Linguistic Communication as an Instrument of Knowledge: A panel

I came back last week from Athens, were I had organised together with Malcolm Keating a panel on Linguistic Communication as an instrument of knowledge. I ended up framing the problem according to four basic questions, namely 1) What do we know? , 2) How (through which instrument of knowledge) do we know it?, 3) What is the role of language as a medium?, 4) What is the role of the social context?

Śabara on sentences (PMS 1.1.24–26)

The discussion on the epistemological validity of sentences starts in Jaimini’s Pūrva Mīmāṃsā Sūtra (PMS) and in Śabara’s commentary thereon when the opponent notes that, even if —as established in PMS 1.1.5— there were really an originary connection between words and meanings, this would still not mean that the authorless Vedas are a reliable instrument of knowledge, since they are made of sentences, not just of words. And clusters of words are either made by human authors or are just causally put together by chance and are thus meaningless.

Are words an instrument of knowledge?

Kumārila's Śabdapariccheda

Are words an instrument of knowledge? And, if so, what sort of? Are they an instance of inference insofar as one infers the meaning on the basis of the words used? Or are they are an independent instrument of knowledge, since the connection between words and meanings is not of inferential nature?

Philosophy’s crudity and Narrative’s epistemological value

A recent post by Elisabeth Barnes raised a discussion in several blogs about philosophy’s “casual cruelty”. Philosophers, it is said, argue about basic human rights in an abstract way, with thought experiments daring to ask whether it would be ethical to let die disabled children/abort disabled foetuses/prohibit disabled people to have children/… . Philosophers do not even stop speculating about the suppression of disabled people, Barnes continues, when they have a real disabled person in front of them.

175th Philosophers’ Carnival

The 175th Philosophers’ Carnival is ahead of schedule, here. It links to interesting posts, mostly on epistemology of testimony, philosophy of language, modal logic, ethics and theology, which are all more or less my favourite topics. Thus, I guess I should not complain about the lack of diversity in the posts mentioned.

Workshop “Language as an independent means of knowledge in Kumārila’s Ślokavārttika


Language as an independent means of knowledge in Kumārila’s Ślokavārttika

Time: Mo., 1. Juni 2015–5. Juni 2015 09:00-17:00
Venue: Institut für Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens, Seminarraum 2
Apostelgasse 23, 1030 Wien
Organisation: Elisa Freschi


During the workshop, we will translate and analyse the section dedicated to Linguistic Communication as an instrument of knowledge of Kumārila Bhaṭṭa’s (6th c.?) Ślokavārttika. The text offers the uncommon advantage of discussing the topic from the point of view of several philosophical schools, whose philosopical positions will also be analysed and debated. Particular attention will be dedicated to the topic of the independent validity of Linguistic Communication as an instrument of knowledge, both as worldly communication and as Sacred Texts.

Detailed Contents

Ślokavārttika, śabdapariccheda,

v. 1 (Introduction)

v. 3–4 (Definition of Linguistic Communication)

v. 15 (Introduction to the position of Sāṅkhya philosophers)

vv. 35–56 (Dissussion of Buddhist and Inner-Mīmāṃsā Objections)

vv. 57ab, 62cd (Content communicated by words and sentences) [we will not read vv. 57cd–62ab, since they discuss a linguistic issue]

vv. 63–111 (Discussion of Buddhist Objections)

Commentaries to be read: Pārthasārathi’s one (as basis) and Uṃveka’s one (for further thoughts on the topic)

X-copies of the texts will be distributed during the workshop. Please email the organiser if you want to receive them in advance.

For organisative purposes, you are kindly invited to announce your partecipation with an email at

The present workshop is the ideal continuation of this one. For a pathway in the Śabdapariccheda see this post.

A pathway through Kumārila’s Ślokavārttika, śabda-chapter, part 1

The chapter on śabda ‘language as instrument of knowledge’ within Kumārila’s Ślokavārttika is an elaborate defense of linguistic communication as an autonomous instrument of knowledge. Still, its philosophical impact runs the risk to go unnoticed because it is at the same time also a polemical work targeting rival theories which we either do not know enough or we might be less interested in, and a commentary on its root text, Śabara’s Bhāṣya on the Mīmāṃsā Sūtra. The chapter has also the further advantage that all three commentaries on it have been preserved. Thus, beside Pārthasārathi’s useful one, one can benefit also from Śālikanātha’s deeper one and from Uṃveka’s commentary, which is the most ancient, tends to preserve better readings of the text and is philosophically challenging.

The following is thus the first post in a series attempting a pathway through the chapter:

“Is there Philosophy in India?” and what this question tells us, an essay by Ankur Barua

After many years, I am sort of fed up with having to answer the question above, and this is also why I had not read the essay by Barua (bearing the title Is there ‘Philosophy’ in India? An Exercise in Meta-Philosophy and available here) until he recommended it to me. In fact, the article tells more about what it means to ask the question, than about the answer (which is a straightforward “yes”).