God and realism

Marginal notes on a workshop in Hawai'i, part 2

Can God as the perfect omniscient knower guarantee the possibility of a reality disidentified from all local perspectives and thus independent of them, though remaining inherently intelligible (by God Himself)? It depends on how one understands God.

As discussed already here, Indian authors can mean at least four different things when they speak about “God”, namely:

  1. —the devatās of mythology, like Indra and Zeus (during this workshop in Hawai’s, Andrew Nicholson has shown several examples of how philosophers make fun of this naive conception of Gods)
  2. —the īśvara of rational theology. He is usually omniscient and omnipotent and mostly also benevolent. In Indian thought, He can be proven to exist and to be such through rational arguments (e.g., through an inference from the fact that mountains, being an effect, need a creator, like pots).
  3. —the brahman of Advaita Vedānta is an impersonal Deity. In some forms of Vedānta it is interpreted pantheistically as tantamount to the universe.
  4. —the bhagavat kind of God is the one one is linked to through a personal relationship. His or Her devotees might consider Him omniscient or omnipotent, but in fact their reasons for loving Him of Her are different and regard their being in relation with Him or Her.

Which God can help guaranteeing the world’s reality? The devatā kind of Gods are clearly irrelevant for this purpose, since they are not even omniscient and surely do not represent an impartial perspective. The brahman kind of God is omniscient only in a sense akin to the Buddha’s being omniscient, namely insofar as it does not lack any relevant information, but it does not at all guarantee the reality of the world of direct realism. In fact, the world is for Advaita Vedāntins an illusion.

The īśvara kind of God seems the best candidate. But which kind of īśvara? Matthew Dasti‘s talk elaborated on the early history of īśvara in Nyāya, showing how the system’s basic premisses at least facilitated the elaboration of an īśvara concept. This evolution culminates in a full-fledged rational theology by Udayana. For Udayana, the īśvara he tries to prove rationally is not just any intelligent maker that can be inferred as the cause from the premise that the earth, mountains and plants sprouting from it are effects. That intelligent maker had to be:*

  • A super-soul with eternal knowledge of everything, and especially of the past and future good and bad actions of all human beings that ever lived.
  • One who has natural control or lordship over the material universe and other individual souls whose bodies he creates according to their beginninglessly earned merits and demerits.
  • One who joins the eternal atoms in the beginning of each cosmic cycle according to a remembered blue-print giving rise to the two-ness in a dyad by his primordial act of counting.
  • One who makes the otherwise unconscious “destiny” (unseen karmic traces, adṛṣṭa)) or law of moral retribution work.
  • One who acts directly through his eternal will and agency without the mediation of a body, although all the “intelligent makers” one has ever encountered produce effects with a body of their own.
  • One who composes the Vedas which tell human beings how to live a good life, through “do”s and “don’t”s, which would otherwise be devoid of the imperative force that they command.
  • One who establishes the conventional connection between primitive words and their meant entities.
  • One who, after creating the world, also sustains and in the fullness of time destroys it.
  • Showers grace on humans and other creatures so that each soul can eventually attain their summum bonum—final liberation from all ensnaring karma and suffering.
  • One who remains constantly and uniformly blissful through all these actions which do not touch his changeless essence and for which he has no “need”.

Such an īśvara has been discussed by Arindam Chakrabarti in his final talk on Vācaspati, insofar as He seems to be the only kind of God who can be said to be omniscient in the “hard” sense of possessing a complete knowledge of all states of affairs. However, He is vulnerable to objections to omniscience raised both in European and Indian philosophy. E.g.: How to delimit the range of “all” in “omniscience“? Can He really know also future events? If so, this seems to contradict our free will and even the possibility of non-necessary, contingent events. More in general, how can God know past and future events as such, though being Himself atemporal (this topic has been dealt with by Shinya Moriyama in his talk as well as in his 2014 book)? Not to speak of the pragmatic problems caused by omniscience, namely that it is altogether different from the way we usually experience knowledge to happen, i.e. in a processual way, and that one could never be sure that anyone (even God) is omniscient, since we are not omniscient and, therefore, could not test Him. Last, as outlined by Arindam (and by Patrick Grimm’s Cantorian argument against omniscience), God’s omniscience seems deemed to fail, since it cannot be proven to be logically conceivable.

The general problem appears to me to be that the īśvara is at the same time the knower of all and part of the system which He should know completely, so that He cannot escape the restrictions which apply to this world (in which knowledge is experienced to be processual, entities are not at the same time temporal and non-temporal, and one element cannot know the whole).

*The following points are all discussed by Udayana. For further details, see Chemparathy 1972. The present formulation of the list is largely indebted to Arindam Chakrabarti.

Shinya Moriyama also wrote a report about the same workshop, unfortunately (for me) in Japanese. Google translate was enough to understand that it is quite interesting and gives one a perceptive insight in the Philosophy Department in Hawai’i. You can read it here.

Omniscience and realism

Marginal notes about a workshop in Hawai'i

A non-intelligible entity cannot be conceived to exist. But, if the world needs to be known in order to exist, we need to postulate a non-partial perspective out of which it can be known. Since the perspectives of all human beings (as well as those of other animals, I would add) are necessarily partial and cannot be reconciled (how could one reconcile our perspective of the world with that of a bat?), this perspective needs to be God.

Embedding (materialist) philosophy into a narrative (a guest post by Syed Arman)

This post starts a series of guest posts by younger colleagues. Syed Arman is a student of Muzaffar Ali and the following text was composed in connection with a class on Ethics. Please let me know what you think about this post and about the series by leaving a comment below.

A visit to the Cursed Village (The Lokayatas)

Summary: Sarah, a German girl, was on a visit to India for a study of its diverse culture and age old tradition. Here she meets Daksh, a young chap from a small town, who helps her in exploring the various spheres of the Indian heritage. It becomes an entirely different experience for her, many rare customs and traditions which she had only read about; she stands now a witness to all these. Sarah had an idea about what her visit in India would be like but there was something which came out of the box, and she is utterly astonished and dazzled to learn about that. It changes the way she used to look at the teachings of this land. Her visit to a place referred to as “Cursed Village” by the locals—the village of the Indian materialists, the Lokayatas—makes her realise that Indian philosophy is not limited to the limitless transcendental atman, but there are some who reduce transcendental Atman to the limited living-body and have a reason for that. The dialogues show how the cursed village turns out to be a blessing for Sarah and Daksh.

Written by:
Syed Arman
B.A. 2 nd yr. Philosophy Hons.
Hindu College, Delhi University, India

The full text is available below or here:

What is the center of Indian philosophy?

Karl Potter (Presuppositions of Indian Philosophies, see here) relates all Indian philosophical systems to the fact that they are goal-oriented and all seek mokṣa ‘liberation’. Jonardon Ganeri (in his History of Philosophy in India, with Peter Adamson) introduces the subject in a similar way (see here), speaking of the fact of seeking the “highest good”. As often the case, Daya Krishna disagrees:

The deliberate ignoring of [the] […] twentieth century discussion […] is only a symptom of that widespread attitude which does not want to see Indian philosophy as a rationcinative enterprise seriously engaged in argument and counter-argument in its long history and developing […]. This, and not mokṣa, is its life-breath as it is sustained and developed by it. Those, and this includes almost everybody, who think otherwise believe also that Indian philosophy stopped growing long ago. (The Nyāya Sūtras: A new commentary on an old text, p. 8)

What do you think? Is there a common core to all Indian philosophical schools?

Is the monologue also a dialogue?

No, taught Martin Buber, since a monologue lacks the dimension of Otherness. He was so adamant about that, that he even applied it to the case of God. Maurice Friedman (Martin Buber. The Life of Dialogue, p. 82) describes the relation of God and each single human being as follows:

If God did not need man, if man were simply dependant and nothing else, there would be no meaning to man’s life or to the world. ‘The world is not divine sport, it is divine destiny’.

Martin Buber’s own words (I and Thou, p. 82) are even more direct:

You know always in your heart that you need God more than everything; but do you not know too that God needs you—in the fullness of His eternity needs you? […] You need God, in order to be—and God needs you, for the very meaning of life.

Somehow, I am not surprised that Maurice Friedman participated in one of Daya Krishna’s saṃvādas (one can read the transcripts in Intercultural Dialogue and the Human image, Maurice Friedman at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

Daya Krishna on the risks of comparatism

‘Comparative studies’, thus, meant in effect the comparison of all other societies and cultures in terms of the standards provided by the Western societies and cultures, both in cognitive and non cognitive domains. The scholars belonging to these other societies and cultures, instead of looking at Western society and culture from their own perspectives, accepted the norms provided by Western scholars and tried to show that the achievements in various fields within their cultures paralleled those in the West”.

From: Daya Krishna, “Comparative Philosophy: What It Is and What It Ought to Be”, in Interpreting across Boundaries: New Essays in Comparative Philosophy, edited by Gerald Larson and Eliot Deutsch (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass 1989), 71-83.