Conflicting Accounts of Perception in the South Asian Buddhist Epistemological Tradition: The Case of Dharmakīrti's Pramāṇavārttika


A. Calahan Morse

  • Supervisor: Birgit Kellner

Dharmakīrti (between ca. 550 and 660 CE) is renowned for being one of the most significant and challenging thinkers in the history of South Asian philosophy. In his seven treatises on logic and epistemology, he addressed a wide range of topics and offered sophisticated arguments in defense of his ideas, all of which had a substantial impact on subsequent Buddhist, Brahmanical, and Jain philosophers. Dharmakīrti's epistemology is informed, in large part, by his theory of perception (pratyakṣa), which involves a theoretical hierarchy of apparently contradictory views -- one that presumes that external, mind-independent objects cause perceptual awareness-events, and one that does not. These two perspectives come to be associated, respectively, with two Buddhist schools of thought: Sautrāntika and Yogācāra. In order to shed light on this key feature of Dharmakīrti's philosophy and its reception history, this doctoral project investigates the perception chapter of his first work, the Pramāṇavārttika. The aims of the dissertation are (1) to formulate a new hypothesis that explains Dharmakīrti's conflicting accounts of perception in the Pramāṇavārttika's chapter on perception and (2) to answer the question of whether one of Dharmakīrti's philosophical positions utilized therein was premised on certain Yogācāra concepts, or rather, formulated in a way that would be compatible with multiple schools of Buddhist thought.