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:
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.
Let us take the abstract form of a Vedic prescription:
(A.) Whoever desires to achieve something should sacrifice
It is easy for an objector to go on and argue as follows:
A Śūdra (i.e., a member of the lowest class) desires to achieve something
A Śūdra should sacrifice (PMS 6.1.25)
How much of our philosophical ideas are in fact conditioned by the language we use?
You can read, for instance, these critical comments on the Ten Commandments and their form in Hebrew. One way to avoid the risk of mistaking the appeal to one’s intuition with the appeal to one’s working language, is to test one’s ideas within different cultural milieus (see, in this regard, this post).
On a related vein, you might want to check this and similar posts by Gabriele Contessa on the need for Analytic Philosophy to welcome more scholars not having English as their mother tongue.
I am currently working with some amazing colleagues at the Vienna University of Technology on the formalisation of Mīmāṃsā deontic logic (for further information, read this post). One of the problems we are facing is that duties prescribed in Vedic prescriptions appear to be interpreted as regarding only specific eligible people, the adhikārins. For instance, one needs to perform a Kārīrī sacrifice if one desires rain, so that the duty to perform it does not apply generally to all. Even in the case of a sacrifice one has to perform throughout one’s life, such as the Agnihotra, the same restriction applies, since Mīmāṃsā authors interpret it as meaning that one has to perform it if one desires happiness, i.e., throughout one’s life, since one always desires happiness.
In the case of the Śyena and the Agnīṣomīya rituals, violence is once condemned and once allowed, causing long discussions among Mīmāṃsā authors. Similarly, the prohibition to eat kalañja, onion and garlic is interpreted differently than the prohibition to look at the rising sun. Why this difference?
The Mīmāṃsā school of Indian philosophy has at its primary focus the exegesis of Sacred Texts (called Vedas), and more specifically of their prescriptive portions, the Brāhmaṇas. This means that the epistemic content conveyed by the Vedas is, primarily, what has to be done. In order words, the Veda is an epistemic authority only insofar as it conveys a deontic content.
I am working on the formalisation of the prescriptions regarding the Full- and New-Moon sacrifices in the Baudhāyana Śrautasūtra. In Kashikar’s edition, they cover about 32 full pages of Sanskrit. And they are overtly boring in their pedantic prescription of each sacrificial detail. Thus, instead of reading the BaudhŚrSū, have a look at what follows for what is interesting in them:
Some months ago, departing from Decemeber 2013, I started working on a fascinating project, the formalisation of the deontic logic of some Mīmāṃsā authors (Kumārila, Prabhākara and Maṇḍana). Given that I am not an expert on formal logic, the project has been conceived together with some colleagues working on formal logic and on the IT tools for automating it. After some preliminary work, we submitted a project within the “Mathematics and…” call of the WWTF. The other principal investigator was Agata Ciabattoni and the other collaborators were Björn Lellmann and Ekaterina Lebedeva. Agata and Björn would have been working with me on selecting the logical rules from the relevant Sanskrit texts, translating them in formal logical language and developing automated deduction methods to reason about them.
Ekaterina, as a linguist and an expert of the intersection of language and logic, would have taken care of the fact that our translations of Sanskrit passages into logical rules did not entail logical ambiguities.
CfP: Language as a tools for acquiring Knowledge (Atiner conference)
If you have been following this blog or my previous one you will know that I have been looking for chances for cross-cultural philosophy since many years. You will also know that I have been thinking at the Atiner Conference as a good chance to discuss about Indian themes as part of Philosophy tout court and not within the small ghetto of Indian Philosophy for Indologists.
This year, Malcolm C. Keating (University of Texas, Austin) and I will be hosting a panel at the next Atiner conference in Athens, 25–28 May 2015. If you are interested to join, read the following CfP and drop a line either in the comments or at my personal address. (more…)