Multi-Factor Causal Disjunctivism: a Nyāya-Informed Account of Perceptual Disjunctivism

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Perceptual disjunctivism is a controversial thesis about perception. One familiar characterization of the thesis maintains that there is no common epistemic kind that is present in both veridical and non-veridical cases of perception. For example, the good case, in which one sees a yellow lemon, and the bad case, in which one hallucinates a yellow lemon, share a specific first-person phenomenology, being indistinguishable from the first-person point of view; however, seeing a yellow lemon and hallucinating a yellow lemon do not, according to the disjunctivist, share a common epistemic kind. There are two types of disjunctivism: epistemological vs. metaphysical. John McDowell (1996, 2008, Philosophical Explorations, 13(3), 243–255, 2011, Philosophical Explorations, 16(3), 259–279, 2013) has articulated, refined, and defended one kind of disjunctivism. Tyler Burge (Philosophical Topics, 33(1), 1–78, 2005, Philosophical Explorations, 13(3), 43–80, 2011) has objected to many forms of disjunctivism, arguing that they are all inconsistent with the proximality principle (PP) in the vision sciences. PP requires an ability-general kind in common between relevantly similar perceptual states, such as seeing a yellow lemon and hallucinating a yellow lemon, which disjunctivism denies. Against the background of this debate some analytic epistemologists, such as Michael Martin (Philosophical Studies, 120, 37–89, 2004), Alan Millar (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 73(1), 176–198, 2007), Berit Brogaard (Philosophical Issues 21-The Epistemology of Perception, 21(1), 46–73, 2011), Duncan Pritchard (2012), and Heather Logue (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 86(1), 105–133, 2013) remain attracted to some version of disjunctivism. Brogaard and Pritchard each have gone on to articulate and defend a version. Pritchard’s (2012), for example, defends epistemological disjunctivism. Martin, Millar, and Logue, by contrast, have defended the idea that the disjunctivist is right about something, but perhaps not wholly correct about the nature of perception. In what follows, I articulate and defend the view that an interesting kind of disjunctivism is to be found through a reading of the Nyāya School of classical Indian philosophy. I articulate a version of perceptual disjunctivism informed by Nyāya perceptual theory that is not derivable from any single Nyāya philosopher. The view I offer is inspired by work on disjunctivism both in Anglo-analytic philosophy and in Nyāya scholarship, such as by Dasti and Phillips (Philosophy East & West, 60(4), 535–540, 2010), Ganeri (Philosophy East & West, 60(4), 541–550, 2010), Dasti (Philosophy East & West, 62(1), 1–15, 2012), Phillips (2012), Vaidya (Philosophy East and West, 63(4), 562–585, 2013), and Schiller (History of Philosophy Quarterly, 36(1), 1–18, 2019). Importantly, the causal account I offer is distinct from Grice’s (Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 121, 121–152, 1961) single-factor causal theory of perception by crucially involving a multi-factor causal theory of perception. My work on Nyāya perceptual theory derives primarily from Jaysankar Shaw’s (2016a, b, c) account of Nyāya on the sources of knowledge, which is distinct from Stephen Phillips’ well-known (2012) account of Nyāya epistemology. Shaw’s theory has been developed and refined through textual analysis and dialectical engagement with the twentieth century Nyāya Pundit Philosopher, Viśvabandhu Tarkatīrtha. Like other modern Nyāya scholars, such as B. K. Matilal (1992), A. Chakrabarti (Philosophy East and West, 50(1), 1–8, 2010), M. Chadha (2015), J. Ganeri (2011), and S. Phillips (Philosophy East and West, 51(1), 104–113, 2001, 2012), J. Shaw’s account shows how Nyāya epistemology is a living and continuing form of Indian philosophy. My goal here is twofold. On the one hand, I articulate multi-factor causal disjunctivism and show how it can be applied to the McDowell-Burge debate over the viability of disjunctivism and naïve realism. On the other hand, I aim to start a cross-cultural epistemological conversation with those that have contributed to the Anglo-analytic debate in anthologies, such as Haddock and Macpherson (2008), Byrne and Logue (2009), and introductions, such as Soteriou (2016). The hope is that a cross-cultural epistemological investigation into disjunctivism will lead to better epistemic theorizing about the nature of perception.


Arindam Chakrabarti, Disjunctivism, Epistemology, Jay Shaw, John Campbell, John McDowell, Nyāya, Perception, Stephen Phillips, Tyler Burge