The Big Fight: Adi Sankara vs Charvakas Part 3

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The Big Fight: Adi Sankara vs Charvakas Part 3

Post  Guest on Mon Jun 15, 2015 1:16 am

In my earlier post ('Adi Sankar versus Charvakas 2'), i mentioned that a full or complete refutation of the Charvaka view on consciousness can be done only by establishing two propositions, namely--

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

I mentioned that the second of the propositions required to invalidate the Charvaka view of consciousness is practically impossible to establish, emperically at any rate, and hence there is no special focus on this point by Adi Sankar (and also other opponents of Charvakas).

But what about the first of these propositions i.e. do Adi Sankar and other opponents of Charvakas manage to prove that the universal co-presence of the body and consciousness is not a fact, and that there can be the presence of the the body along with the absence of consciousness? The evidence considered most significant for the purpose is that of the corpse. Adi Sankar mentions this, and so do Jayanata Bhatta and Gunaratna.

As cryptically put by Jayanta Bhatta (Nyaya Manjari ii.12):

"The body is without consciousness, because it is a body, as is the case of the dead body."

Gunaratna, in his Tarkarahasyadipika (pg 144) repeats the point:

"It is argued by the Charvakas that consciousness originates from the material elements transformed into the form of the body. The reason given for this is as follows. The material origin of consciousness is inferred from the fact that consciousness exists only in the presence of body...

But all this is untenable because the general ground of the inference viz. that consciousness is present only in the presence of the body is itself illogical. It is negated by clear cases to the contrary. Thus, after death, the body remains, though it has no longer any consciousness."


But is this evidence of the corpse really as decisive as it is assumed? In other words, is the evidence of the corpse worth against what is really claimed by the Charvakas?

Its main basis is the assumption that the corpse is a body in the full sense of the term. But it is precisely the point against which the entire drift of the Charvaka argument is directed.

The body, argue the Charvakas, is the result of some peculiar transformation of the material elements. Hence it exists in the full sense of the term only so long as the transformed state of the material elements remains intact. What, then, is meant by death from this point of view?
Death, in the Charvaka view, simply means the beginning of the process of disintegration of the peculiar transformation of the material elements resulting in the body. This disintegration--called decomposition or decay--eventually results in the return of the material elements into their original state of pre-transformation. And, if so, the corpse is not the same as the body; it is the very opposite of the body--or, more strictly, the beginning of this opposite.

Hence, nothing is more natural from the Charvaka point of view than the absence of consciousness in the corpse. The evidence of lack of consciousness in the corpse really proves what the Charvakas wish to prove, namely that consciousness is the result of the peculiar transformation of matter, which is negated by what is called death.

The crux of the problem is thus a different one. It is concerning the possibility of the extraordinary form of transformation of matter resulting in living organism.

Note that this does not mean that the logical categories of the universal co-presence and universal co-absence of body and consciousness, in terms of which the opponents of the Charvakas like Adi Sankar assess it, are irrelevant. But they can have real relevance only after the Charvaka position is first rightly formulated.

Among the opponents of the Charvakas, there is none to do this. What is at best attempted is only a parody or caricature of the Charvaka view. This is done by Adi Sankar, Jayanta Bhatta, and Gunaratna when they claim that the corpse decisively disproves the Charvaka view.

It is conveniently overlooked by Adi Sankar and other Charvaka opponents that the Charvakas are not talking about the corpse at all. What they were talking of is the living organism. The corpse and the living organism--like everything else in nature--are made up of matter no doubt. Never the less, what is distinctive about the living organism, in the Charvaka view, is some peculiar transformation of matter. The details of this process of transformation are of course unknown to our ancient Charvakas, but that does not mean that they are really unknowable; they are being progressively known by contemporary science.

I shall make a final post on this topic on how Modern Science is validating the Charvaka position on Consciousness. Today, with the monumental progress of Science since the days of the Charvakas and Adi Sankar, it is easy to see that the Charvakas have been proven correct over Adi Sankar and their other opponents, on the question of the correct understanding of the nature of consciousness; by brilliantly anticipating recent developments in Modern Science, despite the very limited emperical evidence available to them, the Charvakas deserve our appreciation and respect.

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