Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Non-ontological approach in Mīmāṃsā

What is prescriptive (normative) and what is just descriptive in the Brāhmaṇas and in Mīmāṃsā?

Elaborating on the identifications frequent in the Brāhmaṇas, Lars Göhler (Reflexion und Ritual in der Pūrvamīmāṃsā, 2011) writes:

Mylius (1976:146) writes that the [identifications in the Brāhmaṇas, E.F.] are based on the desire to systematise reality. The style and formulation of these identifications hint, however, also at a further purpose: The Brahmans did not just ascertain such identities, they conjured up them: in the identifications there is not only an ''is'', but also an ''ought''.

(Mylius (1976:146) schreibt, dass ihnen der Wunsch, die objektive Realität zu systematisieren, zugrunde lag. Stil und Formulierung dieser Identifikationen deuten aber noch auf eine weitere Absicht hin: die Brahmanen haben diese Identitäten nicht nur festgestellt, sie haben sie geschworen: In den Identifikationen findet sich nicht nur ein ''Sein'', sondern auch ein ''Sollen'', Göhler 2011: 20).

This harmonises with the caution against a default ontological interpretation pronounced by Göhler at the beginning of his book. Moreover, it throws some light on the prescriptive approach to the Veda which is typical of Mīmāṃsā. If one focuses on how the Brāhmaṇas and then the speculation on them do not merely describe reality, but rather prescribe how this should be, some of the striking peculiarities of Mīmāṃsā (and of Indian philosophy), such as the complex semantics of artha, meaning at the same time 'object' and 'purpose', become clearer. A little bit later, Göhler convincingly argues that also pramāṇa has in Mīmāṃsā a rather normative meaning (''Damit gehört Pramāṇa eher in die Nähe von Gültigkeitsbegriffen im Sinne von 'normativ gültig' oder 'handlungsverbindlich' '' (Göhler 2011: 36). Even MS 1.1.4, with its rejection of sense perception as instrument to know dharma is audaciously re-interpreted by Göhler from a non-descriptive perspective. The sūtra states that sense perception is animitta. This is usually understood as meaning that it is not the cause of the knowledge of dharma. By contrast, Göhler stresses the ritual background of nimitta and translates as follows: ''it does not promote (a ritual action creating something new)'' ("[…] sie veranlasst nicht (eine rituelle Tätigkeit, die etwas Neues schafft)'', Göhler 2011: 38).

In my opinion, the opposition between a descriptive and a prescriptive approach is a fundamental one when looking at Mīmāṃsā and possibly at Indian philosophy in general. A prescriptive meaning, further, cannot be interpreted through a direct-realist lens, insofar as it cannot directly correspond to an external state of affairs already existing at the moment the sentence referring to it is uttered. In other words, this is a further case of a non-ontological approach current in Indian philosophical texts (the topic has been recently discussed in this very interesting post by Jayarava).

What do readers think? Further evidences of non-ontological approaches?


ombhurbhuva said...

About Ontology and Epistemology. You can take that division too far, I believe and it can bring distortions into the reading of ancient thought which was essentially holistic or wholistic. Plato for instance is best known for his Ideas and they spring from his questioning of the given of perception and the conceptual schema that we have i.e. doxa versus knowledge. I refer to the problem of universals. (a) Given the constant mutation of experience how are general ideas possible? (b) could we even have individual experiences of pure particulars without general ideas? What exists such that this could be the case? From this springs the thesis about general reality/ontos or what is.

Aristotle took that problem field in an empirical direction but essentially the question is - what do we know and how are things fundamentally such that this knowledge is the case.

To take but one of the moderns, Bergson; he too finds the touchstone of the adequacy of a philosophy to be ones response to this question. (cf.Matter and Memory, Chap.1)

Among the Easterners that central figure Shankara (my man) asks in the preamble to B.S.B.:How is knowledge possible given the gap between the subject and the object? How can that object out there come to be 'in' me in some manner or other when consciousness and materiality are as different as night and day? What is the 'chit jada granthi'? From this Advaita moves to the concept of upadhi/pramana and perceptuality.

Just a few points.(my verifica parola was ONTOM !!!!!)

elisa freschi said...

Michael, thanks for warning me. Am I right in rephrasing your point as follows: "Any epistemology somehow presupposes an ontology, in order to explain how the cognitive process is possible"?
This might be true, but still we need to know whether something is said from an ontological or an epistemological point of view (if I say that it must have rained because there are no clothes hanging to dry up in my neighbours' garden I am mentioning an epistemological reason, not an ontological one, since there is no ontological connection between the two events).
More importantly, it is not necessarily the case that the ontology presupposed by a certain school's epistemology is the same as "our" direct realism. It might be a phenomenological approach, for instance. I, for one, cannot really understand how far my understanding of myself as a conscious subject well distinguished from the objects I know is determined by education, etc. Direct realism corresponds and nicely explains my perceptions, but is this necessarily the case?

p.s. what does verifica parola mean? Something like "password"?

ombhurbhuva said...

What I'm getting at is the classic/ancient practice of the aporetic or the puzzle or wonder. We seem to know more or to be sure of more than appears to be justified. Direct Realism is common sense of course but how? There is a critique that starts with the argument from illusion and leaves us with Idealism. We are only in direct contact with the contents of consciousness in this approach.

It is arguable I think that we start in the elaboration of a metaphysics by a questioning which is onto-epistemological rather than by simply accepting an ontology and backing an epistemology into it.

verifica parola is It. for verification word as on your blog. mild coincidence.

Jayarava said...

So is this in effect saying that ṛta was not presupposed, but actively conjured by the Brahmins? That in seeking to identify bandhu, they at the same time created ṛta? This would mean that ṛta was not an absolute, but only existed relative to the people thinking about it, even though this is not what they themselves believed. Yes? That the Brāhmaṇa texts were prescriptive of ṛta because there really isn't ṛta?

Whose perspective is this? Is it, once again, the "objective" outsider perspective which reduces ṛta to meaninglessness?

Are we then saying the same thing about dharma (and dharmatā) later on?

If the Brahmins saw the world in WYSIWYG terms, and they report in their texts an overall order to the world, then how do we know that they were being prescriptive rather than descriptive? Was it a conscious prescription? That would make the whole enterprise seem rather cynical and manipulative. Wouldn't it?

Is the idea of an ordered universe (which seems to be an universal human idea) just wish fulfilment? Even for physicists?

Or have I misunderstood the gist?


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