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?
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.
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].
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?
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:
Again as part of my collaboration with (Western) logicians (about which you can read this post and the further ones linked from it), I was confronted with the question of whether Classical (Aristotelian) Logic applies to Mīmāṃsā. For the ones of you who have stopped studying logic long ago, this amounts to ask whether Mīmāṃsā authors would agree that at each given time, either A or “non-A” is true (and, as a consequence, that there is no middle way between these two alternatives, or tertium non datur).
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)
Welcome to the 172nd Philosophers’ Carnival! Read, enjoy, add your favourites in the comments below and submit here your proposals for the next edition of the Philosophers’ Carnival (which will be hosted by Samuel Paul Douglas).
As a general framework, let me start with Catarina Dutilh Novaes’ review of Williamson’s Tetralogue, discussing the possibility of rational dialogue to advance knowledge —that is, the reason which could make philosophy more than a Glasperlenspiel.
Should philosophy (of religion) go out of its comfort zone?
In this post, Aaron Thomas-Bolduc suggests that we should go out of our comfort zones and test our ideas outside them. A few days before, Adriano Mannino had posted here his comments on a study by Helen De Cruz and asked whether philosophy of religion is more than Christian apologetics.
This post by Michael Almeida shows that arguments about philosophy of religion can be dealt with in a purely logical way (from premisses to absurd consequences). Similarly, Eric Schwitzgebel discusses here the application to artificial intelligence of a problem originally dealt with within philosophy of religion, i.e., God’s responsibility for our well-being (and our responsibility towards AI, if we ever were to create one). By the way, the author includes in his dialogue also the Confucian approach of ethical obligations (which get stronger the closer one is to oneself, so that one has higher obligations towards one’s family than towards strangers).
Free will within and without contemporary Western philosophy
The idea of going out of one’s comfort zone brings me to the following series of posts, dedicated to free will. One can start with John Danaher‘s general summary of the possible meanings of “Liberty” and “Free will” as explained by Skinner (John Danaher has further interesting posts on freedom and work and democracy).
Next, this post by Jayarava Attwood discusses the Buddha’s defense of free will while debating with a denier of free will in a text of the Pāli Buddhist Canon. The same author has also dedicated a more general post to the issue of free will at the boundaries of philosophy and neurosciences, here. Again on Buddhism, Amod Lele discusses here how ethics is possible even within a deterministic worldview. Last for the non-Western series, this post discusses Free will vs. divine omnipotence in a Vaiṣṇava theologian, Rāmānuja. Stewart Duncan discusses here some passages of Leibniz which suggest that he might have conceived of things deterministically and of thoughts as actions, depending on the souls only.
Flickers of Freedom is the usual reference point when it comes to free will. This month, this post by V. Alan White on whether responsibility comes in degree especially recommends itself.
Language and reality
Richard Yetter Chappell discusses here an aspect of the problem entailed in the naturalistic account of meaning.
On a similar vein, Tristan Haze discusses here a paradox, namely
If you’re a brain in a vat then you don’t have hands
You don’t know that you’re not a brain in a vat
Therefore you don’t know that you have hands
Interestingly, Haze does not enter into the ontology of the topic, but rather dwells in its linguistic and logical consequences (what does it mean to say that one has hands? To what does language refer?).
On the arbitrariness of the signified and its implications for linguistics, Alexander Pruss discusses here the problems one encounters when translating English hand with Polish rȩka. Pruss closes his post with a thought on false implicature (could occur in cases such as the one described) and lying (morally problematic).
On a sidetrack, Jon Cogburn discusses here how some misunderstandings of the so-called Continental Philosophy by Analytic Philosophers might just be due to wrong translations of French expressions such as l’event or l’autre as “The Event” (=the creation? what other key event?) and “The Other” (Satan?), does creating unwanted metaphysical entities.
Concerning lying, a post at Experimental Philosophy and PeaSoup by John Turri discusses how people react when one asks them whether telling the truth while trying to lie still counts as lying. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the answers depend on how the question is phrased.
At Practical Ethics, Hannah Maslen discusses a bias which seems to lead to more problems than it can solve, namely the hostile attribution bias, which is the cause of avoidable bloody fights, especially among teenagers, just because someone was “looking at me funny”. If you are schocked and ask yourself what could be done to interrupt this vicious circle, have a look at Eric Schwitzgebel’s memories of his father and of how he engaged young criminals, thus automatically making them relinquish crime.
Again at Practical Ethics, this post by Chris Chew discusses what could be the best death.
A new blog on the philosophical problems connected with disability has helped in raising an interesting debate on whether the discussion on some problems, such as the abortion of disabled fetuses, or the moral justification of evil, should be altogether avoided. On the Philosophers’ Cocoon, Marcus Arvan summarises the discussion and adds his view.
At Aesthetics for birds, Rebecca Victoria Millsop discusses the role of originality in painting and whether the research of originality at all costs does not lead astray (I agree). Rebecca is herself an artist (beside being a fifth-year PhD student in philosophy of art) and this perspective deeply enriches her post.
Last, although this is a philosophical Carnival, I hope readers will forgive me —given the high symbolic impact of the Paris attacks on the issues of freedom of thought and critique— if I add this post (which I discovered through Catarina Dutilh Novaes at NewApps) by Juan Cole, a historian of the Middle East, discussing the recent facts in Paris.
By coincidence, the colleague who will host the next Philosophers’ Carnival, Samuel P. Douglas has also a post on the epistemology of conspiracy theories, in relation to the Charlie Hebdo attack.
A few days back, I discussed (here) why one should test one’s logical hypotheses against something alien, be it a Medieval paradox or a Sanskrit text (or anything in between).
Today, I came back to the same thought while reading Adriano Mannino’s post about the diffusion of theism among philosophers of religion. Adriano discusses the worries of some philosophers who think that “philosophy of religion” is in fact a disguised Christian apologetic and is, therefore, not philosophical at all. Personally, I think that apologetics can be (and often are) philosophically interesting, but should philosophers of religion want to reply to this attack, they could try to engage in religions and theologies different than their own or at least different than the Christian one. (By the way, if you are looking for an excuse to start doing it, have a look at this call for papers).
What are your favorite examples of the need of engaging with non-Western, non-contemporary, non-mainstream philosophical ideas?