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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Addendum on reviews

After the two posts (see here and here) I dedicated to reviews, it came to my mind that I had recently read some quite frank reviews of books.
One of them is by Amod Lele and analyses the hidden claims in Donald S. Lopez, Jr.,'s Buddhism and Science. A Guide for the Perplexed. I would not subscribe to what seems to me the key claim of the review, that is, that —pace Lopez— Buddhism and Science are compatible and must be so. However, the review is well-argumented and, though not agressive, it is not timid. Here is the link to the review. Readers might be interested to have a look also at the comments to the post, since they highlight the risks implied in the hard work of writing "true" reviews.
The other frank review I recently read has been written by Jayarava and is about Vishvapani Blomfield's Gautama Buddha. I have suggested to the reviewer that some of his criticisms might be off-mark, since they regard the reviewer's interests and not the author's and the readers' ones. But, again, the review is honest, frankly put and accurate until the details.

Interestingly, both reviews have been published on blogs. Moreover, they have been published by authors who do not seem to aim at an academic position.
Does it mean that, once again, the Academia depends for its needs on external volunteers? In fact, reviews are not accessory to the quality of the scientific production. If I were Lopez or Blomfield, I would be grateful to my reviewer and would strive for further suggestions to improve my work (but I might a bit extreme in that…).

Here and here are the two posts on reviews. As for the general problem of the amount of external support the Reserach needs in order to survive, see here.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Where could "real" reviews be published?


Yesterday I have been discussing with a colleague about the need of "real" reviews, reviews which could influence in a positive way the studies in a certain discipline, because they would point out the actual flaws of a book or a project. Reviews are usually not written in this way since one does want to review in a positive way books written by people of one's "school", people one feels indebted with and people whose favour one wants to acquire (and vice versa). Could blind reviews be the solution? Perhaps, but why should one engage in writing them, if one could not even gain the glory of having them published with one's name on them?
Hence, my colleague suggested the following solution: an ad hoc journal, which should specialise in reviewing in a sincere way the most important books, so that one could anyway be proud of being reviewed in it. Since the journal would programmatically review honestly all sorts of author, the risk of vindicts should be lessened.
I would add that the beginning might be the most difficult point of the project. Perhaps it would be easier to have well-known scholars writing the first "harsh" reviews?

What do you think? Could it work?

On the topic of reviews, see here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

What is the purpose of reviews?


Since one of my methodological commandments is to "read more", I also wrote several book-reviews. Writing helps me think in a clearer way and encourages me in reading more.
However, I cannot overlook the fact that I have received many review-offers also because most of the well-known Sanskrit scholars are too busy to write just a simple review. Hence, their younger colleagues and students are asked to write on their behalf. Younger scholars, however, might tend to be more indulgent, since they might be afraid of attacking a senior colleague. Or, they might tend to be less indulgent with scholars belonging to a different "school" but not with the ones belonging to their own one.
This is human and might also have some positive effects. If only one first considers this preliminary question: What is the use of reviews?
In my opinion, reviews are written for the sake of readers and authors and one of the reasons why contemporary Indological studies are in need of improvement is that their weak points are not consistently pointed out by acute reviewers. I understand that one might not want to ruin one's academic career from the very beginning, but one can surely find a way to both avoid being too harsh and make one's point in a persuasive way.
If they just praise their objects, reviews may loose their social and ethical significance. Hence, I suggest that one should avoid personal criticisms and have as many interesting remarks as possible, so that the bare data could speak. In this way, reviews may also become interesting in their own right and not just a sub-genre.
Good luck with your reviews!

What strategies do you adopt?
As for my commandment of reading more, read here. As for my other methodological commandments, see here.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Exclusion as the meaning of a sentence

Buddhist Pramāṇavādins maintain that a word, such as "cow" does not denote an external referent, but the exclusion of whatever is not a non-cow. But can this thesis also explain how are sentence-meanings conveyed? Kumārila claims that they can, because exclusion, if applied to sentence-meanings, contradicts one of the very basic tenets of the Buddhist thought, i.e., instantaneity.
Discussing the sentence "the cow is white", Kumārila writes (ŚV vākyādhikaraṇa 20cd-21ab):
If the notion of a cow would continue to exist at the moment of the arousal of the notion of white |
then, it would be excluded from the other [notions] or joined with this (notion of "white") [but it cannot continue to exist, due to momentariness] ||
(yadi dhriyeta gobuddhiḥ śuklabuddhijanikṣaṇe || 20 || tato 'nyābhyo nivarteta saṃsṛjeta tathānayā |)

Pārthasārathi Miśra's commentary is even clearer:
In the sentence "the cow is white" the notion born out of the word "cow" extends to all cows, white, black, etc. If the arousal of the notion "white", produced by the word white would last long enough, then it could be connected to the notion "cow" and it could be excluded from the other notions of the individual black etc. But it does not last, because it is instantaneous.
(gauḥ śuklaḥ ity atra gośabdajanitā buddhiḥ sarvagavīṣu śuklakṛṣṇādiṣu prasṛtā yadi śuklaśabdajanitaśuklabuddhijananaṃ yāvad dhriyeta tatas tayā saṃsṛjyeta anyābhyo vā kṛṣṇādivyaktibuddhibhyo vyavacchidyeta na tu sā dhriyate kṣaṇikatvād iti.)

In other words, apoha might work for single words, but in the case of a sentence, one should imagine that "the cow is white" means the exclusion of whatever non-non-cow is not non-white. But how can the notion of a non non-cow last long enough to exclude whatever is not non-white?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Struggling with one's preliminary understanding

One of the dilemmas of every philosophical paper is that it has to presuppose a general understanding of the terms it wants to investigate upon. This preliminary understanding is the conditio sine qua non that enables one's investigation but at the same time it hampers it because it is pre-critical and because its users might not be aware of its philosophical burden. So, one might want to describe the phenomenological approach to the ethical aspect of the sacrificer in Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā and provisionally call the latter a "soul". In this way, each reader will project onto it lots of other thoughts (of Jewish or Christian origin, of Aristotelian or Cartesian influence…) and reify into an ontological category what was meant to be an ethical one. Even more risky is the fact that s/he will do it without being aware of it, just because of the intrinsic power of the word one has chosen.

However, one cannot define each word if not through other words. Hence, one will never be able to speak a natural language whose terms are not at all carrying the burden of their history. What to do? First, I suggest, one should be aware of the history of the terms one is using, in order not to be mislead in the same way as the naive reader described above. Second, one might choose to add a word of caution for the readers in case of particularly significant terms. The following is what I would say in the case of the Prābhākara "soul":

In the present case, terms such as “subject” will be defined in a closer way in due course and it will be eventually shown that the Prābhākara understanding of them might at times be strikingly different than the one common in contemporary Western thought. For the time being, suffice it to say that “subject” and any other term referring to it (such as “psychic”) are used just for lack of any better option and that they are to be intended in a very neutral sense, as referring to the “agent” (once again, an ambiguous term) of actions, acts of will and acts of cognition.

What do you do in your philosophical translation and essays?

On the importance of an historical approach, see here. On the Prābhākara concept of "subject", see here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

In an ideal world

In an ideal world, the State would finance public education and research,
which means that everyone would finance, by paying taxes, public education and research.
In an ideal world, even the ones who will never attend a class,
even the ones whose children will work as farmers and will never go to university,
would be happy to finance public education and research,
because they would know that one day they might need a doctor —and that they would be glad they paid her perfect training—
because they know that their children will need a qualified teacher everyday,
because they know that more often than not educated people are also likely to be better politicians, administrators, citizens.
To sum up, in an ideal world everyone would be happy to pay taxes for financing public education and research, since even other people's education and research would enhance one's own well-being.

But,
since the State (every State, it seems, more or less) wants to save money, especially as for public education and research
and since people rather seem to wish to pay less taxes,
should not WE be responsible for public education and research? If WE do not engage in the front line, do not we risk to end up with private (and expensive —check the comments here) universities on the one hand and nothing at all on the other?

If you think I am right, please consider donating here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How does an order act over us?

Do orders convey the idea that "it is good to do X"? Or do they radically differ from descriptive sentences such as the above one? In Indian philosophy, Maṇḍana proposed the former and the other Mīmāṃsā authors the latter. They maintained that an order conveys two things, on the one hand the action and on the other the order to perform it. But Prābhākara thinkers claimed that two contents would be two much to be conveyed by the only element which is distinctive in an exhortative sentence, i.e., the verbal ending. Hence they believed that only the order to perform is conveyed.
In his Nyāyamañjarī, Jayanta discusses various Prābhākara views about the way orders function. According to the first group, the prescription (i.e., order) itself has to be performed. There is hence no need for something else (namely, the action) to be conveyed by the same verbal ending. The order requires an object to be performed, but that object is the order itself. Hence, if I am not wrong. "cook!" would only require the execution of the order. That the order regards the action of cooking is something one understands out of one's background and contextual knowledge. The idea of a single level works nicely for sentences which only have a linguistic dimension, such as "I baptize you…":

Also in its (the prescription's) regard, there are two different opinions. Some admit that language consists of impulsion. Only the prescription has to be performed, because it is understood in this way through the verbal endings of optative etc., because no other duty is understood, and because of the extreme feebleness of the thesis according to which the duty is the sheer meaning of the verbal theme.
Hence, [the prescription] has to be done.

The mainstream Prābhākaras, on the other hand, claim that the prescription is understood by each of its listeners as something to be done. And this "to be done" cannot but consist in an action:
Others, by contrast, resort (saṃśrī-) [to the view] that the [injunction] induces [people] to undertake actions, since the injunction (niyoga) is apprehended (pratī-) as something to be done. The duty, once understood, enjoins [each] person to its own realisation. In fact, once he has understood "this has to be done by me", a person undertakes an action for the sake of its realisation.

For further references to posts dedicated to Jayanta and to his linguistic theories, see here. On duty in Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā, see here and here. On how Sacred texts can convey their orders according to the Prābhākaras, see here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Naming authorities and relative chronology

One of my long-term projects (about which, see here) is the study of the re-usal of previous textual materials in Indian philosophical texts. And one of the striking aspects of the usage of quotations is that their authors are hardly ever identified. After a certain point, it seems to go against a common etiquette to name one's teachers other than with honorific titles. Teachers of one's own or other schools are identified through their works (i.e. vārttikakāra, sūtrakāra), through titles (ācārya) or through indefinite expressions (kecit, apare, anye…).
Consider now the following argument referring to the early history of Sanskrit culture. It seems to imply that the shift from names to indefinite references corresponded to the shift from a living tradition of teachers one was acquainted with to the textual tradition of codified works. Then, it might have become part of the etiquette.

Among the arguments adduced to prove the antiquity of the Śrautasūtras of Baudhāyana and Lāṭyāyana has been a peculiarity which they have in common with the brāhmaṇas, viz. the practice of mentioning —as authoritative or as rejectable— the statements made and the rites or customs observed by individual teachers and in doing so the tendency to distinguish these authorities by their names. The later sūtrakāras as a rule abandone this practice: they usually referred to existing 'literature' or other authorities without mentioning their names. Instead, they preferred the anonymous "some" (eke). (Gonda, The Ritual Sūtras, 1977: 483).

In a footnote to the last statement, Gonda adds that the Lāṭyāyana Śrautasūtra "refers ca. 470 times to ācāryāḥ or eke".

Quotations and re-usal of previous textual materials are one of my favourite subjects. On why we need to study them, see here. On how to mark quotations, see here. On the typology of reusal, see here. On the differences between "Indian" and "Western" culture of quotations, see here. On quotations and originality, see here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

What does "externalism" mean?

Sanskritists and Indologists have not yet developed an unambiguous philosophical terminology and are often unaware of technical usages common in (Western) philosophy. One is of course free to call things as one wishes, but this lack of a common terminology tends to strengthen the tendency (already strong enough) of not including Indian thought within Philosophy. Philosophers would, I believe, feel more compelled to admit, e.g., Prabhākara's theories within a textbook on sense-perception if only Sanskrit scholars would show the significance of his theory of sense-perception in terms acceptable and understandable by Western readers. This is what has happened with Chinese theories of "virtue ethics".

A similar risk has been recently outlined in the Preface to the issue of the Journal of Indian Philosophy dedicated to the proceedings of the Philosophy Section of the 14th World Sanskrit Conference and written by Shoryu Katsura Mark Siderits and Kiyotaka Yoshimizu (available on-line, DOI 10.1007/s10781-011-9131-2). The usage of "externalism" for the Pratyabhijñā belief in the existence of an external object (bāhyavāda) leads to mutual misunderstandings and to the insulation of Indian philosophy —suggest the authors.

What can be done? Writing books which deal with Indian philosophy but within a sound philosophical background and sharing a common terminology with their sister Western disciplines.
What do readers think? Should one forget about the dialogue and just care about using terms which can be understood by our fellow Sanskritists or by philosophers who are well aware of the Indian scenario?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

There cannot be any unitary sentence-meaning

Within the section on the sentence-meaning of his Nyāyamañjarī (NM 5, Mysore pp. 69-onwards), Jayanta lets an opponent of sentence-holism speak. He denies the existence of a sentence-referent in the external world AND in one's cognition of it.

About that (i.e., the sentence meaning), some, to begin with, say: A sentence meaning which is ultimately real does not exist externally. It would be either separated from the word-meanings or unseparated from them. It is not separated, because no difference is seized (between the word-meanings and the sentence-meaning, which only seems to be a collection of them). In the group of words ``Bring the white cow!" the sentence meaning is only the meaning of a word denoting a quality, one denoting a substance and one denoting an action, either [taken] together or one by one. Not one by one, because the sentence meaning is not understood in this way.

There is no togetherness of them. For this would exist either ontologically or cognitively. No togetherness of the endless group of words can exist ontologically. Hence, no sentence-meaning determined by [the words featuring in a specific sentence] could be understood. Cognitively, by contrast, the togetherness is not possible (ghaṭ-), because at the time of the cognition of one word-meaning it is impossible to cognize another word-meaning, since cognitions do not [occur] at the same time.
And the phonemes are the tools for the apprehension of the word-meaning. [And] they also do not occur at the same time. How could the togetherness be made within a cognition?

atraike tāvad āhuḥ | vākyārtho nāma pāramārthiko bahir nāsty eva | sa hi padārthebhyo vyatirikto vā syād avyatirikto vā | na vyatiriktaḥ bhedānupalambhāt | gauḥ śuklā ānīyatām ity atra padagrāme jātiguṇakriyādipadārtha eva vākyārthaḥ pratyekaṃ vā syāt sāmastyena vā | na pratyekaṃ tathānavagamān na hi gaur iti padārtha eva vākyārtho bhavati |

sāmastyaṃ tu na teṣām asti tad dhi sattayā bhavet pratītyā vā | sattayā na sāmastyam aśeṣapadārtharāśer astīti na niyataḥ kaścana vākyārtho ’vadhāryate | pratītyā tu sāmastyam aghaṭamānam ayugapadbhāvitvena jñānānām ekapadārthapratītisamaye padārthāntarapratītyasambhavāt | padārthapratītiypāyāś ca varṇās te ’pi na yugapadbhāvinaḥ kutaḥ pratītikṛtaṃ sāmsastyam |


I am not completely sure I understood his point as far as the impossibility of the ontological existence of a group of words together. The author quoted by Jayanta seems to imply that we cannot imagine that each group of words has a separate ontological existence, since there if we were to admit the ontological existence of a group of words together, this should include all possible words, and one could, hence, no longer be able to determine the meaning corresponding to the sentence one is examining. But why could not separate sentence-meaning ontologically exist? It is surely anti-economical to imagine a world made of such complex objects, but I cannot understand why the option is not even discussed.
Do readers see better than I do?

On Jayanta, see this post. On the ontological status of word-meanings, see here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Methodology of critical editions

An anonymous, yet intriguing reader made me reflect in general about the methodology of critical editions. Let me first point out that I am not an expert and that this post mainly aims at raising a discussion (or at least some thoughts in its readers).

The first point is, in my opinion, having clear the purpose of what one is doing. Does one want to reconstruct the author's text? The one commented upon by its main commentator? The one copied by a well-known intellectual?… The question amounts to a basic dichomoty:
  • 1. Reconstruction of the Ur-text (with Urtext understood lato sensu, as every possible stage of the text, provided that it is linked to a precise person, time and place).
  • 2. Reconstruction of the Tradition.

In the second case, it will make sense to list as many variants as possible, virtually also all variants. They will help one to throw light on, e.g., the fortune of the text, the kind of copysts who copied it, their geographical and social origin, etc.
In the first case, by contrast, I would suggest not to list variants which do not make sense and/or which are due to obvious misreadings.
For instance, in the first case I would not list variants such as sakti instead of śakti, kamma instead of karma, or even na instead of sa if the context is clear and they are very similar in the manuscript. In the second case, it would be interesting to note that the text had been copied in a region where palatal ś were pronounced as s, by copysts who were not extremely accurate in reproducing consonant clusters and possibly in a telegu (or similar) script.

If, as often the case, one wants to do both, one runs the risk of producing a critical apparatus so full of variants, that it will be neglected altogether by readers, etc. Hence, I would add a couple of additional suggestions:
—If the text has never been published before, I would avoid producing an unreadable edition, i.e., one in which there is only one (or 2, 3, 4) line(s) per page and the rest of the page is occupied by variants.
—Many, possibly most, insignificant variants could be included in the manuscript's description. One could explain there that the copyst of X tends to duplicate t-s or tends to confuse voiced and unvoiced stops, etc.
—If the number of insignificant variants is enormous, but the manuscript(s) one is working on is very important for the reconstruction of, e.g., the cultural history of a certain area, one could consider producing a separate diplomatic edition.
—I would always produce a translation of the text I have edited, so that readers can better see the rationale of my editiorial choices.
As for conjectural emendations, as already explained, I tend to think that the received text is "innocent until proven guilty". I would not emend it if it makes sense as it is and would anyway emend it as little as possible. Obviously enough, the degree of emendations strictly depends on the kind of manuscripts one is working with. But also on the purpose one has (virtually no conjectures, if one wants to reconstruct the tradition over the text).

If you want to read the post which lead to this one, with the interesting comments of an anonymouys reader, click here.

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…

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Conjectural emendation

This link leads to the fascinating review by T. Lubin) of D. Goodall's edition of the Parākhya Tantra. The review discusses most notably Goodall's use of conjectural emendations. This is a hot topic, since finding a balance in emendations means struggling to find a balance between not violating the text and saving its meaning.

What do readers do and think?

For further thoughts on the methodology of critical editions, see this post.

Monday, May 9, 2011

What is the use of studying history?

When I was eleven, our teacher initiated an interesting discussion in our class, that is, "Why do we study history?". Many answered that we study it out of curiosity alone, but the teacher was only satisfied when someone suggested that "we study history in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes". A few years later, when I was sixteen, another teacher (finally) explained us that the idea that history could be a "teacher of life" (historia magistra vitae) just does not work. Mistakes present themselves each time in a different form and there is no way one can learn from the past how to avoid future ones.
However, history is not (in my opinion) just an interesting part of fiction. Knowing the past of mankind makes one aware of its depth. One becomes, through that, less sensitive to naive sensationalism. One knows that it does not make sense to claim that "X is the first… ever", that "Y is the best … ever", or that "Z is the worst possible…" because we only know a small fraction of hundreds of thousands of years of history. In other words, one acquires through the study of history, a mild skepticism towards every form of foundamentalism. One knows that there will never be a "final war against…" but that one can be convinced to take action against evils also without such a misleading sensationalism. At the same time, learning to look at the depth of the past makes one more aware of what takes more than one lifetime to happen. One is, for instance, more likely to be scared by the disappearance of rain-forests (although there will be enough Amazonia to visit until the end of one's life), by the decrease of the global amount of drinkable water, by the increase of desert areas all over the earth.
To sum up, one becomes at the same time less aware of every day's alleged "tragedies" or "events" and more aware of long-term real events.

Does this happen also to those among the readers who have been studying history? Also to the ones who studied it in the US or UK, where the approach seems (to me) to be rather thematic and less focused on the whole sum of millennia?

On the importance of history, see this post (on local and global history) and this one (on history as methodology). For the omnipervasive presence of history, see this post.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

How to fix the meaning of a technical term, whose prehistory is unknown?

Ritual terminology has been fundamental in influencing the later development of philosophical terms in India. Several ritual terms have a textual origin (e.g., tantra 'warp', tati, from the root tan-, `to expand') and most of them are transparent (i.e., they can be analysed as derived from a certain root and a certain suffix). However, one has often the problem that such analyses are later than the terms themselves. Moreover, all these terms have frequently a pre-history we are not aware of, which might have influenced their historical meaning in an unpredictable way. Consider the case of tati and the following explanation in Gonda 1977, 510:
[…] pūrvā tatiḥ and uttarā tatiḥ "the antecedent and the subsequent series of ceremonies". The standard (ritual) is pūrva tatiḥ, and what one arranges (modifies) is uttarā tatiḥ; (for instance,) the establishment of the ritual fires is pūrvā tatiḥ, the re-establishment uttarā tatiḥ; of the vegetarian sacrifices (iṣṭi) the full and new moon sacrifices are the pūrvā tatiḥ, all the optional rites (kāmyā iṣṭayaḥ) the uttarā tatiḥ.
This seems to frame the uttara tati/pūrva tati distinction within the prakṛti/vikṛti one.

Further posts on Ritual Sūtras and on their world view: this one on the spatial arrangement of sacrifices; this one on tantra.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Which sources for Indian philosophy?

In our investigations of Indian philosophy, we can count on four kinds of sources:
  1. 1. Indian philosophical texts: this is the soundest and most direct way. However, life is short and the texts to be read are many. Hence, what shoud one read? And what should one start with? If one only counts on what one knows, one ends up overestimating the importance of the authors one happened to read first…
  2. 2. Indian doxographies: these are still insider sources and can give us a good sense of what was going on in the Indian philosophical debate. However, their authors had an own agenda (for instance, showing the superiority of Advaita Vedānta) and did not necessarily aim at an "objective" depiction of their opponents' views.
  3. 3. "Western" textbooks: these are outsiders, both from the temporal and the cultural point of view, even if they have been written by Indian philosophers, such as S. Radhakrishnan and M. Hiriyanna. According to the case, they might be very useful, but conditioned by their authors' agenda (e.g., Radhakrishnan) or by their being outsiders.
  4. 4. Debates represented in the Indian philosophical texts themselves: these can give us a lively picture of what was really important in the Indian philosophical stage, but some authors might be very inaccurate in reproducing their opponents' views, hence, choosing the right source is still a key-issue.

In my experience, I would highly recommend the study of Jayanta Bhaṭṭa's philosophical masterpiece, the Nyāyamañjarī. I will dedicate to its linguistic chapters some future posts.

Jayanta is one of my favourite authors and I posted a lot about him. You might wish to see this post (fortune of the NM), this one (exhortative function of language as explained in the NM), this one (another work by Jayanta), this one (Indian linguistics in the NM) and this one (on cognition and action).

Friday, May 6, 2011

Identifying opponents

If you work on philosophical texts in Sanskrit, you will constantly have to face the problem of how to distinguish between opponents and upholders of views shared by the author. Often we can count on elements such as "it must be said" (ucyate), marking the beginning of a reply to a view one does not share, or nanu, iti cet, identifying opponents.
But what if they are all lacking? For the time being, I have not been able to identify any hierarchy between the pronouns used to introduce discussants, such as kecit, apare, anye. Today, thanks to a friend (M.Ferrante), I could read a page of Ashok Aklujkar's unpublished dissertation The Philosophy of Bharatṛhari's Trikāṇdī (Cambridge, Mass.,1970), where Aklujar writes that in Bhartṛhari (§0.7):

In the statements of those views which he can be said to accept on some level or another, either fully or in part, the word apara "someone else" is of common occurrence. It seems to have the same connotation for him which the word para has for Nāgeśa. As Helārāja [in his commentary to Bhartṛhari] puts it "The word apara is a reference to scholars who hold the same view". On the other hand, the view stated with kecit, kaiścit, or keṣāñcit "certain persons," more often than not, turn out to be either unacceptable to Bhartṛhari or acceptable only with qualifications, as Helārāja often observes.
Aklujkar himself says that this is an "interesting peculiarity" of Bhartṛhari, and adds some caution:

In this connection, I must emphasize that I have not been able to find out the exact conditions under which apara and kim+cit posses the described connotations, and that I do not ascribe a view to Bhartṛhari merely because the word apara figures in its statements. I also wish to draw attention to the fact that the other two words, eka "one" and anya "another," which Bhartṛhari uses in starting various views do not seem to possess any comparable connotations.


Did readers notice similar hierarchical patterns in Indian authors?

On Sanskrit syntax and objections, see here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Where is the boundary between Brāhmaṇas and Śrauta Sūtras?

While reading the Vedic Saṃhitās, the Brāhmaṇas and the Śrauta Sūtras, I (probably not alone) have the feeling of shifting from one genre to the other, from one way of thinking to the other, with hardly any connection, apart from that of the common topic, i.e., ritual.
The shift could be explained historically, but I am inclined to suspect of our tendency to organize differences along a chronological grid. I would prefer to adopt along with it also a genre-distinction. It is possible that the genres evolved one after the other, so that their beginning is chronologically identifiable, although texts belonging to all genres have then been composed at the same time.
Can one still detect the transition from one genre to the other? Consider the following quote from Jan Gonda, The ritual sūtras, 1977: 515-6:
Especially the last chapters (praśna) of the [Baudhāyana] Śrautasūtra […] are something between a brāhmaṇa and a sūtra because the motivation of the prescripts is so often added. Among the explanations are many myths, part of them unknown from other sources. […] It is in perfect harmony with the character of this work that its author has not aimed at the well-known brevity and conciseness of the sūtra style. On the contrary, cases of repetition (also of longer passages), prolixity and diffuseness are far from rare. The several rites are dealt with independently. Verbs are often repeated, implications avoided; the phrases are as a rule long and the syntax is free.
Another remarkable feature is the structure of the work […]. Whereas the different opinions of other authorities are in the other sūtras subjoined to the several views of the author and consequently dispersed over the text the compiler of the Baudhāyana-Sūtra has brought all this controversial matter together in the four chapters XX-XXIII, the so-called dvaidha-sūtra ("on variant or different opinions").
I think that this specific place for all controversial topics may derive from the Brāhmaṇa structure, where controversies where altogether absent, influenced by the dialectical style of the Kalpa Sūtras, which demands that one deals with controversial points. In fact, Gonda himself follows (p.516):

After this part of the book there follows, closely connected with the dvaidhasūtra, the so-called karmāntasūtra (XXIV-XXVI) which countains pariśiṣṭas (i.e. paraliomena, topics that were not sufficiently explained in the preceding chapters). Caland had good reasons for supposing that the dvaidha- as well as the karmāntasūtra are additions of material that, through dating back to the same period as the main text, was drawn up somewhat later, perhaps by a pupil.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What does "South Asian Studies" mean?

Is "South Asian studies" only the politically correct version of what was previously known as "Indology", i.e., the study of Classical India?
One might think so, if one considers the names of several journals (such as the WZKS, literally "Vienna's Journal for the knowledge of South", or the Italian RiSS), research groups, etc. At most, the geographic label makes it possible to accept also contemporary studies about South Asia. But this is only true in contexts where Classical India is still the prevalent paradigm.
In the US, by contrast, the stress of the last decades on "Areal Studies" means that "South Asian studies" tends to mean just "the study of whatever counts and happenS in South Asia". You can see some evidence in favour of this view in the comments to this post, and I have now a further point to discuss.
As already mentioned, I just come back from Moscow, where I took part to a workshop called "Open Pages in South Asian Studies". In harmony with the first meaning of "South Asian studies" discussed above, there were several participants dealing just with Classical India, who all delivered their speeches in the first day. The second day was meant to be dedicated to Contemporary South Asia. Interestingly, speakers of the first group (including myself), expected a prosecution of the first day's trends, with papers dealing with Philosophy, Religion, History of Art, Linguistics, etc. This has been the case as regards Prof. Alexandra Safronova's speech on Theravāda Buddhism in Śrī Laṅkā. After that, we heard very interesting papers focusing on sociological and political topics, with no link at all with the cultural heritage of India (now meant in a cultural and not geographical sense).
Speakers of the first group enjoyed them, but I wonder whether the interest is bi-directional or not. Are scholars of (contemporary) South Asian studies interested in the background of what they study? Or do they prefer to read more about their topics (sociology, anthropology, politics, economics…)?

On this topic, see this post.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Castes and age-sex groups


What is at the origin of the varṇa system? Can we learn something about it through Indo-European comparisons? And how was the Indo-European society organised? How can we know something about the anthropological aspect of a lost society? Is it legitimate to use for this sake indirect reflexes in its successors? Or are not we always selecting the aspects we want to focus on?

I just came back from Moscow, where I took part to the interesting workshop "Open Pages in South Asian studies", hosted by the newly funded Centre for South Asian Studies of the University for Humanities and especially by Prof. Aleksandr Aleksandrovič Stoljarov (alias Alexander Stolyarov).
One of the papers, by Sergej Kullanda, focused on Aryan Prehistory and the Culture of Hindustan. The latter term might be misleading, but Kullanda used it in a merely geographical way, and his purpose was to reconstruct something about Indo-Iranians through their Indo-European background and viceversa. Kullanda has then been kind enough to give me an article of him (Kullanda 2002) about the so-called kinship terms (such as the antecedents of "mother", "father", "brother", "daughter") in Proto-Indo European (PIE). His main point, in both the speech and the article is that we can imagine a PIE society as organized according to age-sex groups instead of genealogical groups and/or castes. Consequently terms erroneously interpreted as expressing kinship are, instead, to be interpreted as referring to age-sex groups, with the terms later identified with the meaning "mother" originally referring to a mature woman, etc.
Accordingly, Kullanda imagines the PIE distinguishing between young/mature and women/men.
Within the Indian world, varṇas could also, Kullanda continues, be interpreted as age-sex groups, with warriors corresponding to the youngest ones, vaiśyas to mature people and Brahmans to senior ones. There is a widespread consensus that varṇas were not originally fix and inherited in Vedic times. Kullanda's hypothesis, however, changes the viewpoint insofar as it links it to age, instaead as linking it to professional skills.
Kullanda did not make the following point explicit, but in order for the society to survive, the "mature" age should last much longer than the other two, for vaiśyas are much more needed than warriors, at least in peace time.
Herodotus records a Scythian story saying that the first son of the Scythian progenitor became a priest, the second an agriculture and the third (i.e., the youngest) a warrior. Dumézil also states that the second part of life is linked to the middle class and the latter with the priestly class. But, apart from IE parallels, Kullanda has some internal (i.e., Vedic) evidence in favour of his theory, insofar as Indra and the Maruts seem to be the prototypical warriors, and they are said to be "young". Further, a passage of the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa links, according to Kullanda, the first part of life with Indra, the second with Savitṛ and the third with Varuṇa. I am not completely convinced by this point, since the context is the ritual usage for some plates (kalāpa) and the passage says that with the first one the sacrificer acquires a first lot of life and so on, while at the same time linking them to the Deities mentioned above. Hence, the link between Deities and parts of life is indirect. This does not necessarily means that Kullanda is wrong, since his 2002 article makes clear that the age-sex organisation is very ancient between IE population. Hence, no wonder if only relics of it are present in the much later texts we know of.

Of course, one might object that many Deities in many contexts are said to be young and that being a warrior necessarily entails being strong (and, hence, not old)… The fact of seeing youth as a value seems to be very much present among various traditions and is by no means a IE specificity. Consequently, the present writer would suggest to Kullanda to add to his evidences a table of absences: which Deities are never qualified as "young"? Are they linked to the vaiśyas or to the Brahmans?


On PIE, see this post. Image: a later image of a Marut from Cambodge (musée Guimet, Paris).

Monday, May 2, 2011

Is there an alternative to state-funded research?


Entrepreneurial work is less likely to be possible in the case of humanities and philosophy. Still, apart from earnings, it is challenging to work and/or compete outside one's confort zone (which is likely to be the Academia). Since private citizens are often happy to read and visit exhibitions and are often unhappy with just their jobs and careers, would it be possible to make private-funded research possible also in these fields?

On this topic, see also this post.
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