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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Artha" and "meaning"

All linguists have struggled with the problem of signification. What is meant by a word? An external object? A mental one?
All philosophers of language have struggled with Frege. Does he mean to say that the "meaning" (Bedeutung) is nothing but the entity meant through a word? Or does Bedeutung include also cases such as "Ulysses" for those who believe in his existence?
All Sanskrit scholars have struggled with the translation of artha. Is it the intra-linguistic "sense" of a word? Is it the external referent? Or an half-way "meaning"?
In his review of Eivind Kahrs' Indian Semantic Analysis, Peter Scharf seems quite sure that artha signifies a cognition:
This enduring mental cognition brought about by the utterance of the speech form is truly the object bearing the word-meaning relation to the speech form and may be translated […] by […] "meaning" (JAOS 2001:120).

Some lines before, he had explained that:
Cognition brought about by a speech form (verbal cognition śābdabodha) is of a certain type (ākāra) which generally corresponds to an object which exists independently of the cognizer but need not, for instance, in the case of words for imaginary objects.

Hence, artha is a sort of cognition (pratyaya), caused by a linguistic element and usally corresponding to an external object. The latter is also called artha, according to Scharf (if I am interpreting him correctly —if not, let me suggest that he could have expressed his point more clearly):
In these contexts meaning is denotation: the causing of cognition (buddhi, pratyaya) of an object (artha). The object is either an abstract generic property (jāti, ākṛti), an individual object (vyakti, dravya), or in certain limited contexts […] a shape (ākṛti).
What does "denotation" mean in this context? It might be a translation of Bedeutung, since Scharf concludes as referred to in the first quote. He then adds that the mental aspect of meaning is not something to be avoided or get rid off, since Indian authors did not even try to explain what is denoted by a word by refererring to external objects alone:
Since the Indian linguists were not hung up on behaviorism, they did not recognizing mental phenomena, were not preoccupied in defining meaning in purely extensional terms, and so did not share the confusion prevalent in contemporary Western philosophy of language […].

This seems to partially contradict J. Bronkhorst's claim that Indian authors did not differentiate between exernal reality and its linguistic expression. It also contradicts K. Potter's idea that Indian authors anticipated the "linguistic turn" of Analytic Philosophy. They rather —so Scharf— did not care to eliminate the mental aspect of language and, hence, did not focus on the link between this and "external reality". There is normally a link, but it is not part of the signification-relation.

Of course, Scharf would not deny that artha has also an ontological meaning (as in the list of padārthas) and an epistemological status (as that which is caused to be known, pratīta). Not to speak of its prescriptive aspect in Mīmāṃsā. How much interconnected are these aspects? Could not the linguistic artha be nothing but the epistemological one? And how "solid" is the ontological artha? The term padārtha still suggests a rather epistemological focus…

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