I’ve been dipping into the rather dense but fascinating book Realisms Interlinked: Objects, Subjects, and Other Subjects by Arindam Chakrabarti—a scholar who, with great facility, straddles the worlds of Indian and (analytic) Western philosophy.
Mr. Chakrabarti’s overall project is to propose and defend a form of metaphysical realism. And while I—from my lay-woman’s perspective—remain agnostic on the idealism/realism issue, I’m greatly appreciating the opportunity to learn about various Indian philosophical traditions, and how these relate to the work of Western philosophers.
A Maverick Among Academic Philosophers
The author begins his chapter “In Defense of an Inner Sense,” with a paragraph decrying the current state of academic philosophy:
Quite a few of us have read as part of our curriculum Plato and the Upanisads, Aquinas and Udayana, Kant and Dharmakirti, Wittgenstein and Nagarjuna, Quine and Bhartrhari. But within the insular power-enclaves of philosophy, even a mention of non-Western theories of mind, knowledge, or truth is punished by polite exclusion. Well-preserved ignorance about other cultures and mono-cultural hubris define the mainstream of professional philosophy in Euro-America. In many cases, the discovery of exciting connections, sharp oppositions, or imaginable parallelisms is greeted with condescension or cold neglect.
Five Ways of Being an Anti-Realist
In the chapter called “Is There a World Out There? God Knows,” Mr. Chakrabarti identifies five different flavors of anti-realism:
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Five ways of being an anti-realist
There are at least five distinct ways an anti-realist about the external world could repudiate the many-faced notion of a world out there. Some of those ways are called “idealism”—a term notorious for its many and sometimes incompatible meanings. Anti-realism is a safer term, which may be stipulatively used for any of the following five views:
A1. The existence of mind-independent objects in space is doubtful or unprovable because from within perceptual experience there is no way of telling if one is dreaming or awake, and dream-perceptions do not require the support of any external objects (Kant calls this “problematic idealism”).
A2. The idea of an object existing without being registered in any consciousness is incoherent.
A3. An object of awareness and the awareness of the object are identical, because the one is never found in isolation from the other.
A4. Since we can explain every feature of our language and experience without assuming an external world, it is parsimonious to hold that there actually is no such external world.
A5. Since to understand a material object-statement is to come to know the conditions under which we can prove, verify, or justify it to be true or false, rather than to know its recognition-transcendent truth-conditions, we must be ready to recognize such a statement as neither determinately true nor determinately false, in case it cannot be proven, verified, or justified to be either.
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Anyway, for anyone with an interest in the conversation between Indian and Western philosophy (especially the analytic tradition), this book is a great resource.