MiCon 2002
Mind and Consciousness: Various Approaches

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Paper and event sponsored by the Infinity Foundation, NJ, USA

Abstract of "The Mind-Body Problem in Three Indian Philosophies, Sankara's Advaita Vedanta, Gangesa's Navya Nyaya, and Aurobindo's Theistic Monism" By Stephen Phillips, Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Texas, Austin, TX 78712 USA

Self-illumining consciousness, a consciousness that knows itself "non-dualistically" (a-dvaita), is central to the long-standing Indian school Advaita Vedanta whose chief proponent is Sankara (c. 700). Sankara would avoid the mind-body problem by denying third-person, externalist access to this consciousness. Language cannot express it but only indicate where it is found (language as upalaksana, not visesana). And there is no call to explain the world in relation to self-illumining consciousness, for any explanation would have to employ externalist, attributive terms. Thus Advaita appears compatible with all science and externalist theory except that which would explain self-illumining consciousness itself. Self-illumining consciousness is self-authenticating, unlike other conscious states in having exclusive access to itself. Only it has the right to pronounce on itself, so to say. Trespassers invariably get their putative explanandum wrong. But Gangesa's Navya Nyaya (c. 1300+), a second classical philosophy, attacks the self-illumination thesis by denying self-authentication and by clarifying the indicator/attributer distinction that Sankara relies on. Nyaya is itself dualistic, or pluralistic, finding nine types of substance and several types of property as distinguishable ontological items. An awareness is a psychological property distinct from physical properties. An awareness rests or occurs in a self, and only for an instant before giving way to another awareness, each indicating an intersubjective object or objects other than itself. But awarenesses are also causally continuous with their objects--in the one direction, through the operations of the sense organs, sight, hearing, and so on, and, in the
other, in guiding action. Thus Nyaya has been interpreted as avoiding the mind-body problem through its view of causality between mental and physical items supplemented by its understanding of the inductive method
whereby causal laws are found. But, as I shall show, Nyaya has its own variety of the mind-body problem which is especially evident in its theory of sensory connectiveness. Such connectiveness is a main focus of the
arguments of the modern spiritual philosopher, Aurobindo (1872-1950). Aurobindo proposes a new type of connectiveness and is able to tie up his theory with a notion of consciousness as intrinsically self-illumining,
though he does not embrace Advaita indeterminism. This paper concludes with scrutiny of his purportedly finding the mind-body problem in his opponents' views while avoiding it in his own.