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Monday, January 18, 2010

Ought and Sacred Texts

As well known, according to Prābhākara Mīmāṃsakas the Veda conveys only prescriptive (that is, exhortative) meanings. It does not describe reality, but rather prescribes what has to be done. The latter cannot be understood, in turn, out the other means of knowledge, as they can only reflect reality (and in reality there is knowing bridging the link between is and ought). Hence, the ought can only be grasped through the Sacred Texts. Better, the unpreceded (apūrva) ought can only be grasped through them.
But how can such an understanding take place? The possibility of understanding Sacred Texts is established within Theistic traditions by the will of God who reveals them. In the atheistic Mīmāṃsā, on the other hand, it is based on a sort of falsificationism: we have to rely on worldly meanings of words even while reading Sacred Texts since, else, we would not have any key as to interpret them. Hence, the mastery of worldly meanings is a pre-condition for the understanding of a Sacred Text. But what if that texts prescribes a kind of duty which is fully new (apūrva), that is, non-attainable through any other (worldly) kind of knowledge? Should not it remain beyond any possible grasp?
I am quite attracted by Prābhākara discussions on this border-line question. Rāmānujācārya, in his Tantrarahasya, lets a Prābhākara propose the option that even in worldly sentences prescribing something to be done what one grasps is the pure "ought", so that one can grasp the ought in itself even in mundane commands. Rāmānujācārya dissents. According to him, it is only through its link to action, which can be experienced even in this-world, that we can understand what a ought means, and, hence, understand it even in its apūrva-garb in Sacred Texts.

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