5 th Wittgenstein Conference

Various aspects of Indian Philosophy and Wittgenstein

5 th Wittgenstein Conference of Ludwig Wittgenstein Philosophical Society

Date: 29th – 30th Dec, 2020
Organised by: Department of Philosophy
Sponsored by: Indian Council of Philosophical Research, New Delhi
University of Lucknow
Lucknow

Comparative or contrastive exercises between the philosophies of east and the west are often not appreciated – on the ground that these two systems, geographically distanced and culturally divergent, operate with tools and presuppositions that are incommensurable – ruling out the possibility of articulating how and where they part from each other. This problem may seem to hit us more directly with respect to the above proposal – since it sprawls indiscriminately over the internal conflicts among all Indian theories of knowledge and meaning on the one hand, and places the lone, non-conformist figure of an Austrian thinker on the other . Still on a second thought such an exercise does seem to be meaningful, at least in the sense in which juxtaposing an elastic ruler with a standard foot-rule is meaningful, or seeing the mutual
resistance between the two dimensions of length and depth is meaningful. 

This concept-note can hopefully give a few indications about identifying the routes of divergence between two styles of thought and the exact nature and extent of one’s success or failure in running them together. We shall try to select certain specific issues of epistemology and semantics across the divergent schools of Indian philosophy and open up possible routes of analogies, disanalogies, translatability and untranslatability with appropriate issues in Wittgenstein’s philosophy.

Let us start with Gautama’s project of defining Pramāṇa , i.e., establishing genuine instruments or special conditions that generate valid cognition (pramā). In his formulation viz. ‘Pramāṇam arthavat pravṛtti sāmarthyāt’ – pramāṇa is claimed to be geared faithfully to the prameya or knowable object – which means that a genuine pramāṇa is never at variance with, or gives a distorted presentation of , the prameya. Indeed the above inference is pitched against those schools of Indian (and non-Indian) philosophy, which do not accept the neat ontology of a special cause hat would unfailingly generate a valid cognition. For the skeptics and agnostics there would be no way to ensure whether one comes to enjoy a piece of valid cognition , simply because there is no way to attain valid cognition of its purported instruments – whether it is the indriyas, indriyārtha sannikarşa, vyāpti, parāmarśa, or the verbal relation between the saṁjñā and saṁjñi. Indeed the task of identifying the
exact nature of sense-organs, culling out their exact spatial boundary (as to what constitutes their core versus periphery), what constitutes their being unfailingly hit by the objects that would consummate and forestall a perfect piece of sense-perception – are issues that are marked with patent confusions. 

These enigmas about the nature of indriyas, the arthas, the intermediary atmosphere, the nature of the sense-object contact etc., affect knowledge of vyāpti, parāmarśa, saṁjñā-saṁjñi sambandha jñāna, and lastly memory.

Further the very causal framework – where each antecedent stops short of, is non-circularly distinct from, and yet is full-blown with all the content to spurt forth, a unique effect – is contentious.

Various points of discord between Wittgenstein and the Nyāya theory of pramāṇa may come up in this connexion. First, Wittgenstein at least in his later phase believes in an enactive nature of perception as well as of the other kinds of cognition. His declaration that actions are primary has the following implications – a. Our primitive behaviours have a spatial or distributive orientation that gets a sophisticated extension into language or verbal behavior; b. All the so-called mental states and images lack a so-called non-spatial or insular ontology , so that their meaning fleshes out only through activities or language-games which in their turn are embedded in forms
of living; c. Our sense-perceptions are pro-prioceptive, whereby every putative bit of stasis – the sense-organ, the sense-object contact, (including the hypothetical states of contact between ātman and manas, manas and external senses) – are ruptured by a plethora of movements ,i.e., movements of our sense-and motor-organs, as well as the dynamics of the object and the intermediary atmosphere. These inbuilt fissures in every putative antecedent and consequent problematises the Nyāya-Vaiśeşika scheme of causation with respect to all types of cognition. 

Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Remarks (pp. 100–101) has a sophisticated argument to offer in favour of an enactive approach to perception and reference. ‘Suppose all the parts of my body could be removed until only one eyeball were left; and this were to be firmly fixed in a certain position, retaining its power of sight…. I wouldn’t be able to perceive any part of myself, and supposing my eyeball to be transparent for me, I wouldn’t be able to see myself in the mirror either.’ Here, Wittgenstein is presenting the impossible thought experiment of removingall body parts and thereby removing all movements and actions, demonstrating how actions mark the basic ontology of perception as well as other kinds of cognition. On the other hand the Nyāya-Vaiśeşikas, in so far as they take actions or movements (karma) as the cause (asamavāyi karana) of saṁyoga and vibhāga , they (i.e. actions or movements) cannot play the primary role of constituting the ontology of anything, they can only effect conjunction or disjunction of pre-existent objects. They have no power to break through a supposedly pre-existent entity, they have no power to break, bend and blend space into objects and their inter-relations – a phenomenon that permeates later Wittgenstein’s style of thought. In the Nyāya-Vaiśeşika system the cream of epistemology would be sucked up by the sense-organs, sense-object contact (posed as isolated entities and events) where actions and proprioceptions will be construed either as  the remote cause of  the genuine cause or remote effects of the genuine effect – thereby being pushed to the peripheral status of anyathāsiddhi with respect to cognition. Once actions become inessential or non-constitutive in perception, they fail to perform any substantive role in other types of cognition as well.

Will samartha pravṛttijanakatva of the Nyāya-Vaiśeşika system strike a chord with later Wittgenstein’s primacy of action? For the Nyāya-Vaiśeşikas the validity of a cognition is known by the mark of its generating successful activity, and that the activity is successful, will on ultimate analysis, need no further justification. We venture to suggest that while the Nyāya-Vaiśeşika system bears a semblance with the Pragmatic theory of truth and knowledge, Wittgenstein’s approach needs to be carefully
distinguished both from both the correspondence-theory as well as the utilitarian bend of the Nyāya-Vaiśeşikas , and thus steer clears of both the Nyāya-Vaiśeşika and the pragmatic framework. For the Nyāya-Vaiśeşika truth of a proposition or the validity of a cognition is constituted by correspondence, but knowing the validity of cognition perhaps falls back on certain basic beliefs (say – belief that I have an inclination to drinking the liquid , that I have a feeling of gulping down the liquid marked
by a sensation of quenching my thirst etc. ) which can break out from an ongoing demand of further justifications and blend with a non-cognitive efficacy or utility. However the validity of these basic cognitions perhaps cannot shake off their correspondence with reality out there. Can we put these on the same footing with Wittgenstein’s hinge propositions viz. local hinges like ‘There is an island, Australia’, ‘The earth is round’, ‘Trains normally arrive in a railway station’ (On Certainty 159, 291, 339) – and universal hinges; e.g.: ‘The earth exists’, ‘Things don’t systematically disappear when we’re not looking’, ‘If someone’s head is cut off, the person will be dead and not live again’, ‘Trees do not gradually change into men and men into trees’, ‘I have a brain’, ‘I am a human being’, ‘I have forbears’ (On Certainty 209, 234, 274,
513,159, 4, 234) ? It seems not – because Wittgenstein’s hinge propositions are actually non-propositional in character with no pre-actional content, they flesh out bit by bit through our ongoing applications. Basic propositions or basic beliefs as they figure in pragmatic theories of truth or knowledge operate with a minimal cleavage between cognition or language on the one hand, and action on the other. It is in this light that pragmatism showcases some special beliefs or cognitions as marking the unique boundary between cognition and action, or as shaping up the unique exit gate to actions. For Wittgenstein, there is no such boundary between cognition and action, For him, all purported foundations (ostension, mental images, external objects) that would seem to start off actions would themselves dissipate into uses and behaviours – a radical thought which the Nyāya-Vaiśeşika system cannot accommodate. In this system cognition and language will be faithfully geared to real essence (jāti) and it is these real essences that compel success or failure of actions. 

Successful actions do not constitute reality, but are merely the means of inferring the validity of cognition.

Overall this will also be an occasion to ruminate on Wittgenstein’s Internal Realism as opposed to the External or Direct Realism of the Nyāya-Vaiśeşikas or Representative Realism of the Sautrāntikas. The Nyāya-Vaiśeşika version of Direct or External Realism may face a challenge from the Semantic Externalists like Kripke and Putnam who would attempt to show that samartha pravṛtti janakatva does not take us unfailingly to a real essence. Two liquids of two different natural kinds (two different jātis) may give rise to the same perception and yet both of them do not have the same jāti of jalatva. The Naiyāyikas will have to take either of the two options – a. From a successful quench one does not move to a valid cognition of water, but to the valid cognition of the thirst quenching property of the liquid; b. The subject did
not enjoy a samartha pravṛtti in the true sense of the term, for the simple reason that the pravṛtti was implemented on the basis of a wrong cognition, viz. representing the XYZ–hood of the liquid as water-hood. Now these two alternatives imply that either the distinctive character of the prameya must be carried over to the success of the activity, or the success of the activity must be synchronized with the real essence of the object – so that one is perfectly harmonized with the other in a way that one cannot overstep the nature of the other. But this would be like insisting on a conceptual closure of samarthpravṛttijanakatva and pramātva, a commitment
that clearly disguises the fallacy of circularity.

It will be an interesting project to see how Wittgenstein would stand against the tussle between the Naiyāyika and the Bauddha regarding the issue of pramāṇasaṁplava versus pramāṇvyavasthā and other related themes. First, let us note that the Naiyāyikas have given the example of one’s own hands as being the exclusive objects of savikalpaka perception, since this perception, by its very nature, normally rules out the application of inference. For the Bauddhas on the other hand, when one perceives his hands – not as hands, but as a series of svalakşaṇas, it is this series of cognitions that would rule out a predicative cognition of the hands. Now for Wittgenstein, the propositionalised format viz. ‘These are my two hands’ would in normal circumstances, be simply be an architectonic or formal-aesthetic stance that is actually absorbed in an ongoing flow of primitive behaviours. This non-inferential and incomplete flavour of propositions like ‘These are my two hands’ would mark it off both from the savikalpaka perception of the Naiyāyikas or the nirvikalpaka or svalakşaṇa perception of the Naiyāyikas and the Bauddhas. It seems that neither the nirvikalpaka perception of the Naiyāyikas nor the svalakşaṇa perception of the Bauddhas will find a place in Wittgenstein’s philosophy – not in the Tractarean period, and a fortiori not in the later phase. One can reconceive nirvikalpaka perceptions in the Wittgensteinian framework as a special kind of language-game that seeks to give meaning to ‘privacy’ by constructing a special paradigm of perception. (PI sections 244-315)

Wittgenstein’s pre-occupation with language can be seen in the backdrop of the Naiyāyika resistance to the Vaiyākaraṇa theory that seeks to identify the
cognizable object with śabda or words. If the Vaiyākaraṇikas insist that the sign-language used by children and the deaf-and- dumb, as well our non-verbal actions, are all generated by unconscious perception of words or evocation of memory-traces (inherited from our previous births) both the Naiyāyikas as well as Wittgenstein will have reasons to oppose this theory. But Wittgenstein’s track would significantly deviate from both the Naiyāyikas and the Vaiyākaraṇikas.

The Naiyayikas will contend that ostensive learning of the word ‘table’ does not present the table as being characterized by the word ‘table’, for a single perception of an object cannot combine two senses – one being the visual perception of the table and the other being an auditory perception of the word ‘table’. One can indeed remember the word ‘table’ after perceiving the object, but this does not mean that the word ‘table’ overpowers the essence of table. However Wittgenstein’s approach to the ubiquity of language is different from that of the Vaiyākaraṇikas , which also gives him a different way of handling the Naiyāyikas. Wittgenstein asks us to appreciate that words (written or uttered) cannot be wrenched away from the our actions and behaviours, and be claimed to represent objects by the power of human wish (icchā) that certain words represent certain objects by convention. The uniform appearance of the word ‘table’ across all cognitions or descriptions of the object is as inefficacious as the projection of similar levers inside the cabin of an automobile – the brake lever, crank-lever, switch-lever, dashboard lever, stereo-lever, door-handle lever – all protruding in the same fashion from different mechanisms. (PI sections 11-14) Just as each of these projections is like the tip of the iceberg, where the tip has to be understood as the continuation of the entire iceberg from the base, similarly the uniform appearance and re-appearance of each word is a continuation of the vast expanse of our actions.

It should further be noted that the fact that we delink our words from the regular course of nature – that our utterances are not looked upon as air vibrations , or that our written marks are not conceived as properties of the material medium (on which we write the words) – actually pertains to our nature that shapes up our form of living. A
deep need for conventions (to make signs stand for something other than signs) cannot itself be explained by conventions (Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics I:74), nor is the Naiyāyika notion of icchā rich enough to capture a comprehensive narration of this form of living. Some commentators have identified this trend of thought in the Tractarean phase as well: in so far as (according to the Tractatus) the signs  do not well up with an overbearing claim to be the world of facts themselves, in so far as they do not pose an irrevocable right to be represented by further signs, they come to have an ineffable character – a character that cannot be
pictured, but only shown or displayed in the signs themselves. Making the sign effect a regular break with nature is itself a part of our nature, which in the Tractarean framework was shown in the signs , and came to attain the status of Lebensform in the later period. It is in this light that one should try to construct a Wittgensteinian response to the Naiyāyika claim that the relation between the word and object being a relation between an upasthāpak (presenter) and upasthāpya (presented) is a non-natural relation. But for Wittgenstein our words can only be seen as absorbed in the thick backdrop of our uses and actions, which gets betrayed in certain facts –
viz. I cannot say “bububu” and mean “If it doesn’t rain I shall go for a walk” (PI section 38) or that I can say ‘It is hot today’ and mean ‘It is cold today’ (PI section 510) Overall it is a worthwhile enterprise to see how far the Vaiyākaraṇika and Wittgenstein can tune up each other, or whether they can share some convincingly similar tools against the Naiyāyikas.

Given the fact that for Wittgenstein, all cognitions and actions are enmeshed in language, how will he be placed against the traditional contention between Naiyāyikas on the one hand and the Vaiśeşikas and the Buddhists on the other – regarding the nature of verbal cognition? Here we can hopefully identify some special reasons that
Wittgenstein may be having for discarding the proposal of verbal cognition being generated by a special instrument – reasons that may appreciably be different from other schools of Indian philosophy. Contrary to the Vaiśeşikas Wittgenstein perhaps would not allow a verbal cognition like ‘Tables are usually made of wood’ and ‘Platypuses are monotremes’ as being recast into a knowledge of combination of repeatable objects (table, wood, platypus, laying, eggs etc.) so that the knowledge of this combination of objects can be inferred from their being presented by words related by akāṁkşā, yogyatā and sannidhi. (It may be recalled that one of the formats of inference that the Naiyāyikas constructed on behalf of the Vaiśeşikas project of subsuming verbal cognition (śābdabodha) under inference (anumiti) runs thus : These objects (platypus, laying, eggs, etc.) are related with each other since they are presented by words invested with the features of akāṁkşā, yogyatā and
sannidhi. ) Wittgenstein will say that whatever possible formats these proposed inferences may assume, they take the crucial relation between word and objects for granted. For Wittgenstein, since this seamless connection between word and objects is a form of action that precedes all propositional cognitions, this connection itself cannot be used as a vyāpti. Here Wittgenstein’s approach would differ significantly from the Naiyāyika critique of the proposed subsumption of verbal cognition under anumāna. All this leads us to suggest that Wittgenstein would not fall in either with the strict demarcation of separate kinds of valid cognition, nor with separate kinds of instruments (karaṇas). The incurably enacted character of the non-propositional hinges, their ever incomplete flow, and lastly the absence of foundations – whether in the shape of jāti, vyāpti, or svalakşaṇas – would create an impressive discourse to conceive the distance between Wittgenstein and Indian epistemology and semantics. As for early Wittgenstein, though he worked in an essentialist framework, the Tractarean reservations about the issue of cognition as well as about the ontology of causation and time will introduce interesting notes of discord with some of the Indian systems.

Based on the above account we can try to eke out some more routes of framing Wittgenstein against the sundry issues of Indian epistemology and theories of meaning.

  • Running a parallel between Buddhist apoha and later Wittgenstein’s anti-essentialism would enable one to see whether the differences between the kinds of cognitions is a fundamental one or one of family resemblances.
  • Wittgenstein on Truth and Certainty – and the notion of pramā and pramāṇa

  • A dialogue between later Wittgenstein’s anti-essentialism, multiple aspect-approach along with the critique of absolute simplicity on the one hand and Jaina Syādvāda on the other. In this connection one must remember that Wittgenstein’s anti-essentialism never allowed a lapse into relativism – in so far as his way of resisting essences never used the format of conditional propositions forging a determinate connection between the relativisor (antecedent) and the relativised (consequent).
  • Naiyāyika theory of śaktigraha through the ostensive learning coupled with avāpa and udvāpa is impressively similar to the Augustinian model. Can the Wittgensteinian critique of the model be applied to the Naiyāyika theory as well?
  • The tension between Naiyāyika and Mῑmāṁsakas on the nature of śakti and the Wittgensteinian way of outgrowing this tension The tension between various Indian philosophical positions regarding what the śakti represents – the jāti, vyakti, ākṛti, or the vyakti charaterised by jāti. How can we place both early and later Wittgenstein in this tension?
  • Analysis of the form of negative propositions – from the point of view of Nyāya-Vaiśeşika , Bhātta Mῑmāṁsakas, Prābhākara Mῑmāṁsakas, early and later Wittgenstein

  • Wittgensteinian analysis of the proposition about numbers – in comparison with the Nyāya Vaiśeşika theory of apekşābuddhi 
  • Analysis of upamāna and upamiti – Wittgenstein’s responses both to the proposal of upamāna as a separate type of cognition generated by a special cause, as well as its proposed subsumption to anumāna 
  • Wittgenstein against the backdrop of the debate between anvitābhidhānavāda and abhihita-anvayavāda Smṛti, Saṁskāra and Wittgenstein’s treatment of memory 
  • The above list is by no means complete… 
  • Sub-themes of the Concept Note 
  • Wittgenstein’s enactive approach to perception versus the Nyāya-Vaiśeşika model
  • Attempted comparison between Samartha pravṛttijanakatva of the Nyāya-Vaiśeşika with later Wittgenstein’s primacy of action.
  • Wittgenstein’s stand against the tussle between the Naiyāyika and the Bauddha regarding the issue of pramāṇasaṁplava versus pramāṇvyavasthā and other related themes.
  • WhetherWittgenstein’s pre-occupation with language can be seen in the backdrop of the Naiyāyika resistance to the Vaiyākaraṇa theory that seeks to identify the cognizable object with śabda or words.

  • Given the fact that for Wittgenstein, all cognitions and actions are enmeshed in language, how will he be placed against the traditional contention between Naiyāyikas on the one hand and the Vaiśeşikas and the Buddhists on the other – regarding the nature of verbal cognition?

  • Running a parallel between Buddhist apoha and later Wittgenstein’s anti-essentialism would enable one to see whether the differences between the kinds of cognitions is a fundamental one or one of family resemblances.
  • Wittgenstein on Truth and Certainty – and the notion of pramā and pramāṇa 
  • A dialogue between later Wittgenstein’s anti-essentialism, multiple aspect-approach along with the critique of absolute simplicity on the one hand and Jaina Syādvāda on the other.
  • Naiyāyika theory of śaktigraha through the ostensive learning coupled with avāpa and udvāpa is impressively similar to the Augustinian model. Can the Wittgensteinian critique of the model be applied to the Naiyāyika theory as well?
  • The tension between Naiyāyika and Mῑmāṁsakas on the nature of śakti and the Wittgensteinian way of outgrowing this tension 
  • The tension between various Indian philosophical positions regarding what the śakti represents – the jāti, vyakti, ākṛti, or the vyakti charaterised by jāti. How can we place both early and later Wittgenstein in this tension?
  • Analysis of the form of negative propositions – from the point of view of Nyāya-Vaiśeşika , Bhātta Mῑmāṁsakas, Prābhākara Mῑmāṁsakas, early and later Wittgenstein

  • Wittgensteinian analysis of the proposition about numbers – in comparison with the Nyāya Vaiśeşika theory of apekşābuddhi 
  • Analysis of upamāna and upamiti – Wittgenstein’s responses both to the proposal of upamāna as a separate type of cognition generated by a special cause, as well as its proposed subsumption to anumāna

  • Wittgenstein against the backdrop of the debate between anvitābhidhānavāda and abhihita-anvayavāda
  • Smṛti, Saṁskāra and Wittgenstein’s treatment of memory