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”.

Project on deontic logic in Mīmāṃsā

Why is it interesting to deal with Mīmāṃsā deontics?

Most deontic theories conflate two different approaches:



The Mīmāṃsā approach is interesting exactly because it separates the two. In other words, suppose we say that a person O(p) because p is good or because it is God’s will etc. In this case, you are using your ethical (and metaphysical) assumptions to ground the validity of your deontic statements. By contrast, Mīmāṃsā authors analyse deontic statements on their own. Just like they analyse the epistemic validity of statements independently of the authority of their authors, so they analysed the deontic validity of statements independently of a further background.

This does not mean that it is ethically good to bring to poverty all human beings. In fact, if you do that, you are surely transgressing the prohibitions to harm human beings and will get negative consequences (=negative karman) out of it, but you do not need ethical presuppositions to make sense of the Mīmāṃsā theory.

For some news on my newly approved project on deontic logic in Mīmāṃsā, please read its website, here.

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.

खपुष्प तुच्छत्वम् पूर्वोत्तरमीमांसादर्शनयोर् न्यायदर्शने च

खपुष्पं भवत्सिद्धान्त इत्यादिप्रयोगेषु तु भाट्टानां पुष्पे खसम्बन्धित्वारोपेण आरोपितखपुष्पपदार्थनिष्ठासत्त्वादीनां सिद्धान्ते सत्त्वेन प्रयोगः । इदं न खपुष्पम् इत्यत्र तु पुरोवर्त्तिनो ज्ञानाविषयत्वभाव एवार्थः स्यात् । इति तन्मते आरोपविषयता शब्दजन्यविकल्पवृत्तिविषयता चालीकस्याङ्गीक्रियेते , तथैव तस्य अभावात्मकधर्म्माश्रयत्वमपि । अत एव तद्रीत्या अलीकलक्षणं किं स्यात् इति चिन्तनीयम् , न हि तन्नये मनोवृत्तिविषयत्वसामान्याभावोलीके इति । कालासम्बन्धस्तु तल्लक्षणं वक्तुं शक्यते ।

वेदान्तिनां नये तुच्छस्याध्यारोपाविषयत्वात् कथञ्चिच्छब्दमहिम्ना शशशृङ्गपदेन विकल्पात्मकमनोवृत्तौ जातायामलीकत्वस्य विषयत्वमङ्गीक्रियते । तथापि विकल्पस्य ज्ञानत्वानङ्गीकारात् ज्ञानाविषयत्वमलीकस्य सम्भवति । अथापि विकल्पस्य ज्ञानाद्विविच्य प्रदर्शनाय तैः सत्त्वेन प्रतीत्यनर्हम् अलीकम् इत्युच्यते । उक्तानर्हताया अवच्छेदकञ्च किञ्चिद्वक्तव्यम् इति अत एव तन्नये तदेवावच्छेदकं तल्लक्षणं – सर्व्वदेशकालवृत्त्यत्यन्ताभावप्रतियोगित्वे सत्युत्पत्त्यादिशून्यत्वम् – इति सम्भवति ।
अथवा – उक्तप्रतियोगित्वे सति कालासम्बन्धित्वमेवालीकत्वं तदस्तु ।

तार्किकनये तु अलीकस्य ज्ञानसामान्याविषयत्वम् इति तन्नये न विकल्पवृत्तिरङ्गीक्रियते इति प्राप्तम् । अत एव ज्ञानाविषयत्वमेवालीकलक्षणम् । कालासम्बन्धित्वं वा ।

एतेषु सर्व्वेषु पक्षेषु इदं चिन्त्यं यत् –
तत्तन्मते तुच्छस्य यल्लक्षणं ज्ञानाविषयत्वदि तत् किं तुच्छे वर्त्तते न वा । वर्त्तते चेत् तस्यापि स्वरूपं प्राप्तं , नास्ति चेत् कथं तस्य तुच्छत्वम् ।
– इति ;
तुच्छस्यापदार्थत्वेनैव भेदप्रतियोगित्वादिभावधर्म्मानाश्रयत्वे सति पदार्थेषु तद्व्यावृत्तिः कथं सिद्ध्येत । तदसिद्धौ पदार्थानां तुच्छाभेदेनालीकत्वमापतेत् , तत्सिद्धौ च तुच्छे प्रतियोगित्वादिकमङ्गीकर्त्तव्यमापतेत् ।

– इति च ।

(My friend, Sudipta Munsi brought this post from the Bharatiya Vidvat Parisat to my notice and obtained permission from the author to cross-post it on this blog. Except for his name, the learned author, Srimallalitalalita, prefers to remain anonymous.)

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.

Reviews on Duty, Language and Exegesis in Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā: Many thanks and some notes —UPDATED

Most of my long-term readers have had enough of my discussions of Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā, of its late exponent Rāmānujācārya, and of its theories about deontic logic, philosophy of language and hermeneutics. They may also know already about my book dedicated to these topics. More recent readers can read about it here.
You can also read reviews of my book by the following scholars:

  • by Taisei Shida on Vol. 31 of Nagoya Studies in Indian Culture and Buddhism. Saṃbhāṣā (2014), pp. 84-87.
  • by Andrew Ollett on Vol. 65.2 of Philosophy East and West (2015), pp. 632–636 (see here)
  • by Gavin Flood on Journal of Hindu Studies, published on line on 13 October 2015 (the beginning is accessible here)
  • by Hugo David on the vol. 99 of BEFEO (2012-13), pp. 395-408 (you can read the beginning here)

I am extremely grateful to the reviewers (I could not have hoped for better ones!) for their careful and stimulating analyses and for their praising my attempts to make the text as understandable as possible and to locate sources and parallels in the apparatus. In fact, as a small token of gratitude for the time they spent on my book, I will dedicate a post to each one of their reviews, where I discuss their corrections and suggestions. The first one in this series will appear next Friday.

Dealing with the logic of prescriptions can be hard…

…because it is so difficult to determine whether they have a truth-value. This point is acknowledged in the contemporary debate on deontic logic:

A fundamental issue of deontic logic is Jorgensen’s dilemma, as noted by Jorgensen. On the one hand, there are inferences involving norm sentences such as ‘you should stay‘ or ‘you may leave‘ in our lives; therefore there should be a logic dealing with them. On the other hand, these sentences express orders or permissions and do not have tuth values: therefore, there cannot be such a logic. A dilemma arises. (Ju and Liang 2015, section 1)

Out of probably similar reasons, also within Indian philosophy almost no school focused on the logic of prescriptions. Even within the only one which did, Pūrva Mīmāṃsā, some authors then moved back towards the safer ground of understanding prescriptions as descriptions. Again, in the words of Ju and Liang:

To solve this dilemma, many philosophers have proposed a distinction between two different uses of norm sentences: descriptive and prescriptive uses. In the descriptive way, norm sentences are used to state what agents ought to do; they can be true or false. […] Deontic logic is ‘legalized’ in this way. (Ibid.)

In this sense, trying to “legalize” deontic logic is a way to deal with it and to attribute truth values to it. Kumārila went a little bit in this direction when he stated that prescriptions refer to the future (which is still beyond the precinct of application of truth values, but not as much as the deontic domain, which will never be). Maņḍana went much further and claimed that, e.g.,

O x / you desire y (“You ought to do x if you desire y”)

is tantamount to:

x is a means to realise y

Why so? Because of the dilemma mentioned above, but probably also because Maṇḍana was in part closer to Vedānta than to Pūrva Mīmāṃsā and was in this sense keen to avoid the commitment to sādhyavākyārthavāda, i.e., to the theory according to which all sentences can only convey a prescriptive meaning.

I am grateful to Bama Srinivasan, who sent me a copy of Ju and Liang’s article.

Can one understand a sentence without believing its content to be the case?

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?