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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

prasaṅga in the Nyāyasūtra

My most patient readers will remember my bias in favour of the thesis of a common prehistory for Grammar, Mīmāṃsā, Śrautasūtra and possibly also Nirukta and Dharmaśāstras. I am also inclined to think (with Lars Göhler, see his 2011 book) that this common prehistory shaped Indian philosophy. What to do, then, of terms such as prasaṅga, which have a specific technical meaning in the former (default application), and a very distinct one (reductio ad absurdum) in the latter? I happened to read some interesting reflections on this very topic in Ernst Prets' contribution in Pramāṇakīrtiḥ (a Festschrift in honour of Ernst Steinkellner):
The early Indian dialectical traditions represented by the dialectic passages of the Carakasaṃhitā and the ancient vāda manual that may be reconstructed out of the first and last chapters of the Nyāyasūtra do not include the item prasaṅga in thier lists of technical terms or their definition sections. In the respective passage of the Carakasaṃhitā, the term prasaṅga does not even occur, not even in one of its verb forms.
Looking at the Nyāyasūtra one comes across the term prasaṅga primarily in those sections that are considered to be later, namely the books 2 to 4 and chapter 5.1, which parly deal with Nāgārjuna's arguments containing prasaṅga. Nevertheless, prasaṅga is mentioned in the other "older" part of the Nyāyasūtra three times. In each of the three occurrences of the term it is used with a different meaning (p. 670).
And the different meanings attested are "occurrence" (in two cases) and "attachment" (etymologically explainable) (pp. 670--1). Thus, quite close to the common prehistory sketched above. The sense of reductio ad absurdum probably developed in this way:

occurrence--»automatic occurrence--»unwanted occurrence [since you cannot avoid it]--»reductio ad absurdum [where one wants to avoid an unwanted occurrence]

On prasaṅga in general, see this post (together with many others on this blog). On early medicine, logic and philosophy in India, see this post. On the common prehistory shared by Grammar, Mīmāṃsā, Kalpasūtras, see this post.

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