Convenors: Elisa Freschi, Patricia Mindus, Massimo Cuono


General warning about the Coffee Break Conferences (CBC)

CBC are meant to present a chance for methodologies to be debated, fresh research to be shared and discussed, and for doubtful and critical points to be addressed. Thus, reading is forbidden. We value lively discussions and openness in approach. In your paper, don't forget to 1. Give an introduction for listeners coming from a different background; 2. Make your methodology explicit; 3. Don't be afraid to say that there are open questions and problems you could not solve.

There is only "Philosophy": Discussion of how the distinction between "Western" and "Eastern" Philosophy is not convincing through the case-study of the analysis of testimony

Our general starting point is a pragmatic approach to the interphilosophical dialogue. We are not convinced by the incommensurability argument and would like to start a comparative enterprise just by showing how a joint philosophical enterprise can yield interesting results as for new questions and new answers.

The topic selected for our attempt is that of testimony, because of several reasons:

1. Testimony is a topic which can be approached from many points of view (epistemological, theological, juridical, anthropological, statistical…), and thus can work well within the framework of a transdisciplinary meeting such as the CBC;
2. The epistemology of testimony is one of the cases in which the Sanskrit tradition has elaborated a complex frame of reference. Much more refined than the ones generally used in Europe, and whose general validity will be examined during this conference;
3.The topic of testimony is one whose roots lie deep in classical philosophy, in ancient legal systems and in Natural Law tradition, but which has a determining impact for contemporary research and policies.

In particular, we would be interested to receive proposals:
- About the role of testimony within distinct political, epistemological, theological traditions;
- About the role of the witness in different traditions;
- About the impact of the analysis of testimony on different fields of study (e.g.: can an anthropologist rely on her informants, if she has paid them?);
- About the impact of oral testimony and witness in religion and politics.

Deadline for sending abstracts (around 300 words): 31st of January 2013. Deadline for sending us an advanced draft (we do not need complete bibliographical details, etc., your draft should enable the convenors and the other participants to engage with you in a real discussion): 15th May 2013.

For further information and subimissions: email here.

Provisional list of participants:
  • Marco Ferrante (Classical Indian theory of Linguistic Communication as instrument of knowledge: Bhartṛhari)
  • Alessandro Graheli (Classical Indian theory of testimony: Jayanta)
  • Agnieszka Rostalska (Classical Indian theory of testimony and contemporary philosophy: Nyāya, Chakrabarti and Bochenski)
  • Marco Lauri (Classical Arabian scholars on the epistemic value of testimony in a comparative perspective)
  • Roy Tzohar (Indian Buddhist theories on the Buddha's word as reliable testimony)
  • Patricia Mindus (Chinese legal system)
  • Sudipta Munsi (online participation only, Indian Vedānta philosophy of testimony reconsidered from the perspective of contemporary issues)


Speaking with One Voice to All Beings: Explicating Early Indian Yogācāra Understanding of Āgama- Pramāṇa
by Roy Tzohar

In contrast to later Indian Buddhist epistemic tradition, the early Yogācāra school (Asaṅga and Vasubandhu) accepted Āgama (scripture, testimony) as a reliable warrant (pramāṇa). The paper delineates the hermeneutical and epistemic presuppositions that underlie this stance, by examining the discursive framework of some of the Yogācāra śāstras and Mahāyāna sūtras identified with the school. It is demonstrated that within this framework, the speech of the Buddha is understood as inherently polysemic (not merely conveying an implicit abhiprāya meaning) yet experienced in a manner that is necessarily intersubjective (by a community of listeners whose respective experiences nonetheless maintain certain discrepancies). This framework is hence shown to be 1) compatible with the early Yogācāra epistemic understanding of intersubjectivity and the construction of the life world; and 2) marked by a tension within the understanding of meaning which on the one hand is identified with as authorial intent, but on the other hand is seen as construed by the shared ongoing interpretative activity of a community of commentators. The latter feature is then reframed in terms of contemporary hermeneutical theory , especially in reference to speech act theory on the one hand and Gademerian hermeneutics on the other hand.

Is śabda just a pramāṇa? Bhartṛhari on epistemological problems.
by Marco Ferrante

Bhartṛhari (5th c. CE) is a pivotal figure in the intellectual debate of ancient India. His works blend the traditional approach to language of the grammatical tradition (vyākaraṇa) with a broader perspective which includes a discussion of genuine philosophical problems. In reading the Vākyapadīya – Bhartṛhari’s masterpiece – one cannot expect a systematic treatment of whatsoever philosophical question, and epistemology is no exception. Still, Bhartṛhari has a strong and peculiar epistemological stance which is inferable from the affirmations he makes on language. For a better understanding of this stance one should consider the Vākyapadīya as a work analyzing three different aspects of human experience: language (śabda), concrete phenomena (artha) and cognitions (jnāna). These three aspects are deeply intertwined but the crucial one is śabda, language, since it permeates every aspect of reality. The main point of this paper is to evaluate the import of Bhartṛhari’s discussion of a specific form of language, verbal testimony. In particular the paper aims at assessing whether verbal testimony is necessary only for extra-sensorial matters.

The notion of testimony and authority from comparative perspective. Common philosophical points of Nyāya philosophers and J. M. Bocheński
by Agnieszka Rostalska

Testimony (śabda) in Nyāya, which is the Indian philosophical tradition focusing on logic and epistemology, is understood as one of the four instruments of valid knowledge (pramāṇa). Its notion relates to the autonomous source, which may be the authority of the Vedas or a reliable person’s testimony. In the classical period of Indian philosophy, Nyāya philosophers (such as Gautama, Vātsyāyana, Uddyotakara or Jayanta Bhaṭṭa) argued in favour of the epistemic role and validity of testimony.
In the main text of the school, the Nyāyasūtra, testimony is defined as: “the statement of the reliable speaker” which can have a perceivable or unperceivable object.J. M. Bocheński, a famous Polish philosopher of the XXth century, quite independently developed a similar account. For him, "authority" (roughly corresponding to "testimony") belongs to a special category, which has its subject and object and is a relation.
Inspired by this similarity, in my paper I investigate further, looking in more detail into the criteria of acceptability of a testimony developed in both these accounts. (Bocheński is also an interesting author in this context, because his work is to some extent focused on the epistemology of religion, just like philosophical views on testimony developed by Nyāya philosophers.)
One type of questions pertains to the typology of testimony. Bocheński developed quite an elaborate classification of testimonies and commented on how this classification is relevant for their reliability. Nyāya philosophers also developed some classification of testimonies and commented on how reliable such testimonies are. Are those typologies similar? If not, could one typology be accepted within the wider framework of the other approach? Another kind of questions arises when we look at the acceptability criteria to be found in both accounts: what are they, exactly? Are they similar? Are they philosophically plausible? My goal is to address such questions

A critique of testimony (Indian Vedānta philosophy from the perspective of contemporary issues)
by Sudipta Munsi
The entire article is here (comments are welcome, also insofar as Sudipta will not attain the conference in September):

For a copy of Roy Tzohar's article, please contact us!