Who studied Mīmāṃsā deontics?

Since Mīmāṃsā (both in its Bhāṭṭa and in its Prābhākara subschools) focused primarily on the exegesis of the prescriptive portion of the Vedic Sacred Texts, the Mīmāṃsā texts offer richly developed discussions of deontic issues, both from a linguistic and from a logic point of view. Unfortunately, the lack of philosophically accessible translations has made most of such discussions remain confined to Sanskritists.

Since these tend to either be Indians (who do not need to engage with Western philosophy) or to be Westerners who have either an areal studies or a philological background, they have undertaken editions of Mīmāṃsā texts, attempted some translations (which are often only to be used as a gloss of the Sanskrit text and not as independent texts, see R.N. Sarma 1987 or Bh.P. Bhattacharya 1998) and some studies of Mīmāṃsā principles on an emic basis, that is, without having in view a a general philosophical discourse and the possible contribution of Mīmāṃsā to it. By contrast, only a few philosophical investigations (e.g., by L. Göhler, K. Kataoka, L. McCrea, K.T. Pandurangi, J. Taber) of the Mīmāṃsā school have been carried out until now. Due to the relative limited fortunes of deontics even in the West, studies of the Mīmāṃsā deontics are almost altogether absent. This is not a harmless lack, given that the Mīmāṃsā was a philosophical school and that in this sense the failure to analyse it philosophically is tantamount to the failure to engage with it at all (on this point, see Freschi and Keidan forthcoming).
More specifically, Mīmāṃsā has also so far not benefited from scholars who were familiar both with Sanskrit and with formal logic, as it, instead, happened for Nyāya, especially Navya Nyāya, and also for the Buddhist Pramāṇavāda and for Advaita Vedānta (see, e.g., the work by A. Chakrabarti, K. Bhattacharya, S. Bhattacharyya, J. Ganeri, B.K. Matilal, K. Potter, M. Siderits, T. Tillemans). A few partial exceptions are worth mentioning:

  • Kiyotaka Yoshimizu used Józef Maria Bocheński’s analysis of deontic statements to approach Mīmāṃsā and focused on the peculiarities of the Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā approach to prescriptions. He also undertook an interesting analysis of a counter-to-duty obligation within the Prābhākara framework, mainly based on Sanskrit material and with no connection with any deontic logic system. The scope of Yoshimizu’s studies encompass the reconstruction of Prabhākara’s thought, while they do not attempt neither a formalisation nor even an analysis of the bulk of Vedic prescriptions hierarchically organised by Mīmāṃsā authors.
  • Hiroshi Marui has proposed to initiate a systematic study of prescriptions in Indian philosophy in Marui 1989, but unfortunately with little success. His seminal study offers an interesting perspective on the different ways Indian authors have analysed the manner through which a prescriptions communicates something to the person it enjoins. However, it is only based on Sanskrit sources, with no connection to Western logic and it limits itself to an analysis of prescriptions in general, thus leaving out the actual analyses of Vedic texts undertaken by Mīmāṃsā authors.
  • Freschi dedicated a chapter in her PhD thesis to the application of von Wright’s deontic logic to Mīmāṃsā. Her analysis of contrary-to-duty obligations in Mīmāṃsā constitutes a chapter in Freschi 2012.

On a different level, a few authors have reached from within Western logic or linguistics towards Mīmāṃsā. These are:

  • Laurence R. Horn (Horn 1989) used one of the few translations available, Edgerton 1929, and discussed the analysis of prohibitions in Mīmāṃsā. He aptly recognised that Mīmāṃsā authors identified different types of prohibitions in the sense that a prohibition to do X (e.g., to eat kalañja) is not the same as the prescription to do ~X. He used von Wright’s notation to express the two cases as
    O(-A) and O(~A) respectively and hinted at the fact that Mīmāṃsā authors recognised also paryudāsa types of prohibitions (e.g. “One ought to eat the 5-nailed animals” which are in fact to be interpreted as stating that no other animals should be eaten). In geneal, Horn is an interesting case of how one can approach Mīmāṃsā texts in a productive way and one can only be sorry for the fact that he did not engage in any wider project on the issue.
  • Bama Srinivasan and Ranjani Parthasarathi have worked on artificial intelligence and have let themselves be inspired also by Mīmāṃsā. They did not work on primary sources nor did they aim at understanding Mīmāṃsā better, so that they reached interesting results, but with minimal exegetical potential in the case of actual Mīmāṃsā texts.

Notwithstanding these partial attempts, no one has really undertaken the task to analyse Mīmāṃsā as a deontic system and to formalise it in a way which can be understood both by Western logicians and philosophers and by software-developers (as in the attempt of Gabbay 2013 in the case of Talmudic logic). No comprehensive study of the Mīmāṃsā analysis of prescriptions has been undertaken, nor has the Mīmāṃsā perspective on the whole mass of Vedic prescriptions ever been investigated, so that a major part of the Mīmāṃsā contribution to philosophy has remained underappreciated and neglected.

Now, you might ask why one should at all undertake a study of the Mīmāṃsā deontics. Some suggestions are offered here (and the topic will be discussed again).

Who is your underappreciated Indian philosopher/philosophical system/philosophical idea?
For more on Srinivasan and Parthasarathi, see here. If you are curious about the idea of “underappreciated philosophers”, check this blog (owned by Marcus Arvan).

Comments and discussions are welcome. Be sure you are making a point and contributing to the discussion.

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