Deontic rules at work: A case of conflict

Let us take the abstract form of a Vedic prescription:

(A.) Whoever desires to achieve something should sacrifice

It is easy for an objector to go on and argue as follows:

A Śūdra (i.e., a member of the lowest class) desires to achieve something
A Śūdra should sacrifice (PMS 6.1.25)

Mīmāṃsā authors, however, reply:

No, because sacrifice presupposes knowledge of the Vedic prescriptions enjoining it, such as (A.), and a Śūdra is not entitled to hear the Veda. In fact, there is the following prohibition:

(B.) A Śūdra should not engage with the Veda

(Śābarabhāṣya ad PMS 6.1.37)

Now, why is the prohibition (B.) stronger than the prescription (A.)? I can think of two or three possibilities:

  1. Because (B.) is more specific than (A.). That specific rules overrule more generic ones is known as the upasaṃhāranyāya.
  2. Because prohibitions have a bigger deontic value than prescriptions.
  3. (Because of sociological reasons: Śūdra could not be allowed to sacrifice because there was a social consensus about the fact that they were not allowed to perform sacrifices)

The last explanation is easy, but I am afraid it might be too easy. Mīmāṃsakas were not directly involved with worldly matters and could engage in brave thought experiments, such as asking whether animals are entitled to sacrifice. No. 1 is fine and probably applies here, although one needs to be aware that multiple rules may act simultaneously, so that, e.g., in the case of the Śyena sacrifice the same rule is not enough to overrule the generic prohibition to perform violence in case of the malefic sacrifice Śyena.

For more on the Śyena, see this post. For more on Mīmāṃsā deontics in general, see these ones.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 thoughts on “Deontic rules at work: A case of conflict

  1. In the first case, one option is to bring in the notion of adhikari or kartha (person who is eligible to perform the given task). In the second case – Śyena sacrifice, definition of dharma with the components of result and usefulness can be applied. This sacrifice would yield the result of destroying enemies, but is not useful – i.e., by performing that sacrifice, heaven may not be achieved.

    • Thanks for the comment, Bama. I guess that by “first case” you mean the case of the Śūdra isn’t it? If so, it is surely the case that he does not have the adhikāra ‘eligibility’ to listen to the Veda, but the problem is why not, given that he also has desires? If I am understanding you correctly, you suggest that the ritual qualifications are more primitive than the fact of desiring in order to define who can legitimately become a kartṛ ‘agent’. The investigation on this hierarchy in the application of conflicting rules is exactly what I find interesting at the moment. As for the Śyena, again, you suggest a hierarchy like:
      “Do what you ought to, according to your desire, only if it does not conflict with your final goal, i.e., dharma”.
      In this sense, one could be allowed to perform sacrifices in order to gain sons, or wealth, but not to kill one’s enemy. This would mean that dharma would be the rule overruling all others. It might be true (at least for some authors), but it was not obvious —the discussions about the śyena in Kumārila, for instance, show that adharma can also be dealt with in the Veda.
      Long story short, I will work with your suggestions and try to see whether the system makes sense through them, thanks!

  2. You are right, The first case is Śūdra and the second one – Śyena sacrifice. The hierarchy rule may help to resolve some conflicts. This is exactly what I meant.