While reading The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh about mindfulness, I came upon this paragraph:

"Remember that the subject of knowledge cannot exist independently from the object of knowledge. To see is to see something. To hear is to hear something. To be angry is to be angry about something. Hope is hope for something. Thinking is thinking about something."

What is the meaning of "object of knowledge" here?

  • Isn't it the target of the attitude? But see Propositional Attitude Reports and Hyperintensionality as well as "Are there intentional objects?" Oct 1, 2023 at 21:39
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    The object of knowledge is the content of subject's knowledge. This is a special case of what is called "intentional object" in philosophy of mind, see SEP. The quote paraphrases Brentano's more general thesis of intentionality of the mental:"Every mental phenomenon includes something as object within itself, although they do not do so in the same way. In presentation, something is presented, in judgment something is affirmed or denied, in love loved, in hate hated, in desire desired and so on."
    – Conifold
    Oct 2, 2023 at 10:56
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    I've forgotten the details but this may help "Citta can never be experienced as bare consciousness in its own origination moment, for consciousness is always intentional, directed to a particular object that is cognized by means of certain mental factors. Citta, therefore, always occurs associated with its appropriate cetasikas or mental factors that perform diverse functions and that emerge and cease together with it, having the same object (either sensuous or mental) and grounded in the same sense faculty. "
    – user67675
    Oct 2, 2023 at 19:08
  • The book The Abhidharma might be useful to you.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 3, 2023 at 0:17

4 Answers 4


Without more context, it might be open to other interpretations, but here's an attempt to characterize the phrases in the scope of Western philosophy of mind. In a general sense, I would say that the Subject of Knowledge is the philosophical notion of agent, and the Object of Knowledge it the what the agent is about, the subject of intentionality usually taken to be a representation and together they form a system where one cannot exist without the other.

To hear is to hear something.

A person engaged in the action of hearing is thus about auditory experiences perhaps taken as sense data or qualia of sound.

To be angry is to be angry about something.

A person in a state of anger is thus there because of a response in regards to being about some idea that triggers anger.

Thinking is thinking about something.

For an agent to be processing thoughts requires thoughts which are about something.

In the Western canon going back to Plato, a strong thread of philosophical realism runs through the thinking that attempts to efface the thinker and divide the thinker from the thought. On this way, truth is not a construction of the mind, but an objective and real thing independent of thought itself. That belief was strong that it carried from Ancient Greece to the logical positivists in the 20th century who attempted to show that scientific realism entailed universal objectivity about ontological matters by way of the objective observation.

Instead, they ran into theory-ladenness and underdetermination which strongly suggests that any "objective" thing is actually a product of normativity at some level. There is no absolute and clear line, in the words of Hume, between Is and Ought. Buddhism, particularly Chan and Zen flavors, attack that belief relentlessly.

  • +1 for Agency. It is the central thing, of a thing that has no center.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 3, 2023 at 0:24

I guess this is a rephrasing of Wittgenstein where he talks about the picture theory of language

Wittgenstein claims there is an unbridgeable gap between what can be expressed in language and what can only be expressed in non-verbal ways. The picture theory of meaning states that statements are meaningful if, and only if, they can be defined or pictured in the real world.



It refers to what knowledge is about. If you imagine that knowledge is a light that we can shine upon parts of the Universe, then the objects are those things caught in its beam.

  • That's why we look for lost keys around the lamppost. "Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 3, 2023 at 0:20

As succinctly put here: purifymind.com (2nd paragraph)

Another way of saying this is that objects do not exist independently from consciousness; and there can't be any consciousness without objects. Consciousness and the objects of consciousness always arise together.

Put in terms of Kantian 'existence', things in the phenomenal world exist because of cognition. Without cognition there is just unprocessed sensory stimulus. The noumena that give rise to sensory stimulus, for example a wall you just bumped into, are not knowable in themselves. The wall might be a force-field in reality. Upon examination it appears to you as a wall, you define it as a wall and it exists as a wall in your reality. Reason makes an intelligible world.

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    Glass walls are particularly vexing, like that scene in the movie "Spanglish".
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 3, 2023 at 0:19

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