The Indian View!

The following is a list of some categories used in Indian philosophy. They generally date later than Aristotle and are probably influenced by him. Yet they differ in quality in that they are more general and refer to processes and activities to a greater degree than Artistotle did. In fact, the first items in the list for substance are rather like Aristotle's list. Interestingly, mind and spirit are included in the sub-list for substance, which may help clarify the problem of mind and body, by saying they are not totally different, but part of substance (which is not here, materialistic.)

  1. Substance is independent of all other categories, and the cause of all things produced by it:
    1. Solids,
    2. Liquids,
    3. Energy,
    4. Gasses,
    5. Time,
    6. Space,
    7. Mind, and
    8. Spirit.
  2. Similarities, by which we can say that things are alike.
  3. Differences, by which we can say that things are unlike.
  4. Particulars, such as my dog Fido.
  5. Universals, such as dog.
  6. Inherence - things inseparably connected.
  7. Non-existence or absence. The positive effect of negatives is that one misses something

After substance, the other items are rather 'mental' in character. The Scottish philosopher, David Hume, considered that all thought relationships were based on similarities, differences and contiguity. So if one thing related to another, it was similar to it, as all humans are similar to each other, or different, as water is not like sand because it is a liquid, or commonly found together, as 'smoke and fire', 'horse and carriage'.

The question of universals has been hotly debated in the West since the Middle Ages.

The last two items are rather intriguing because they have not received anything like the attention in the West as they have in India.

Now, the last time I got to this point in the essay, I was sitting back and musing dreamily - it was quite late at night - when suddenly my computer screen went black and Windows reported an error. This made me jump. At an unconscious level I had assumed that my program would continue to run and the parts of my universe would not suddenly fall apart. I had assumed that the presentation on my computer was inherently existing, that is the various components would remain inherently one thing, namely my HTML editor screen, and the fact that I was labouring under this delusion, believing in the inherence of existence, the physical world reminded me that things do not inherently exist, and computers crash for no reason. (This had never happened before when I was not doing anything to the computer, so does this mean that some synchronicity was operating, and gave me an example at exactly the right time? I can do very well without such examples, though!)

In some Buddhist thought, things do not inherently exist. We see the shape of a car, its colour, its parts, and we assume that these are glued together into one single thing called a car, whereas all we are experiencing is a collection of parts, sense impressions, which could just as easily be in a different form or place. The idea of inherence and real object are very closely related.

If something were purely negative, we would not be aware of it. But negatives and absences are things we are aware of because of their effect. I recall the story of the police in a city being called in the middle of the night by people who said they had heard something strange, but indefinite. Many people made these reports and they were investigated. It appeared that a train no longer ran at that time of night and the callers were being awakened by the absence of the train noise!

The idea of the negative or absence in Indian philosophy is divided into four cases:

  1. Absent in the past, but present now, as when we wonder how we managed without all this new stuff!
  2. Absent, but present in the past, as when we miss something that existed in the past.
  3. Mutual absence, as of a piece of coal and a diamond, neither of which is the other, and
  4. Total absence, as of something we have never had or known, as hen's teeth.

These are viewed as real things or experiences which have an effect on us. Mutual absence refers to something not being something else by virtue of being itself. If a tea pot is in a given place, then the cup and saucer cannot be there. Similarly, if a cup and saucer are in a given place, then the tea pot cannot be there too. We experience reciprocal absence when we have to choose one thing or another. By virtue of choosing one thing we exclude the other.

Total absence is the most interesting of all these cases. It refers to something that has never existed but it must be something we are aware of. Total absences include dragons, unicorns, my million pounds, the present King of France.

We cannot think of an absence. We can not think of something that isn't there; we can only think of something. We can not obey the command, 'Don't think of a pink elephant.' Total absences can have a tremendous effect on us, and can be used to control use. The main advantage is that they can not be disproved. There are people who believe in unicorns, dragons, etc. And we cannot take them everywhere in the world at once to prove that these do not exist. And if we did, they might have some other argument to refuse to believe they don't exist. We like to believe that we live in a fair society, and may dislike unfairness. Yet it is extremely difficult to prove or disprove whether a given society does have the quality fairness or not. It would involve examining many many specific examples. One bad example might lead us to believe our society is unfair, when this example is very rare indeed. It is possible that ideal fairness, perfection, justice, etc do not exist and never have existed on Earth. They are total absences, yet their imagined presence causes us to go astray in our thinking. (I am not saying our society is unfair - it's very fair, but it isn't perfectly and ideally fair. It is these which don't exist!)



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