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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Democracy in India

Democracy, as well known, is a terribly flawed, but we know of no better option. Since they have to rely on the number of voters, instead of aiming at their quality, many politicians incline to political patronage of as many lobbies as possible–no matter which ones. On the other hand, all political systems which allow the right to vote to only an élite are liable to the shortcoming of making this élite profit of its position and exploit the non-voters, who cannot rebel (unless violently). One might suggest that democracy needs –in order to work properly– an on-going education of the masses. Information must be widely available and conflicting views should be able to reach the widest audience, in order for the voters to vote after having been able to know and judge the candidates. This process might be time-consuming, but the right to vote seems to me an adhikāra, that is, a right entailing a responsibility. However, many voters may prefer patronage. Hence, either one denies this right to irresponsible voters (and the scenario would then resemble the elitarian one sketched above), or one should be able to persuade people without forcing them. A possible argument could be that of one's future benefits. Culture matters, as shown not just by Amartya Sen, but also by many other thinkers who are not suspected of holding a political agenda. South Korea, for instance, changed its destiny through improving the level of instruction of its inhabitants and countries where illiteracy still affects a large part of the population are more likely to be/remain underdeveloped. But what about the case of a voter who prefers a bird in the (present) hand to two in the (future) bush?

The problem seems crucial for today's societies. Why is it so neglected in Indian philosophy? The Arthaśāstra assumes somehow the position of Macchiavelli's Principe, that is, dictatorship is unavoidable, let us then make it as good as possible. Other treatises wish to instruct the king in order to mitigate his possible defects. Some Brahmans might (I am no expert in the sociological background of dharmaśāstra) have devised law-codes in order to grant to themselves a role at the side of the sovereign. All other authors seem either to have enjoyed the favour of a powerful protector who sponsored them, or to have altogether ignored the issue.
The idea of karman and rebirth might have played a role, insofar as it legitimates the status quo (people who are born devoid of any political right are surely not worth having any).

Still, India is today's biggest democracy. Indians are proud of it and even the conservatives use democracy and do not condemn it (though praising Indian cultural past, the Laws of Manu, etc.). Apart from the UK influence and Gandhi's genius, how could this occur? Could one detect some thoughts serving as its inner foundation within Indian cultural past? And in case this should not be the case, did India develop a political thought worth considering, in order to improve (or substitute) our imperfect democracies?

(photo from

Friday, March 26, 2010

Vedānta and Mīmāṃsā on God and apūrva

A typical argument found in Mīmāṃsā texts is that of a PP saying that the (sacrificial) action is, indeed, the instrument for the achievement of the desired result, although it does not last until the arousal of the result. In fact, the PP continues, the action pleases God, who will, in a successive time, bestow the result to the sacrificer. This argument is usually refuted through the standard Mīmāṃsā arguments against this kind of God. In Vedānta Deśika, this argument is found at the usual place, namely while discussing the inconsistency of a temporary action which should give raise to a much later result. However, Vedānta Deśika modifies it and embeds it in his final view. In fact, instead of denying the necessity of an apūrva, the idea of a pleased God is equated to apūrva. Such unprecedented potency is --so Vedānta Deśika-- tantamount to the fact that God has been pleased. In this way, a Mīmāṃsā tenet is embedded and used for the sake of a Vedāntic agenda, as often the case among Vedānta usage of Mīmāṃsā hermeneutic and dialectical tools.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What is seized by yogipratyakṣa?

Among other thinkers, Utpaladeva in his ĪPKvivṛti elaborates on yogins being able to grasp objects remote in time or space (in the past or in distant regions). Mīmāṃsākas deny that this is possible, on the ground that it contradicts everyday experience, but their strongest criticism is indeed devised against the specific application of yogipratyakṣa to dharma. In which cases could dharma be perceived according to the upholders of yogipratyakṣa? If it were a present or past thing, no matter how remote. So, Vedānta Deśika (here following a Mīmāṃsā argument garb found, e.g., in Śalikanātha and Rāmānujācārya) denies to dharma the status of a well-established thing –no matter how remote–, ready to be seized. On the contrary, dharma is something to be established, and what will eventually lead to it is not the (e.g. sacrificial) action one presently sees, and refers to as "dharma".This seems to imply that yogipratyakṣa cannot apply to future objects or objects pertaining to the domain of what ougth to be (the elements of these two fields may coincide, but not the fields themselves).

Why not also yogipratyakṣa?

A Naiyāyika thinker might propose that accepting yogipratyakṣa does not harm one’s belief in the Veda as instrument of knowledge. In fact, the same information can be known through more than one instrument of knowledge according to Naiyāyikas. Mīmāṃsā thinkers (and Vedāntin ones, such as Vedānta Deśika) reply that, once a more powerful instrument of knowledge has satisfied one’s need to know something, there is no scope for any other instrument of knowledge.

Hence, other instruments of knowledge just do not become active in regard tosomething which has already been known (see Katoka, JIPh 2003). So, Mīmāṃsakas separate the realm of what can be known in two fields:

sensory items ––» known through sense perception
transcendent items ––» known through verbal communication (Veda)

The Veda, as explained by Śabara, corresponds to sense perception in conveying a direct knowledge of transcendent items.

This is an implicit criticism against these schools (e.g. Śaivasiddhānta or, later on, Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism) who allegedly acknowledge the authority the Veda, but de facto abolish it, insofar as they propose other Sacred Texts/practices/rituals as more effective for the attainment of the summum bonum.
In modern terms, it is interesting to note that the Veda seems to be considered only as an instrument of knowledge. No one proposes that the Veda might have a purpose beside being informative. Does this mean that no connotative purpose is taken into account? Not really, since the indirect signification would also be a plausible content to be conveyed by an instrument of knowledge.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Vedānta Deśika in favour of intellectual intuition

In Vedānta Deśika's Seśvaramīmāṃsā (ad 1.1.4) one finds several arguments in favour of yogipratyakṣa, together with their refutation. To the latter will be dedicated a future post, here I will outline Vedānta Deśika's arguments, followed by some comments of mine.

--out of direct perception:

  • one's perception could be enhanced by saṃskāras, due to repeated experience, like in the case of gem-experts
  • one's intense visualisation could make an existing but unseen object visible, like in the case of the image of an existing but absent beloved person

--out of inference:
  • some people could have sharper sense faculties, because one sees a graduation in the sharpness of sense faculties
  • (specification of the above argument): dharma must be sense-perceptible, because it is a knowable item and all knowable items must, somewhere reach sense-perceptibility.
--out of Verbal Communication (śabdapramāṇa):
  • Maharṣis (in the Upaniṣad) state that they have seen dharma through their inner energy (vīrya).
The first case describes the case of experts of gem, who can see in a gem aspects a lay person would not be able to see. One might argue that one does not see dharma at all (whereas a gem is seen by everyone). But the PP has already assumed that actions, substances and qualities may be referred to as dharma. Hence, one only needs to grasp their being able to conduce to the summum bonum (śreyas). So, experts might be able to see in dharmic actions also this aspect.
Possible reply: experts are made aware of further details in a gem only because of śabdapramāṇa. Someone instructed them about the peculiarities of a gem. So, their 'perception' of the peculiarities of the gem is in fact parasitic on śabdapramāṇa.

The second case refers to the case of a love-sick man, who –due to his continuos thinking at his beloved one– eventually makes her appear before his eyes. Similarly, dharma –really existent, but not present before one's eyes– becomes eventually perceivable by those who meditate about it.
Possible reply: the love-sick knows his beloved one. One cannot visualise something one has never seen. In case this happens (for instance, one is love-sick of someone one has never met and imagines her), what one sees is only imagined and not corresponding to the real object.

The third case presupposes the idea that the graduation must somewhere get exhausted –and that it can only get exhausted because it has reached the maximal possible degree. Hence, (unlike in Federico's suggestion) the point is not that a graduation must get exhausted because there cannot be an infinite graduation –so that it must stop \emph{somewhere}. On the other hand, it has to reach its outmost degree. The idea is similar to the requirement of a primus movens or, I would argue, of the possibility that an indefinite progression towards moral perfection eventually ends up –so that one achieves the bodhi, the nirvāṇa, heaven, etc.
Possible reply: why should the fact that there is a graduation imply its exhaustion? And even more so, why its exhaustion only once its outmost level has been reached?

The specification of the third case is similar: the graduation in the sharpness of the sense faculties means that, for someone, dharma must end up being perceptible.

The fourth argument depends on Upaniṣadic statements to the effect that dharma has been seen by special maharṣis endowed with ascetical powers.
Possible reply: The argument is circular. The maharṣi could only be reliable in stating that they have seen dharma if one already believes in the fact that they have seen it.

Yogipratyakṣa and the risk of subjectivism

If one allows to every individual the possibility to directly see dharma, the Veda and all spiritual mediators (Brahmans, gurus, yogins, pūjārins, etc.) become useless. Moreover, one is left with no argument against subjectivism. Everyone could claim to have seen dharma (or apsaras, heaven, ufos, etc.). Furthermore, everyone could deny to the lay people to right to confute one’s visions. If, indeed, only the expert are eligible for judging their own claims, then, no control on the epistemological content of such claims is possible. (!)

The Indian tradition has already developed its antidotes against the risks inherent in yogipratyakṣa, insofar as it:

limits the scope of yogipratyakṣa to already acknowledged contents (e.g.: the Veda as we know it and not a new Sacred Text, or the Four Noble

Truths and not a new dogma can be seen).

limits the people eligible for yogipratyakṣa (only qualified yogins, in some cases only God himself (so the Nyāya).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Is there any alternative to stemmatics?

As shown in the two previous posts, stemmatics can be put in trouble by contamination, parallelism and by the difficulty in handling too many manuscripts (so that one needs a software for that, such as the cladistic ones, which, in turn, may be open to further criticisms). But what if one gets altogether rid of stemmatics?
1. One might just choose the best manuscript and edit it (copy-text method). How to choose the "best" manuscript? In order to avoid absolute subjectivism, one may choose the manuscript which is more significant within the history of the text it reproduces (e.g.: it has been used in order to teach it, is full of glosses, corrections, it has been frequently read…). The result is the edition not of the original work, but of the text as it is found embedded in a particular step of its tradition.
2. Srinivasan (see Maas 2009/10), in his 1967 edition of Vācaspatimiśra's Tattvakaumudī chose the readings to be included in the critically edited text according to a "genealogical principle": «When he finds that a reading can be taken as the genealogical starting point for changes that eventually lead to the extant variants, he adopts this reading –either an extant variant transmitted among the available witnesses, or an emendation or even a conjecture– as being the most original. The process is repeated for each and every variant of the whole text» (Maas). Obviously enough, however, there are many equivalent variants, where it is not easy to detect which one is genealogically older.


A major challenge to cladistics and, more in general, to all textual critical attempts, is contamination. This consists in cases such as the following: the copyist of manuscript B, while copying it from manuscript A, counter-checked manuscript C. Hence, B is a contaminated manuscript. Contamination may regard specific portion of the text, i.e. one checks manuscript C whenever A is hardly legible, lacks some folios, is not authoritative, and so on. In other cases, contamination may be a sort of collation: the copyist chooses the best reading among the availble ones (dual or plural).
It is easy to see that to reconstruct a stemma when one has many contaminated manuscripts is almost impossible. Moreover, contamination is not always easy to detect. There is also parallelism, that is, «the phenomenon that identical mistakes affect different lines of transmission independently and by chance» (Maas 2009-2010, quoted in yesterday's post).
What to do?
One may adopt the same kind of approach one uses in the problem of authenticity in visual arts. As well known, in order to decide who is the author of a picture, one does not look at its most salient traits, but rather at its marginal ones. At nails and not at eyes in portraits, for instance. In manuscripts, one might look not at the sūtras embedded in a commentary (which might be counter-checked in another text), but rather at variants in less significant sentences and of not so direct significance, but of textual critical relevance. For instance, let me quote a text I am presently critically editing, Rāmānujācārya's Tantrarahasya:

evaṃ ca parasparam ākāṅkṣāvaśāt phalavākyenetareṣām ekavākyatayā yugapad anvaye prasakte tatra prathamam āgneyādivākyeṣu kālasambandhapratīteḥ darśapūrṇamāsaśabdavācyatvasambhavād idam adhikāravākyenaikavākyaṃ bhavati.

Out of my (contaminated) witnesses, two (O and the younger P) read prathamādivākyeṣu instead of prathamam āgneyādivākyeṣu. This is clearly wrong and can, hence, hardly be the result of parallelism. It is, on the other hand, easy to imagine that one copied from the other a syntagm which, at first sight, is not patently wrong. Hence, the copyist did not feel the need to check a different manuscript. Hence, one might infer that –at least as far as this portion of the text– the copyist was basically copying O and counter-checked other witnesses only in more important cases.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cladistic, stemmatics and the role of humanities.

I recently read (and discussed with its author) Philipp Maas' Computer Aided Stemmatics –The Case of Fifty-Two Text Versions of Carakasaṃhitā Vimānasthāna 8.67-157 (to be published (to be published in WZKS 2009-2010). This paper is the first clear introduction to cladistic as applied to the problem of building a stemma I had the pleasure to read. It is (almost) exhaustive, precise, and also easy enough to be understood by an outsider.
Cladistic is a device developed within biology and the study of palaeontology. It links characters within a tree (called cladogram) and in this way traces today's extant individuals to their common ancestors. Cladistic analysis has been used in the last 20 years also to detect common ancestors (hyparchetyp) among the manuscripts of a lost original text.
Maas' article states at the outset one of the oddest problem of the use of cladistics:
«The question to deal with is whether the variants used by the computer program to establish the branching of the tree really reveal the genealogical relationship of manuscripts.»
In other words: how can we trust the computer to build a stemma based on variants whose different significance it does not know? WE know that a lacuna is much more important, as a conjunctive variant, than a typo. The computer does not!
Hence, explains Maas, a critical judgement of variants in inevitable:
«My approach here is similar to that of Salemans (2000) in so far as we both combine a cladistic analysis of variants with their philological judgement. An important difference is, however, that Salemans decides a priori which kinds of variants reveal relationships and only then analyzes the mechanically selected variants with cladistic software, whereas I start with a cladistic analysis of the complete set of variants and decide upon the quality of variants only a posteriori».
In sum, the Salemans-type editor (if I am understanding correctly Maas) decides not to feed the cladistic software with non significant variants (such as typos, phonetic variants, minor variants which can occur more than once in the history of the transmission…). On the other hand, Maas fills the software with almost all possible variants (he also excludes some minor graphic ones) and then emends the cladogram according to their value.
This is not a minor difference, insofar as Maas' approach gives at first (almost) full confidence to the software and only later modifies the output, whereas the Salemans-like editor directs the software towards what SHE decides to be the right interpretation.
Why does Maas include also minor variants? Because, he explains, «Mistakes that can be easily corrected do not reveal the genealogical relationship of manuscripts in their own right, If, however, these variants occur frequently within a genealogically closely related group of witnesses, they add credibility to the stemmatical hypothesis.» That is, even minor variants may have a role. One cannot exclude them all a priori, it cannot be a coincidence if, say, manuscripts A and B share a huge amount of these "minor" variants.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta

Why are Mīmāṃsā authors seemingly not at all interested in the topic of liberation (mokṣa)? The problem is closely linked with that of the relation between Vedānta and Mīmāṃsā (since the former primarily deals with the self, its status in liberation, its proposed identity with the brahman). Asko Parpola in two insightful studies proposed that the Mimamsasutra was originally a single work, only later segmented into Mīmāṃsāsūtra and Brahmasūtra. Until that point, it has been commented upon as a unitary work. Hence, the two schools later known as Pūrva Mīmāṃsā and Uttara Mīmāṃsā (i.e., Vedānta) derive their names from the two segments Pūrva-Mīmāṃsāsūtra and Uttara-Mīmāṃsāsūtra (where pūrva means prior and uttara subsequent).
Bronkhorst, in his long essay at the beginning of the Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta volume he edited in 2007 (and including the proceedings of the Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta panel in the 12th WSC), contends that this thesis (formerly upheld also by Jacobi) does not hold. In fact, if Mimamsa and Vedanta had ever been a single school, then one would expect (Pūrva)-Mīmāṃsākas to be keen to speculate also about Vedāntic subjects, such as ātman, brahman, mokṣa. Since this is not the case, Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta were never a single śāstra.
Bronkhorst employs many evidences and, in fact, the Brahmasūtra is overtly later than the Mīmāṃsāsūtra (hence, Parpola and others had to postulate that the actual Brahmasūtra is not identical with the Uttara-Mīmāṃsāsūtra, which makes their thesis cumbersome).
I wonder, however, whether the former "unity" of Vedanta and Mīmāṃsā should not rather be read as an alliance, just like in the case of Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika. Vedānta would accept all Mīmāṃsā tenets and Mīmāṃsā would refrain from considering proper Vedanta subjects. The two schools would form a unity insofar as they are complementary. Bronkhorst himself states that "Vedāntic Mīmāṃsā in a certain way recognises ritual Mīmāṃsā" (p. 25).
However, unluckily enough, Bronkhorst's learned essay does not deal with this option.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Stoicism in Mīmāṃsā?

Indian authors distinguish between fixed (nitya), occasional (naimittika) and optional (kāmya) sacrifices. The role of desire in the latter ones is obvious: one would not perform a sacrifice for rain, unless s/he desired rain. So, the agent of the vṛṣṭikāmeṣṭi is "one who is desirous of rain". On the other hand, the first and the second kind of sacrifices are usually described as mandatory, regardless of what one might or might not desire. The agnihotra, a typical example of the first kind, is to be performed daily throughout one's life. The jātakarman, an example of the second kind, is compulsory required at the birth of a son. The agent of these two kinds of sacrifice seems to operate independently of desire, just for the sake of obeying the Veda.

But, in fact, the Mīmāṃsā understanding of the agent of sacrifices is the same in all cases. Fixed rituals are to be performed throughout one's life because their agent is identified as "one who is desirous of heaven". And heaven (svarga), explains Śabara means "happiness", and everyone longs for happiness. So, the reason why the agnihotra is a fixed ritual is that the condition for performing it will never cease. One will desire happiness until her very last day, and that is why s/he is bound to perform it until her/his very last day.

But what about the case where a specific sacrificer is supplied, but no hint of a desire is left (e.g., in occasional rituals, with formulas like "the one whose son was just born should perform the ritual …")? In order to make sense of these cases, Rāmānujācārya (and other authors?) has to abandon his usual Mīmāṃsā 'down-to-earth' attitude. In TR IV §10.11 he answers that the very non-performance of a prescribed duty is, for cultivated people, something one has to desire to avoid: "In fact, dharma is also one of the human purposes (puruṣārtha)". In saying so, Rāmānujācārya interprets artha as goal and connects it automatically with one's natural desire.

More in general, since heaven is explicitly (see Matilal 1986) stated to be a soul’s condition and not a physical place, a “stoical” way out telling us that the fulfilment of one’s duty causes a man to be happy, is always possible.

Monday, March 1, 2010

How pedantic must be critical editions?

This is a review article of:
Cristina Pecchia, Transmission-specific (In)utility, or Dealing with Contamination: Samples from the Textual Tradition of the Carakasaṃhitā in: Text Genealogy, Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique, Jürgen Hanneder–Philipp A. Maas (eds.), WZKS 52-53 (2009-2010)

Which manuscripts have to be left out of one's critical edition? The question is unavoidable, since the editor's and the readers' life is too short for a critical edition to contain all possible witnesses. Scholars usually agree that many printed editions can be just left out, since they are just re-prints of older ones, or since they reproduce the text of an older edition plus some innovations (be they conjectures or involuntary errors). Why should this not apply to manuscripts?
Pecchia applies Timpanaro's eliminatio codicum inutilium (elimination of useless manuscripts) along with the elimination of derivative manuscripts. In fact, the latter are copies of a single manuscript, which is also extant. They can be, hence, obviously left out –unless the extant manuscript they copy is now in pretty bad conditions and they are needed to restore *its* text. But derivative manuscritps are hardly the case. Much more commonly, copies are derived out of more than one exemplar, through sporadical or systematic contamination. Some of these derivative and contaminated manuscritps can also be eliminated, suggests Pecchia, although prudently. Care has to be used because contaminated manuscritps may be witnesses of lost hyparchetypes. Moreover, derivation and contamination can be ascertained only in regard to a certain section of the text –the conclusions established in regard to a segment of it do not necessarily apply to the whole text. Furthermore, contamination may be sporadical or systematic, can regard readings (if the copist has constantly before her two or more copies and *collates* them, choosing what s/he thinks to be the best reading) or portions of the text (if an exemplar is damaged or thought to be less authoritative as regards a specific segment of the text). Finally, contamination can only be decided a posteriori, after the definition of a plausible stemma. And this needs to be done after a significant part of the text (better: the whole text) has been collated, if one wants to avoid distorsions. On the other hand, Pecchia insists on the necessity of this elimination, unless (it is implied, although not explicitly said) one wants one's critical edition to be nothing but a collection of curious variant readings.

Last, Pecchia's article is a well-written and well-documented introduction to many aspects of textual criticism, quoting basically from the Italian tradition (Pasquali, Timpanaro, Segre…) and from Paul Maas' Textkritik, but also answering to criticisms addressed to them by more recent scholars.

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