One of the obstacles confronting a proper consideration of classical Indian thought as a legitimate form of philosophising is the widely held belief that Indian thought is culturally specific (in contrast to European universalism), and fundamentally bound to a particular religious world-view. One feature likely to be pounced upon in such a context is the acceptance of authoritative testimony (śabda) as a valid means of knowledge (pramāṇa) by many schools of Indian thought. The modern western philosopher tends to view this as evidence of the theological and context-specific nature of 'traditional' (i.e. non-westernised) Indian thought. such an attitude, of course, ignores the cultural particularity of western philosophical traditions.
This really struck me worth bringing up for discussion here.
I have observed that in general across time and cultures most Buddhist thinkers have accepted śabda-pramāṇa as valid and made use of it. The MW Dictionary defines the term simply:
(H3) śábda--pramāṇa [p= 1052,3] [L=212729] n. verbal testimony or proof. oral evidence MW.
I'm unaware of it being specifically identified in East Asia, but nevertheless the general idea is that if it is in a sutra it is true (of course there being some sutras more true than others depending on the doxography).
Now, be that as it may, as Richard King aptly points out, the issue is that in the general, western philosophical mindset, śabda-pramāṇa is unacceptable. There are also people who self-identify as Buddhist who deny the Buddha as a valid and authoritative testimony of truth.
One example that comes to mind of a Buddhist affirming the Buddha as a valid source of knowledge is Dharmakirti who argues for the reality of rebirth by establishing the Buddha as a valid authority. It is by his testimony that we know rebirth to be real.
For the Buddhist this should be axiomatic, but nevertheless a lot of westerners don't accept śabda-pramāṇa. I imagine it summons in their minds an image of blind faith and unreasonable dogmas. Nevertheless, it is a perhaps a cultural bias that many westerners suffer when attempting to grasp Buddhism. Being that much of Buddhism, no matter the tradition really, is based on experience gained through yogic insights, one has to accept that until one is able to experience such things the only option is to accept the valid testimony of those who have them.
There is even scriptural evidence to support what I'm saying here.
Consider the following:
"Excellent, Sariputta. Excellent. Those who have not known, seen, penetrated, realized, or attained it by means of discernment would have to take it on conviction in others that the faculty of conviction... persistence... mindfulness... concentration... discernment, when developed & pursued, gains a footing in the Deathless, has the Deathless as its goal & consummation; whereas those who have known, seen, penetrated, realized, & attained it by means of discernment would have no doubt or uncertainty that the faculty of conviction... persistence... mindfulness... concentration... discernment, when developed & pursued, gains a footing in the Deathless, has the Deathless as its goal & consummation."
PTS: S v 220
CDB ii 1689
Pubbakotthaka Sutta: Eastern Gatehouse
So, here's the question for everyone, what do you think of śabda-pramāṇa? Is it possible to know something through the valid testimony of an authoritative source such as the Buddha?