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A world beyond consciousness ? On the Indian controversy over the existence of external objects (

Abstract : Indian philosophy is often presented as dominated by a kind of absolute idealism that identifies being with consciousness and rejects all human ordinary experiences as fundamentally erroneous. This simplistic view is grounded in the indubitable fact that according to many Hindu and Buddhist sources, ordinary waking states are ultimately comparable to dreams, in which we grasp objects and subjects that appear to be independent of our own consciousness, whereas upon waking up we must acknowledge that they were actually nothing but internal forms taken on by our own consciousness. Whatever their disagreements over scriptural, metaphysical or epistemological matters, these sources claim that in order to gain truth and freedom we should “awaken” from the seemingly dual reality of everyday experience and realize that the world that we perceive does not exist outside consciousness. In fact, however, this idea, far from being a blindly accepted or universally shared dogma, was for many centuries the issue of a heated debate in India. Not only was the thesis that nothing exists outside consciousness met with the vigorous criticism of various Indian schools of thought who held that the world cannot be reduced to a mere creation of the mind: even those who contended that we can have no access to any external reality had strikingly different ways of understanding this “idealistic” position. The lecture is intended as an introduction to this fascinating controversy; it will address in particular the question whether the Indian currrents usually labelled “idealistic” were really concerned with demonstrating that nothing exists outside consciousness, or merely attempted to establish that we can have no epistemic access to purely external entities – and whether this very distinction between two kinds of idealism makes sense in the classical and medieval Indian philosophical landscape. It will also examine the paradoxical role of experience as a means of proof in this debate (for although its protagonists usually agreed that we cannot step out of consciousness to check whether anything real lies beyond it, both sides claimed to adduce arguments based on experience to establish their views). Finally, it will try and determine what was really at stake in this debate: what difference can it make for us, whether the world exists outside consciousness or not? (
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Contributor : Isabelle Ratié <>
Submitted on : Thursday, June 6, 2019 - 10:32:24 AM
Last modification on : Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - 4:05:53 AM


  • HAL Id : halshs-02149126, version 1


Isabelle Ratié. A world beyond consciousness ? On the Indian controversy over the existence of external objects ( Series of guest lectures: New Directions in Indian and Comparative Philosophy, 2019, Princeton, United States. ⟨halshs-02149126⟩



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