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Re: Ockam's Razor

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_alum.calberkeley.org)
Date: Tue Oct 02 2001 - 12:07:55 PDT

Arun,

Your point is correct that Occam's Razor may not
enough to determine whether a given theory is correct
in Vedanta. However, I would argue that it is still
definitely an important tool in *helping* evaluate
validity. If you read Vedarthasangraha, it is very clear 
that at times Ramanuja is pleading with Vedantins to look 
at elegance and simplicity when reconciling the 
shastras, rather than bringing in external ideas which
only further complicate the issues. The idea of two kinds 
of sruti bandied about by Advaita -- a higher and lower
kind, one teaching of an attributeless, indivisible (nirvisesha) 
Brahman and the other of an attributed, creator-God (saguNa) 
Brahman -- is no doubt an ingenious device, but it is an 
external imposition upon the Vedas which ends up being
a headache, especially when in Ramanuja's opinion, there is 
no need for any such thing. The simple way of looking at the 
situation is that the two kinds of sruti both speak of the 
same entity in different ways.  I define "simple" to mean 
that which can be easily drawn from the text itself without 
introducing external ideas.

Let's take a more absurd case, such as Madhvacharya's
interpretation of 'aham brahmAsmi', one of the great
unity texts of the Upanishads.  Madhva abhors any kind 
of identity between jIva and paramAtmA and uses grammatical 
tricks to make the word 'aham', which nearly always means 'I', 
to mean 'aheyam', or 'faultless'.  'asmi' to him means something 
like 'Lakshmi', if I am not mistaken.  This on the face of
it is farfetched, but it is grammatically justifiable. The 
only argument we can make is something similar to Occam's Razor. 
The context simply does not justify such complexity. The easy
and natural approach should be taken.

Another way Occam's Razor is applied in the controversy
over the vAkya 'tat tvam asi'.  Advaita uses 'lakshaNa'
to ascribe secondary, figurative meaning to the words
'tat' and 'tvam' to have them both mean the absolute 
non-different Atman (this is known as jahad-ajahad-
lakshaNa). Ramanuja argues that such complexity is simply not 
justified when the facial meaning of the words themselves
can be taken and properly understood in the equation.

Without simplicity being some sort of measure, we are
left with no way of evaluating competing theories,
particularly when grammar allows multiple meanings
to be ascribed to a text.

I am not trained in nyAya and tarka to know if there
is a particular formulation of Occam's Razor in Indian
logic.  I invite others who are in the know to 
contribute their thoughts.

Mani

 


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