Horns in Dignāga’s Theory of apoha

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2 Citations (Scopus)


According to Dignāga, the word “cow” makes one understand all cows in a general form by excluding non-cows. However, how does one understand the non-cows to be excluded? Hattori (Buddhist Thought and Civilization: Essays in Honor of Herbert V. Guenther on His Sixtieth Birthday, 1977, p. 48) answers as follows: “On perceiving the particular which is endowed with dewlap, horns, a hump on the back, and so forth, one understands that it is not a non-cow, because one knows that a non-cow (e.g., a horse, an elephant, or the like) is not endowed with these attributes.” Hattori regards observation of a dewlap, etc. as the cause of excluding non-cows. Akamatsu (Tetsugaku Kenkyu, 540, 87–115, 1980) presents a view similar to Hattori’s. Tanizawa (Shinshu Daigaku Jinbungakubu Jinbun Kagaku Ronshu Ningenjoho gakka hen 32:3–19, 1998), however, criticises Akamatsu by pointing out that then the apohavādin would have accepted positive elements such as a dewlap as defining characteristics of a cow. Stating that X is not a cow because it is not endowed with a dewlap, etc., amounts to accepting that the dewlap, etc. are the defining characteristics of a cow. Instead of a real universal cowness the apohavādin would have accepted a dewlap, etc. Akamatsu’s understanding of apoha, if it was correct, implies Tanizawa, would destroy the essence of the Buddhist theory of apoha. Continuing the view of Hattori and Akamatsu, Yoshimizu recently published two articles on Dignāga’s theory of apoha. He claims that “the word “cow” excludes all horses by virtue of the fact that horns are never seen on them.” Thus, “the word “cow” can exclude all of them collectively by virtue of the fact that none of them has all the members of the set of characteristics that form the worldly definition of “cow”.” Horns, one of the characteristic features of cows, are indeed mentioned by Dignāga in PS(V) 5:43. Yoshimizu understands Dignāga’s semantics as being parallel to the modern semantics of componential analysis. A question arises: what does Dignāga, the founder of the Buddhist theory of apoha, really think regarding this issue? The present article sheds light on the incompatibility of the two interpretations by investigating the relevant source texts. It further shows that the issue Tanizawa deals with was already discussed by Dignāga. Examining Dignāga’s discussions shows that Tanizawa is right in his understanding of apoha. The interpretation by Hattori and other scholars is not supported by Dignāga’s text. The present conclusion is also supported by Mādhava, Uddyotakara and Kumārila. None of them assumes Dignāga’s theory to be as Hattori, etc. take it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)867-882
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Indian Philosophy
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Philosophy


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