From Word Meanings to Sentence Meaning:
Different Perspectives in Indian Philosophy of Language
The reflection on language and its structures was a major component of the Sanskritic intellectual horizon, intimately connected with the broader epistemological and soteriological concerns of different schools. This led to the emergence of various conflicting philosophical views on the nature of the cognition obtained from language (śābdabodha). In this respect, a pivotal issue is how padārthas (the meanings/referents of words) relate to vākyārtha (the meaning/referent of the sentence). During this one-day colloquium, the focus will especially be on the views set forth by the Pūrva-Mīmāṃsā philosophers (Bhāṭṭa and Prābhākara), the Buddhists, the Grammarians, and the theoreticians of Alaṃkāraśāstra, and on the reconstruction of the debate as it developed in the course of the first millennium CE.
Date: November 11, 2016
Time: 9:30 am – 6:00 pm
What makes a text a “commentary”? The question is naif enough to allow for a complicated answer. First of all, let me note the obvious: There is not a single word for “commentary” in Sanskrit, where one needs to distinguish between bhāṣyas, vārttikas, ṭippanīs, etc., often bearing poetical names, evoking Moons, mirrors and the like.
Suppose you want to undertake the study of Indian Philosophy and you want to read primary sources? Where should you start? I argued (in my contribution to Open Pages in South Asian Studies) that Bhaṭṭa Jayanta is a great starting point,
- Because he is a philosopher
- Because he deals with texts of other schools and thus aims at being understandable
- Because he is a talented writer
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?
If you have read post-Classical śāstra, you will have certainly encountered the formulation above, describing the three foundational disciplines as focusing on
words (pada), i.e., grammatical analysis in Vyākaraṇa
sentences (vākya), i.e., textual linguistics in Mīmāṃsā
means of knowledge (pramāṇa), i.e., epistemology in Nyāya
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).
Who are the opponents in Kumārila’s Ślokavārttika (henceforth ŚV), chapter on sentence-meaning? And did the ŚV set the standard for all further discussions on the topic?
Is Jayanta referring to Vyāḍi when he lists various positions at the beginning of his discussion about the sentence-meaning, in his Nyāyamñjarī, book 5?
Who invented the apoha theory? If you, like me, are prone to answer “Dignāga” and to add that Dignāga (as shown by Hattori) was inspired by Bhartṛhari’s theory and that Dharmakīrti and Dharmottara later fine-tuned Dignāga’s one, you are ready to have your view challenged by K. Kunjunni Raja’s article in Buddhist Logic and Epistemology (ed. by B.K. Matilal and R.D. Evans, 1986, I am grateful to Sudipta Munsi who sent me a copy of it).
Who is the most productive scholar on Indian Philosophy? Kei Kataoka is surely in the top-10 (have a look at his publications here).