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?

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.

Śabara on sentences (PMS 1.1.24–26)

The discussion on the epistemological validity of sentences starts in Jaimini’s Pūrva Mīmāṃsā Sūtra (PMS) and in Śabara’s commentary thereon when the opponent notes that, even if —as established in PMS 1.1.5— there were really an originary connection between words and meanings, this would still not mean that the authorless Vedas are a reliable instrument of knowledge, since they are made of sentences, not just of words. And clusters of words are either made by human authors or are just causally put together by chance and are thus meaningless.

Workshop “Language as an independent means of knowledge in Kumārila’s Ślokavārttika


Language as an independent means of knowledge in Kumārila’s Ślokavārttika

Time: Mo., 1. Juni 2015–5. Juni 2015 09:00-17:00
Venue: Institut für Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens, Seminarraum 2
Apostelgasse 23, 1030 Wien
Organisation: Elisa Freschi


During the workshop, we will translate and analyse the section dedicated to Linguistic Communication as an instrument of knowledge of Kumārila Bhaṭṭa’s (6th c.?) Ślokavārttika. The text offers the uncommon advantage of discussing the topic from the point of view of several philosophical schools, whose philosopical positions will also be analysed and debated. Particular attention will be dedicated to the topic of the independent validity of Linguistic Communication as an instrument of knowledge, both as worldly communication and as Sacred Texts.

Detailed Contents

Ślokavārttika, śabdapariccheda,

v. 1 (Introduction)

v. 3–4 (Definition of Linguistic Communication)

v. 15 (Introduction to the position of Sāṅkhya philosophers)

vv. 35–56 (Dissussion of Buddhist and Inner-Mīmāṃsā Objections)

vv. 57ab, 62cd (Content communicated by words and sentences) [we will not read vv. 57cd–62ab, since they discuss a linguistic issue]

vv. 63–111 (Discussion of Buddhist Objections)

Commentaries to be read: Pārthasārathi’s one (as basis) and Uṃveka’s one (for further thoughts on the topic)

X-copies of the texts will be distributed during the workshop. Please email the organiser if you want to receive them in advance.

For organisative purposes, you are kindly invited to announce your partecipation with an email at

The present workshop is the ideal continuation of this one. For a pathway in the Śabdapariccheda see this post.

Who studied Mīmāṃsā deontics?

Since Mīmāṃsā (both in its Bhāṭṭa and in its Prābhākara subschools) focused primarily on the exegesis of the prescriptive portion of the Vedic Sacred Texts, the Mīmāṃsā texts offer richly developed discussions of deontic issues, both from a linguistic and from a logic point of view. Unfortunately, the lack of philosophically accessible translations has made most of such discussions remain confined to Sanskritists.

Yoshimizu, apūrva and a new reading of the Mīmāṃsā schools

There are various differences among the Bhāṭṭa and the Prābhākara schools of Pūrva Mīmāṃsā, respectively founded by Kumārila Bhaṭṭa and Prabhākara Miśra, who possibly lived around the 7th c. AD, but one of the most striking and telling ones is that regarding the concept of apūrva.