Realizing an object
For Dharmakīrti, the capacity to realize an object is a key criterion to distinguish between two types of reality, and yet Dharmakīrti’s notion of the capacity to realize an object is said to be a generic feature of both kinds of knowledge, and not merely a feature that distinguishes sensation from inference. Dharmakīrti says:
PV 1.3: Knowledge is non-deceptive cognition. Being non-deceptive consists in the capacity to realize an object. Even ideas acquired through language are knowledge, because language makes known [the speaker’s] intention.
Consequently, the phrase “capacity to realize an object” admits of two different interpretations. As a criterion of sensation, the phrase refers to the ability of a particular to serve as the cause of an effect. There are two aspects of this causal capacity.
- A particular, which perishes in the very moment in which it arises, causes another particular of the same kind to take its place. That is, an evanescent visible property will be immediately replaced by another barely distinguishable visible property, and an ephemeral mental event will be immediately replaced by another barely distinguishable mental event. Here “capacity to realize an object” means the capacity to make an object exist.
- A particular sensible property causes a representation of itself to occur in the cognition of a sentient being whose sense faculties are stimulated by it. Here “capacity to realize an object” means the capacity to make an existing object known.
As a criterion of inferential knowledge, on the other hand, the phrase “capacity to realize an object” means the capacity to help someone reach an objective or goal. More specifically, it refers to the ability of an inference to guide a person successfully in purposeful activity, that is, activity that results in the person’s successfully avoiding something undesirable or attaining something desirable. Thus, for example, if a person wished to find water but could not see, hear, smell or touch any in the immediate vicinity, he might look for a set of sensible properties that he knew from past experience were associated with water. By following these clues, he would succeed in finding what he had hoped to find. And, as a matter that is more central to Dharmakīrti’s mission, if one were to have a desire to bring discontent (duḥkha) to an end, one might reflect on the advice of a person who knew how to achieve this goal. This is a topic that will be explored in more detail later in this module.