Apoha: Buddhist Nominalism and Human Cognition.

Author:Hayes, Richard
Position:Book review

Apoha: Buddhist Nominalism and Human Cognition. Edited by Mark Siderits, Tom Tillemans, and Arindam Chakrabarti. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. Pp. viii + 333. $95 (cloth); $32 (paper); $31.99 (e-book).

Buddhist scholastics writing in Sanskrit in India tended to have an aversion to granting the ultimate reality of composite things and collections of things, preferring to regard as ultimately real only irreducibly simple particulars. In keeping with this tendency, Dignaga and those inspired by him had a distaste for universals (jati) as understood by most other Indian schools of thought as being single realities that inhere in all the individuals of a natural class. So whereas followers of the Nyaya school, for example, were comfortable with the idea that the universal cowhood (gotva) occurs in each individual cow, is the very thing that makes a substance a cow, and serves as the justification for using the word "cow" to refer to that individual substance, Buddhists such as Dignaga were unwilling to countenance the notion of such a universal. For Dignaga, the very idea of a single entity that exists in a plurality of spatially and temporally discontinuous locations was unintelligible. If a universal exists in its entirety in any given individual, he argued, then there was none of it left over to occur in other individuals of the same kind; if, on the other hand, it exists only partially in each individual, then it is no longer a single entity. Eliminating universals from the catalog of real things, however, gives rise to several problems. It is difficult, without universals, to explain what the basis for generic terms such as "cow" might be. It is difficult to explain even how a proper name such as Devadatta can be used to refer to the putatively same individual human being from his infancy through his childhood, adolescence, adulthood, senescence, and death. Indeed, it is even difficult to give an account of how people think, recognize things, form concepts, and reason. This book, which contains papers that grew out of an interdisciplinary conference, explores all these philosophical issues in detail.

Dignaga's point of departure was his observation that a linguistic expression functions in just the same way that an inferential sign (lihgam) functions. When one sees smoke rising from a location on a mountain, one infers that that location is not without some form of combustion. Exactly what kind of combustion is present and what...

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