpose of argument is not to produce but to justify belief, and to show thereby that Mimamsakas and Madhyamikas may both be justified in holding what they hold.”
- Paul J. Griffiths, University of Illinois at Chicago, author of Lying: An Augustinian Theology of Duplicity



Introduction: On the Rational Reconstruction of South Asian Philosophy

1. Dignaga’s Transformation of Buddhist Abhidharma
The Context of Buddhist Foundationalism
Svalaksanas in Dignaga’s Epistemology: From “Defining Characteristics” to “Unique Particulars”
2. The Problems with Buddhist Foundationalism
Perception, Apperception, and the Epistemological Role of Svalaksanas Causation, Intentionality, and Justificaiton
Dharmottara and Subsequent Attempts to Address the Problems
Conclusion: Dignaga, Dharmakirti, and Epistemic Conceptions of Truth

3. Nobody Is Seen Going to Heaven: Toward an Epistemology That Supports the Authority of the Vedas
Pramanya, “Truth,” and the Underappreciation of Purva Mimamsa
Background to the Doctrine: Sabara’s Commentary on the Mimamsa Sutras
Kumarila’s Elaboration of a Comprehensive Epistemology
Preliminary Assessment: Just What Kind of Capacity Are We Talking About?
William Alston’s Doxastic Account of Justification

4. Are the Vedas Intrinsically True? Prima Facie Justification and the Mimamsaka Critique of Buddhist Foundationalism
Parthasarathimisra’s Doxastic Account of svatah pramanya
“Mimamsa Has Only One Real Enemy: Buddhism”
Justification, Truth, and he Question of Vedic Authority
Should We All, Then, Perform the Agnihotra Sacrifice?

5. A Philosophical Grammar for the Study of Madhyamaka
On the Basic Impulse of Madhyamaka
“Epistemology” and “Transcendental Arguments”
Skepticism vis-à-vis Madhyamaka
6. Candrakirti Against Bare Particulars:
An Expression of Madhyamika Metaphysics
Are Madhyamikas Defending a Claim? Nagarjuna on “These,” Candrakirti on “Certainty”
On “Reasoning That is Familiar” : a posteriori vs. a priori justification
Candrakirti on Dignaga’s Category of svalaksana: Can “Particulars”
Be Bare of Their Own “Defining Characteristics”?
Must There Be a Basis for Our Conventions?
MMK 24.18 and Candrakirti’s Metaphysical Claim:
“Relative Indication” as an Example of Dependent Origination
7. Is It Really True That Everything Is Empty? Candrakirti on Essencelessness as the Essence of Things
“Perception” and the “Perceptible”:
Candrakirti’s Statement of “Nagarjuna’s Paradox”
Can Candrakirti’s Arguments Justify the Claim That This Is Really True?
What Kind of “Essences” Do People Really Believe in?
A Possible Critique of Madhyamaka

Conclusion: Justification and Truth, Relativism and Pragmatism:
Some Lessons for Religious Studies
Epistemology in South Asian Philosophy of Religion
On the Context of This Inquiry: Some Lessons for Religious Studies