Department of Humanities and Social Sciences

Indian Institute of Technology Ropar


HSS Seminar


"The place of Mind in Epistemology”



P. R. Bhat


August 5, 2016 (Friday) at 3.30 pm

Venue: Conference Room 2

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy where issues pertaining to knowledge, justification, truth and error in perception, the relationship between language and reality are extensively discussed. However, the central role played in epistemology is by human mind. Mind is not part of epistemology, but belongs to what one may call metaphysics- a theory of reality. Knowledge is the concern of all of us researchers working in the area of humanities, social sciences and scientists, engineers included. Mind is creative and active; it filters, modifies the input that comes to it from our senses. What we get through senses is sense-data but what we perceive is finished product- sense perception. In this process, our perception is modified by the medium used and by our mind. Therefore it is important to understand the function of mind in acquiring knowledge. In order to know objectively how the mind works, we need to know the activities of the mind without using the mind. This is impossible and therefore, we need to approach the issue differently. Philosophers make the distinction between secondary qualities and primary qualities. Qualities of things arising out of subject-object contact through sense organs give rise to secondary qualities. Colour, shape, sound etc., we know through sense organs and they are called secondary qualities. In contrast, objects are said to have primary qualities. The number, extension, the shape and size, the state of the object such as being in motion or rest are primary qualities. Mind is not perceivable directly. Hence, mind cannot have secondary qualities. It is not an observable thing extended in space and time. Mind has to be inferred through arguments. A substance can have an attribute and from the attributes, one can infer the existence of the substances. A snake is moving and from its movement one can infer that it is alive. In a similar manner, one can infer the existence of mind from the mental acts of it or its consequence on human behaviour. One can think of knowing one’s mind by introspection claimed to be direct knowledge. This is questionable if Freud is right. Our attention is said to be possible only on one thing at a time. If this is true, introspection would only mean retrospection. What we can know is what is stored in the mind and not oneself. Imagination, speculation, reflection etc. give knowledge which is called a priori knowledge. Before buying a fridge, we know that it needs certain space to keep it in the kitchen. This we know by reflection. Similarly, we know that if mind exists, it needs to exist somewhere. Otherwise, it cannot influence our body. Mind influences our body and our body influences our mind. Mind is said to have limitations of various kinds. It cannot be illogical. It cannot comprehend contradiction. It cannot capture one concept if it has to grasp relative concepts. It cannot avoid assuming the other concept if it is of a certain kind which Kant called categories of judgements. For example cause - effect, part –whole are such concepts one presupposes the other. We know that a stick has two ends. The shortest distance between any two points is a straight line. Our senses are limited. There are animals which have better vision; there are animals which have better ability to smell and recognize the odour in a far better manner. There are animals which can taste different things which human beings cannot enjoy. Some of them can hear far better; bats and elephants have such an extra-ordinary ability. There are birds and animals which can perceive vibrations and we fail to notice them in the case of earthquakes. Their sense of touch is far better. With reference to each sense organ, we find there are animals which have superior abilities. This proves that the world is not the way we perceive them. We are compelled to speak about appearance and reality. We perceive rainbow but there is no rain-bow. We perceive a straight rod half immersed in water as bent, but it is not really bent. We see mirage in deserts, but there is no water. All these are said to be appearances, but reality is altogether different. What we call fact must be real, otherwise it is false.

Scientists and engineers want to know more and more about facts. Natural facts are said to be objectively there. Social sciences deal with social facts. Two individuals are said to be friends irrespective of how much time they spend together. Money is a human invention. Banking system is a human institution. The concept of loan, interest, deposit etc. are introduced only after the institution of money is invoked. The system of money is more advantageous in comparison to barter system. All cultural activities are the consequences of having social institutions. There are social facts, parallel to natural facts. I am an employee of an educational institution is a social fact. One cannot understand having an employment without invoking the concept of an institution. Social institutions are governed by norms and rules. Economics makes use of social institutions and the principles of psychology. The relationship between demand and supply would be one such thing. Sociology deals with social structure and social institutions. Where there are no human beings, there is no society. Linguistics deals with scientific and logical aspects of language. Both syntax and semantics are logical in nature. Irrationality and inconsistency can make linguistics impossible. Psychology too is called social science or behavioural science. The behavioural rules are being discovered by observing human behaviour. The study of social science can be said to be inter-subjective. Humanities is the name given to that kind of study where even inter-subjective knowledge is difficult to achieve. The method and the subject-matter are so interconnected that one merges with the other. Meaning is use, for instance. If we know the use of a word, we know the meaning of a word. Intention and action for instance, until the action is not performed, one cannot be sure of the intention. Promising for instance cannot be separated from the act of uttering the promise or writing down what one promises. What you are- thinking makes it so. The core of humanities lies with the human freedom, the possibility of viewing it differently. This brings us to the issue of knowing oneself. Who you are is partially defined by what one can do- the skills that you have. Aristotle spoke about virtues like courage, temperance etc. These virtues must become part of you. If you know how to use your freedom, you would be a happy man. If you know how to speak, you need not have to quarrel. Human resource management is a matter of skill. Knowledge of skill is equally important for human beings. This knowledge comes only by perfecting oneself through repetition. How to be a happy and good human being is also one such thing. In this sense the study of humanities could be totally person specific and in this sense it would be totally subjective.

Brief Bio-sketch of the speaker


Prof Parameshwar Rama Bhat is a Professor of Philosophy at IIT Bombay. His research interests are Analytic Philosophy, Philosophy of Language, Ethics, Applied Ethics, Metaphysics, Philosophical Logic and Indian Philosophy of Language. He has supervised 11 PhD theses, and published 45 research papers and 2 books. He has substantial administrative experience. Prof Bhat received his PhD degree from IIT Kanpur. He obtained his MA and BA from Karnatak University, Dharwad.