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Friday, January 6, 2012

World Sanskrit Conference — 2 (meaning in apoha)

During the second day of the WSC, the philosophy panel has been paused and I had hence time to explore other panels. But before that, I had the pleasure to listen to the brilliant paper by Patrick McAllister. McAllister discusses whether, within the theory of apoha, we should understand śabdārtha as word-meaning, word-object or word-referent. McAllister proceeded in a critical and sound way (imo), since he started his investigation by discussing meaning, object and referent within Western philosophy of language, highlighting how translators must be aware of the terms they use, in order to avoid confusion. I could add that confusion already risks to rule this field of study, due to Frege's choice of calling the external object Bedeutung, lit. meaning. His English translators dissented with this provocative choice and used instead reference (or referent) to translate Frege's Bedeutung. At this point "meaning" was free again and it has been used to translate the other side of Frege's opposition, i.e., Sinn (which might be better translated as sense). In this way, Quine's "meaning" is not tantamount to Frege's Bedeutung, but rather to Frege's Sinn.

Accepting meaning in this second way, can apoha be said to refer to a meaning? No, maintains McAllister, since the śabdārtha in the apoha theory is just the referent. What about synonymity, then? One might in fact remember that Frege introduced Sinn in order to explain why "The morning star is the evening star" is more informative than "The morning star is the morning star". But synonymity can be explained by Dharmakīrti through the comparison with the case of two people affected by an eye-disease (timira), who thus both see a double moon. One tells the other about the double moon and the second understands and thinks he is now grasping the same double moon conveyed by the first one, although in fact they understand each other only because, by chance, they share the same mistake, but not because of a special characteristic of meaning (understood as a mental entity). The moon remains only the external one (and it is one only), there is no mental (double) moon words refer to.

Why do we hence tend to understand each other? Because our karman make us share the same mistakes? The answer was that we share similar kleśas, tastes, etc. and hence also "our" jñānasantānas share similar cognitions.

Delenda Carthago: Reading has really no excuses, especially monotonous reading. If one feels unsure, s/he should practice as long as she can know the paper by heart. Everything is better than this terrible habit of reading for oneself.

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