The “Hillary Clinton” effect in Sanskrit studies

Why do we look for excuses for not engaging with recent Sanskrit scholarship?

To my knowledge, Veṅkaṭanātha’s Seśvaramīmāṃsā (henceforth SM) has been commented upon only once in Sanskrit, namely in the 20th c. within the 1971 edition. The title of the commentary is Sūkṣmārthaṭīkā ‘gloss on subtle meanings’. As often the case with commentaries, some moot issues are just not commented upon, but the commentary is very often insightful and useful at the same time, providing identifications of speakers and adding interpretative cues. Also relevant is the fact that its author is a outspoken Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedāntin who, unlike the author of the SM, does not feel compelled to assume a Mīmāṃsā standpoint. Therefore, in case of conflict (for instance, at the beginning of the commentary on PMS 1.1.6, pp. 88–89 of the 1971 edition) he highlights the differences between the Mīmāṃsā perspective presented in the main text and the Viśiṣṭādvaita one. Thus, he makes it indirectly visible that Veṅkaṭanātha’s choice of reading PMS 1.1.6 as focusing on the signification power of language instead of on the permanence of phonemes is not only one legitimate interpretive choice within Mīmāṃsā hermeneutics, but also an effort aiming at the harmonisation of the PMS with the lore of Viśiṣṭādvaita Veṅkaṭanātha needed to take into account.

In this way, the Sūkṣmārthaṭīkā‘s author also indirectly points out the gigantic effort Veṅkaṭanātha undertook, almost seven centuries before, when he tried to propose a synthesis of Pūrva Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta.

These reasons should make it clear why I deemed it relevant to include a translation of the Sūkṣmārthaṭīkā to my study of the SM. I can also add that in general recent Sanskrit scholarship often tends to be neglected only because it is recent and Sanskrit, whereas I cannot see any a priori reason for not engaging in a close study of both recent and ancient texts in Sanskrit, and for not reading both English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Sanskrit recent scholarship.

PS: I wrote that I don’t see any a priori reason, because I can understand that life is short and one needs to decide what to read, and that reading one’s colleagues’ or future evaluators’ articles might be pragmatically the most advisable choice. But studying Sanskrit is already a non-pragmatic life choice, so that it cannot be reduced to career moves. Moreover, preserving ideodiversity (copyright: Houben), even within the Sanskrit ekumene should be at least part of the mission of people engaging with such non-pragmatic life-choices. Don’t you think?

Open access papers on philosophy of language etc.

For a lucky coincidence, two long term projects of mine reached completion almost at the same time.

You can therefore read on the 2017 issue of the Journal of World Philosophies the (Open Access) papers on philosophy of language which are the result of a project led by Malcolm Keating and myself (see here). I am grateful to the journal’s editor, Monika Kirloskar-Steinbach for her help and support throughout the process.

On the 2017 issue Kervan you can read the lead papers on epistemology of testimony, printed cultures and conceptualisation of sexuality which are the result of the 2013 Coffee Break Conference held in Turin and edited by Daniele Cuneo, Camillo Formigatti and myself. I am grateful to the journal’s editor, Mauro Tosco for his help and support throughout the process.

Enjoy and please let me know your comments and criticisms!

The Deontic Nature of Language

According to the Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā approach to language, the sentence meaning is “something to be done” (kārya). In other words, unlike for Nyāya authors, sentences do not convey the existence of something, but rather that something should be done. Sentences which look as if they were conveying a descriptive statements should be interpreted as supplementing a (at times implicit) prescriptive one. For instance “It is hot here” is a supplement of “Please, open the window” and “Vāyu is the swiftest deity” is a supplement of “One should sacrifice to Vāyu”.

How does language work?

Meanings of Words and Sentences in Mīmāṃsā

Mīmāṃsakas subscribe to the idea that words convey word-meanings, and thus refute the Bhartṛharian holism. The relation between a word as meaningful unit and its meaning is fixed, as it is proved by our common experience of words, and it cannot be denied in favour of a view focusing on the text as a whole and rejecting without compelling reasons our prima facie experience of words as meaningful units.

Given that one can thus establish that words are meaningful, what exactly do they convey?

The Mīmāṃsā approach to the sentence meaning as something to be done

According to Mīmāṃsā authors, and unlike Nyāya ones, Vedic sentences do not convey the existence of something, but rather that something should be done. This means that the entire Veda is an instrument of knowledge only as regards duties and cannot be falsified through sense-perception, inference, etc. No Mīmāṃsā author, for instance, could ever blame a scientist for reaching a conclusion that clashes with data found in the Veda.

From word meanings to sentence meaning: A workshop in Cambridge

From Word Meanings to Sentence Meaning:

Different Perspectives in Indian Philosophy of Language

The reflection on language and its structures was a major component of the Sanskritic intellectual horizon, intimately connected with the broader epistemological and soteriological concerns of different schools. This led to the emergence of various conflicting philosophical views on the nature of the cognition obtained from language (śābdabodha). In this respect, a pivotal issue is how padārthas (the meanings/referents of words) relate to vākyārtha (the meaning/referent of the sentence). During this one-day colloquium, the focus will especially be on the views set forth by the Pūrva-Mīmāṃsā philosophers (Bhāṭṭa and Prābhākara), the Buddhists, the Grammarians, and the theoreticians of Alaṃkāraśāstra, and on the reconstruction of the debate as it developed in the course of the first millennium CE.

 

Date: November 11, 2016

Time: 9:30 am – 6:00 pm

Commenting on a great scholar of Indian philosophy (M. Biardeau)

Who influenced you more in Indian philosophy? Whose methodology do you follow, perhaps without even being aware of it?

Before you answer, let us try to focus on women before we think at the many other men who might have been influential.
I, for one, cannot stop admiring Madeleine Biardeau‘ s work.

Understanding false sentences

For Mīmāṣakas, a non-defeated belief counts as knowledge as long as the opposite is proven. This means that according to Mīmāṃsakas, for the Veda, the absence of defeating conditions is in itself equivalent to its truth. from Art.com
This, however, does not amount to its truth from the point of view of a theory which considers only justified true belief as knowledge. Incidentally, the Mīmāṃsā’s refusal to distinguish between justified belief and knowledge offers a way out of a difficulty found in every account of linguistic communication as an instrument of knowledge, i.e. the problem of how we can understand false utterances (see Chakrabarti 1986, Matilal 1990:61-8, Mohanty 1992:253-5, Ganeri 1999:18-25). Roughly, the problem lies in how we can understand that there is a snake in the next room after hearing the sentence “there is a snake in the next room” although there is no snake in the next room. Linguistic communication is an instrument of knowledge, but the belief that there is a snake in the next room cannot amount to knowledge. How can this content be possibly conveyed? In order to justify that we understand false sentences, Indian theories of linguistic communication as an instrument of knowledge would need a (preceding) status of non-committed awareness of the meaning, claim the authors listed above.
However, this is not needed in the case of Mīmāṃsā. Mīmāṃsakas would describe this situation by saying that our initial knowledge of the presence of a snake in the next room is later defeated as soon as we see that there is no snake there.

Kumārila on sentence-meaning: Mahābhāṣya opponents?

At the beginning of his chapter on sentence meaning, Kumārila sets the problem of what is the meaning-bearer in the case of a sentence (see this post). Later in the chapter, he will discuss sphoṭa, apoha and then present his abhihitānvayavāda, but first he discusses in general the possibility of a sentence-meaning. There can be no sentence-meaning out of the sum of the word-meanings, since those are instantaneous and cannot connect (kā 6–8). The same applies to their cognitions (kā 9). Further, neither words (pada) nor the concepts evoked by them (tadbuddhi) can really connect, so that a sentence-meaning is stricto sensu impossible.

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.