Is anything at all understood out of false sentences?

Before answering that you do obviously understand something out of false sentences, too, consider that this would lead to:

—distinguishing between understanding the meaning of a sentence and knowing it to be true

—assuming a non-committal understanding of the meaning of a sentence

—understanding fitness as a requirement for the sentence meaning (yogyatā) as limited to the lack of obvious inconsistencies and not as regarding truth

—(possibly) assuming that the meaning of a sentence is not an entity out there (since there is no out-there entity in the case of false sentences), but rather a mental one


If you are now inclined to say that Indian authors on a whole could not answer yes to the question in the title, read the following sentence by Veṅkaṭanātha:

śaśaviṣāṇavākyād api bodho jāyata eva

Also out of the sentence claiming that hares have horns (e.g., out of an obviously false sentence), an awareness does indeed arise (SM ad 1.1.25, 1971 edition p. 114).


Śyena reinterpreted: You can kill your enemy, if he is about to kill you

The Śyena sacrifice is a sacrifice aiming at the death of one’s enemy. The usual interpretation of the Śyena sacrifice is that you just don’t perform it, because it is violent and violence is prohibited (unless it is performed as an element of a rite, e.g., in the Agnīṣomīya). Here comes, however, a novel interpretation:

“For Mīmāṃsā, it is not the case that violence in itself is the cause for pāpa (evil karman), only prohibited violence is. The killing of the sacrificial animal performed within the Jyotiṣṭoma is [just] effecting that the sacrifice is complete with all its elements.
Out of the result of the Śyena sacrifice anartha is produced. Out of this result, which consists in the killing of one’s enemy, there is anartha in the form o reaching suffering, i.e., hell. [For] the killing of one’s enemy, which is the result of the Śyena sacrifice, is not known through a prescription. However, If the enemy is already ready to kill (ātatāyin), then his killing is prescribed. Since in that case violence is prescribed, the Śyena sacrifice does not produce anartha. Therefore, it is established that the Śyena sacrifice does not in itself lead to anartha as result.”
(p. 25 of Rāmaśaṅkara Bhaṭṭācārya’s commentary (called Jyotiṣmatī) on Sāṃkhyatattvakaumudī)

The author of this work, Dr. Ram Shankar Bhattacharya (1927-1996), was a scholar of international repute, well-known for his ground-breaking works in the field of Indological scholarship in general and Sanskrit in particular. He was a pupil of Hariharānanda Āraṇya and then of his successor, Dharmamegha Āraṇya. He has at least 30 works and hundreds of articles in various languages (English, Bengali, Hindi and Sanskrit) dealing with Purāṇas, Sānkhya and Yoga philosophies, Sanskrit grammar, Indian History, etc. to his credit. He co-edited (along with Prof. Gerald James Larson) the volumes on Sānkhya and Yoga philosophies of the Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies series, published under the general editorship of Karl H. Potter, by M/S Motilal Banarsidass. He also served as the scholar-in-residence (sabhāpaṇḍita) of His Royal Highness, the King of Benaras, and the editor of the bi-annual multi-language journal, Purāṇam, published by the All-India Kashiraj Trust, for years, which contains innumerable research articles from his pen. Besides, he also edited four Purāṇas (Agni, Vāmana, Kūrma and Garuḍa) for the same institution.

What remains to be researched, is what it means for an enemy to be ātatāyin (lit. `with one’s bow stretched’, i.e., ready to shoot). Should the enemy be literally about to kill one? If so, there would be no time to perform a Śyena sacrifice. So, either Rāmaśaṅkara Bhaṭṭācārya thinks of preventive actions against people who are known to be about to kill someone or his is just a theoretical discussion.

In order to partly solve this problem, we checked the definition of ātatāyin in the Śabdakalpadruma (a famous Skt-Skt dictionary). This states `ready to kill’ and then quotes a verse from the commentary of Śrīdhara on the BhG discussing six types of such villains: people who are about to set something on fire, poisoners, people with a sword or a knife (śastra) in their hands, robbers, people taking away one’s wife or fields (perhaps: the products of one’s fields?). Śrīdhara then concludes: “There is no flaw in killing an ātatāyin”.

The Vācaspatyam (Skt-Skt) dictionary has a much longer entry. I am still not sure whether someone can be defined an ātatāyin for just plotting a killing —something which would allow one to prepare and perform the Śyena sacrifice.
Sudipta thinks that plotting should be included, since otherwise it might be too late to take action against the ātatāyin and the prescription about killing an ātatāyin found in Dharmaśāstra would be futile. Sudipta accordingly thinks that the Śyena is not prohibited in the case of preventing, e.g., a terrorist attack and that it is only prohibited if performed for one’s own sake, as an offensive action.

(This post has been jointly discussed by EF and Sudipta Munsi, who kindly showed me the quote mentioned above.)

Does anything exist according to Advaita Vedānta?

Not substances, not qualities, perhaps not even the brahman?

The authors of Advaita Vedānta maintain that God, the impersonal brahman, is the only reality and that each hint of dualism or pluralism is due to māyā ‘illusion’. In other words, the absolute, the brahman, is the only reality and everything else (including the material world and the conscious beings within it) only seems to exist, due to māyā, but is not ultimately real. Due to the the Advaita Vedānta’s absolute monism, the brahman cannot have any quality, as any quality would introduce a duality in the singular nature of the brahman. Thus, given that the brahman is the only reality and that it is absolutely simple (since any complexity would entail plurality) it cannot contain any intentional knowledge*, since any such knowledge would be necessary articulated according to the distinction between a knowing subject and the objects it knows and exactly such distinction is considered illusory by Advaita Vedānta authors.

Interactions among Śaiva, Vaiṣṇava and other religious and philosophical schools

The religious debate in the early second millennium in South India

The early second millennium in South India saw a culmination of scholarly activities in the sphere of Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava devotional movements, including both philosophical and ritual discourses. While we tend to study these separately from each other, for Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava thinkers both aspects – theological speculations and ritual practice – played an integral part in their intellectual and daily lives, and thus we should consider their theological works deeply entangled in the ritual world they moved in.

Further, these scholarly activities were embedded in an environment with a long history of Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava interactions, with some works showing passages conceived in direct response to their competitors. The present workshop aims to transcend disciplinary boundaries and investigate the interactions between both Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava thinkers as well as theological theory and ritual practice and how these may be manifested in discourses of identity on both an ideological and a practical level. Some of the questions will be: Do ritual practice and theological theory correspond to each other? How did theories develop from rituals and subsequently feed back and impact theological discourses and vice versa? To what extent do rituals presuppose an identification between God and His human devotees? And does the answer to this question depend on a dispute between opponents, who upheld the opposite view (i.e., a non-dualist Śaiva answer may depend on a dualist Vaiṣṇava opponent)? Or how much do Śaiva-Vaiṣṇava or intra-Vaiṣṇava and intra-Śaiva exchanges shape prescriptive and theoretical discourses on ritual practices relating to external religious markers?

In order to pursue this set of questions, a range of specialists has been asked to choose a passage from key works that shaped the intellectual and ritual life of early medieval South India. While an introduction to each of the sources will be presented, the sessions will focus on the joint reading to be held in the light of this set of guiding questions. In addition, further specialists have been invited to join the reading and contribute towards the discussions.

You can read the whole program here.

The challenge of postcolonial philosophy in India

Too alien for contemporary philosophers, too modern for Sanskritists?

A conference on the topic announced in the title will take place in Vienna, 28–29.9.2017. The purpose of the conference is to break the boundaries between “classical” and “contemporary” Indian philosophy and between “Indian” and “philosophy”, so as to make it possible for Indian philosophy and philosophers to become part of the ongoing discussion on topics such as ethics, logics and epistemology. You can announce your participation to elisa dot freschi at oeaw dot ac dot at

The full program is available here.

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?

Why is postcolonial Indian philosophy understudied?

Some questions to ponder

As some readers will know already, a workshop on postcolonial Indian philosophy will take place in Vienna at the end of September. It will be closed by a round table and I started thinking about the questions I would like to discuss. Suggestions by the readers are welcome.:

  1. Is Raghuramaraju right in saying that Indian philosophers focus too much on their ancestors (classical period) and too little on their predecessors (18th–20th c.)?
  2. What could be concretely done to let more people engage in postcolonial Indian philosophy?
  3. Is this goal part of the general enterprise of creating more centres for the study of global philosophy or are there specific peculiarities conencted to postcolonial Indian philosophy only?
  4. What are the concrete advantages of engaging with modern and contemporary Indian philosophy for philosophers? And for Sanskritists?

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”.

Again on omniscience: Why talking about it, God’s omniscience and some reasons to refute it

Why is the topic of omniscience relevant in Indian philosophy? Because of at least two concurring reasons. On the one hand, for schools like Buddhism and Jainism, it is a question of religious authority. Ascribing omniscience to the founders of the school was a way to ground the validity of their teachings. Slightly similar is the situation of theistic schools ascribing omniscience to God, as a way to ground His ability to organise the world in the best possible way. On the other hand, for other schools the idea of omniscience was initially connected with the result of yogic or other ascetic practices. In this sense, omniscience was conceptually not different from aṇimā `the faculty to become as small as an atom’ and other special powers.