Sunday, August 23, 2015

"Gettier" Intuition Across Cultures

No doubt many of you will have seen this by now, but for those who have not:
Noûs has just published a truly amazing study on this topic by a team of experimental philosophers (Machery, Stich, Rose, Chatterjee, Karasawa, Struchiner, Sirker, Usui & Hashimoto), and I think this new study gives us a much better understanding of the relevant empirical facts. The researchers presented two different Gettier cases to participants in the United States, Brazil, India and Japan, yielding a total sample size of 521 participants.

I post this because it is relevant to earlier conversation on the relevance of experimental philosophy for comparative philosophy and Indian philosophy. In particular, Anand Vaidya writes, reflecting on the relationship between the three,
Thus: If the question is: how should classical Indian philosophers modify their practice and research in light of these ideas and new ways of engaging things? I would say: don’t worry. Nothing here changes classical Indian philosophical practice. However, if the question is: Can classical Indian philosophers contribute to a new enterprise that will help present important ideas from the tradition to the public and to other parts of academia? I would say: absolutely.

And on experimental philosophy informing comparative/Indian philosophy, Stephen Phillips notes in the comments:
Similarly, what people say about Gettier problems in Delhi or Hong Kong does not seem to me to be nearly as relevant for a philosophic theory of knowledge as the pramANa theories of classical thinkers, which were ironed out over generations. Probably intuitions about perception or inference or testimony as possibly erroneous would emerge in the course of contemporary interviews, and indeed one can find non-factive usages in the epics and elsewhere in Sanskrit literature. But, to speak about NyAya, philosophers had their intuitions shaped by a theoretical inheritance upon which they then built, intuitions that came to restrict an understanding of genuine perception, inference, and testimony to that which is true. A contemporary theory of knowledge needs to heed such educated intuitions if it is not to be hopelessly ethnocentric but not the uneducated intuitions reported by anthropologists.

Perhaps readers who have read the article (I have not yet) might have something to add to this discussion?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Ethics in classical Indian Philosophy

In light of Stephen Harris' review of Christopher Framarin's book, Hinduism and Environmental Ethics and Elisa Freschi's discussion of Amod Lele's article about Śāntideva's metaphysical and ethical thought, I'd like to pose a question. This question has been posed on the Indian Philosophy Blog in the context of political philosophy but not, as far as I can tell, for ethics. The question is, in two parts:
(1) Is there Indian ethical philosophy (normative ethics and/or meta-ethics) and (2) which primary texts would you use to introduce it to students?

As most readers of this blog will know, the first part of the question is answered in the negative by B.K. Matilal (among others). Matilal argues that while Indian texts are concerned with moral issues in a practical sense, "...morality as such was never discussed in these texts." (See his "Moral Dilemmas: Insights from Indian Ethics.") Now, plenty of secondary literature like the aforementioned Hinduism and Environmental Ethics has taken up the challenge to elucidate the ethical arguments more or less implicit in Indian philosophy. However, what primary texts (in good translation) does one set alongside of the usual figures--Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Mill, Foot--in philosophy courses? Does selecting texts like the Mahābhārata and Bhagavad Gītā send the message that Indian philosophy has no systematic ethical reflection? Or does it put pressure on the notion that ethical philosophy must look a certain way? And how do you think about "ethics" in classical Indian philosophy?
Finally, another solicitation for syllabi. If you are teaching a course which addresses (even in part) ethical inquiry in Indian philosophy and you'd like to share your syllabus, send it to mdasti (AT) bridgew (DOT) edu so we can put it on the Indian Philosophy blog.
Comments turned off here. Please participate in the conversation over at the Indian Philosophy Blog!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Analogical reasoning and postulation

Like postulation (arthāpatti), the pramāṇa or instrument of knowledge known as upamāna, often translated as "analogy," is both fascinating and underdeveloped in contemporary analysis. There are few stand-alone books focusing just on upamāna, although it is frequently treated along with testimony and perception. I suspect this is because, as with postulation, upamāna is often reduced to another more well-accepted pramāṇa--usually verbal testimony, inference, or perception.

Two books devoted only to upamāna are:
Chattopadhyay, Uma. Dishonoured by Philosophers: Upamana in Indian Epistemology. New Delhi, D.K. Printworld, 2009. 
Kumar, Shiv. Upamāna in Indian Philosophy. Delhi: Eastern Book Linkers, 1994.
I have been reading just Kumar's book, since I am waiting for an inter-library loan of Chattopadhyay to arrive. In doing so, I came across a debate about the relationship between postulation and upamāna. By the way, I am not translating the latter term since I am not sure whether "analogy" quite captures what is going on. The question is whether we can explain upamāna as merely an instance of postulation. The target of this discussion is frequently this famous stock example (version updated a bit for color):
Suppose I live in the city of Singapore and while I have seen cows, I have little experience with other animals. A rancher tells me that the gavaya is an animal that's like the cow. I venture into the forests of Malaysia one day and happen upon an animal that looks like a cow, but isn't a cow. I remember what this rancher told me and I realize that the animal in front of me is a gavaya. (Or I think, "That is the animal called 'gavaya.') 
It's important to note that upamāna is implicated in language-learning, although that is not its only role for Indian thinkers. I learn what the denotation of 'gavaya' is through testimony, perception, and memory. While pretty much everyone agrees that I have knowledge at the end of this stock example, not everyone thinks that this knowledge is due to some sui generis source, like (most of) the Nyāya and Mīmāṃsā. For instance, the Advaitan Ānandapūrṇa, in his Nyāyacandrikā (who also agrees it is sui generis) argues against an opponent who thinks upamāna is just postulation:
नोपमानं मानान्ताराम् अर्थापततितस्तत्सिदधे: । यद्यनेन सदृशी सा न स्यात् ततस्तया सदृसो ऽयं नोपलभ्यत सदृशस्योभयनिष्ठत्वात् । उपलभ्यते चायं तया सदृशः ।
Upamāna is not another means of knowledge because it is established that it is postulation. If it were not the case that (the cow) is similar (to the gavaya), then this similarity would not be acquired since the similarity is grounded in both (cow and gavaya). Since this similarity (to the gavaya), there is similarity (in the cow). 
In reply, Ānandapūrṇa says:
तदसत् असन्निहितसादृश्यधीः समृतिरिति प्रतिज्ञाविरोधात् ।
That is not right, because this contradicts the (opponent's own) assertion: the thought of similarity which is not present is memory.
In other words, the opponent has earlier said that when I encounter the gavaya in the woods, I remember the earlier testimony that the gavaya is similar to the cow. But here the claim is that I know this similarity through postulation. Only one of these can be correct. Further, Kumar notes that Ānandapūrṇa argues that since the similarity which is remembered is not similarity that is currently present to my senses (when I see the gavaya), it is not able to be established. For most Indian philosophers, the Jaina excluded, smṛti or memory is not a source of knowledge. It is implicated in inference and other pramāṇa, but it is itself not a knowledge-source.

Who might argue that upamāna is postulation? We know at least that Udayana argues for this position in his Kiraṇāvali. As a Naiyāyika, he further thinks that postulation is reducible to inference (anumāna) of a particular sub-variety (it seems that Ānandapūrṇa's interlocutor does as well, given what Kumar says about other counter-arguments involving a discussion of invariable concommitance or vyāpti). This view is not the standard view of Nyāya, however, as many them prefer to hold that upamāna is sui generis (Jayantabhaṭṭa is another exception, agreeing with the Mīmāṃsā that upamāna is a matter of inference).

This discussion is interesting to me, since I find plausible Mukulabhaṭṭa's arguments that the cognition of (at least some varieties of) figurative language are driven by postulation. When one thinks of figurative language, analogy is central. Poetic thought is about juxtapositions which point at similarities or contrasts, as well as explicit statements of these connections, through similes and the like. Analogical reasoning, too, is important in legal theory, scientific thought, and so on.

In Western philosophical thought, analogy is often characterized something like this:

  1. S is similar to T in at least one respect.
  2. S has another feature, P.
  3. Therefore, T has the feature P, or a feature similar to P in some respect.

An important question, as in Indian philosophical thought, is how to analyze the structure of this argument. Unlike Indian philosophical thought, there is not necessarily a reference to a thinker who is having a mental episode, moving from testimony to perception to memory of the testimony and finally to knowledge of the similarity. Further, the conception of analogy in Western philosophy is inductive: (3) is not a necessary conclusion drawn from (1) and (2) but is probabilistic (or some other model). In contrast, for Indian philosophers, a pramāna results in secure knowledge, not belief to a degree or the like. However, this knowledge need not be secure because it is inferential. After all,  anumāna or inference requires a necessary pervasion relationship (vyāpti) between a sign and what it establishes. This relationship is difficult to characterize adequately for upamāna. Here is how Jayantabhaṭṭa analyzes it in the Nyāyamañjarī:

  1. Sādhya (what is to be established): the cow remembered is similar to the gavaya.
  2. Hetu (inferential sign): the cow has the same kind of limbs as the gavaya. 
  3. Pakṣa (location relating sādhya and hetu): the cow remembered in the forest.

Here, though, in contrast to the Western characterization, what is being discovered is the initial similarity between source S and target T. At least as Jayantabhaṭṭa wants to put it, what comes to be known is that the cow and the gavaya are similar. This poses a problem since it seems as if this was already known through testimony! Further, if the paradigmatic example of a hetu is smoke which indicates fire's presence, (1) we need to have multiple instances of this in order to make a universal generalization, and (2) for the hetu to be valid, we also need its absence--smoke should not exist where there is not fire. But in this example, I have only seen one instance of a gavaya and there are other animals with limbs like a cow that are not gavaya-s.

There is much more to say about upamāna, postulation, inference, testimony, and their interrelations, as well as the connections between these topics and analogical thought. However, this should give a sense of the topic in brief.

Cross-posted to the Indian Philosophy Blog.

Edited for error: “Jayantabhaṭṭa is another exception, agreeing with the Mīmāṃsā that upamāna is a matter of inference” should read “Jayantabhaṭṭa is another exception, arguing against the Mīmāṃsā that upamāna is a matter of inference.”

Friday, July 3, 2015

On writing a prospectus for a dissertation

The closest approximation to my dissertation-writing process I could find online.
Recently, I was talking with a few grad students from my PhD program about the process for writing a dissertation prospectus. At UT-Austin, the prospectus process is fairly rigorous (possibly in part because there are no qualifying exams to move on to ABD status). These students are at the beginning stages of prospectus work and wanted to know how others went about their year of committee-selection, writing, and research.

Hindsight is, as they say 20-20, and looking back at my prospectus year, I think I could have spent a bit longer refining my project. However, the benefit of defending at the end of year three (the suggested time frame for a projected five-year PhD) was that I could take advantage of being in candidacy for teaching within the university for a longer time, and I had a mental block removed to dissertation-writing. While the details of how a dissertation proposal works will vary among institutions, below are a few reflections I had for these students. In a cursory search of the philosophy blogosphere, I didn't find a lot of links on the topic. If I find some, I'll put them up.

In retrospect, I defended (a bit) too early. I could have used an extra semester to sharpen my focus. Some of that was because I hadn't dug deeply enough into the relevant literature to see the challenge that I was taking on -- the initial project was very wide-ranging. That was the major criticism I got at the defense--I had too much. It was right. 
However, I wouldn't have put it off that much longer, perhaps only asked more direct questions of my committee earlier on, such as (1) do you think that the project is feasible in this form? (2) is the project making a contribution? (3) what gaps in the relevant literature do I have?  
In terms of the committee, you are (as I understand) able to change your committee after the prospectus, so consider it provisional. What I did was set up conference courses with some potential members and used the time as a way to develop my bibliography. I then chose other members who I thought would give good feedback and met with them on a relatively regular basis. For the dissertation committee, I changed one member for an outside committee member. 
What worked for me may not work for you, but I think having a goal of when you want to defend and working backwards by setting rough draft dates for your various pieces is the way to go. Then figure out which faculty members you think you might be able to work with, see if they're on board, and find a way to meet regularly and have them actually looking at your work. 
Ultimately, they shouldn't let you defend a prospectus if you aren't ready (some outliers exist, but I think usually that's what happens) and the defense will be hard, but even if you pass with changes, remember that the goal is for you to have a strong project that will give you publishable pieces of work and a contribution that will help you get a job--so you will have to keep revising!
I'd like to hear what others have to say about their dissertation proposal process. What would you have done differently? What would you recommend to those just starting out? One thing I didn't say which I would also emphasize is that it is easy to get paralyzed by having to read everything. At a certain point, you ought to just start writing. There is time to revise, but revising doesn't happen without something, not matter how rough.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

(Relatively) Recent History: E.B. Cowell's Preface to the Kusumāñjali

In preparing for the fall term, I have been looking through translations of Udāyanācarya's Kusumāñjali. The one excerpted in Radhakrishnan's Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy (mentioned in some earlier posts here as not a good starting point) is by E.B. Cowell, translated in 1864. I checked out the entire book today for a closer look, and, upon opening to the preface, scowled. While perhaps it is possible for a translator to do justice to a text with low esteem for the author, I think it is unlikely that approaching a philosophical text with prejudice will allow a translator to do her best work.
So, while I will choose the translation I use on its merits, knowing what Cowell has to say about Indian philosophy in general is a red flag. After talking about the "quaint Oriental disguise" in which familiar (Western) arguments for the existence of God are found, he says,
The Kusumāñjali is as much inferior to the tenth book of Plato's Laws or the twelfth of Aristotle's Metaphysics, as Hindu philosophy itself is to that of Greece...
(I've attached a scan of the opening paragraph of the preface for fuller context if you want to get more annoyed.)
Why post this, other than to share my ire? Well, I think it's an important reminder that not very long has passed--just over 150 years---since this kind of prejudice was accepted so openly that it could form the opening preface to a translation! We have developed new ways of talking about the quaintness and curiosity of Indian philosophy, but similar attitudes remain. One has only to take a look at the manner in which encyclopedias and survey articles treat Indian philosophy--as an aside to the Really Important Work done in Western philosophy.
Now, we owe a lot to scholars like E.B. Cowell, who was the first professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge, translated Persian as well as Sanskrit texts, and who is responsible for our having Fitzgerald's English translations of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. So this is not to say that one cannot do excellent and even groundbreaking work in spite of one's blind spots. However, as we have been recently discussing approaches to Indian philosophy as a whole, I thought this a relevant point of reflection.
A question for discussion, then--in giving texts to introductory students, would you include such prefatory material, and why/why not? I imagine the answer is, as in most things, that context is important. So perhaps explain when you might and when you might refrain?
(Cross-posted at the Indian Philosophy blog.)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Using Evernote for Academic Work

It's been a while since I've written about workflow, but since I'm in a transition point between graduate student and assistant professor and thinking about adapting to my new position, I thought I'd jot a few things down, especially retrospectively in terms of managing graduate student life.

I'm fairly convinced that the tools you decide to use are less important than having--and sticking to--a system. However, I've gotten hooked on Evernote as a way of managing a lot of projects and daily tasks, so what follows is my system via Evernote (and Google Calendar).

Friday, March 27, 2015

Getting Started in Indian Philosophy: Part 2

Over at the Indian Philosophy blog, Elisa Freschi has linked to an unfortunate set of notes on Indian philosophy that have been making the rounds on The author (whose name I'll omit to avoid it coming up in searches) wrote a paper as an attempt to learn about Indian philosophy. However, the result was an odd mishmash of unrepresentative views and mischaracterizations--and it is now getting bookmarked as if it were a useful resource.

I'd like to reflect on how things could have gone better for this person, since his heart was in the right place, even if the results were poor. We all start somewhere, and for those of us who are drawn to Indian philosophy from within the Western philosophical tradition, we may not have a good idea of how to address our misperceptions (or even to identify that we have them!). This post is meant to be read in conjunction with the post "Getting Started in Indian Philosophy," which lists some useful texts. In it, I note some methodological points for philosophers looking to expand their understanding.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Gendered Conference Campaign and Panel Organizing

Recently, we---Elisa Freschi and Malcolm Keating---set about organizing a panel for the upcoming ATINER panel. We aimed for a panel which would include significant numbers of women, using suggestions from the Gendered Conference Campaign (GCC) published on the Feminist Philosophers website to achieve this goal. Not only is the result an exciting combination of global philosophical interests which can push back against stereotypes of philosophy as a Western activity, its gender ratio can push back against stereotypes of philosophy as a male activity. Our hope is that the more panels and conferences which work to include women, the more women's names will come to mind as experts in these topics. Further, hopefully younger generations of women will find it easier to find a path in academic philosophy. And finally, including more women who might otherwise be ignored due to implicit bias means better philosophy will be done

Below are reflections from both of us about the reasoning for this decision, the process of organizing, and the results.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Spock, Star Trek, and Philosophy

Recently, Leonard Nimoy, an actor who was known primarily for playing Spock on Star Trek, died at 83. Usually I don't blog about popular culture, but inspired by Ethan Mills' post on the connections between Spock, Buddhism, and Stoicism, I thought I'd say a few words about Spock.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book Blogging: Chapters 5 and 6 of Teaching Naked

Bowen begins Chapter 5 of Teaching Naked summarizing what has come before (which I am skipping for now, but may return to as time allows):
We have established that knowledge is abundant on the Web (Chapter One), that students are comfortable and even crave constant e-communication (Chapter Two), and that customization and control can improve learning (Chapter Three). We also know that research on significant learning demonstrates that good course design needs to integrate content with student contexts, motivation for change, and the confrontation of discrepancies (Chapter Four). So how can we get students to learn content as a basis for discovery rather than being satisfied with receipt of knowledge?
Bowen, José Antonio (2012-06-28). Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning (p. 103). Wiley. Kindle Edition. 
The goal of Chapters 5 and 6 is to survey some technologies (situated outside of the classroom) that help motivate student learning. Bowen focuses primarily on email and podcasts as ways to communicate with students (both introducing content and conveying the content itself). In the next chapter, he focuses on increasing student engagement with technology, focusing on Twitter, Facebook, and the use of search engines for information literacy.

Before describing and evaluating a few particular strategies, I raise some worries that arose for me in reading the chapters.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Getting Started in Indian Philosophy

Recently, I posted a request to the Indian Philosophy Blog for points of entry into Indian philosophy. The results are in the comment thread (and more may still be to come), but I thought I'd summarize them here and keep a link to this post for philosophers who are interested in expanding their horizons.

General Introductions
Sri Aurobindo: The Life Divine
Madeleine Biardeau: Théorie de la connaissance et philosophie de la parole dans le brahmanisme classique
Arindam Chakrabarti, B.K. Matilal (eds.): Knowing from Words
Jonardon Ganeri: Philosophy in Classical India
Marzenna Jakubczak: Selected articles on her website (English, Polish)
Richard King: Indian Philosophy: An Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought
Viktoria Lysenko: Selected articles on (Russian, French, English)
B.K. Matilal: Perception: An Essay on Classical Indian Theories of Knowledge
Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad: Knowledge and Liberation in Classical Indian Thought 
Ninian Smart: Doctrine and Argument in Indian Philosophy
Raffaele Torella: The Philosophical Traditions of India. An Appraisal

Miri Albahari: Analytical Buddhism: The Two-Tiered Illusion of Self
Amber Carpenter: Indian Buddhist Philosophy
Mark Siderits: Buddhism as Philosophy

Stephen Phillips: Epistemology in Classical India

John Taber: Kumārila on Perception

Eric Lotts: Vedantic Approaches to God

Online Resources
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Book Blogging: Teaching Naked

This semester, I'm part of a reading group at UT Austin focusing on pedagogy, starting with José Antonio Bowen's Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning. My plan is to use this blog for short synopses of the text with critical reflections of my own.

I'll get things started with the book description and some general comments on pedagogy.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Contributing to the Indian Philosophy Blog

I'm happy to announce that I've joined the team of bloggers at the Indian Philosophy Blog. Among other things, I anticipate blogging about my work on Mukulabhaṭṭa and philosophy of language, arthāpatti, and topics related to alaṅkāra-śāstra and Mīmāṃsā. I'll likely include some thoughts on pedagogy and methodology.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Reading the Mānameyodaya on Skype

The first meeting of the Virtual Sanskrit Reading Group was this past week. Four of us met to read the section of the Mānameyodaya that discusses arthāpatti. Elisa Freschi has posted a summary on her blog.

There are more than four members of the group itself--it is my hope that people will begin to use it as a way to develop their own smaller groups, reading together when is convenient for them, and reading what it is they find compelling.

Our next synchronous meeting, through Skype, will be in two weeks (February 12th at 9am EST). We are reading the edition of the Mānameyodaya by Vijaya Rani (she is professor emeritus at Kurukshetra University), published by Parimala Pablikeśansa in 2013. It has a Hindi translation and commentary and the relevant excerpt is available to Google Group members.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Virtual Sanskrit Reading Group

With my departure from graduate school only a semester away, I am thinking about how to continue my practice of Sanskrit reading without the benefit of the excellent mentors and fellow students here at University of Texas at Austin.

There is no guarantee that my next institution will have other Sanskritists in residence, and I know that there are quite a few of us who are in a position of not having peers with whom we can (physically) read together.

With the benefit of such a communal practice in mind, I'd like to facilitate the beginning of an online group devoted to reading Sanskrit. What I envision includes the following, and I'm open to suggestions about how best to structure things:
  • A mailing list for members - perhaps Google Groups, since it allows document sharing
  • A regular schedule of readings - not too onerous as to be impossible, and not to irregular as to lose motivation
  • A group reading time - again, Google has a nice setup with its Hangouts
  • A shared document(s) - this could allow for adding notes to a translation, putting up one's own work, etc.
I'm happy to set up these platforms if people are interested (unless such a group already exists, in which case I'd be interested to know!). My thought is that a weekly or bi-weekly reading schedule might work best, although that, along with the readings, are open for discussion. If enough people join, it could be possible to have sub-groups doing different readings.

Edited 1/7/15 - I've gotten a few replies so I created a Google Group to facilitate organization. The group is called "Virtual Sanskrit Reading Group" and can be viewed by clicking on the link. Anyone can request to join, but I'll be screening members to ensure we are only including serious Sanskrit readers (as this is not a beginning Sanskrit instruction group).