Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Reviews and personal attacks

What makes the difference between a fair negative review and a personal attack? In my opinion, the non-related material. If I am reading a review about the book X, I do not want to read anything related to the personal background of the author of X, nor about her career, friends, family, etc. This additional information might be interesting, but is not in itself part of the review of X and –if it is added to the review– it makes it into a personal attack. If you have something negative to say about X, just say it. Do not undermine it by making it look like a personal attack against its author.

Other indicators of a personal attack as different from a review?
Addendum: Until now, I never had the pleasure of reading a review of a work of mine on a journal. However, I have read negative and positive peer reviews of my projects and suggested articles. Plus, I wrote several reviews myself. I hope no author thought I was personally attacking her.

I have dedicated some posts to reviews. You can read one (with further links) here

Monday, July 30, 2012

Reading, writing, teaching…what do you like more?

There are many parts in the life of a researcher in the field of classical South Asia (all terms should be understood lato sensu). The following one is my personal list, but please add whatever major task I might have forgotten (i.e., please don't mention subsets, such as answering to emails or calling colleagues):

  1. 1. Reading. This is just unavoidable. Our primary sources are written ones. One needs to read both Sanskrit/Pāli/etc. texts, and secondary literature about it.
  2. 2. Thinking. This is also unavoidable for each sort of original work.
  3. 3. Writing. For some among us, it is fun to communicate, others only do it because they feel the pressure of the "publish or perish" commando. Still others refute to write at all and prefer to earn less or to be a, e.g., Sanskritist only during the Weekend.
  4. 4. Teaching. As above, some among us love it, others endure it and still others try to avoid it altogether. As with writing, reserachers of the older generation could avoid teaching almost altogether, if only they desired. This possibility to focus on points 1 and 2 only now tends to fade due to external pressure.
  5. 5. Organizing cultural events. Be they conferences, journals, team-projects… Perhaps due to the fact that I like organizing, but I am not able in fund-raising, I tend to think that the following point is not a subset of no. 5, but maybe I am wrong.
  6. 6. Fund-raising. Like it or not, we now need also to be able to explain to outsiders why they should fund us, we have to read boring application forms and even fill them…

What are your personal favourites? As for me, I very much enjoy the variety my job allows to me.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

prasaṅga in the Nyāyabhāṣya

prasaṅga, although it later came to define the Western reductio ad absurdum, actually rather had the meaning of "automatic occurrence". This meaning is kept in the Kalpasūtra, in the Mahābhāṣya, in the Mīmāṃsā and in the Nyāyasūtra (see the last post).

In his Nyāyabhāṣya, Pakṣilasvāmin Vātsyāyana does not deviate in his interpretation of the term prasaṅga from the above-mentioned usages of the Nyāyasūtra. […] Pakṣilasvāmin uses the term prasaṅga in the […] meaning of "occurrence of" or "possibility of an occurrence" […]. It is obvious that in this context [namely, NBh ad 1.1.5], prasaṅga is used without the hypothetical negative connotation found in many instances of the "younger" parts of the Nyāyasūtra […] (Prets 2007, p. 672--3).

Slightly later prasaṅga appears in the obscure definition of arthāpatti 'cogent evidence': arthād āpattiḥ arthāpattiḥ. āpattiḥ prāptiḥ prasaṅgaḥ. The first part can be translated as 'Cogent evidence is the ensuing (āpatti) from the thing itself' (this is my translation, Prets renders artha with ''meaning of the sentence'').  But what to do with the following line? Oetke (1992: 197, fn. 12) suggests: "āpatti is obtaining, resulting". Prets rather interprets the two terms as hierarchically linked and writes: "Ensuing (āpatti) [consists of] the resulting (prasaṅga) of an obtainment (prāpti)". This should mean that Prets reads prāptiprasaṅga, but he does not state it explicitly.

For other cases testifying a common prehistory shared by Śrautasūtras, Grammar and Mīmāṃsā authors, see this post (on tantra), this and this one (on prasaṅga, the latter discusses a metarule, i.e., "an exception counts more than the general rule").

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

prasaṅga in the Nyāyasūtra

My most patient readers will remember my bias in favour of the thesis of a common prehistory for Grammar, Mīmāṃsā, Śrautasūtra and possibly also Nirukta and Dharmaśāstras. I am also inclined to think (with Lars Göhler, see his 2011 book) that this common prehistory shaped Indian philosophy. What to do, then, of terms such as prasaṅga, which have a specific technical meaning in the former (default application), and a very distinct one (reductio ad absurdum) in the latter? I happened to read some interesting reflections on this very topic in Ernst Prets' contribution in Pramāṇakīrtiḥ (a Festschrift in honour of Ernst Steinkellner):
The early Indian dialectical traditions represented by the dialectic passages of the Carakasaṃhitā and the ancient vāda manual that may be reconstructed out of the first and last chapters of the Nyāyasūtra do not include the item prasaṅga in thier lists of technical terms or their definition sections. In the respective passage of the Carakasaṃhitā, the term prasaṅga does not even occur, not even in one of its verb forms.
Looking at the Nyāyasūtra one comes across the term prasaṅga primarily in those sections that are considered to be later, namely the books 2 to 4 and chapter 5.1, which parly deal with Nāgārjuna's arguments containing prasaṅga. Nevertheless, prasaṅga is mentioned in the other "older" part of the Nyāyasūtra three times. In each of the three occurrences of the term it is used with a different meaning (p. 670).
And the different meanings attested are "occurrence" (in two cases) and "attachment" (etymologically explainable) (pp. 670--1). Thus, quite close to the common prehistory sketched above. The sense of reductio ad absurdum probably developed in this way:

occurrence--»automatic occurrence--»unwanted occurrence [since you cannot avoid it]--»reductio ad absurdum [where one wants to avoid an unwanted occurrence]

On prasaṅga in general, see this post (together with many others on this blog). On early medicine, logic and philosophy in India, see this post. On the common prehistory shared by Grammar, Mīmāṃsā, Kalpasūtras, see this post.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Learning from the [scholars of] Greek world

Living in a periphery of the empire of Knowledge such as Indology (wider: South Asian Studies, narrower: Indian Philosophy), one often gets only much later in touch with the major trends which have been agitating its centre. Indologists are, for instance, often positivists, and ignore completely Russell's representationalism or Husserl's phenomenology, even if they work on sense-perception.

What to do, then? Personally, I try to read a lot on my "fellow disciplines" (e.g., epistemology or philosophy in general) beyond the Indus. It is never enough, but from time to time one discovers a beautiful gem which is in itself worth the issue. One such gems was Monica Berti's Citations and Textual Dynamics: Intertextuality and Greek Historiographical Fragments. Generously enough, Dr. Berti uploaded several of her works on Academia (this is her page). If you are fascinated by the topic of intertextuality, quotations, canons and originality, it is surely worth a visit!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


The concept of intertextuality should play a major role in studies on Sanskrit and Indian culture, given that most Sanskrit authors tend to identify themselves as commentators and given the general tendency to re-use textual materials.
Through the concept of intertextuality, we are made aware of the facts that

1. Literature is a system made not just of the sum of its parts, but –most importantly– of their reciprocal relations and each work is created and defined in relation to the system.
2. Literary works are dialogic works, whose life depends on the dialectical relation between originality and convention.
(Marina Polacco, L'intertestualità, pp. 7-8, summarised in Monica Berti, L'intertestualità e la storiografia greca, my translation).
This depiction of the cultural world as an ecosystem rather than a set of closed books seems to me to explain better the situation in India, also as depicted in the close books which are its relics. How do you see intertextuality at work in your field of study?

For my thoughts on the re-use of texts in India, you can see this post (including some sort of a call for papers), this one (on quotations in Western and Indian culture) and this one (on a tangential problem, but listing all previous posts on this topic).

Saturday, July 7, 2012

There is so much beyond quantitative rationalism…

I keep on considering the problem of atheist, empiricist Mīmāṃsakas who happen to be also devotees of Viṣṇu.
One could say that their faith was just a residual of their early education, one they did not manage to get rid of, but this is not the case, since at least some of them (e.g. Veṅkaṭanātha), wrote also mature theological treatises. Or, one could suppose that god was for them just a useful part of their philosophical systems (as he happened to be at a certain point of the history of Vaiśeṣika –according ot J. Bronkhorst's interpretation– where he played the role of warranty of karman), but this is also not the case, since the Mīmāṃsā school is explicitly based on the rejection of whatever is not a) empirically ascerteined, b) absolutely needed and at the same time a priori non graspable by the instruments of knowledge. Now, a god as part of the system is not empirically ascertained, nor is ne absolutely needed. The system works smoothly, as we all see, as it is. Thus, the introduction of a god is not for the sake of the system as it is, but rather for the sake of justifying a previous or later stage of the system. And there is no need to imagine that the system has ever had any previous or later stages.

What is left out, instead, is the case of something which is not graspable by our senses (lato sensu) and still is not just superstition. Is there anything like that?

Mīmāṃsakas are sure that such a sphere exists, insofar as our senses do not grasp anything but what exists. They have no jurisdiction over what should be. No matter how long one observes someone stealing cars, one will never realise that this is wrong just through sense-perception. Instead (so the Mīmāṃsā argument), one will need an authority explaining that this ought to be punished.

Now, some scientists have tried to argue that moral thinking can be explained through scientific laws, and, thus, that there is no separate realm of what ought to be. Our moral thought is just the result of, e.g., evolution, and it could not be different. It belongs to the realm of the is (rather than to the realm of the ought). Do you find these explanations convincing? Why or why not?

On Veṅkaṭanātha, see this post. On theism and atheism in India, see this post.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

On being a rationalist and a theist

Can one be a rationalist, an empiricist and at the same time also a theist?
Veṅkaṭanātha's case is fascinating, since –at least in his Seśvaramīmāṃsā– he adheres to the Mīmāṃsā paradigm, which refuses any deity on the basis of the facts that
  1. 1. natural causes (including karman) are enough to explain the world as it is,
  2. 2. there are no reasons to imagine that the world has ever been different than it is (thus, we do not need a creator god),
  3. 3. there is no need to postulate something if we do not need it (cfr. Ockham's Razor: Beings should not be multiplied unless it is necessary).


  1. 4. the belief in god is flawed with inconsistencies (for instance, omnipotency requires a body, but then the fact of having a body implies further difficulties).

Yet, Veṅkaṭanātha can write as a Mīmāṃsaka and at the same time write passionate devotional poems to Viṣṇu. How is this possible? Consider that it is not a case of divided rationality (such as a scientist who cannot help avoiding black cats, although he knows that her belief in the cats' bringing black luck is irrational). Veṅkaṭanātha wrote not only poems in praise of Viṣṇu, but also philosophical-theological works.

What other solutions are possible?

  • ––Perhaps, the Mīmāṃsā atheism can leave room for  a God, if this belief can be rationally grounded. It seems difficult to fight the premisses listed above, but Veṅkaṭanātha might have tried it.
  • ––Perhaps, the Mīmāṃsā atheismis is only devised against a) deities which should grant one the reward for having sacrificed, etc. In this second interpretation, the Mīmāṃsakas might not object against a god conceived in an altogether different way (for instance –and this is just my suggestion– one which is partially non-different from each of us as subjects).

Any other suggestion on how to reconcile rationalism and theism?

On Veṅkaṭanātha, see this post.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A new project on Mīmāṃsā and Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta (by me!)

I just came to know that the Lise Meitner project I submitted to the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) has been accepted!

Lise-Meitner projects are single projects (i.e., the principal investigator is basically alone, although he might have co-workers working on specific tasks) meant for scholars coming from anywhere in the world and moving to Austria. One just needs an Austrian institution confirming that they are willing to have you (which is easier than one might think, since you will be paid by the FWF, so that the institution will have an additional researcher gratis). If you are interested in more information, check this website.
In my case, I will be working at the Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia (aka IKGA, within the Centre for Studies in Asian Cultures and Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences), in Vienna. I will also have the pleasure to be working with Dr. Marion Rastelli, which I cannot wait for.

The project, about which you might have already read a little bit through this blog, will focus on the way Veṅkaṭanātha (Vedānta Deśika) uses Mīmāṃsā doctrines within his apologetics of the validity of Sacred Texts. More in detail, I will try to understand how a theist can use these Mīmāṃsā doctrines, which are based on the apauruṣeyatva 'non dependence on any personal author [be it human or divine]' of the Vedas. The project inclused the edition and analysis of Veṅkaṭanātha's Seśvaramīmāṃsā.

If you have been implied in the project (or in its evaluation), thank you! If not, any suggestion is welcome!

On Veṅkaṭanātha/Vedānta Deśika, see this post.

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