Follow by Email

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Taking stock of Jayanta

Bhaṭṭa Jayanta lived in Kaśmīr towards the end of the first Millennium A.D. and recognised himself as a member of the Nyāya school of philosophy, a current of Indian philosophy focusing on logic and epistemology. Nonetheless, he was also an expert of another school of Indian philosophy, namely the one called Mīmāṃsā, which deals especially with the exegesis of Sacred Texts. His main focus was, in fact, the epistemology of language and although his opus magnum, the Nyāyamañjarī, claims to cover all instruments of knowledge and knowledge-contents, about one third of it is dedicated to language. Jayanta uses both the Nyāya and the Mīmāṃsā approaches in order to elaborate an epistemology of language which joins the advantages of each approach. For instance, Jayanta is able to take into account both the point of view of the speaker, as typical of Nyāya, and that of the listener, as typical of Mīmāṃsā; both the point of view of the single words, as typical of Nyāya, and that of the sentences, as typical of Mīmāṃsā, and so on.

Consequently, Jayanta offers many points of interest, both from an historical point of view and from a theoretical one. On the one hand, he sums up the developments of Nyāya and Mīmāṃsā up to the X c. A.D., on the other he points to new solutions to the topics he deals with. At the same time, however, in order to evaluate his contribution, scholars working on Jayanta must thoroughly know the work of his predecessors.

16 comments:

A. Ruiz Falqués said...

Dear Elisa,
When we study these historical figures like Jayanta, do you think we do it as historians or as philosophers reading philosophy?
Do you think Jayanta is interesting, as a philosopher, beyond the boundaries of Indian Philosophy? I mean: why should we care, today, about how many pramANas are there?
I would like to know your opinion, because in your posts you hardly confront yourself with the authors you read, and I do not know if it is due to objectivity or simply that you do not care if they are right or wrong (or maybe you think this is not important).
Best,
Aleix

elisa freschi said...

Dear Aleix,

thanks a lot for the stimulating point. Personally speaking, I think that one cannot be a good philosopher unless one knows the history of philosophy. The first step towards doing philosophy about an author is to properly understand him/her in his/her historical perspective.
As for your second point: Of course I care whether Jayanta was wrong or not, but methodologically I first adopt the stance that he was right (you might check my "methodological manifesto" on this blog for further details). In fact, if I think he is wrong, it is more likely that I have misunderstood him rather than that Jayanta (who was a very clever philosopher, much more than I am) was actually wrong. Only if there is no other way out, I will admit that he was wrong.
How do you deal with philosophical texts?

A. Ruiz Falqués said...

Thanks for the reply.
As for me, if I don't see their problem as my problem, I rather ignore them. That is probably the reason why I don't read Mimamsa. I don't see the problem and I do not want to make efforts in order to somehow believe that the Veda is eternal and all this stuff. I'm just not interested in that and I think they had a very particular agenda behind those presuppositions. You might say I am siplifying. I read a little bit Jayanta. I could see he is one of the most intelligent philosophers in India. That's why I got upset because I felt he was wasting his intelligence defending stupid things. This is my point of view, of course, and I mean no offense. Maybe I got it totally wrong.

elisa freschi said...

Dear Aleix,
your position is the same as Dharmakīrti's one (you surely know his verse on the 5 stupid things people believe in, including the Vedas) and of many other "rationalists". Some of them, for instance, might explain that it is impossible that bread becomes human flesh and that hence the Christian religion is a fake.
As for me, I don't feel close to these criticisms, which use external paradigms to judge about something. It is for me more appealing to understand what it means to acknowledge, for instance, that language cannot be created conventionally (because ——as explained by Śabara—— in order to establish a convention, one already needs words to agree about it) and that ethics cannot be based on sense-perception.

A. Ruiz Falqués said...

Dear Elisa,
You are right. I agree with Dharmakirti. And yes, I think Christianism is a fake and I can not avoid being rationalist. Otherwise everything would be admissible, and I think nobody agrees with that. Not everything is admissible. Even Christians blame other religions because they believe "absurd" things.
Buddhism - I think - would explain the creation of convention in a dialectic way. It is not that one day people decided what means what. It is a process, still going on. Moreover, communication is not limited to verbal communication. Similarly, one will convene in the laws of football using verbal communication, but you do not need verbal communication to play football.

elisa freschi said...

Dear Aleix,
what I cannot understand is the idea that one's belief is rational and other people's ones are not. I think one should be more cautious about these judgements, and always keep in mind the fact that one is positively biased in favour of one's beliefs (hence, one's judgement is very likely not to be purely rational). Why not accept the fact that there are boundaries, *within which* one can be rational? The first part of Kant's project is, in fact, to establish the boundaries of the legitimate usage of the intellect.

अश्वमित्रः said...

Would you say that Jayanta has helped you attain some peace of mind?

elisa freschi said...

Good question, Aśvamitra. I would certainly say that he helped me acquiring a deeper intellectual insight into crucial issues (such as language and authority). And, personally speaking, the rest of my life is stricly interconnected with my intellectual life. Last: for the time being I would not say that my goal is to reach "peace of mind". Would you?

अश्वमित्रः said...

Well, if you don't want it, then I guess we're talking about different peaces of mind. If you're managing to function as a university professor, without serious substance abuse and psychiatric problems, then I'd say you have peace of mind. I did originally approach Indian philosophy and religion looking for tools to help me attain the same, but after a while I realized that my existential problems were too deep to be changed by conscious thought. As a professor of philosophy and/or religion, you must encounter this type from time to time, people who come to philosophy hoping to save themselves from existential terror. If you can believe in god, you can do it (by freeing up inner resources that have been paralyzed by self-hatred and projecting them, in this quasi-schhizophrenic manner, onto a divinity), but if you can't believe in god, you just have the muddle through, and might as well be reading poetry as philosophy (which is why I switched majors).

elisa freschi said...

Thank you, Aśvamitra, this sounds very interesting, and it refers to an issue I have been considering since some years, i.e., why does one start studying Sanskrit and why does one prefer the one or the other topic within Sanskrit literature and philosophy. I thought about asking students or scholars these two questions plus this extra one: "How did the study of this branch of Sanskrit affect your life? Did you achieve what you were consciously looking for or something different, perhaps something you needed without knowing it?"
As for me, you are right, we might be defining peace of mind in a different way (the one I do not strive for is a sort of apathic state of satisfaction which does not bring me forward). And no, I do not abuse alcohol or the like. (And since the end of March I am no longer a university lecturer, not to speak of a professor.)

अश्वमित्रः said...

Yes, these would be very good and interesting questions to ask. I have been thinking, since I wrote my previous post, about speculating a bit here about what may be thought to constitute "seriousness" in philosophical studies. At the university where I did my BA, starting out in Buddhist studies, the two professors of Buddhology were men of completely antipodean types, but at the same time they were strangely alike. One, who had spent some years living in a zendo in Japan, was of the type I have described previously: terribly damaged and tormented, with serious substance abuse and psychiatric problems. The other was apparently very much "together" psychologically, though a rather strange character. What they had in common was a very personal involvement in what they had committed their lives to studying, and this was reflected in their completely different but equally unforgettable and gripping and totally authentic teaching styles. Lives changed in their classes, and many of those vacuous, shallow kids discovered a little bit of depth in themselves and the world for the first time, listening to these men talk. But these professors had two very different kinds of seriousness. The first had come to Buddhism in the hope of saving himself from existential collapse, the second, apparently, with a less desperate, more purely philosophical need -- but it was apparently a true and urgent need: he CARED about this philosophy, had evidently been driven to it by his own deep and troubling meditations, but the trouble was, you know, less about whether his personality was going to fall apart. As I say, I think the first type of case is pretty hopeless, since from what I have experienced and seen, people with serious personality defects, although they verry rightly perceive that Buddhist philosophy in particular is dealing with the same domain, really have very little hope of changing themselves through thinking, or even through the currently much overhyped and historically highly misrepresented "meditative practice" (as if this were something distinct from the THINKING that Indian philosopohical texts represent). Ultimately, this first professor's engagement with Buddhism had completely failed, whereas the other, apparently, had been able to achieve his in some sense more purely "philosophical" goal.

अश्वमित्रः said...

To complete the portrait, I should mention that both were nearing the retirement age of sixty five, at that time, ten years ago, and both were excellent scholars typical of their generation, being highly skilled in the relevant languages, in particular. Not too surprisingly, even after many years at the same university they hardly knew each other.

elisa freschi said...

Dear Aśvamitra,

you seem to implicitly say that you prefer people for whom what they do is of personal significance. What about a purely intellectual approach? I do not know Claus Oetke, but he seems one who can really care for what he does, although this is highly technical and purely formal.

अश्वमित्रः said...

I was trying to say that one of the two professors I was talking about seemed, unlike the other, to have come to philosophy not in order to save himself from personal collapse but because he found it meaningful and beautiful on a more absract level -- abstract, but no less personal, in the sense that he evidently was personally _troubled_ by philosophical problems and moved by the beauty of their solutions. I happen to relate very strongly to people who look to philosophy for salvation, but like most of us, I feel at home around intense scholarly engagement that is due to any cause, as opposed to mere superficial "interest".

elisa freschi said...

Dear Aśvamitra, what does the "but" in your last sentence mean? Are those "who look to philosophy for salvation" and those who are scholarly engaged two distinct groups?
Last, personally speaking I notice that what I study influenced and influences me in ways I could not have foreseen —although, when I look back I can see some rationale in them.

अश्वमित्रः said...

(Are those "who look to philosophy for salvation" and those who are scholarly engaged two distinct groups?)

Well, I think they may be, but I'm not sure. The question may be: What would happen to you if you stopped studying philosophy? Would you be able to continue living and working and getting at least a bit of pleasure and contentment out of life, or would you be overwhelmed by anxiety over the unresolved questions that you came to philosophy in order to solve? As for me, although I long ago realized that there is no hope of saving myself from crippling doubts about selfhood by reading and thinking about philosophy that inquires into the nature of self, I can still find such philosophy breathtakingly beautiful, when I revisit it. The same is true of the philosophy that I mainly "pass through", at this point, rather than studying it, when I read the Mahabharata: there's a lot there that I _feel_ the truth of (punarjanma, karma) without being able to _believe_ it in the way I wish I could, and could only have done if I had been born a Hindu. Hell, I can still be moved by the beauty of Christian and Jewish theology, even though I can no longer even imagine finding meaningful solutions in those frameworks. And for that matter, even the music that moves me most deeply cannot "save" me. I find these things (unhelpful philosophies and theologies, poetry, music) "internally" meaningful and beautiful, on the terms of the systems they create and situate themselves within: I can find them "aesthetically" meaningful. This must be the way you can be moved by a very arcane and, it would seem to many, philosophically totally obsolete and irrelevant school such as Mimamsa seems to be. You probably wouldn't have a mental breakdown if you never read Mimamsa again (that is, you do not need Mimamsa to "save" you from anything), but you would probably feel the same kind of deep lack that I would feel if I cold never hear Mahler again, for example. Thinking again of the two professors of buddhology: I could appreciate the one because he could understand why a person would come to buddhism looking to solve psycho-philosophical problems that threatened to literally destroy him as a person, but I could also deeply appreciate the _earnestness_ of the second, who seemed by all accounts to be a well-grounded personality, but who was motivated by a deep and sincere yearning for philosophical beauty and truth. Whatever the motivation of a scholar or person, I guess I just need to feel some _earnestness_ there, but no doubt excellent scholarly work can be done by people who don't have that kind of depth of feeling.

Licenza Creative Commons
Quest' opera è distribuita con licenza Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 2.5 Italia.