Transcript: 50. Marie-Hélène Gorisse on Jain Epistemology

We're joined by Marie-Hélène Gorisse for a look at the Jain theory of knowledge.
Podcast series

Note: this transcription was produced by automatic voice recognition software. It has been corrected by hand, but may still contain errors. We are very grateful to Tim Wittenborg for his production of the automated transcripts and for the efforts of a team of volunteer listeners who corrected the texts.

Peter Adamson: Can you first say something about who we're going to be discussing here? Who are the major Jaina thinkers you want to discuss? Roughly when do they live? Although I bet you're going to say we don't know. And where do they sit within the broader debating network of schools in Indian philosophy?

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Yes, with pleasure. Several backgrounds must first be introduced before I can properly speak about Jaina logicians and epistemologists. So first of all, the thinkers I drew on in my research contributed to the development of a highly regulated debating hall. So as you must know, this debating hall was center stage in the paradigm of Indian philosophy of the period that goes roughly to the end of the second century, common area to the 11th century. And this centrality is due to the fact that next to perceptual knowledge and to the correct interpretation of sacred text, the best method in terms to have a proper piece of knowledge is that of inferential reasoning. So I am working on the characterization of this inferential reasoning. One thing that is important to insist on is that in this framework, logical considerations, what is necessity, what are the properties of relations, et cetera, these considerations are directed towards epistemological purposes. So they are part of a broader concern to clearly define the functionings of the means accessible to us to acquire new knowledge. And that in turn epistemological considerations are directed toward soteriological purposes so that they are part of a broader concern to clearly define the way I should behave in order to fully realize my own nature. So second, there were three main participants in this debate. So the Buddhist philosophers, the Hindu philosophers of the Nyaya, Vaisheshika, and Mimamsa traditions, and Jain philosophers. So I am working on Jain philosophers here. And despite its pervasive importance in the Indian culture, Jainism is largely unknown in the West. So let me take one minute to introduce it. Jainism is a religious and philosophical tradition whose last great spiritual leader is Mahavira. He lived in the fifth century before common era. And like Buddhism, Jainism emerged at a time at which there were reactions against the ritualistic focus in Vedic corpus and that there were alternatives centered on an inner fight based on ascetic practices. So nowadays there are Jains all over the world, although the Jain community is mainly located in midwest India.

Peter Adamson: Okay, so the picture you've given us of the Jainas there is that they're one among several schools who are debating issues that are by now familiar to us, especially from the Nyaya school because they also have a theory of inference and what we might even call scientific reasoning. The Buddhists also have a theory of inference. We might get on later to what the difference is between the Buddhist and the Jaina theory of inference. And that is what I want to focus on. But before we get into the epistemology part, let me ask you something about the subject of the knowledge that we can achieve through inference. The Jainas believe that we have a soul and the soul is presumably the subject of knowledge. So what is the soul like and how does it relate to the material world?

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Oh, yes, sure. So Jainism is, as I said, first of all, a soteriology. So metaphysical considerations are subordinated to ethical ones in order to secure a human responsibility basically. So this Jain metaphysics should allow a persisting self-identity. This is a very important thing and an influential active self. And one way they could achieve this is through a dualism in which on one hand you have souls, which are single-celled independent subjective entities. So they are isolated entities whose essence is that of consciousness. And on the other hand, there is non-soul stuff, objectivity consisting in matter and organizational principles thereof. So this is the subject of knowledge, this isolated soul. Now within the material realm, the Jain focuses on karma, which is a subtle matter whose specific property is to develop the consequences of our virtuous or unethical acts. So since our acts witness the desire of the self toward external heterodox objects, through karmic matter, our acts determine the form of a given limited mental state. And so the core problem in Jainism is not to explain, but to get rid of this interaction between karmic matter and souls. Because what is important is to reach a non-limited state of consciousness. What I mean is that in principle, we are, all of us, we are omniscient. But it is only thanks to the process of getting rid of this karmic matter that we can realize our omniscient nature. And this is also important for epistemological purposes because Jain grants that their spiritual leaders have reached omniscience and then their corpus is seen as an authoritative one.

Peter Adamson: So for example, Mahavira, they would understand as someone who had managed to achieve liberation, even in this life, while still in a body, by divesting himself of connections to bodily concerns so much that he recovers this original omniscience that we all have. Is that right?

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Exactly. And not only he did that, but the very essence of his omniscience is such that... spontaneously he taught what he's just learned to every body.

Peter Adamson: So it just sort of flows out of him as a teaching.

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Yeah, by emitting like a divine sound from some of the Dighambara's Jain fingers.

Peter Adamson: It's interesting that you say that it's so crucial to the Jains that the soul is this subsisting kind of independent substance. Because I suppose that a lot of people would assume that the Jaina philosophical theories would be more like the Buddhist philosophical theories because they're both, you know, rejecting Vedic orthodoxy, as people sometimes say. But actually, at least on this point, they're diametrically opposed to the Buddhists. And in fact, it's what you said sounds in a way a little bit more like something like Samkhya, where you have an independent immaterial soul, and this is being opposed to a material kind of subject in which the soul can reside.

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Yes, it is actually closer to Samkhya and also to some of the Nyaya Vaisheshika's considerations.

Peter Adamson: And actually, in a way that that kind of feature of Jainism where they have features that remind us of all these different other Indian schools, that maybe goes along with their epistemology, because their epistemology, in a way, seems to be a way of saying that in a way, everybody is right. So this is their famous theory of non one sidedness. And maybe we could think about it as a kind of perspectivism. So they talk about Nyaya Vada or viewpoints. The thought is, I guess that whatever anybody knows or thinks is always known or thought from a certain viewpoint or perspective. So I can only attain truth from my own perspective. Is that basically right? That's the theory?

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Yes, it is. It is. Jain epistemologists develop this theory called Anikamta Vada, the theory of non one sidedness, which leads to the perspectivism you've just described. So I would trust this theory from the fact that Jain doctrine is a philosophy of synthesis of different metaphysical theories of ancient India. So no, Jain are realist philosophers. So they explain the plurality of coexistence, yet apparently conflicting valid epistemic stances on the knowable. They explain this from the complexity of the knowable itself. So the complexity is within the knowable. And this is this, which led Jain philosophers to develop original semantic approaches. So among them, this theory of viewpoints, but also there is a theory of angle of analysis, which is the same type of theory in the hermeneutical considerations.

Peter Adamson: So that's like if you're interpreting texts or something?

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Yes, and especially text of monastic rules.

Peter Adamson: I see. So if it says, if some monastic orders say that you should be naked and others say that you shouldn't, is that a good example?

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Yes, it is. It is a good example. And maybe you can contextualize both claims by saying that maybe the nature of the recipient is not the same. And then they are going towards the same purpose, thanks to those different set of practices. And this is actually one of the main divergence between Mahavira and the previous spiritual teacher whose name is Pashva. And to go back to the epistemological side of it, what does it mean for a claim to be only contextually valid? So maybe we should take examples. All examples that Jain philosophers take are about claims from other epistemological traditions. For example, the Buddhist insistence on momentariness is one representative of a perspective that considers firstly the most specific aspect of the knowable. So it does say something deep on the transient character of phenomena. And it is important to say this because human knowledge requires the recognition of common features, but then we can stop our focus on different points from the more specific to the more general ones. So Buddhists would stop on the more specific focus. But it is only a partially correct explanation of the world because it fails to give a complete account. For example, it does not enable to think a persisting self and an ethical responsibility. And Jains go further because even perspectives that recognize different aspects of the knowable can fail. For example, Jains are very eager to point out that Nyaya Vaisheshika are wrong when they consider substance like for example a table and qualities like enjoyability because I can touch it, are two distinct entities and that they are linked thanks to the relation of inheritance. Because for the Jain theory of identity indifference there is one single complex entity which can be grasped under its substantial or its quality aspect. So there is a whole fluidity which is also manifest in their atomist physics. Atoms are all the same and they can develop given specific characteristics and they evolve into the five elements. So this is how you can conceive this identity indifference theory.

Peter Adamson: Okay, so let me see if I understand this. So you were saying that the Buddhist theory that we only exist for a moment, so there's no enduring self, they would say 'well that's not completely wrong because there is something momentary about our existence but also it's not the whole story.' But on the other hand you're saying it's not like they just say all theories about everything are correct because when people insist on differentiating, for example, an underlying substance and a property, like the Vaisheshika metaphysical position, they say 'no, no, that's wrong because actually you're just thinking about the same object in two different ways as a substance and as having a property.' So actually what their overall view amounts to is that you have these complex entities which can only be understood from lots of different perspectives and they think the other schools have usually only managed to get one perspective at best. One thing that that makes me wonder is whether what they are talking about is really just philosophical theories or whether this whole theory of non-one-sidedness is supposed to apply more broadly than that. For example we're both sitting in chairs, so would they apply their theory of non-one-sidedness to my belief that we're both sitting in chairs and would they say well yeah in a way you're both sitting in chairs but that's only one perspective on a more complex situation, or are they really only thinking about philosophical theories here?

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: They are focusing on the philosophical theories and especially they are focusing on the permanence or not of metaphysical entities like soul. But if you can find some practical value of it there is absolutely no problem to use this perspectivism in everyday life. For example this has been pointed out especially by Sangadasha, a sixth century commentator on monastic rules. He said that these statements that are underspecified can prove quite useful to adapt monastic rules which are too strict, thanks to a wise contextual interpretation.

Peter Adamson: That goes back to something you mentioned before which is that they apply one-sidedness to interpretation of monastic ritual.

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: So for this example of the chair I don't think of a useful practical, I cannot think of a practical usefulness of it but, for example, in court you can say 'okay I have not been acting as a citizen but as an ethical agent with another kind of set of underlying rules.'

Peter Adamson: Or I might have one set of responsibilities as a father and as another set of responsibilities as a philosophy teacher or something. I guess you could apply it to politics too maybe? So it's actually a very powerful idea. It seems though that there's an objection one could make to this idea which is that they seem to be claiming that the theory of non-one-sidedness is correct. So what I mean is aren't they kind of contradicting themselves by insisting that non-one-sidedness, in other words this idea that all truth involves taking a perspective on things, they're not saying that that's one certain perspective on things among others, they're saying that that's the correct epistemological theory. So aren't they being inconsistent by not applying their own epistemological theory to itself?

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Well first of all the theory of non-one-sidedness would be like meta-epistemology. So in that sense the same way that the rules governing the movement of spatial objects do not apply to space as a condition of possibility of it, maybe we can say that the rules of epistemological theories do not apply to a theory of what would be a good epistemological theory. But you are right by pointing the fact that they do develop an epistemology and also a conception of the world, properly speaking.

Peter Adamson: And they also defend it against rival epistemologies, right?

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Yes, so my only way to make sense of it is to say that the complex object that they are trying to know, to get to know, is complex in such a way that the only way to be able to know it is to disregard any particular focus, to have an awareness of the manifold manifestation of its particular and universal aspects. So in a way they are practicing non-one-sidedness even in their developing of their conception of the world.

Peter Adamson: Right. And I guess the other thing is that the way that they defend non-one-sidedness against one-sided theories is to attack the one-sided theories, it's not to give some kind of a priori argument in favor of non-one-sidedness, is that right?

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Yes, they do attack one-sided theories, but they do not only attack them because they are not non-one-sided theories, they also completely attack them as an incoherent theories or theories that do not hold.

Peter Adamson: So sort of like Nagarjuna would attack various Vedic lines of thought by providing skeptical arguments, they would think his skeptical arguments expose the limitations of one-sidedness, is that right?

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Yes, the only way then to positive... There is no positive way to establish non-one-sidedness, but at least one can refute all one-sided claim. In that way, yes, it is close to Nagarjuna.

Peter Adamson: Okay. But it's not exactly a skeptical theory because they're not saying knowledge is impossible. What they're saying is that knowledge is possible, but only if you are willing to adopt a variety of viewpoints on things.

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Yes, and we are even able as human beings to draw an extensive and exhaustive classification of these different types of stance on the knowable. So they have a deep faith in knowledge in that sense.

Peter Adamson: And I suppose one sign of their faith in knowledge is that they do believe that we can engage in inferences, which is something you mentioned before. And this is an area where they have a polemic against Buddhist theories of inference. There's an example actually, which I really like, which you mentioned in one of your papers, which is that from noticing that a mango has a certain color, I can infer that it will have a certain taste because if it looks ripe, it will taste ripe. In other words, it will taste sweet. And the Buddhists and the Jains have different ways of accounting for that kind of inference. Can you explain the difference?

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Yes, of course, I would like to know if a mango will have the taste of a ripe mango before I taste it, because I want to first know it before I pay for it and before I'm allowed to taste it. So one good way to know if it has the taste of a ripe mango is to reason from this piece of evidence that it has the color of a ripe mango and then to try to see if I can know that there is the necessary relationship between the color of the mango and the taste of the mango. So for Buddhist thinkers and especially for Dignaga, so 5th, 6th century, the color of the mango is a good piece of evidence if there are three conditions that are fulfilled. So the mango under consideration, it has indeed this color of a ripe mango, but also that every time I have tasted a ripe mango, it had this color. And also the fact that I have never tasted a not ripe mango that had this color of ripe mango. So here, Jains, but actually not only them, there are many thinkers who will show that these conditions are not sufficient nor necessary because this state of affair potentially describes an accidental and not a necessary relation. So for the Jains, a piece of evidence is good only if it is known as being impossible of errors, anyata anupapati. And this is known by means of a separate type of knowledge called Tarka, which functions as a direct discernment of universal. And so as you can imagine, the Buddhist philosopher Dharmakirti, 6th century, refutes the need of postulating such an extra types of knowledge. And he explains that a piece of evidence is a good one if it can be shown that there is an essential or a causal relationship between the taste and the color of the mango. So it does give the foundation, the ontic foundation to valid reasoning by doing so. So in our example, it is a combination of two causal relationships. So first, I know that this mango is ripe because this state of ripeness inasmuch as it is the cause of this color is the only explanation of the presence of this specific color. So second, I know that it tastes as a ripe mango by means of the same reasoning. And here, Jains disagree because they argue that sound inferences are not necessarily based on essential and causal relationships, but that the relations of co-presence of which the taste and the color of the mango are representatives and that the relations of succession, for example, the rising of the stars, all those relations also can serve as a basis to sound inferences. And actually, this acceptance of inferences based on the succession or co-presence of phenomena indicates that Jain philosophers grant a deeper regularity of worldly phenomena than Buddhists do.

Peter Adamson: Let me see then if I've got this. So there's actually three positions you discussed. So Dignaga's position is basically that as long as these two properties, the color and the taste, always are found together, then I can infer from one the other. So as long as the color always comes with the taste and vice versa, then I can infer the nice sweet taste from the nice ripe color. And then Dharmakirti says, no, no, no, you need to have some kind of underlying cause. So you need to assume that the state of being ripe gives rise to both the color and the taste. And that's what guarantees that it will have the right taste if it has the right color. And the Jains say that Dharmakirti is correct to say that Dignaga's position isn't enough. So it's not enough to just have the two properties always coming together. But you don't have to appeal to some kind of underlying nature. It's enough to say that you can infer the taste from the color just on the basis of past experience. So it's something more like inference based on induction. So you can just refer to past experiences and say, well, in the past, that color has always gone together with this kind of taste. And so I can infer from this color this taste. Is that right?

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Yes, it's exactly this. This is one of the numerous examples of what is called logical analysis in the classical Indian debating hall. And after Dharmakirti, it mainly pertains to answer the following question: What are the exact properties between which a necessary relation holds? So yes, it is also mainly concerned with metaphysical topics. So for example, does the property of being an effect is sufficient to necessarily presuppose the concept of having a conscious producer? So and if yes, one can develop a proper argumentation to prove the pervasive action of a god in the world. So this is when we speak about logic in India, this is all is about the provision of one property into another one.

Peter Adamson: I have to say that if we're really talking about necessary inferences, I'm totally on Dharmakirti's side. Because it seems to me that the critics of Dignaga are right to say that the mere fact that two properties always are found together doesn't mean that they have to be found together, right, because maybe so far we've just always found them together, but maybe they'll come apart at some point. And also famously, induction doesn't actually seem to license necessary inference. Whereas Dharmakirti can say, well, look, there's an underlying nature or cause here, and it necessitates that whatever has the right color has the right taste as well.

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: So exactly, so Dharmakirti goes to universal relations to necessary ones. And so if I know that there is an oak, I know that there is a tree, and even though every tree is destroyed, this will still be true. Whereas when the Jain says, when I know that one star rises, I know that the other one will rise, you can say, 'oh, well, but what happens if the second stars die, then it won't be true anymore.' So the only way to make sense of the fact that Jain philosophers do want also necessity, and not only universality, is to say that they grant such a regularity of worldly phenomenon, and a worldly phenomena that the next time that the universe will manifest, the nature of the stars is such that the one will succeed the other as it did. So that's my way to make sense of it, because they want necessity.

Peter Adamson: So they would appeal to the theory of world cycles to explain how this inductive entrance could actually license necessary claims. That was really interesting. So before we close, let me go back to something you've mentioned a few times, which is that this is all being done in the context of ethics and what you were calling a soteriology. In other words, they're interested in liberation, freedom from suffering, just like everybody else in ancient India. And I suppose that some listeners might have a hard time seeing, in fact, I might have a hard time seeing how the ideas we've been discussing relate to themes about ethics and liberation. So what's the connection there?

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: So well, the first connection, which has been regularly discussed, is that the theory of non-one-sidedness is an intellectual nonviolence. So that is to say the intellectual version of the theory according to which one should not harm other beings. And this is at the very core of Jainism, and that is what inspired Gandhi too. But this is not very convincing, because even though rival theories are in principle partially good, as we have seen, this does not apply to Jain theories, which are completely good. And also most of the time, rival theories are entirely dismissed and not only partially. At best, other theories are assimilated as part of Jain theory. And actually, by the way, this strategy permits Jains to cross sectarian lines in many, many times. So the number of borrowings that Jain philosophy performs to over-transit is simply impressive. So this would not be a good explanation of the link between ethical principle and nonviolence.

Peter Adamson: Because if the whole thing is, well, I'm nonviolent, so I don't want to argue with people or deny that they're correct, why would they spend so much time refuting these other theories?

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Yes, exactly. So this is not what they are doing here. No, we can say that the three ethical principles of Jainism are nonviolence, nonattachment, and nonabsolutism. And in that perspective, when practicing nonabsolutism, one is also acting with a special care and is also realizing the fact that everything is interconnected. And by the way, the development of interpretative techniques linked with non-one-sidedness also brings the same type of recognition of the interconnected character of everything. And this can help in the avoidance of further inflow of karmic matter in as much as we stop desiring an external heterodox object since there is this interconnected paradigm. So at least in that sense, the practice of perspectivism is definitely part of this ethical behavior we've been talking about.

Peter Adamson: So the ethical maxim that they're following isn't don't be violent. The ethical maxim they're following is don't have a limited set of concerns, but rather extend your concern to everything because everything is interconnected. And that goes along with this idea of seeing the complexity of the world from a maximally well-rounded set of viewpoints. Is that basically what you mean?

Marie-Hélène Gorisse: Yes, this is what I meant.

Peter Adamson: Okay, that's really interesting. So actually, I think Jaina epistemology is quite attractive in many ways. I'm convinced. I'm not sure I'm convinced about their theory of inference, but I like the epistemology. 


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