Sophia 57 (2):313-335 (2018)

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Catherine (Cat) Prueitt
University of British Columbia
Abstract
Dharmakīrti’s apoha theory of concept formation aims to provide an account of intersubjectivity without relying on the existence of real universals. He uses the pan-Yogācāra theory of karmic imprints to claim that sentient beings form concepts by treating unique particulars as if a certain subset of them had the same effects. Since this judgment of sameness depends on an individual's habits, desires, and sensory capacities, and these in turn depend on the karmic imprints developed over countless lifetimes and continuously reshaped by ongoing actions, the extent to which individuals experience themselves as acting within a shared world depends on these imprints. However, a number of critics—traditional and contemporary—have expressed compelling doubts about whether or not apoha can be successful given Dharmakīrti's ontology which, in addition to denying universals, eventually denies the reality of even the most basic structure of conventional experience: subject/object duality. In line with the tradition he inherits, Dharmakīrti considers even the mere division of a moment of awareness into defined structures of subject and object to be a distortion shaped by beginningless karmic imprints. While this initial moment of awareness is nonconceptual, the experience of a certain world is always already shaped by the previous actions of sentient beings trapped within the web of saṃsāra, in a process driven by ignorance. Dharmakīrti’s reliance on karmic imprints on two distinct levels—one within the conventional world, and one which constitutes the conventional world—may thereby provide a compelling account of intersubjectivity without relying on universals.
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DOI 10.1007/s11841-017-0618-5
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