, Volume 55, Issue 4, pp 491–513 | Cite as

Absence: An Indo-Analytic Inquiry

  • Anand Jayprakash VaidyaEmail author
  • Purushottama BilimoriaEmail author
  • Jaysankar L. Shaw


Two of the most important contributions that Bimal Krishna Matilal made to comparative philosophy are his (1968) doctoral dissertation The Navya-Nyāya Doctrine of Negation: The Semantics and Ontology of Negative Statements in Navya-Nyāya Philosophy and his (1986) classic: Perception: An Essay on Classical Indian Theories of Knowing. In this essay, we aim to carry forward the work of Bimal K. Matilal by showing how ideas in classical Indian philosophy concerning absence and perception are relevant to recent debates in Anglo-analytic philosophy. In particular, we focus on the recent debate in the philosophy of perception centering on the perception of absence. In her Seeing Absence, Anya Farennikova (2013) argues for the thesis that we literally see absences. Her thesis is quite novel within the contexts of the traditions that she engages: analytical philosophy of perception, phenomenology, and cognitive neuroscience. In those traditions there is hardly any exploration of the epistemology of absence. By contrast, this is not the case in classical Indian philosophy where the debate over the ontological and epistemological status of absence (abhāva) is longstanding and quite engaging. In what follows, we engage Farennikova’s arguments, and those of John-Rémy Martin and Jérome Dokic in their (2013) response to her work. Using the work of Matilal (1968, 1986), Bilimoria (2015) and Shaw (2016) we show that there are several engaging ideas that can be taken from Indian philosophy into the terrain explored by Farennikova, and Martin & Dokic. Our aim is to provide an updated comparative engagement on absence and its perception for the purposes of enhancing future discussions within global philosophy. However, we do not aim to do this merely by focusing on the history of primary texts or on twentieth century commentary on primary texts. Instead, we hope to show that the living tradition of Indian philosophy that Matilal embodied carries forward in his students and colleagues as they revive, revise, and extend Indian philosophy.


Absence Abhāva Matilal Farennikova Martin & Dokic Nyāya Mīmāṃsā Anupalabdhi 



  1. Bhāāpariccheda of Viśvanātha Nyāyapañcānana (c. 1650 CE) with his Siddhānta-muktāvalī, trans by Swami Madhavananda, Kolkata (Calcutta):  Advaita Ashrama, 2004.Google Scholar
  2. Kumārila Bhaṭṭa (1985) Ślokavārtika. Translated by Ganganatha Jha. Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta.Google Scholar
  3. Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭa [of the Bhāṭṭa School]. (1989) Mānameyodaya. Translated by Śrīdīnanātha Tripathī, Sanskrit College, Calcutta.Google Scholar


  1. Bilimoria, P. (2015). Negation (abhāva), non-existents, and a distinctive pramāṇa in the Nyāya-Mīmāṃsā. In P. Bilimoria & M. Hemmingsen (Eds.), Comparative philosophy and J. L. Shaw (pp. 183–202–183–140). Dordrecht: Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures, Springer International Publishing.Google Scholar
  2. Dasti, M. (2012). Parasitism and Disjunctivism in Nyāya epistemology. Philosophy East and West, 62(1), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Dasti, M., & Phillips, S. (2010). Pramāṇa are factive—a response to Jonardon Ganeri. Philosophy East & West, 60(4), 535–540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Farennikova, A. (2013). Seeing absence. Philosophical Studies, 166, 429–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ganeri, J. (2007). Review of Epistemology of Perception: Gageśas Tattvacintāmaṇi, Jewel of Reflection on The Truth (about Epistemology): The Perception Chapter (pratyakṣa-khaṇḍa), by Stephen Phillips and N. S. Ramanuja Tatacharya. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 127(3), 349–354.Google Scholar
  6. Ganeri, J. (2010). A study of Indian epistemology: questions of method --A reply to Matthew Dasti and Stephen H. Phillips. Philosophy East & West, 60(4), 541–550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Guha, N. (2013). No black scorpion is falling: an onto-epistemic analysis of absence. Journal of Indian Philosophy, 41(2), 111–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Koriat, A. (2000). The feeling of knowing: some metatheoretical implications for consciousness and control. Consciousness and Cognition, 9, 149–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Koriat, A. (2007). Metacognition and consciousness. In P. D. Zelazo, M. Moscovitch, and E. Thompson (eds.) Cambridge handbook of consciousness (pp. 289–326). Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Martin, J., & Dokic, J. (2013). Seeing absence of absence of seeing. Thought, 2(2), 1–9.Google Scholar
  11. Matilal. B. K. (1968). The Navya-Nyāya doctrine of negation: the semantics and ontology of negative statements in Navya-Nyāya Philosophy. Harvard Oriental Studies Series, 46.Google Scholar
  12. Matilal. B. K. (1986). Perception: an essay on classical Indian theories of knowledge. Oxford: University Press.Google Scholar
  13. McDowell, J. (2009). Criteria, defeasibility, and knowledge. In A. Byrne & H. Logue (Eds.), Disjunctivism: contemporary readings (pp. 75–91). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  14. Shaw, J. L. (2016). Nyāya on the sources of knowledge. In J. L. Shaw (eds.) The collected writings of Jaysankar Lal Shaw: Indian analytic and anglophone philosophy. (pp. 100–173) Bloomsbury Publishing.Google Scholar
  15. Thompson, E. (2015), “Dreamless sleep, the embodied mind, and consciousness: the relevance of a classical Indian debate to cognitive science,” <>.
  16. Vaidya, A. (2013). Nyāya perceptual theory: disjunctivism or anti-individualism? Philosophy East & West, 63(4), 562–585.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Vaidya, A. (2015). The Nyāya misplacement theory of illusion & the metaphysical problem of perception. In P. Bilimoria & M. Hemmingsen’s (Eds.), Comparative philosophy and J. L. Shaw (pp. 123–140). Dordrecht: Springer Publishing.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.San Jose State UniversitySan JoseUSA
  2. 2.Graduate Theological Union and UC BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.Victoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations