Exclusion, violence, and reference : a poststructuralist reading of the classical Nyāya and Buddhist pramāṇa debates

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Donahue, Amy Kali
thesis / dissertation description
The dissertation draws on the work of contemporary poststructuralist queer, feminist, and postcolonial theorists to set the ground for a poststructuralist reading of the classical Nyāya and Buddhist Pramāṇa debates. In the process, it problematizes comparative philosophy's currently prevalent, colonially overdetermined framing of these debates, and shows how both Buddhist and Nyāya epistemologies and semantic theories offer resources that poststructuralists can use to bolster critiques of modern, liberal epistemological and semantics assumptions, and develop practices of judgment and reason that regulate or correct structuralists' distinctive philosophical errors. It specifically problematizes modern assumptions that individuals are passively continuous with unproblematically intuited and generally representative normative epistemological subjectivities, and that to know, individuals must appear as representative members of already established subject categories. The dissertation uses the Buddhist textual tradition's "no-self" metaphysics and "exclusion of the other" semantics, as they have been developed in Buddhist pramāṇavāda, to situate poststructuralist and anti-essentialist philosophies in a broader historical and cultural context, and shows how even the non-modern Nyāya realist tradition offers resources that could benefit poststructuralist feminist, gender, and cultural theorists who now seek to imagine alternatives to modern epistemological frames. Simultaneously, it draws on the work of Subaltern Studies historian, Partha Chatterjee, to correct what Nietszche called philosophers' congenital defect--a lack of historical perspective--by situating the currently prevalent comparative philosophical framing of the Nyāya-Buddhist debates in the context of South Asia's postcolonial history, with specific attention paid to the emergence of a modern Indian middle class national subject. In addition, because comparative philosophers customarily read South Asia's epistemological and logical traditions through an analytic philosophical lens, this scholarship is among the first to initiate mutually informed conversation between poststructuralist feminist and queer theories of subjectivity and knowledge, including the work of theorists such as Judith Butler, Gayatri Spivak, and Michael Warner, and twentieth century analytic epistemology and philosophy of language, including WVO Quine's naturalized epistemology and Bertrand Russell's theory of definite descriptions.