Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Naming authorities and relative chronology

One of my long-term projects (about which, see here) is the study of the re-usal of previous textual materials in Indian philosophical texts. And one of the striking aspects of the usage of quotations is that their authors are hardly ever identified. After a certain point, it seems to go against a common etiquette to name one's teachers other than with honorific titles. Teachers of one's own or other schools are identified through their works (i.e. vārttikakāra, sūtrakāra), through titles (ācārya) or through indefinite expressions (kecit, apare, anye…).
Consider now the following argument referring to the early history of Sanskrit culture. It seems to imply that the shift from names to indefinite references corresponded to the shift from a living tradition of teachers one was acquainted with to the textual tradition of codified works. Then, it might have become part of the etiquette.

Among the arguments adduced to prove the antiquity of the Śrautasūtras of Baudhāyana and Lāṭyāyana has been a peculiarity which they have in common with the brāhmaṇas, viz. the practice of mentioning —as authoritative or as rejectable— the statements made and the rites or customs observed by individual teachers and in doing so the tendency to distinguish these authorities by their names. The later sūtrakāras as a rule abandone this practice: they usually referred to existing 'literature' or other authorities without mentioning their names. Instead, they preferred the anonymous "some" (eke). (Gonda, The Ritual Sūtras, 1977: 483).

In a footnote to the last statement, Gonda adds that the Lāṭyāyana Śrautasūtra "refers ca. 470 times to ācāryāḥ or eke".

Quotations and re-usal of previous textual materials are one of my favourite subjects. On why we need to study them, see here. On how to mark quotations, see here. On the typology of reusal, see here. On the differences between "Indian" and "Western" culture of quotations, see here. On quotations and originality, see here.


michael reidy said...

On a tangent to your point:

In a culture in which rote learning is highly valued aids to memory are important. Thus the same examples are used again and again to indicate a whole problem field. They are so to speak the keys to unlock a whole region of discussion. When discussing perception ‘jar’ is used, superimposition brings in the rope/snake etc. I have amused myself in the past by changing those standard examples to create confusion. ‘What is he talking about now?’ The disadvantage of those ready to wear images is that they route the discussion along previously determined paths. There is a need to alter our diet of examples was the view of Wittgenstein.

elisa freschi said...

Yes, you are surely right, Michael. The stock examples are an aid to memory and allow one to go through a well-known path.
I have a personal wish, i.e., to see upamāna explained through a different example than the cow/gayal one. Can you think of any?

michael reidy said...

Thanks Elisa I like a puzzle.

The zoologist would not go from bos gaurus to bos taurus but just to bos if he met such an animal. There would not be comparison but identification of features.

How would you come to know of a Hapsburg jaw or a Bourbon nose? Get invited to their parties and see them all together. In this case you do not compare to individuals but to a sort of genus.

Wittgensteins idea of games in Philosophical Investigations. How do we find the ludic element unless we know the ludic element already? Is that a mistake? Shankara seems to make it in his Vedic Words section (BSB. I.iii.28) He says if I read him correctly that we encounter only cows never cowhood. “Thus even though the individuals are born, the distinctive general characteristics (or features) remain constant, so that this creates no difficulty about the eternality of the words cow etc.”

It’s all very interesting and has Platonic overtones.

Here I think is the problem with a limited diet of examples - we are steered into a certain view which is partial. The philosophy behind concept formation can go astray because our possession of the concept is empirically demonstrated and we are thus tempted to look for the basis of the concept in some sort of experience.

The alternative example to the canonical gavaya (bos gaurus) would perhaps be Quercus (Oak) of which there are 600 species. The point of comparison would be the acorns. Where is the ‘oakness’ though?

elisa freschi said...

Thanks, Michael, you point to the main problem, i.e., what is compared in upamāna? The oak example works, but only in exactly the same circumstances (someone tells you "there is a quercus leccus in the wood", "what is it?" "it is like the oak you have in your garden" and so on). But analogy-cases such as the first ones you mention seem not to be included.

michael reidy said...

I understand you now. You want to get to the bottom of the idea of upamana/comparison. Is it about concept formation and the use of comparison in that? Tricky, how do you know what aspect it is that you will use? Is it simply a function of memory? There is a concept of a cow, a universal if you like. One has that if one can use it in the appropriate manner. Then this new event falls over the established one like a tracing and a feature pops out. There are the horns, the tail etc; this then must be the gavaya that I was told about.

The other thing that I am not immediately aware of is whether at the time of Gangesa there was any concept of Genus, species and differentia. Since Aristotle it has been around so that we take it for granted as part of the human mental furniture but it isn’t really. I shouldn’t be surprised if they proceeded to classify on entirely different grounds, dosas or rasa or something.

Interesting conundrum.

elisa freschi said...

Yes, you are right (and I am sorry for the delay). "Definition" does not presuppose the same things in Aristotles and in Nyāya, where the definition seems to be meant at either 1. picking out the distinguishing feature of something, e.g., the asādharaṇalakṣaṇa, which picks out what is specific to a certain thing alone, independently of whether this is central to the thing at stake, or 2. naming the essence of something (e.g., āptopadeśaḥ śābdaḥ, which tells you the main point about śābdaḥ, although it does not help you in distinguishing it). As for the risks of calling it, nonetheless, "definition, you might want to see this post:

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