Andrew Ollett’s Review of Duty, Language and Exegesis in Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā

This post is the first one in a series discussing reviews of my first book. An introduction to the series can be found here. I am grateful to the reviewers for their honest reviews and will answer in the same, constructive way.

One of the leitmotifs of Andrew Ollett’s review (for which, let me repeat it, I am deeply grateful) is that he suggests locating the work of Rāmānujācārya historically, perhaps by comparing his sources and methodology with what was happening in Benares in the 16h and 17th centuries (and about which one might want to read the studies by Anand Venkatkrishnan). Again, as for context, Ollett suggests identifying the abhiyukta ‘experts’ mentioned in the following quote with lexicographers (against my hypothesis of identifying them with Viśiṣṭādvaitins on the basis of the context and of the occurrences of abhiyukta in the Tantrarahasya):

devatoddeśena dravyatyāgo yāga ity abhiyuktopadeśaś ceti. (TR IV, 9.4.4)

And it is instructed by learned people that the sacrifice is the relinquishing of the substances in the name of the deity

On a different note, Ollett notes that some of the parallels with Western philosophers (which he, overall, praises), for instance “von Wright’s formalization of Thomistic deontics (pp. 124–127) do not immediately help us to understand the positions that Rāmānujācārya represents” (p. 635). This is a problem most of us have to come to terms with, since comparisons often risk to require much energy before they can at all lead somewhere. In fact, they often need a double expertise in order to be effective. Nonetheless, I still think that we comparisons are just unavoidable. I hope that my more recent works on deontic logic (together with A. Ciabattoni, B. Lellmann and F. Genco, see for instance here) could spread more light on the parallel with von Wright and on its usefulness in understanding conundrums such as the Śyena one.

Similarly, Ollett on the one hand thinks that my charts and schemes are “necessary”, while on the other he notes that I “rarely explain precisely what relations the arrows signify”, which is true, I must admit. I will do better in the future, now that I know that not everyone shares my intuitions regarding arrows.

In the second paragraph of p. 635, Ollett discusses my analysis of the arthabhāvanā as being the object which is caused to be by the svargabhāvanā. Apart from indirectly noting a typo (a missed -m in yāgakaraṇā svargabhāvanā), Ollett notes that “śābdī– and ārthībhāvanā are joined incoherently […], since it is the Vedas, and not the person addressed by the injunction, that bring-into-being the bringing-into-being of heaven on the part of the person addressed by the injunction”. Now, although Ollett is right that the śabdabhāvanā (I prefer this terminology, since śābdībhāvanā is later and is not found in Rāmānujācārya) pertains to language and causes to be the initiation of the activity by the person, svargakāmo yajeta imposes an obligation on the svargakāma. It is him, not the Vedas, who is addressed by the injunction as the one upon which the duty to bring about a sacrificial activity rests. In this sense, and taking into account Ollett’s objections, svargakāmo yajeta can perhaps be paraphrased as yāgakaraṇāṃ svargaphalabhāvanām bhāvayet ‘he should undertake an activity leading to heaven and having the sacrifice as its instrument’. An alternative (and easier) way out could be to stop at yagakāraṇena svargam bhāvayet. Or, if one wants to make the śabdabhāvanā explicit and take the risk of hiding its imperative character, yāgakaraṇāṃ svargaphalabhāvanāṃ bhāvayitum (vedaiḥ) prerito’sti.

A second point mentioned by Ollett regards a sentence found at p. 88, where I show how the verbal root expresses both content and instrument. Ollett would have probably liked both elements to be signalled in the Sanskrit paraphrasis, like they are in the scheme before the paraphrasis.

The review makes further subtle points, aiming at understanding better terms which I translated in a “less specific” way. I am surprised (but I should not, knowing Ollett as a sarvajña-to-be) by Ollett’s easyness in understanding the intricacies of the text (something I spent years on). I welcome, in this sense, Ollett’s glosses of aidamarthya (“a condition of standing in a teleological relationship that must be ‘fulfilled’ in the construal of all prescriptions”) and of codaka (“a rule of transference of elements from the archetype into the ectype”). By contrast, I thought that saying that a prescription “promotes” the performance of a sacrifice could have been understood easily enough to mean that the prescription causes the sacrificer to perform the sacrifice (whereas Ollett laments that I have used this term “without explaining what it would mean for a prescription to ‘promote’ the performance of a sacrifice”). Once again, my lack of command of English may have deluded me.

Ollett does not suggest any emendation in the Sanskrit text, although he notes that the Telegu manuscript collated was probably the same one used by the original editor and that the variants are all due to conjectures or typos (note that the Tantrarahasya has been edited twice and that the Telegu manuscript I collated was known to the second editor, who believed it was an additional manuscript to the one used in the first edition). This brings me back to the problem of whether one should collate all manuscripts available or not. In the case of my book, the first reason for reproducing the text of the Tantrarahasya was the apparatus with parallel texts and sources (the variant readings of the Telegu manuscript alone would not have prompted me to prepare a new edition). On the other hand, one could always suggest (see Petra’s comments to the post linked to above), that the more evidence the better and that collating additional manuscripts gives at least more reasons to accept or reject the text as it had been previously edited.

Let me close with one of Ollett’s flattering remarks:

Although less comprehensive, it [=the book] does for Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā what Edgerton’s version of the Mīmāṃsānyāyaprakāśa and Benson’s recent (2010) version of the Mīmāṃsānyāyasaṃgraha have done for Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā, namely to make these valuable overviews of their respective systems available to a wider audience.

Last, let me note that ironically, one of the “examples of the value added by Freschi’s commentary” was the topic of a paper I submitted to a WSC. It was rejected, something which makes me once again aware of how many among my best results (the papers on deontic logic, the books on textual reuse, the paper on Jayanta’s linguistics) originate out of previous rejections (but perhaps there is no causal relation other than the fact that I received many rejections).

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

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