How does language work?

Meanings of Words and Sentences in Mīmāṃsā

Mīmāṃsakas subscribe to the idea that words convey word-meanings, and thus refute the Bhartṛharian holism. The relation between a word as meaningful unit and its meaning is fixed, as it is proved by our common experience of words, and it cannot be denied in favour of a view focusing on the text as a whole and rejecting without compelling reasons our prima facie experience of words as meaningful units.

Given that one can thus establish that words are meaningful, what exactly do they convey?

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.

God and the reality of the world — UPDATED

Marginal notes about a workshop in Hawai’i, part 3

Do we need God to make sense of the world’s reality? Michael Dummett, who was surely not known for his religious fanatism came to this conclusion. God is, for this well-known philosopher, the objective perspective from which the world is intelligible as it is. In this sense, God could also be said to be needed in order to avoid the idea of a world as noúmenon, i.e., real but never grasped as it really is.

Against that, one might object that there is no intrinsic reason whence the world needs be intelligible. Yes, it would be hard to imagine that the world is unintelligible for us. But being “hard to believe” is not enough to rule out a view, unless you have a fundamental premiss saying that you prefer what looks reasonable (i.e. harmonises with your background belief). The “reasonability” premiss would rule out all gnostic or Matrix-like world-views, but there is no intrinsic reason to choose it over them.

In other words: Dummett’s thesis is based on the premiss that it is unintelligible to conceive the universe as never having been observed. Dummett sees this premiss as needed in order to safeguard subject-independent direct realism.

However, as it has been argued by Alex Watson, this premiss is not necessarily shared by Indian realists. Some of them, like most Mīmāṃsakas and the author(s) of the Vaiśeṣikasūtra, and even theists among them like Praśastapāda and Udayana do not mention God in relation to the thesis that all existents are knowable. So, even after God has been introduced into Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika, He does not play the role of rescuer of the external world. In other words, in spite of claiming that the world is intelligible, Indian realists did not see this as committing them to idealism (the world is not just contained in God’s thoughts) and even less do they see God as the rescuer of the external world.

My contribution, by contrast, focussed on another problem connected with the idea of God as support for the world’s reality, namely the conception of God it requires.

NOTE: The post has been updated thanks to Alex Watson’s thoughtful comments. All shortcomings remain mine only.

The first two parts of my marginal notes on the workshop on Omniscience, Realism and God/no-God have been published here and here.

Against the extrinsicity of validity of cognitions UPDATED

Mīmāṃsā authors think that cognitions are by themselves, i.e., intrinsically valid. In other words, they are not valid because of some additional reason, but just because of the sheer fact of being unfalsified.

In order to establish this claim, Veṅkaṭanātha defeats three possible candidates as extrinsic reasons for the cognitions’ validity, namely agreement (saṃvāda, with other people’s cognitions or with one’s other cognitions), quality of the cognition’s cause and causal efficacy (arthakriyā). The latter candidate is rejected because it would lead to an infinite regress (one would need to establish the causal efficacy of the cognition of causal efficacy and so on) and because some cognitions just don’t have any causal result. The passage is as follows:

arthakriyā ca na vyāptā, aśakyārthakriyeṣv anādarapadeṣu ca pratīteṣu puruṣapravṛttyabhāvena tanmūlārthakriyābhāvāt.

Nor is the causal efficiency (arthakriyā) included (vyāp-) [in the ascertainment of a cognition’s validity], because there is no causal efficiency as the root of certain [cognitions], given that there is no human activity (pravṛtti) in the case of apprehended [cognitions] in regard to which causal efficiency (arthakriyā) is impossible and whose contents (pada) have not been taken into account (anādara). (SM ad PMS 1.1.5)

UPDATE: The translation has been updated according to the suggestion (see comments below) by Lalitālālitaḥ (for which I am extremely grateful). I am sure he is right about the general meaning, but I would have still preferred anādarapadārtheṣu or anādaraviṣayeṣu.

A basic introduction to Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta

(I have been asked to write a short introduction to Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta and would like to test it on you, dear readers. Any comment or criticism would be more than welcome!)

In its full-fledged form, the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta (henceforth VV) is a Vedāntic school, thus one which accepts the authority of the Upaniṣads, the Brahmasūtra and the Bhagavadgītā and which recognises a form of God as brahman (on the various ways of understanding God in India, see here). The full-fledged VV accepts also further groups of texts, namely on the one hand the Pañcarātra (a group of Vaiṣṇava texts prescribing personal and temple rituals, see Leach 2012, and, here) and on the other the Tamil devotional poems collected in the Divyaprabandham.

Omniscience and realism

Marginal notes about a workshop in Hawai'i

A non-intelligible entity cannot be conceived to exist. But, if the world needs to be known in order to exist, we need to postulate a non-partial perspective out of which it can be known. Since the perspectives of all human beings (as well as those of other animals, I would add) are necessarily partial and cannot be reconciled (how could one reconcile our perspective of the world with that of a bat?), this perspective needs to be God.

Is the use of arguments from authority “irrational”?

Basically, I would say no, since there are topics for which it is meaningful and rational to resort to arguments from authority. To name an example, if I want to know how you feel, the best thing to do is to ask you.

But even if you don’t agree, let me point to the distinction between

  • the use of such arguments as a way to close a discussion (e.g., “It is the case that X, because an authoritative source said it”)
  • the use of such arguments as part of a discussion or as opening a discussion (e.g., “An authoritative source tells us that X, how shall we understand it?”)

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.

Intrinsic validity in Veṅkaṭanātha

Intrinsic validity means that each cognition is in itself valid, unless and until the opposite is proven. I do not need to prove that I am typing in order to know that I am. I know that I am typing unless and until something shows me that I am wrong (e.g., I wake up and realise I was only dreaming of typing).

Modification as an evidence for the fact that mantras have meanings and an application of the Aindrīnyāya

Both Śabara’s and Veṅkaṭanātha’s commentary on the Mīmāṃsā Sūtra insist that mantras are not important only insofar as they are pronounced, but rather that they convey a meaning (technically: they are vivakṣitārtha `they have intended meanings’).
One of the evidences for the meaningfulness of mantras is the fact that mantras are modified (ūh-) in the ectype rituals. If, for instance, the archetype ritual is for Agni and the ectype ritual is offered to Indra, the mantra will be accordingly changed (e.g., from Agnaye juṣṭam to Indrāya juṣṭam). If the mantras had no meaning, there would be no scope for modifying them. If the pronunciation were enough to achieve some unseen potency (apūrva), one would just repeat the mantras in the same form.