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.

Animal theology

Paolo De Benedetti's death

The news of the death of Paolo De Benedetti reached me while I was reading a short book of him (E l’asina disse…).

Paolo De Benedetti is well-known especially for his studies on Hebraism, but here I would rather like to remember him for his articles and books on animals’ and plants’ theology. This is a problem which is much less evident in South Asian religions, given the general acceptance of a (hierarchical) continuity between animal and human lives. Yet, as already discussed here, the same continuity is not generally accepted in the case of plants.
De Benedetti used Singer’s arguments about suffering as the distinctive character shared by all living beings and keeping them alike. Unlike Singer, however, De Benedetti saw the commonality of animals, human beings and plants in a theological perspective: They are all created, not natural beings and their being alive is what God has donated to them.

Analytical Philosophy of Religion with Indian categories

Wednesday and Thursday last week I enjoyed two days of full immersion in the Analytical Philosophy of Religion. In fact, the conference I was attending was about the ontological status of relations from the perspective of Analytical Philosophy of Religion and most speakers started their talk saying that they were not experts in the one or in the other field. I was neither nor, which made me the sub-ideal target for all talks —and yet one who could learn a lot from all.

A few random remarks:

  1. “God” is an ambiguous term, in fact so ambiguous that I wonder why does not each study about philosophy of religion start with a discussion of what the author means by this word. I pragmatically distinguish between god as devatā ‘deity’ (a superhuman being which is better than a human one, but only insofar as s/he has the same qualities of a human being in higher degree, like the Greek and Roman deities of mythology), god as īśvara ‘Lord’ (the omniscient and omnipotent being of rational theology), god as brahman ‘impersonal being’ (the impersonal Absolute of most monisms, including Bradley’s one discussed by Guido Bonino) and god as bhagavat ‘personal God’ (the personal God one directly relates to in prayers, without necessarily caring for His/Her omnipotence or omniscience, but rather focusing on Him/Her as spouse, parent, child, etc.). Within this classification, Analytical Philosophy of Religion appears to focus on the īśvara aspect of God.

Ontology of relations in Analytical Philosophy of Religion

Wednesday and Thursday there will be a conference entitled Relatio Subsistens in Verona (Italy). I am looking forward for the chance of discussing the Viśiṣṭādvaita concept of apṛthaksiddhatā ‘indissolubility’ between God and knowledge in Analytical terms.

The subject as knower and doer in Yāmuna’s Ātmasiddhi

Again on the ontology of qualities and substances

Opponents coming from the Advaita field figure often in Yāmuna’s Ātmasiddhi, which shows that even before Rāmānuja Vaiṣṇava authors were taking seriously the challenge of Advaita. Even more interesting is the way Yāmuna answers to them. Let us see some examples concerning the concept of self (ātman):

[Obj.:] But the fact of being a cogniser is the fact of performing the action of cognising and this implies modifications and is (typical of) insentient things and belongs to the sense of Ego.

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.

Is philosophy an involution of Buddhism (and other religions)?

This is more or less the thesis advanced by Jayarava in his longest comment on this post.

The idea is that the (Buddhist) religion is primarily experiential and that philosophy is a later reification which misses the main point at stake and moves the emphasis away from what really counts. Moreover, in the case of Buddhism (but I am inclined to think that no other theology would survive Jayarava’s analysis) the result is full of inner contradictions and does not stand a critical inquire.

Thus, why engaging in philosophical thought, if you care for a given religion? Why entering a field in which you will loose anyway, since sooner or later a new development in, say, physics or neurosciences will show that you are at least partly wrong?

A possible answer would be to claim that natural sciences and theology do not speak about the same things (a claim Jayarava appears to refute). Moreover, one might claim that human beings naturally try to understand (as in Aristotle). But are there positive reasons for engaging in philosophy if one comes from a religious standpoint? Let us consider Giordano Bruno’s paradoxical words on this topic (as you will all know, Giordano Bruno was a Catholic priest and philosopher who was burnt on 17.2.1600 because of his heretic ideas —this sonet praises the ignorance of those who do not question anything, as if this were a moral virtue):


Oh sant’asinità, sant’ignoranza,
Santa stoltizia, e pia divozione,
Qual sola puoi far l’anime si buone,
Ch’uman ingegno e studio non l’avanza!

Non gionge faticosa vigilanza
D’arte, qualunque sia, o invenzione,
Né di sofossi contemplazione
Al ciel, dove t’edifichi la stanza.

Che vi val, curiosi, lo studiare,
Voler saper quel che fa la natura,
Se gli astri son pur terra, fuoco e mare?

La santa asinità di ciò non cura,
Ma con man gionte e ’n ginocchion vuol stare
Aspettando da Dio la sua ventura.

Nessuna cosa dura,
Eccetto il frutto dell’eterna requie,
La qual ne done Dio dopo l’esequie!

Beginningless time and a nice whish from Veṅkaṭanātha

“[Obj.:] Then, let it be that there is a beginning in the liberated beings (i.e., that there is a point in time in which conscious beings started achieving liberation). Before that, there would be no liberated one.
[R:] There is no contradiction in the idea of a continuous and beginningless succession of liberated [beings]. For, it is not the case that someone who was ab initio liberated is then bound. In this case the liberation (and not the bondage) would be something to be realised, which is contradictory. Rather, all beings, bound ab initio liberate themselves, the one after the other, when they get the way”.

(atha mukteṣv ādiḥ, sa kathaṃ tvayā viditaḥ? tataḥ pūrvaṃ muktābhāvād iti cet, tam api kathaṃ vettha? anādimuktau vyāghātād iti cen na; muktapravāhe vyāghātābhāvāt | na hy anādimuktaḥ kaścid badhyate, sādhyamokṣo vā bhavet, yena vyāghātas syāt; kiṃ tu, anādibaddhās sarve ´pi labdhopāyāḥ krameṇa mucyante |, autocommentary on TMK 2.25)

The permanence of time and the radical alterity of mokṣa seem to create a tension here.
Does it entail that each one of today’s beings will be liberated, sooner or later? In other words, do all possiblities need to actualise themselves sooner or later in an endless time?

Buddhist morality and merciful lies

Amod Lele recently asked whether there is an emic Buddhist morality or whether this is only a Yavanayāna invention


(i.e., an invention of contemporary Western-trained Buddhists). The question is in itself interesting, but the discussion it triggered is even more, since Jayarava (who blogs here) added the problem of the possible inconsistency of the doctrine of karman if one denies the continuity of the self. That there is a problem cannot be denied: Why should we care about the karman our actions accumulate, if it is not going to affect “us”?

Body and self from the viewpoint of the ritual’s justification

The trigger for a discussion about the distinction of body and self in Mīmāṃsā is not or not primarily the polemic with the Buddhists, but rather the need to justify the validity of ritual prescriptions. In particular, a sentence, the yajñāyudhivākya `sentence about the one who bears the weapons of sacrifice’ identifies the entity being endowed with the weapons which consist in the sacrifice itself with the one which will reach heaven.
The problem is that the entity which carries these weapons is the body — and the body will clearly not reach heaven, since it will be burnt.
Interestingly, bodily resurrection seems not to have ever been taken into account as an option, so that the resulting dualism is much more radical than in a Christian milieu: Mīmāṃsā authors plainly agree that the body will not go to heaven and that the sentence should rather be read as addressing in fact the real agent of the sacrifice, which is not the body, but the self.
This, however, has an important consequence, namely that the self is identified with the real agent beyond the body’s acts. This makes Mīmāṃsā authors start far away from the Upaniṣadic, Sāṅkhya and Vedāntic ideas of an underlying self which is untouched by change and action.
Thus, Sacred Texts like the above sentence suggest that there is a self. Mīmāṃsā authors point also to further evidences, first and foremost our I-cognitions, that is, the cognition we have of an “I” whenever we refer to ourselves. Objectors can easily contend that “I” is used in sentences which in fact refer to the body, such as “I am tall”, thus concluding that this evidence is valueless. Mīmāṃsā authors answer that metaphorical usages of “I” as referring to the body do not rule out that it usually refers to the subject. Again, this claim bases on the idea that the Mīmāṃsā subject is not a changeless and super-individual entity, but that it is a changing and dynamic person, which can be rightly described in I-sentences such as “I am bright” or perhaps even “I am a scholar of Greek philosophy”.