Nalin de Silva’s epistemology has contradictions in it
Two three years ago, an article in English written by Prof. Nalin de Silva was published in kalaya.org, titled “CONSTRUCTIVE RELATIVISM”, in which he had clearly described his epistemological theory. He has actually made a grave mistake by clearly describing it. I will use this article to prove that the whole of his epistemological theory is built on contradictions.
He starts the article with the following paragraph.
“The materialists starting with the Greeks in the west, and the Dravyavadins in Bharat, in general attempted to reduce all phenomena to a materialist base. The Buddhist idealists in the form of Vinnavadins and the Greek idealists on the other hand wanted to show that the mind was supreme, and that the so called material world was the creation of the mind. We present a different approach, where the world as an observer “sees” is created by the observer due to “avidya” of anicca, dukka and anatta which could be “roughly translated” as ignorance of impermanence and soullessness.”
What we can learn from this is that Nalin de Silva’s theory is closer to idealism than materialism. Other than that, there’s nothing else one can learn from this since as Silva himself writes, anicca, dukka, and anatta “…cannot be grasped by the mind either in terms of other concepts or directly as an image formed in the mind.” He also writes “If “one” “grasps”, anicca, dukka, anatta then “one” attains Nibbana, and it is clear that knowing non permanence is not sufficient to attain Nibbana.” So far so good.
Then he writes “There are two concepts that are important in any discussion on epistemology and ontology. Epistemology deals with knowledge while ontology is on existence. Though there are two branches called epistemology and ontology in western Philosophy, they are interwoven. The existence is not independent of knowledge of existence, in contrast to one of the ideas expressed on existence in western materialistic Philosophy. Does the world exist independent of the mind? Or is there a world independent of the mind? The answers to these questions also have to be considered as knowledge, if we are to build a theory of existence. The ontology is not independent of knowledge and theory of knowledge.”
The questions “Does the world exist independent of the mind?” and “Or is there a world independent of the mind?” are essentially the same question. Other than that, there’s nothing wrong with this paragraph either. In fact, he is referring to one the fundamental difficulties that objectivists have to face. If there are objects independent of the mind, how could one learn about them without involving the mind? The concept of “existence” and “objective reality” are themselves creations of the mind. One philosopher once called the inability of philosophy to learn about the objective reality without involving the mind is a “scandal of Philosophy.” The great rationalist philosopher Immanuel Kant himself has recognised this problem. So far so good.
He goes on to explain further why his idea that the answer to the question “Does the world exist independent of the mind?” must be considered as knowledge. He writes “Whatever the answers given to the above questions, they are finally constructions of the mind. Nobody has ever found a way of expressing that the world exists independent of the mind, without finally getting the mind involved. Even if one is of the opinion that the world exists independent of the mind, one has to express that in words, and words are nothing but constructions of the mind. There is no way of expressing that the world exists independent of the mind, without involving the mind. Thus there is no Cartesian wall, as the existence of a world (observed) on the other side of the wall itself is a statement by an observer who has a mind.” This explanation is correct. So far so good. You cannot learn about anything without involving the mind, not even about the existence of a world.