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Friday, September 21, 2012

Commands and assertions in Indian and Western Philosophy

Are commands re-phrasable as assertions?
Time and again, both in India and in the West, someone tried to rephrase commands and to make them look like assertive statements. Why? Because assertive statements are "easier" to handle. They have truth-values, one can build correct inferences out of them, etc.
As for the Indian essays, the most interesting one is, in my opinion, Maṇḍana's. Maṇḍana explained that "X must do A!" is tantamount to "A is conducive to something X desires". For instance, "You must sacrifice!" is tantamount to "Sacrifice is the tool to realise something desirable (such as happiness, the obtainment of cattle and so on)".
As for the Western side of the enterprise, centuries later Karl Menger (1939) construed "X must do A!" as "Either X does A or there is a sanction". In logical language:

X does A v S

Georg von Wright has slightly rephrased the S as meaning not "Sanction" but "Liability to being sanctioned", but this does not alter too much  its "Lutheranic" allure.

A further attempt (Mark Fischer 1962 and others) has been that of attributing truth values to commands via their obedience: obedience would then be to commands what truth is to assertive statements.

But the problem remains that an assertive statement might be true or false independently of further circumstances, whereas a command has intrinsically different characteristics: it requires a specific addressee, a connection with time, and it must be "uttered", i.e., given. It does not exists in a vacuum.

Am I forgetting any interesting example, either in India or in the West?

On the truth value of imperatives, see this post. On Maṇḍana and contemporary ethics, see this post.

5 comments:

andrew said...

noteworthy is habermas' attempt to move away from "truth" towards "validity": imperatives don't have a truth-value, but they can be valid or invalid with reference to some external set of conditions (the speaker's authority, etc.). see: Jürgen Habermas. Postmetaphysical thinking. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992. “Towards a critique of the theory of meaning.” pp. 57-87.

my own opinion is that maṇḍana (and the wider mīmāṃsaka discourse) is right to focus on the sense (artha) of the imperative and the conditions under which it carries normative force (bhāvanā).

bhāṭṭas do often "rephrase" imperatives in terms of prudential statements ("you want X, and Y is a means to attaining X") but i've been curious, too, about the extremely widespread and evidently unproblematic "rephrasing" (vivaraṇa) of indicative sentences as imperatives ("they conduct a sattra-sacrifice" = "you should conduct a sattra-sacrifice"). that is a slightly different topic, i think...

elisa freschi said...

Thanks for Habermas (this is exactly the kind of advice I was hoping to receive).

As for the rephrasings, Śabara (who might in this sense be considered a Bhāṭṭa ante litteram) seems to understand svargakāmo yājeta 'one who desires heaven should sacrifice' as tantamount to 'through sacrifice, one reaches heaven' (there is an interesting article in Japanese by Kataoka on this topic, published in 1995). But this is not the case for Kumārila, who criticises Maṇḍana for obliterating the distinction between assertive and imperative statements.

windwheel said...

This is an area where Islam alone gets it right, straight out of the gate, with a insha (imperative) khabar (alethic) distinction which corresponds to an onlological distinction between the Realm of 'command' and the Realm of 'Creation (amr/khalq). Mimamsa gets to pretty much the same empirical Welt bild by an apurva/apurvata syzygy such that the apaurusheya command (amr) has to have the quality of apoorvata ie. either a creative type of novelty or, equivalently, a gratuitous/supererogatory quality which points to the fundamental meta-metaphoricity in human understanding when it operates as a Principal rather than an Agent. The other aspect of the apurva or 'prarabhda karma' is that it is a sort of epoche in which the result has not yet become visible. This militates for literalism in the same way that the 'realm of the unseen' militates for literalism w.r.t Quranic injunction.
Unfortunately, this aspect of Indian deontics- blindlingly obvious when you approach it through ordinary Hindustani with its Islamic terminology made familiar through ghazals and so on, not to mention legal terminology, but which becomes totally opaque and problematic if you try to get to it through G.E. Moore type silly undergraduate prattle or the idiocy of Rawlsian rubbish. Amartya Sen is far from being alone in writing sheer nonsense (remember his ludicrous nyaya/niti distinction which Indians eagerly seized upon)in this regard and thus eclipsing Matilal, Mehta, Billimoria and so on, who being marginally better informed, failed in being as egregiously stupid. Indeed, this is perhaps the most serious charge one can make against modern Indology. Unless it learns from Amartya Sen (i.e. neglects to read the texts it comments upon)it will lose its potentially vanguard role in utterly destroying the Indian Moral lebenswelt.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks for the comments re. the Islamic case.
I see your point re. Amartya Sen's communicative skills (and his lack of deep knowledge of Indian philosophical past). But what do you mean with your last sentence?

windwheel said...

I think the Indians have a shared 'life world'based on 'mutuality'. Brahma Sutra 3.3.37, 'Scripture prescribes reciprocity between worshipper and worshipped and this same idea can be found in other traditions. One other way of saying the same thing is to say the apoorvata in a situation is to be found in the 'balanced game' aspect of it. A 'balanced game' is one where both parties are equally strong so the outcome can go either way. In the meeting between the King and the beggar, there is one thing going on where both have equal power. That is the thing to focus on. That is the 'meaning' of the encounter.
Now Indology can play a vanguard role in destroying India's mutually affectionate 'life world' by refusing to enter a balanced game. The easiest way to do this is to present some very arcane evidence to show you are more powerful/knowledgable and then put forward a wholly unconnected thesis which has been decided in advance.
Thus, the Indologist should write 'Prof. Ignoramus's reconstruction of the Vidushaka codex utterly refutes the view of Nicholson and shows that Hinduism was actually only unified in the Autumn of 1328 by Vijnanabhikshu's cat but since the cat immediately converted to Jainism so Unified Hinduism only lasted for 35 seconds'.
However this is not as good as Amartya Sen who will write 'Lord Krishna, in the Bhagvad Gita, turns into a cat and eats a mouse. This shows that I am much smarter than John Rawls. We must establish a Nalanda University in Bihar, but site it in New Delhi because I have got a Nobel Prize. How many Nobel prizes do you have? What? I thought so.'
In other words telling stupid self-aggrandizing lies without bothering about research is better than doing research and then writing something silly. This is because Research is a 'balanced game'. Someone else can look at what you have looked at. Telling lies is not a balanced game. It destroys the basis of mutuality and thus presents the only viable way forward for India to develop into a truly Secular Socialist Republic in an Environmentally sustainable way.

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