I am just back from the one-week IABS conference and I thought that the following panel should be of interest also for scholars not specialising on Buddhist philosophy.
Within the panel, Mark Siderits talked about what Indian scholars call svaprakāśa- and paraprakāśavāda, equating them with reflexivism and not reflexivism. These answer the problem of how are cognitions cognised. According to the Indian philosophical school of Nyāya, they are cognised through a higher order perception, which they call anuvyavasāya, so that for each cognition a cognition of it is possible:
M (object: blue)
M* (object: M)
Please note that this possibility does not imply that for each cognition there needs to be a cognition of it.
By contrast, the Buddhist Epistemologists from Dignāga (5th c. AD) onwards, uphold that cognitions are reflexive. Within the panel, Christian Coseru went into further details about what this means and stressed the fact that this reflexivity (in Sanskrit svasaṃvedana) cannot be a further condition. Rather, it can only be an aspect of the same cognition of a given object.
While Coseru played the role of the supporter of the reflexivity view, Siderits showed some of the possible objections to it. One of them goes back to the Buddhist author Nāgārjuna (2nd c. AD ca.) himself, namely that there are no reflexive acts throughout the world. The reflexivity of cognitions would be an absolute unicum. Now, some of you might think of a counter-example, namely the light, which can illuminate itself while illuminating other things. But the example does not hold, Siderits-Nāgārjuna explained, since the light is not something which can, stricto sensu, be illuminated, since in order to be illuminated an object needs to be able to exist also in the darkness, which is not the case with the light.
A further objection is contained in a syllogism by Kumārila Bhaṭṭa (7th c. ca.), another Brahmanical upholder of non-reflexivism of cognitions:
One does not cognise one's cognition, because it is a cognition, like Maitra
(Maitra is a proper name used to mean "a certain person"). The point here is, in Siderits' interpretation, that we have seemingly two different ways to know about consciousness. In the case of ourselves, we come to know that we are conscious through a simple act of introspection (which is, let me add, an undeniable token of an intrinsically valid cognition, since it is inimaginable to think that one could be wrong in ascribing consciousness to oneself). But introspection cannot work in the case of other people's consciousness. We can only infer that other people are conscious by observing their behaviour, most notably their bodily movements.
So, it seems that we have to do with two widely different concepts, and that consciousness must have two different meanings, and, thus, be two different things. This brings us to either solipsism (which is in fact embraced by later Buddhist Epistemologists) or to the view that cognitions are not directly cognised.
Last, Siderits pointed to the fact that the non-reflexive theory harmonises with some findings in cognitive sciences, namely that there is a high-road and a low-road system in our brain. The latter does not need one to be aware of what it cognises. For instance, if one throws us a stone, we will bend on the opposite side immediately, before being aware of the stone.
This post is a part of a series on the IABS (you can find the other ones at my personal blog). Please remember that these are only my first impressions and that all mistakes are mine and not the speakers' ones