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Friday, August 30, 2013

Why should a Buddhist study Pāli grammar? An interview with Aleix Ruiz-Falqués (part 1)

I virtually met Aleix many years ago, through his first blog (Fulla de Palma) and we soon became pen-friends until we met in person during a visit of mine in Cambridge, where he is studying for his PhD. He has since taken part to the Coffee Break Project (see here for his presentation at the next CBC in a few days) and to my volume on textual re-use. Thus, beside his achievements in both Pāli and Sanskrit I can add that I strongly recommend working with him (in case you are wondering, though being a non-conformist thinker and writer, Aleix is not an artist —he even let me edit the interview without correcting its final draft).

EF: What is your current project?ARF: I'm writing my PhD thesis in Cambridge, studying Pali grammars or grammatical commentaries written in Burma, ca. 11th-15th centuries AD.

EF: Then, let me ask you a question which goes way beyond political-correctness: Don't you ever get bored with your authors?
ARF: Yes and no, and I think the reason is the same. Yes, it's quite boring, because they say almost the same things, but no, because they say ALMOST, but not exactly, the same thing and I wonder why, and here's the gap I'm trying to fill, so to say.

EF: Do you mean that you try to understand the rationale beyond the small differences?ARF: More or less. I'm trying to understand, in the first place, why would they care writing these works, in the second why would they care about minor points that seem actually meaningless and finally there is another aspect, which is crucial, namely, 80% (approx.) of the Pali authors in medieval Burma were grammarians. They wrote, at least, one grammatical work.
Thus, grammar seems to be very important in Burmese Pali literature. The mainstream theory tries to explain it saying that the Burmese people were not familiar with Pali, that is was a foreign language, etc. But I'm not sure…

EF: If this were the case: why would they bother about grammar? Grammar is not for the purpose of learning the language, but for speculating about it. I would say that Grammar : language = Mīmāṃsā : ritual. You do not need to reflect about the ritual in order to be able to perform it, just like you do not need to reflect about language in order to understand it… not to mention in order to speak it.
So, what is your theory about the pre-eminence of Grammar in Burma?ARF: well, it goes in the lines of what you said about Mīmāṃsā, but there is an important historical aspect that I am also trying to understand better. My thesis, in short, is that grammar was what Theravādins call pariyatti. Let me put it in other words, in post-canonical Pāli we have handbooks for different disciplines: handbooks that summarize the Abhidhamma, handbooks that summarize the Vinaya, meditation manuals…I think that grammatical handbooks are the equivalent for the Sutta literature, that is, they are the exegetical tools in order to study the Suttantas or discourses of the Buddha.

EF: Thus, they were not for the purpose of learning Pali, but for the purpose of understanding the Buddha's word?ARF: I think I would go beyond that. I would say that they focused on grammar because Pali, as a language, is the substance of the Tipiṭaka, so to say. And as I said before there is a historical context that matters a lot because Theravāda Buddhism was not the only religion in Burma, even though people think Burma has been always like today.
In the 12-13th centuries, for instance, there were competing Mahāyāna sects, other sects within Hināyāna, Vaiṣṇavism and Animism etc.

EF: Are you saying that the focus on Pāli was a sort of lakṣaṇa (distinctive mark) for Theravāda and that the role of Grammar has to be understood accordingly?ARF: Exactly, they gave preeminence to pariyatti, that is, textual-based religion (this is something I'm studying now, as part of my PhD). And it's funny how the story (or history) repeats itself today.  I was recently in Burma/Myanmar and discussed this topic with a monk, who told me that recently the Myanmar government passed a bill forcing preacher-monks to hold, at least, the Dhammacariya degree (i.e., a BA in Theravada studies).

EF: That is, you are not allowed to be an illiterate monk?ARF: More or less. The point is that, seemingly, there were some preachers who were preaching "their own ideas in Burmese". Usually, the preacher says some canonical words in Pāli and then gives an explanation in Burmese, but these monks did not know Pāli. This happened nowadays, but if we trust the chronicles (which is not very advisable sometimes) a similar thing happened in the 12th century with some forms of tantrism.

EF: Do you mean that the emphasis on Pali is a way to rule out heterodoxies?ARF: Exactly. The knowledge of Pāli is an objective parameter and can serve as a sort of touchstone to distinguish real from fake.

EF: This leads me to a second point: some Sanskritists tend to see (although they would not admit it openly) Pāli as a low-level Sanskrit and Pāli texts as a lower order śāstra. Given that you read both Sanskrit and Pāli, when you read Pāli Grammarians do you feel they are "as sophisticated as" Sanskrit ones or just "different" (due to their different concerns)?ARF: They are as sofisticated as Sanskrit grammarians, if only because they copy them…

EF: For instance, while I was reading your paper on the gender of go at a certain point I found myself thinking "They are complicating a simple issue… if only they could resort to the Skt solution…".ARF: Oh, yes, but let me explain that the main point of that paper was precisely that Pāli grammarians see Pāli as a corpus of sacred scriptures and they have no other authority to decide about them than the text. Thus, the text itself is its own grammatical authority. It is paradoxical.

EF: I would not say it is a paradox: it is the same when we reconstruct the grammar of a dead language, and of a spoken one, if the speakers themselves become the authorities.ARF: Not so. If you are using modern linguistics, you could resort to comparisons, but Pāli grammarians did not compare, for instance, Pāli with Ardhamāgadhī.

EF: I see. There is no external authority in the case of Pāli Grammar.ARF: Exactly. And there are some interesting discussions about the way the Buddha talked. There are two axioms or premises that we need to take into account here. Premise No. one: the Tipiṭaka is the word of the Buddha, meaning, more or less, that he said all what is said there. Premise No. two: Pali, i.e. Māgadhī, is the root language of all beings. So if you have a baby and don't teach her to talk, she will naturally start to talk Pāli.
Indeed Vimalabuddhi, a 10th c. Pāli grammarian, says in a very interesting passage that Pāli was there before the Buddha appeared in the world, and he says something strange, namely (I'm quoting from memory) "this happens in every Buddha-field". Thus, Pāli is much more than just the language in which the Buddha uttered the texts of the Tipiṭaka. It is like a primordial language.

EF: I see. Similar to what is said about Sanskrit (cf. the Paspaśā's discussion about apaśabdas, being able to communicate a meaning only because one infers the Sanskrit form out of them), but with this additional historical perspective.
ARF: Yes. And who knows what Vimalabuddhi in the 10th century or Aggavamsa in the 12th century would have thought of ancient Magadha. It was for them like talking about the beginning of the world…And I think that this explains, in a way, the counting of years from the Buddha's parinirvāṇa. As if the world, our world, begins at that point.
But there are some additional elements to be taken into account in this reconstruction. First: in the Pāli texts we have records or mentions of other dialects in northern India. Second: Aggavamsa says that the bodhisatta, through hundreds of thousands existences learnt Pāli. Thus, Pāli was there during all these years. So, why would it disappear after the Buddha? (Since, at least, it had disappeared in the 12th century AD).

EF: But did they think that it had disappeared? Did not they think that it was still a reality (given that you write that they wrote in Pāli and that it was a sort of lingua franca for the Theravāda world)?ARF: I don't recall reading about this topic in grammars, it might be dealt with in Buddhaghosa's accounts of the history of the teaching, I cannot say now. But there is the certainty that Pāli is a language of the past. It is not the language of Sri Lanka, nor the language of Burma and I don't know if they still identified Pali with a northern Indian dialect.
I  recently read an article suggesting that Aggavamsa, the author of the Pāli grammar Saddaniti, visited Bodhgaya. Unfortunately, it didn't occur to him to write a travelogue.

Enjoyed this interview? Then be ready to read the next part on my new blog, where I will discuss with Aleix of philosophy and South Asian studies. You can read another interview here.  
And you can suggest further questions for the next interviews by commenting here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Philosophical and Humanistic Jobs

The website philjobs (here) has just opened as an annex to It already lists an enormous amount of jobs loosely related with philosophy, including many "open" positions in the Humanities. If you are looking for a job/a scholarship, or if you are looking for a new collaborator within a project, have a look at it!

Monday, August 26, 2013

किमर्थं विचार अारभ्यते ?

चित्रम् Allan Ramsay-कृतम्,  Scottish National Portrait Gallery
अाक्सेल् गेल्फेर्त्‌ (Axel Gelfert)-महोदयेन डेविड् ह्युम् (David Hume, 1711–1766)-प्रयुक्तिमतविषये प्रकरणं लिखितम् । तत्र गेल्फेर्तेन "ह्युममते विचारारंभार्थं रुचिः ('curiositas') मूलम्" इति व्याख्यातम् ।
रुचेः कारणात् पुरुषाः न केवलं किंचिज् ज्ञातुमिच्छन्ति । अपि तु ते विचारार्थमेव विचारं कर्तुमिचछन्ति ।

यथा मृगयाप्रियानां भोजनार्जनं न प्रधानम्, किन्तु मृगया एव प्रधानम्, तथा रुचिपूर्णाः न  ज्ञानार्जनार्थं विचारमारभन्ते, किन्तु विचारस्य भोगार्थमेव । कश्चित् "२०+१३५=१५५" इति वदति चेत्, रुचिपूर्णपुरुषस्य विचारभोगो विलीनः ।

(तथा, वेदान्तदेशिकः "विचारो रागप्राप्त:'' इति सेश्वरमीमांसायां (१।१।१) मीमांसापादुकायां (२१) च मन्यते । अपि च, संस्कृतभाषायामपि मृग्धातुरितिप्रयुक्ते "मृगमारणम्" अथवा "विचरणम्" इत्यर्थः ।)

ह्युममते रुचिः महत्वपूर्णान्येव तत्त्वानि प्रति । किन् तु कानि तत्त्वानि महत्त्वपूर्णानि?
केन प्रकारेण "एतत् तत्त्वमुपयोगि, एतन्न" इति निश्चेतुं शक्यम्?
ह्युम-महोदयस्य मते सर्वं केवलं लौकिकपरीक्षाद्वारेण निश्चेत्यम्, न किंचिदेव स्वतन्त्रम् ("a priori") मूलम् भवति −इति स्मरणीयम्) । एतस्य प्रश्नस्योत्तरं दुःखेन एव विन्द्येत । परन्तु, ह्युम-महोदयेन एषः प्रश्नः "कानि तत्त्वानि देवदत्तादेः मते उपयोगिनि" इति परिणामितः । एवमेव, प्रश्नो लौकिक एव भवति, ह्युम-महोदयस्य नयेन चोत्तरमन्वेष्टुं शक्यम् ।

किन्तु रुचिरपि द्विविधा, गणितादिविषये देवदत्तयज्ञदत्ताद्याचारविषये च । प्रथमायाम् (उपरि व्याख्यातायाम) स्वप्रयुक्तमन्वेशनमेव प्रमाणम् । द्वितीयायां तु लौकिकवचनान्येव प्रमाणम् । अतः अाप्तवचनमपि प्रमाणमिति ह्युम-मतः ।

रुचेर्मूलं रक्षा, भिताः पुरुषाः न विचारप्रियाः इति यतः —इति ह्युम्-महोदयः ।

गेल्फेर्तस्य प्रकरणं तत्र पठणीयम् ।

Friday, August 23, 2013

Goldberg and the problem of Anonymous Assertions

If one studies Indian accounts of Linguistic Communication as instrument of knowledge (śābda) one is immediately confronted with two different paradigms:
  • the Nyāya paradigm, according to which an act of linguistic communication conveys knowledge if it is uttered by a reliable speaker.
  • the Mīmāṃsā paradigm, according to which an act of linguistic communciation conveys knowledge, until and unless a flaw in the speaker interrupts this ability.
The first account presupposes a parataḥ prāmāṇya 'extrinsic validity' theory, that is, on the idea that an instrument of cognition becomes able to bestow knowledge only if connected with some external factors "enhancing" it, e.g., in the case of Linguistic Communication, a reliable speaker. The second account relies on a svataḥ prāmāṇya 'intrinsic validity' theory, that is, on the idea that an instrument of cognition is valid unless and until it is falsified.

This also entails that the Mīmāṃsā account can admit as valid the Veda (the Sacred Texts believed by Mīmāṃsā authors to be authorless and beginningless). In fact, since the Veda has no author, no author's flaw can ever invalidate it. By contrast, the claim that, e.g., the Buddhist Sacred Texts are reliable is easily invalidated, given that the very idea that their author, the Buddha, had access to unknowable realities such as dharma and karman can be easily falsified through an appeal to our common experience (where no one ever has access to unknowable realities) and to the inferential evidences about the fact that what is by itself unknowable cannot ever be intellectually grasped, even by enhanced sense- and intellectual faculties.

By contrast, the Nyāya school can only accept the Veda insofar as it regards it as authored by a reliable speaker (namely God).

Thus, it seems that if one wants to accept authorless assertions as valid, one needs to agree with the Mīmāṃsā authors and disagree with the Nyāya ones.

Similarly, a leading and thought-provoking scholar of epistemology, Sanford Goldberg, deals with Anonymous Assertions (forthcoming on Episteme, available here) relying on a theory which is quite close to the parataḥ prāmāṇya one, namely, on the idea that the validity of an assertion depends on an "epistemic norm", entailing the reliability of the speaker and the awareness of it by hearer and speaker at the same time ("in asserting something, the speaker performs an act regarding which it is common knowledge that her act was proper (warranted) only if she had the relevant epistemic authority", p. 6).

Now, what happens in the case of anonymous assertions?
1) That the speaker is not bound by any epistemic-norm-enforcing policy, since no one will be able to trace her back and hold her responsible for what she said or wrote.
2) That the audience is aware of that and has, consequently, grounds for scepticism.
Thus, "the hearer is unwarranted in thinking that the speaker satisfied the norm of assertion" (p. 27) and, consequently, anonymous assertions are (unless in particular cases), even if true, unable to convey justified beliefs.

Are there exceptions? Yes, and Goldberg (p. 29) mentions two:
  • "the 'security wall' model": one where a security wall warrants for the reliability of anonymous assertions. Goldberg does not mention any example of it, but one might think of moderated blogs admitting only those anonymous assertions whose reliability has been checked.
  • "the 'Wikipedia' model": one where the cost of correction is low and one can therefore hope that mistakes would have been detected.

Is this enough to make sense of all the reliable anonymous assertions we regularly encounter? I am not sure.
Let me start by listing them: Apart from the ones mentioned by Goldberg, one encounters anonymous assertions also in the case of editorials on newspapers (at least in continental Europe, the most influential articles are not signed), of encyclopaedic entries, of laws (where a pool of people is involved, many of which are not mentioned in the final text). (I will not deal with this last case, since Goldberg focuses only on assertions (and not on exhortations).)
An author would be more cautious while writing an anonymous editorial or an anonymous encyclopaedic entry than while writing a signed article, since much more is at stake. Signing an article means anchoring it (only) to its author, whereas letting it unsigned means entailing that the whole authority of the newspaper is at stake with it. Thus, the case of editorials and of encyclopaedias can be dealt with with the security wall model (i.e., it is the general reliability of a certain newspaper or encyclopaedia which vouches for the reliablity of each editorial or entry). However, they also hint at a further point, i.e., that in (Western) culture anonymity has long been a sign of authority (!), insofar as no limit to the authority is put.
This is even more evident in the case of Sacred Texts. Let us assume, as most historians do, that Sacred Texts (as, e.g., the Pāñcarātra Sāṃhitās) are authored by human authors. Let us also assume that these people were not only or not always driven by egoistic purposes, such as the desire to fool other people and/or gain money or influence in this way. Why would they nonetheless efface themselves in the works they write? Because, if they spoke as themselves, they would limit the authority of the final text to themselves. If this were the case, a certain text would be reliable insofar as its author is reliable, but not of the highest authority. Thus, it is easy to imagine that a certain person X would be careful while writing or teaching in his own name, but MUCH MORE SO while writing a Sacred Text deemed to depict an absolute Truth.

Can a justified true belief be based on an anonymous assertion? 

For another post on Western epistemology of testimony, see here (on J. Lackey). Similarly on testimony and justification, see this post. On the validity of Sacred Texts, see this post. To Linguistic Communication as instrument of knowledge is dedicated my first blog (in Italian), plus many posts on this blog labelled with "śabda".

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Dharmakīrti Conference

the 4th conference in Vienna, from Kei's blog
The 5th Dharmakīrti conference will find place in Heidelberg, 26th to 30th August 2014. Abstracts are due before the 31st of December 2013.
If you work on Logic, Epistemology or on Buddhism in general, you just cannot miss this event (even if you are still too young or shy to present a paper). The best scholars of the world gather to create a proficuous and stimulating chance for interesting discussions.

All information can be found here.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Philpapers' discussions

I am now adding Philpapers to my essays to join Indian and Western philosophy in a single debate. You can read my first two threads here.

1. Because I try each path where Indian and Western philosophers can be met.
2. Because philpapers is a site developed by philosophers for philosophers.
3. Because, though slow, there are some discussions going on in it (for a comparation of and philpapers see this ---though not updated--- article).

For some of my similar attempts, check this post (and/or join me).

Friday, August 16, 2013

The context principle and some Indian controversies over Meaning —B.K. Matilal and P.K. Sen

The context principle and some Indian controversies over Meaning is a milestone in Indian studies, and in the history of their interaction with mainstream (i.e. Western) philosophy. Since it was published in 1988 on Mind (one of the top-5 journals in Philosophy, inaccessible for most authors), virtually everyone (in Indian philosophy) has read it.

Have you also re-read it?
I re-read it after some years this Summer and I have to admit that it was again a surprise. The article starts with a discussion of the Context principle in Frege and Quine (does the principle mean that words HAVE no meaning outside a sentence, or that their meaning can only be UNDERSTOOD within a sentence?). In this connection, M & S discuss a strong and a weak interpretation of the Context principle (according to whether it should answer the first or the second question). They end up saying that the strong interpretation clashes with Frege's later work (see below), whereas the weak interpretation (the context is only needed to understand the meaning of words) is trivial. Thus, an intermediate interpretation needs to be adopted, namely that "the meaning of a subsentential expression is nothing but its contribution to the meaning of the sentence in which it occurs" (p. 80).

Next, Matilal and Sen discuss also Russell's On Denoting (another milestone of contemporary Philosophy of Language). I have to admit that I could not understand Matilal and Sen's treatment of it until I actually read Russell (but the fact of making a reader undertake further studies might be conceived as a further result of Matilal and Sen). Until M & S, in fact, I had always thought of Russell's philosophy of language as correspondentist, whereas M & S interpret Russell's strategy of reduction (through his "contextual definitions") as also (implicitly) presupposing some sort of Context principle.

A further step is the analysis of Frege. In fact, the Context principle seems to clash with the sense-reference distinction, outlined by Frege in his later work. M & S use Michael Dummett's Frege: Philosophy of Language to claim that both theses can co-exist: words' meanings are outer referents, but "we cannot say anything, in the strict sense of the word 'say', without the use of whole sentences" (p. 80). After a short excursus on Kant's unity of thought, Michael Dummett's book is also quoted to discuss the distinction between the Context principle and the Composition principle. According to the latter, the meaning of a sentence is the result of the composition of the words forming it.

Does this sound familiar? If not, it means that you have not been working on the Kumārila-Prabhākara-Bhartṛhari-Nyāya controversy on word- and sentence-meaning. In fact, as shown by M & S in the second part of their work (pp. 84--97), the Indian scenario also revolves on similar issues. Bhartṛhari is clearly an holist: for him the meaning of a sentence is a whole and word-meanings are only secondary abstractions. Kumārila and Prabhākara represent two different positions, possibly identifiable, respectively, with the weak and the intermediate interpretation of the Context principle.

This leads to a further problem, i.e., the link between linguistics and ontology. The topic is only hinted at at the end of M & S's article, but it is, in my opinion, the most thought-provoking contribution of the article (together with the very idea of joining Frege and Kumārila side by side in a philosophical debate).

In fact, if words express their meanings only once already related in the context of a sentence, as upheld by the Prābhākaras, what consequences does this have for the Prābhākara ontology? If, for instance, "cow" in "Bring the cow!" does not mean  a separate cow, but a cow insofar as it is related to the injunction of being brought, does this entail that a "cow-connected-with-the-injunction-of bringing" exists out there? What sort of cow would this be? Surely an incomplete cow, one which is completed by the injunction of bringing. Should one admit —for the sake of maintaining the correspondentism between meanings and outer world— that there are "unsaturated entities" out there?

My personal answer is that ontology is less relevant than linguistics for the Prābhākaras (unlike for most Western philosophers and common folks) and that, as a matter of fact, this sort of correspondentism is already ruled out by the Prābhākara stress on exhortations as the paradigm of all sentences.

What do you think? Can there be linguistics without ontology?
Moreover, methodologically speaking, I wonder why M & S has not been enough for further studies of this sort to be the rule on Mind (and other philosophical journals). Does this failure depend on their style? (Or should we just start working as a task-force and submit many articles of this kind?)

On ontology and Mīmāṃsā, see this post. On ontology in Indian philosophy in general, see this one.
As hinted at in the Introduction, this was not the first time I read M & S's article. You can read a further post about it (focusing on the Prābhākara linguistic theory) here. On Frege's and the Prābhākara philosophy of language, check this post.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Position as Head of the Institute for South and Central Asia, Prague

The Dean of the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in Prague hereby announces a selection procedure for the position of Head of the Institute of South and Central Asia of the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in Prague

University degree in humanities (in a field related to South or Central Asia)
Ph.D. or CSc. degree or an equivalent or higher degree
Curriculum Vitae, including bibliography (in English)
Strategy for the development of the Institute and the field of study (drawn up for at least the next 3 years, maximum length 10 pages, in English)
The strategy must include in particular:
Personnel development
Development of teaching and the strategy for the study programme
Development of science and research, including specific fields of development
Outline of other possibilities for development of the Institute
Earliest possible appointment date: 1 October 2013.


Applications in hard copies with CVs, certified evidence of education, qualification and
experience, overview of research, teaching and publication activity attached are to be sent within
30 days of this announcement (18 July 2013)  to the following address:

Filozofická fakulta UK v Praze,
doc. PhDr. Michal Stehlík, Ph.D., děkan,
Nám. Jana Palacha 2, 116 38,
Praha 1.

OF SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA”) visibly on the envelope.

Applications may also be submitted via email to:  Michal Stehlik

3 Post-Docs (and a general reflection on the doc-postdoc positions balance)

Finally…a tendency favouring the employment of post-docs seems to emerge. It is a good thing, since until now, there were (relatively) many PhD positions with almost nothing after them, so that brilliant students were encouraged to finish their PhDs, but had little to apply for after it. However, this tendency is also an evidence of how the life of scholars in the fields of Classical South Asian studies, the Classics, History of Philosophy and the like is becoming more and more precarious. It is hardly the case, now, that one can hope to find a permanent position after one has only completed one's PhD.
In my personal experience, I am enjoying my Post-Doc status,  but what do you think?

Anyway, in case you like Post-Docs (or in case you cannot find any permanent position), here is another, interesting place to apply:

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich is one of the leading ​E​uropean universities with a tradition reaching back more than 500 years. The university has established the Graduate School "Distant Worlds: Munich Graduate School for Ancient Studies", which has been funded by the German Excellence Initiative since November 1st, 2012. As part of its doctoral study and postdoctoral training programme, the Graduate School combines research from a broad spectrum of disciplines within the field of ancient studies. 

The Graduate School invites applications of young researchers specializing in Classics, Chinese or Indian Studies as well as the Ancient Near East for the following positions:

3 ​p​ost- ​doc​ positions
​​Salary Grade 13 TV-L / 100%
The starting date will be November 1, 2013.
The positions are limited to two years; they may be extended by a third year
Each of the positions will coordinate a junior research group. The research groups are orientated towards one of the seven focus areas of the School.

Successful candidates will conduct an independent research project contributing to one of the seven focus areas, to be chosen by the candidates themselves. In pursuing their research, candidates will be supported by mentors.

They will collaborate with doctoral students in an interdisciplinary junior research group and coordinate the activities of that group.

They will develop new research perspectives in the field of ancient studies together with the members of the Münchner Zentrum für Antike Welten.

In order to apply, candidates will need to have completed their doctorate in the field of ancient studies with outstanding results. Applicants will need to submit a proposal for an independent research project. They should demonstrate their willingness to work in an interdisciplinary context as well as an interest in basic and theoretical questions. We are especially interested in candidates whose research projects relate to the following focus areas: "Organisation of coexistence", "Organisation of exchange", "Organisation of elites".

The School offers the scope for developing new perspectives in an inspiring research environment.

​Disability and equal opportunities
​Applicants with disabilities possessing essentially equal qualifications will be given preference. LMU Munich is an equal opportunity employer committed to excellence through diversity and therefore explicitly encourages women to apply.

Application process
​For further information see:   ​​

Applications must be submitted electronically in German or English ​ ​by September 23, 2013 to​

Monday, August 12, 2013

Monthly planning for this blog
From now on, I will try to post:

—about job opportunities, Call for papers and the like on Wednesdays
—about books, articles, conference papers and the like on Fridays
—about my own (mostly philosophical, but sometimes also methodological) speculations on Mondays

—once in a month (last Friday of the month) an interview
—once in a month (last Monday of the month) a post in Sanskrit (mostly about Indian or Western philosophy)

Friday, August 9, 2013

Testimony and Credit

If one accepts testimony among the instruments of knowledge, then one is forced to reconsider one's idea of the role of credit within knowledge. In fact, in the virtue-epistemology understanding of knowledge, this can be "credited" to the knower. However, in the case of testimony, the credit seems to be little in the case of the listener and to rather regard the speaker ---who is not the "knower" of a testimonial belief.

Is there any possible way out?

This debate lies at the center of Jennifer Lackey's Knowledge and Credit (2009, available through Jstor at this link), and of a broader discussion possibly initiated by Lackey 2007. Lackey 2009 discusses the case of a tourist (called Morris) coming in Chicago and asking for directions. He happens to ask a Chiacago resident who gives him exact directions. Morris now knows where the Sears Towers are, although he deserves no credit for that!

—If one says that Morris does not know where the Sears Towers are, then one has to leave out of "knowledge" most cases of testimony.

—By contrast, one might try to say that Morris does deserve some credit (for instance, insofar as he asked a sober adult, instead of a child, an intoxicated person, etc.). However, Lackey explains, if this is the case, then credit should be granted also to "knowers" in Gettier-cases,
e.g., to Jack who has reasons to believe that his colleague John has 10 coins in his pocket and will get an advancement and as a consequence truly believes that someone in the room has 10 coins in his pocket and will get an advancement, although the one who has 10 coins and will get an advancement is Jack himself and not his colleague (you can find enough literature on Edmund Gettier, but since his article is only 3 pages long, the best way is just to read it, here),
although the Credit View of Knowledge should exactly aim at distinguishing knowledge (justified true belief) from beliefs which are only accidentally true (i.e., Gettier-cases).
Lackey shows how all attempts to reconfigure the role of Credit to meet the Chicago Visitor case are deemed to fail (or to include Gettier-like cases). Among these attempts are the idea (see E. Sosa 2007) that Credit can be shared (for instance, by speaker and hearer).

Unfortunately, Lackey does not spell out in her 2009 article the consequences of the dismissal of the Credit view of knowledge. Will this lead to a new paradigm (where true beliefs are knowledge, no matter whether they are justified or not)? Or will it just force epistemologists to find a new way to distinguish between knowledge and accidentally true beliefs?

The discussion has some special impact for scholars focusing chiefly on Indian philosophy and for readers of this blog in particular. One notices 1) the role of the listener within testimony, already highlighted on this blog (see below), 2) the conundrum implied in the case of testimony: Either one accepts only "safe" cases of testimony (notably the Veda, in the case of Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā), or the acceptance of testimony risks to lead to the acceptance of Gettier-like cases as well, 3) the similarity between virtue-epistemology and parataḥ prāmāṇya in placing the additional element of knowledge over true belief on the knower (and not on the piece of knowledge itself). Last, you might remember the articles by Sibajiban Bhattacharya arguing that in India (which meant, for him, Navya Nyāya) there is no need for a true belief to be also justified to count as knowledge. Gettier-like cases are also discussed and accepted as knowledge.

Does the Indian approach just deny the importance of the listener's competence? Does the burden only rely on the source of Linguistic Communication? And, more in general, do we need credit?

Further discussions on similar contacts between testimony and Gettier cases can be found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, here. On the role of the listener, see here and here.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Two Junior Research Group Leaders

The Ruprecht-Karls-University of Heidelberg is looking, in the area of Transcultural Studies, for two Junior Research Group Leaders
The university is looking for outstanding young scholars to build up and independently lead a group of young researchers working towards a PhD degree in the following four thematically related fields:

*Cultural Heritage and Shaping of Traditions*
(Focus: Cultural Studies and/or Art History)

*Designs of Life and Configurations of Order in Different Cultures*
(Focus: Cultural Studies and/or History)

*Interpretations of World, Society, and History in the World Religions*
(Focus: Cultural Studies, History, Study of Religion, Theology)

*Transcultural Flows: Reciprocities and Asymmetries*
(Focus: Cultural Studies, Philologies, Geography)


—an above average PhD dissertation
—outstanding publications
—experience in international research
—experience in the organization of larger cooperative projects or of large congresses is highly desirable

Aims of the implementation of the two junior research groups:
—experiment with the creation of new structures of staff and hierarchy in the arts and cultural studies;

—develop a new area of concentration of research in the humanistic studies which will interpret central questions of culture, religion, society and history;

—connect the existing area studies with their geographic emphasis on Asia, Europe and the Americas in a new way.

The Junior Research Group Leaders will be engaged from January 1st, 2014

The Junior Research Group Leaders will have the right to supervise PhD students and to evaluate their dissertation (Promotionsrecht). The teaching load will be four hours per week during term time. The salary level is (at the least) TV-L E15. Junior Research Group Leaders will be appointed until 31.10.2017. The positions are subject to continuous evaluation. Positions within the research groups are also temporary with a maximum time allotment of three years for PhD students (2 PhD
students, salary level TV-L E13/2).

The application should contain a CV, list of publications and courses given, copies of certificates and an exposé of the Junior Research Group Leader’s proposed project as well as a description of the thematic focus and of the intended interdisciplinary composition of the potential group of young researchers (up to 10 pages) will have to be handed in by September 15th to the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, Transcultural Studies, Prof. Dr. Vera Nünning, Marstallstraße 6, D-69117 Heidelberg.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Citations, Citationality and the philosophy of textual re-use

A recent essay by Constantin V. Nakassis focuses on a contemporary reading of the eternal phenomenon of textual re-use. As a passionate reader and interpreter of the history and philosophy of textual re-use, here are my personal highlights I selected from the paper:
  1. —Nakassis relates citation as a philosophical reality with the Fregean separation of sense and reference: once Frege had opened the door for something different than sheer states of affairs, he also opened the door for decentering and suspending the referent-anchorage of a sign.
  2. —Nakassis thinks (following Derrida) that there is an interesting parallel between citation acts and illocutionary speech acts (such as "I promise", "I baptize"…). In fact, Nakassis interprets the latter as being a type of acts which simultaneously "cite" themselves as a token of the same type (they "reflexively cite themselves as tokens of particular performative types while effacing that token-type relationship at that very moment", p. 63).
  3. —textual re-use (my terminology, Nakassis speaks instead only of citations) include two contrasting forces, i.e., iconism and indexicality. In other words, they on the one hand reproduce a previous text (iconism) and on the other they refer to it as something "other" (indexicality). In this way, sameness is marked by difference
  4. —citing appropriates a previous text, but not without risk, as testified by taboo linguistic expressions, i.e., words or sentences which do not let themselves be bracketed within a citation. An example (by me), in many European cultures, are curses, which are not allowed even when reporting someone else's sentences (Nakassis mentions the Tamil belief that evoking the word for 'snake' will make it appear, even if one is citing the word in someone else's sentence).
  5. citing is a creative act: "[Derrida's] Deconstruction is one such example, a method of critical reading that opens 'the crevice through which the yet unnameable glimmer beyond the closure can be glimpsed' (Derrida 1976, 14), that is, that through citational practice can decenter Western metaphysics and open up new ways of doign philosophy. This creative potential of citation is, as I take it, Derrida's most important point. Citation conjures something new into the world by deconstructin the intelligibility and legibility of the social forms that it reanimates, introducing an alterity through repetition (Derrida 1988a, 40). Citations focalise new qualities, eliciting and entaling them out of what is cited" (p. 71).
I like the idea of citations as evoking and at the same time bracketing the power of the re-used text. What do you think?

Further info on my volume on textual re-use can be read here. For my other projects on this topic, see this post. On textual re-use, follow the links from this post.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Adaptive Reuse in Texts, Ideas and Images

At the 32nd Deutscher Orientalisten Tag (DOT) I will host together with Philipp Maas a panel on devices and significance of reuse in texts and images. After my first project on textual reuse, this second one does no longer focus on the form of textual reuse and no longer restricts itself to philosophical texts. Rather, it focusses on the dialectics of reuse and originality and, thus, it steps beyond the field of śāstra to reach other realms of Sanskrit thought and art.

The whole text of the Panel's presentation can be read here.

Further info on my first volume on textual re-use (independent from this project and with a different focus) can be read here. For my other projects on this topic, see this post. On textual re-use, follow the links from this post.

Do you plan to come to the DOT? Have you ever been to one?
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