The Big Fight: Adi Sankara vs Charvakas Part 2

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The Big Fight: Adi Sankara vs Charvakas Part 2

Post  Guest on Mon Jun 15, 2015 1:15 am

In my earlier blog 'Adi Sankar vs Charvakas' i have given an outline of the fundamental difference of opinion of Adi Sankar with the Charvakas with respect to the understanding of the Self. According to the Charvakas, the mere body endowed with consciousness is the self; consciousness is a mere attribute/quality of the body; there is no such thing as soul distinct from the body. Adi Sankar, of course, argues, that the soul is very much distinct from the body, and he gives his reasons which i have mentioned in the post i refer to.

To continue:

I have shown in my earlier post that Adi Sankar's arguments are not self-consistent. In this post i wish to take up the intrinsic worth of these arguments for the refutation of the Charvaka view of the Self.

According to the Indian norm, it would be essential for the Charvakas to establish two propositions for the purpose of proving that consciousness is a quality of the body.
First, whereever there is body, there is consciousness. Body and consciousness are universally co-present. There can be no case of presence of body along with the absence of consciousness.

Secondly, whereever there is absence of body, there is also absence of consciousness.There can be no case of presence of consciousness along with absence of body.

Consequently, a full or complete refutation of the Charvaka view presupposes the logical rejection of both propositions. This can be done only by establishing two counterpropositions, namely--

First, body can exist along with the non-existence of consciousness.

Secondly, consciousness can exist along with non-existence of body.

It is evidently difficult to establish emperically at any rate the second of these propositions--the talk of a purely disembodied consciousness being more quaint than is usually allowed in philosophy.

Thus, though the Indian idealists (Advaita Vedantists and Mahayana Budhists) freely talk of the mystic experience where the enlightened saint is supposed to be left with pure consciousness absolutely uninhibited by matter, it is significant that even Adi Sankar, while refuting the Charvaka view in terms of standard logic, cannot categorically claim that consciousness does in fact exist without any relation to the body.

As against the Charvaka position that whereever there is absence of body there is also absence of consciousness, Adi Sankar simply says that it is doubtful after all, "for it is possible that even after this body has died, the qualities of the Self should continue to exist only by passing over to another body."(Sankar on Brahma sutra iii.3.54).

The tone of hesitancy in Adi Sankar's argument is obvious and the interesting question is: why is this so?

Could it be because of Sankar's reluctance to the full and free use for philosophical purposes the current superstitions concerning the transmigration of souls?

From Sankar's firm commitment to irrationalism (already discussed in my posts 'Adi Sankar, Enemy of Reason'), we have to presume that the real cause of his hesitation is something else.

Even admitting that the soul transmigrates from one body to another, it is difficult to claim that while in transit it continues to be characterised by the same consciousness as that of its previous state, in as much as according to the same superstition, a human being--depending on the nature of his past actions--can as well be reborn in the form of the lowest insect, evidently no longer characterised by his previous human consciousness. Such a consideration might have prevented Adi Sankar from the categorical assertion that there is positive proof of the existence of consciousness along with the nonexistence of body, as is the consciousness of the soul during its transit from one body to another.

(Note that as far as the Nyaya-Vaisesikas are concerned, there is really no scope to prove the presence of consciousness along with the absence of body, because though in their view there is a soul distinct from the body, the first precondition for this soul's acquiring consciousness is its conjunction with the body.)

In any case, for the refutation of the Charvaka view, there is no special concentration on proving the second of the two counterpropositions just mentioned by Adi Sankar. In the Indian context, this point is extremely significant, for according to the Indian norm of philosophical debate, when the relation between two things is based on the evidence of their universal co-presence (anvaya) supplemented by the evidence of their universal co-absence (vyatireka), it can be fully or adequately refuted only by proving both the co-presence and co-absence false.

But let us leave this and turn to another question: how far do the opponents of the Charvakas succeed even in proving the first of the propositions that i had mentioned they are obliged to for refuting the Charvaka view: do they prove that the universal co-presence of the body and consciousness is not a fact, that there can be the presence of the the body along with the absence of consciousness?

(to be concluded)


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