Contrasting Naiyāyika and Buddhist Explanations of Attention

Tuesday Seminar
Alex Watson (Ashoka University)
Date and Time: 
Tue, 10/01/2017 - 12:00am
02:57 PM to 04:27 PM
HSS Committee Room (MS 610)


In contemporary Cognitive Science and Philosophy of Mind, 'attention' is a burgeoning field, with ever increasing amounts of empirical research and philosophical analysis being directed towards it. In this paper I make a first attempt to contrast how Nyāya-Vaiśeṣikas and Buddhists would address some aspects of attention that are discussed in that literature.

In section 1 I will lay out the ontological postulates that Nyāya-Vaiśeṣikas and Buddhists deemed necessary for the explanation of attention. In section 2 we will look at three arguments that the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣikas gave for their principal postulate, the manas, and three corresponding Buddhist responses to those arguments. Sections 3 and 4 will look at contrasting Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika and Buddhist explanations of, respectively, 'shifts of attention' and 'competition for attention'. In the closing section I identify three things that are commonly attributed to attention and that may seem impossible in both the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika and the Buddhist models; I show how the two Indian models can account for them.


Alex Watson is Professor of Indian Philosophy at Ashoka University, prior to which he was Preceptor in Sanskrit at Harvard University. He is the author of The Self's Awareness of Itself (2006) and, with Dominic Goodall and Anjaneya Sarma, An Enquiry into the Nature of Liberation (2013), as well as numerous articles in such journals as the Journal of Indian Philosophy, on the Philosophy of Buddhism, Śaivism, Mīmāṃsā and Nyāya. After completing his DPhil at the University of Oxford, he held research fellowships at Wolfson College, Oxford, the French School of Asian Studies, Pondicherry, and Kyushu University – and was Guest Lecturer at the University of Vienna.