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.

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.

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.

Again on circumstances and desires

According to Mīmāṃsā authors, prescriptions do not apply sic et simpliciter to anyone. They apply to a selected group of addressees, who are identified through a nimitta ‘condition’. Accordingly, the standard form of a prescription is:

(A) The one who is desirous of heaven [substitute ‘heaven’ with any other goal] should sacrifice with the Darśapūrṇamāsa [substitute ‘DPM’ with any other goal].

Necessity in Mīmāṃsā philosophy

Anand Vaidya has recently raised a very intriguing discussion on modality in Indian philosophy. His post started with the suggestion that modality is less central in Indian philosophy than it is in Western thought. In the comments, several scholars suggested examples hinting at reflections on modality also in Indian thought but, now that I think again about them, they mostly discussed the modality of possibility in Indian thought. What about necessity?

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:

Deontic logic applied to Sacred Texts

I discussed already in several previous posts a project on the application of deontic logic to the understanding of the Mīmāṃsā exegesis of the Vedas. Now, the project leader, Agata Ciabattoni, made me ponder about a question I should have considered long ago, namely whether someone else has been applying deontic logic to other Sacred Texts.

At first sight, I would have thought that this would have certainly been the case, given that Sacred Texts are, at least in part, prescriptive texts.