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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Did Mīmāṃsakas really need to claim that phonemes are permanent (nitya)? Erich Frauwallner argued that the chapter on this topic in the Pūrva Mīmāṃsā Sūtra (PMS 1.1.6–1.1.23) had been interpolated and most contemporary scholars*** agree that the Mīmāṃsā argumentation only needs the relation between signifier and signified to be fixed (nitya), not also the signifiers.
In classical Indian philosophy, linguistics and philosophy of language are of central importance and inform further fields, such as epistemology and poetics. Thus, looking at the debates on linguistics and philosophy of language offers one a snapshot on the lively philosophical arena of classical India.
Suppose you want to undertake the study of Indian Philosophy and you want to read primary sources? Where should you start? I argued (in my contribution to Open Pages in South Asian Studies) that Bhaṭṭa Jayanta is a great starting point,
- Because he is a philosopher
- Because he deals with texts of other schools and thus aims at being understandable
- Because he is a talented writer
Well, yes… isn’t it?
The problem is less easy than it may look like and amounts to the problem of non-committal understanding. Is it the normal attitude while listening to a speaker or just an exception or an a posteriori withdrawal of belief once one notices that the speaker is in any way non reliable?