Anirvacanīyatva or indeterminancy

Vācaspati Miśra’s Bhāmatī, a commentary on Śamkara’s Brahmasū-trabhāsya.

In this chapter/section, objects of erroneous cognition are used to show how the world as it is experienced can neither be denied an independent status nor established as having one. The key idea is the ‘indeterminate’ state as to their ontological status.

Vācaspati does not doubt the correctness of the Nyāya argument for philosophical realism but more so its completeness. I have cognition of a white horse, not of ‘white’ and of ‘horse’. Vācaspati argues that the sum is greater than the whole — it is not sufficient that a description of its constituent elements (‘this’ and ‘silver’) entirely constitute the unitary object of cognition (‘this is silver’).

Cognition-Object relationship

The cognition-object relationship here refers to one about representational content.

Representation, in this context, means a cognitive state of being ‘of’ or ‘about’ the object. Important to note that, in this translation, representation is neutral to theories of perception

Example case where a cognition (thought) is a thought of a specific object

  1. Object gives content (visayatā) to a cognition in the sense it is the subject of the thought and therefore individuates/gives identity to/specifies that cognition
  2. The cognition is then a representation (visayitā) of the object

The form usually is ‘this thing is a shell’ which is in the form of where

  • is the object (‘this thing’, dharmin, qualificand, thing being distinguished)
  • is what it is cognised as (the concept, content of thought, dharma, the distinguisher)
  • Akin to the Twin Earth Argument, “this” can refer to different things
    • Like variable naming in programming languages where unification would not unify two ‘this’ from different scopes

Ontologies are theories of objects — a conception of what the world is made up of. Ontologies need to be interpreted

Erroneous Cognition

  • A cognition is valid if it discriminates between that object and all others.
  • Discrimination is correct identification.
  • Erroneous cognition occurs when the subject takes it to be true when it is not.
  • Sublation is the incidence of a later cognition that results in the realization of an earlier cognition being erroneous.

Epistemic indistinguishability: there is no perceived difference between contents of distinct cognitions (i.e. confusing ‘this is shell’ with ‘this is silver’)

Let us take the simple perceptual demonstrative judgement of the form ‘this is a piece of silver’. This can clearly be a wrong judgement as the relevant object could be a piece of shell.

What does an erroneous cognition say about its object (if anything at all)?

Well, this states that object and concept must both exist. Even in mistaking the shell of the silver, both shell (instantiated as physical demonstrated object) and silver (instantiated as primary object of cognition) exist. TLDR; erroneous cognition required determinate objects in the determinate world.

The state of taking ‘this’ to be silver is not explained simply by explaining that ‘this’ and ‘silver’ occur in it. Take for example, the non-erroneous cognition ‘this looks like silver’ which contains both constituent elements but is epistemically different from the earlier erroneous claim of ‘this is silver’.

So how does an erroneous cognition arise?

  1. Suppose the subject knows when the distinguisher is valid
  2. is not necessarily true given the conditions at hand may not be as remembered compared to the conditions under which -identification was last true (temporally different).
  3. It is true that where is a piece of silver at some point in the past
  4. It is true that exists
  5. It is false that
  6. It is false that is perceived as The erroneous cognition arises when the subject believes 5 and 6 to be true instead.

The question then becomes, what is the object that is being individuated here?

First, let and be incompatible (read: mutually exclusive) qualifiers. That is, if then and vice versa.

Advaitin makes two contradictory conclusions here

  1. Utilizes P1: asserting that an object exists requires there to be a cognition with that object as its content through pramānas. Concludes that cannot exist.
  2. Utilizes P2: what doesn’t exist must not be the content of any cognition as it is not experienced as all. Concludes that exists.

Both P1 and P2 rely on relevant (and fairly uncontroversial principles) to come to contradictory results. This argument shows that there is no way of assigning status to and thus indeterminant.