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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mīmāṃsā standpoint on the validity of Sacred Texts

Indian thought knows basically two ways to justify the validity of the Sacred Texts: the Nyāya and the Mīmāṃsā one.

In synthesis, Mīmāṃsā authors argue in favour of the validity of the Veda due to the fact that it is the only instrument of knowledge through which one can know dharma. Mīmāṃsakas divide in fact what can be known into two precincts, on the one hand common experience, which encompasses what can be known through sense-perception and the other instruments of knowledge (inference, analogy and cogent evidence, to which Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā authors only add absence), which ultimately depend on perceptual data. On the other hand there is dharma, which cannot be known through sense-perception and for which, therefore, the Veda is the only instrument of knowledge. Mīmāṃsā authors also claim that all cognitions, qua cognitions, are in themselves valid, unless and until a subsequent cognition invalidates them. However, since the Veda cannot be invalidated by data of different origin, given that it is the only instrument of knowledge regarding dharma, it remains valid.
Consequently, Mīmāṃsā authors need to demonstrate that dharma is really unattainable by other instruments of knowledge.
Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā authors say that the dharma cannot be known through other instruments of knowledge because it is future and sense-perception only grasps present items (see ŚV codanā 115, translated in Kataoka 2011). The Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā solution is that the dharma is trikālānavacchinna 'not delimited by the three times'. This means that the dharma does not belong to the usual temporality, which is the characteristic of common experience. It rather belongs to a different dimension, that of what has to be done, which cannot be seized by the usual instruments of knowledge, which only grasp what is present, or grasped what was present and is now past, or will grasp what will be present.
Did Prābhākaras 'anticipate' modal logic?

On the distinction of precincts of application, so that perception cannot seize dharma, see this post.


Dominik Wujastyk said...

If the Veda is, for mīmāṃsakas, "the only instrument of knowledge through which one can know dharma," how can one know that one does indeed know dharma correctly, and not have wrong knowledge of it? Isn't there a problem of infinite recursion here?

elisa freschi said...

Thank you, Dominik, well-put.
Basically, the point is:
1. Naiyāyikas: you know that X is an instrument of knowledge because you can verify its results through another instrument of knowledge.
2. Mīmāṃsakas: knowledge is in itself valid, unless and until a contradicting evidence arises (e.g., one wakes up and realises "it was only a dream''). Therefore, once one has established that the Veda is not a faulty cause (like, instead, the Buddhavacana), its pristine validity remains uncontradicted.
In short: one could accuse the Mīmāṃsakas' Veda to be valid only "be default". But I do not think there is any infinite recursion here (by the way, thanks for the nice translation of regressus ad infinitum).

अश्वमित्रः said...

If one perceives, with the senses, an act of killing, and then perceives, with the senses, the consequences of that act, and then thinks, with the mind (a sense), that in order to avoid these consequences one should not kill, then hasn't this dharma been reached through sense perception? I realize that this will not be the Mimamsaka position, but since I don't know that literature, I'm just curious to know how they dealt with this obvious objection.

अश्वमित्रः said...

"Therefore, once one has established that the Veda is not a faulty cause (like, instead, the Buddhavacana)"

Oh, then I guess we're just dealing with fanatics, and all this talk of logic is just a decoy.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks aśvamitra, the point about moral being sense-perceptible is interesting. I must write a post about it, since the answer would be too long. Let me just anticipate that the judgement "I should avoid these consequences" is a statement of value, one which *presupposes* an ethical viewpoint rather than establishing it.

अश्वमित्रः said...

I'm glad my comment was stimulating and not too naive. I have a little Gita at work which I read every day at intervals, and I have been noticing, since this discussion began, how both faith and rationality are given as bases for religious practice. I am curious to understand how a judgement is not "sensory" when the mind is a sense with the same status as the other five: judgement is the mind's function, as seeing is the function of the eye, smelling the function of the nose, and so on: is it not so? Perhaps the view I am naively advancing here is found in Buddhist and other non-Mimamsaka texts. It sounds like Mimamsa is fanatical, that is, unapologetically basing itself on an unquestioned authority and merely using logic to support that authority as far as logic can go.

elisa freschi said...

What you are talking about is buddhi, not manas. As far as I know (please correct me if you know of anything else on this topic), manas is just the inner sense faculty, with two basic functions:
1. perceiving pain and pleasure (which are sensory in nature, but cannot be perceived by the other sense-faculties)
2. ensuring the connection of sense-faculties and the seat of awareness (usually the ātman).
It does not judge, nor "think".

As for Mīmāṃsā, I cannot understand why you say that it is "unapologetical". I would rather say that its core is (just) an apologetics of the Veda's validity. But other better Mīmāṃsakas (notably John Taber) think that it tries to *establish* the validity of the Veda. Hence, your opinion might have been mislead by my interpretation of Mīmāṃsā.

Anonymous said...

[please correct me if you know of anything else on this topic]

No, I got it wrong.

[Hence, your opinion might have been mislead by my interpretation of Mīmāṃsā.]

That might be it, since basically all I know about Mimamsa is what I have read on your blog, but more probably I just didn't understand.

अश्वमित्रः said...

(What you are talking about is buddhi, not manas.)

Oh how embarrassing!!!!!! Why didn't you tell me sooner??

(Hence, your opinion might have been misled by my interpretation of Mīmāṃsā.)

Could be, given that I know nothing about it besides what you say about it. In any case, I didn't understand.

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