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Dharmak¯ırti’s exposition of
pram¯ an .
pram¯ an .aphala 
and the sliding scale of analysis
Birgit Kellner
1 The sliding scale of analysis
Several studies have recently brought into focus the copresence of conflictingtheories about reality and its cognition within the Buddhist logico-epistemo-logical tradition, a phenomenon that used to be discussed in terms of therelationship between the doctrinal systems of Sautr¯antika and Yog¯ac¯ara in earlier times. In particular, George Dreyfus (
, 1997), Sara McClin-tock (
, 2003) and John Dunne (
, 2004) have formed andelaborated the heuristic metaphor that Dign¯aga, Dharmak¯ırti and their follow-ers employ a sliding, or ascending, scale of analysis where theories that at firstsight seem to be contradictory are in fact located on hierarchically arrangedlevels of discourse: more intuitive and less accurate low-level analyses are grad-ually replaced by less intuitive and more accurate higher-level accounts, like,for instance, the idea that external objects cause a perception that appears intheir form is replaced by the notion that cognition is an entirely mind-internalphenomenon.While Dreyfus and McClintock deal with later representatives of the tra-dition in South Asia and Tibet, Dunne is concerned with the historical Dhar-mak¯ırti and presents the sliding scale in his study of the PV, which he analyseson the basis of Devendrabuddhi’s and´akyabuddhi’s commentaries. WhereasDreyfus and McClintock place higher emphasis on epistemological factors indistinguishing the levels on the scale, Dunne introduces the scale to accountfor seeming conflicts between multiple ontologies. His altogether four differentlevels differ in terms of the type of entities that are considered as ultimatelyreal. At the same time, they represent steps in a continuous process that leadsfrom the first level all the way up to the fourth, and where each level involves1
relegating some entities that were considered as ultimately real on the previouslevel to a merely conventional status (cf. handout).The movement along the scale manifests an underlying philosophical method,and may – so Dunne – be considered to exhibit soteriological dimensions. Thismovement proceeds with the help of a uniform strategy: a mereological strat-egy of argument, mereology being the part of philosophy which analyses therelationship between wholes and their parts or the individual parts within awhole. This mereological strategy according to Dunne manifests itself as areductive analysis, in the course of which Dharmak¯ırti reduces a successivelyhigher number of entities to infinitesimal particles through a chain of “neither-nor-arguments”. In other words, there is a transition from each level to thenext, such that the levels are linked through what I am going to term “tran-sition arguments”.When we look at Dunne’s scale, a minimal definition of a transition argu-ment suggests itself along the following lines: a transition argument first arguesthat there are fundamental problems in the low-level theory which cannot beresolved without abandoning its fundamental principles, and in a second stepreplaces these principles by logically conflicting ones that form part of thehigher-level theory.In this paper, I am going to discuss the relationship between levels 3 and 4,referred to as “external realism” and “epistemic idealism” by Dunne, and usu-ally considered as characteristic analyses of the Sautr¯antika and Vij˜anav¯ada or Yog¯ac¯ara schools or systems. In my discussion, I am going to mainly relyon arguments from Dharmak¯ırti’s exposition of the means of valid cognition(
pram¯ an .
) and its result (
pram¯ an .aphala 
) in PV 3.301-366 and the largelyparallel section PVin 1.34-57.
These arguments will be examined in connec-tion with Dunne’s proposed scale, which, by contrast, is based on PV 3.194-224, considered by Dunne as the most important section for the sliding scalethroughout the PV. My presentation is mainly based on the Sanskrit text of the PVin, but the general transition can also be found in the largely parallelsection in the PV. Before I begin, I would like to thank Ernst Steinkellner forgenerously providing me with his preliminary critical edition of PVin 1, whichwas prepared on the basis of Anne MacDonald’s transliteration of the threecurrently available Sanskrit manuscripts.2
2 The transition from externalism to internalism in Dharmak¯ır-ti’s exposition of the means of valid cognition (
pram¯ an .
) andits result (
pram¯ an .aphala 
On the textual surface, the section on means and result deals with what, inthe case of perception, serves as the means of valid cognition, and what as itsresult. As is well-known from later sources, Dharmak¯ırti here just like Dign¯again PS(V) 1.8cd-10 advances the theory that means and result are non-different(
anarth¯ antara 
) in that both are aspects of cognition, distinguished as analyticalconcepts, but not in reality.In expounding means and result, Dharmak¯ırti pits two alternative theo-ries of perception against each other that can be characterised as externalistand internalist respectively. The externalist theory assumes that some extra-mental, material object causes a perception that has its form. By contrast,the internalist theory assumes that perception, as well as all other cognitiveactivity, takes place solely within the mind, and that nothing else is to beexperienced by cognition. While these my characterisations are functionallyequivalent to what Dunne refers to as external realism and epistemic idealism,their definitions differ because they concentrate on those features which areof immediate relevance in the exposition of means and result, which placesepistemological aspects of these two levels of analysis in the foreground.Dharmak¯ırti begins with an externalist account of means and result. Themeans of valid cognition is required to differentiate valid cognition, its result,according to individual objects. In the case of perception, the means must becapable of explaining why a perception is one of something blue rather than of something yellow. The result (
pram¯ an .aphala 
) is said to be the understandingof the individual external object (
arth¯ adhigama 
). The means is nothing otherthan the similarity of perception to its external object (
arthas¯ ar¯ upya 
or,in other words, the fact that it has the form of the validly cognised object(
meyar¯ upat¯ 
After refuting other candidates for means of valid cognition,such as the sense-faculty or the sense-object-contact, Dharmak¯ırti undertakesa critique of the externalist theory that leads him to abandon it, as well asits conception of means and result, and contains two main complexes of argu-ments.The first will subsequently be called the
-argument.Dharmak¯ırti raises an absurd consequence that follows from the externalist3

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