Friday, January 14, 2011

Universal problems

What is the meaning of a word? It must be something recurring in all instances of usage of that word. But what is this recursive thing? And in what does it recur? In Indian philosophy, direct realists (such as Vaiśeṣikas or Mīmāṃsakas) answer that it recurs in concrete substances, whereas Buddhist epistemologists may maintain that there is no outer referent and that all we can say is that something must recur in all usages of a certain word.

Today I had the pleasure to join Helmut Krasser's group working on the critical edition of Jinendrabuddhi's commentary on Dignāga's Pramāṇasamuccaya, section on apoha (PS V).
The chief-question is "What is the meaning of a word?" This must be something recurring in all instances of usage. Could it be a substance itself? Evidently not, since it must recur in individual substances and a substance cannot recur in other substances (nānyasmin dravye [dravyam] vartate, PSV 5.10d). On the other hand, what in fact recurs in all the instances of usage of the word "blue", might be "blueness" (nīlatva). But this cannot be the word-meaning.
Why? Maybe because of the general problem of universals (sāmānya or jāti), which has been recently very nicely described in Kataoka 2010e (A critical edition of Bhaṭṭa Jayanta's Nyāyamañjarī: Jayanta's view on jāti and apoha), p. 65.
In fact, everyone agrees that there cannot be a universal of a universal (jāter ajātitaḥ, PS V, 11a), although the relation among universals (see Kataoka's image, on the right) is quite similar to the relation among individuals. Hence, why denying the former and accepting the latter?


Anonymous said...

"In fact, everyone agrees that there cannot be a universal of a universal (jāter ajātitaḥ, PS V, 11a)"
Probably everyone, except Bhartrihari, who claimed the opposite view in the Jati-samuddesha.
Though I remember a similar statement (nihsAmAnyAni sAmAnyAni)from some vaisheshika text.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks, Evgenija, very interesting correction. So, Bhartṛhari just does not care about the regressus ad infinitum implied in the theory of a universal's universal?

Anonymous said...

He was certainly aware of this problem, but tried to eleminate it, shifting from ontological to functional level. He claimed, that in every single situation there would be no anavastha, because the intention of the speaker is focused only on one point: on the universal or on the universal of this universal etc. But ontologically universals are just shaktis of Brahman, therefore they can be manifold and mutually interrelated.

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