Monday, December 30, 2013

किं स्वतः परतो वा प्रामाण्यम्?

किं प्रामाण्यं स्वतः, परतो वा उत्पद्यते, ज्ञायते च ?
सांख्यानां प्रामाण्याप्रामाण्यौ उभौ स्वतः । नैयायिकानां वैशेषिकानां च प्रामाण्याप्रामाण्यौ उभौ परतः । बौद्धप्रमाणवादिनां प्रामाण्यं परतः, अप्रमाण्यं तु स्वतः । मीमांसकानां तु प्रामाण्यं स्वतः, अप्रमाण्यं च परतः । इति चत्वारः पक्षाः ।
शेष इह पठनीयः ।

Friday, December 27, 2013

Let us organise more Saṃvādas! An Interview with Mrinal Kaul

I met Mrinal Kaul for the first time in December 2012, when he attended the Coffee Break Meeting on textual reuse in Indian Philosophical texts. Since then, I tried to have him collaborate to many of my projects, but always failed, since he is already very  busy with incredibly many others. You can read his blog here and find out something more about him on his Academia page. Once you have done this, add much more Sanskrit than you would believe, imagine a smiling, funny face and you will still have only a vague idea of him.
You can read the interview at my new blog, here.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Do you wish you had a job instead of Christmas presents? Check here!

The Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Old Dominion University (Norfolk, Virginia, USA) looks for a faculty member specializing in Asian Philosophy. Please read the rest at my new blog, here.

Monday, December 23, 2013

There is more than emic vs. etic: Madeleine Biardeau and the history of philosophy

Is the only alternative one faces while speaking about South Asia that between an etic (i.e., Western) and emic approach? Please read the rest at my new blog, here.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Which Sanskrit should we study and teach?

Should we study and teach Classical Sanskrit through examples from Classical literature only? Should we rather focus on Spoken Sanskrit? Are contemporary texts admissible?
Please read the rest at my new blog, here.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How many Saṅkarṣa Kāṇḍas are there?

At my new blog (here), you can read about my thesis that there were more than one Saṅkarṣa Kāṇḍa: an ancient, boring and almost-forgotten one and a newer one whose author used the ancient title to gain a position within the Mīmāṃsā-Vedānta śāstra.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Monday, December 9, 2013

Where are the Yoga philosophers?

Today I read in Philipp Maas's contribution to Periodization and Historiography of Indian Philosophy (edited by Eli Franco) an intriguing critique of Colebrook and of all the Indologists who, seemingly following him, thought that there was nothing philosophical in Yoga apart from its Sāṅkhya component and that what was typical of Yoga alone was not philosophical.
Is it really the case? Read the rest at my new blog, here.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Professor for Classical Indian Polity and Society, 500 BCE-500 CE

The Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta invites applications for the Saroj and Prem Singhmar Chair in Classical Indian Polity and Society, 500 BCE-500 CE, at the rank of Associate or Full Professor. You can read the rest at my new blog, here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

What is the role of the Saṅkarṣakāṇḍa?

Why do Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedāntin authors care for a Mīmāṃsā-related text which Mīmāṃsākas ignore, and which only seems to deal with minor ritual topics? Read the rest at my new blog, here.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Looking at space instead of just surfaces: an interview with Gerald Kozicz

This month, I interview an architect and historian of Buddhist art, who explains how taking into account space can throw new light on the symbolic language of many monuments: see my new blog here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Assistant Professor for Comparative Philosophy in Leiden

The University in Leiden looks for an assistant professor of Comparative Philosophy.

Please note that Jonathan Silk added, on the Indology mailing list, "what the Academic Director of the Philosophy Institute told me, namely that--despite what the ad may say-- they are looking for someone with a 'specialization in Chinese philosophy and/or Buddhism. Of course some acquaintance with so-called western philosophy would help, but is not necessary. Up till now the vacancy mostly drew historians of western philosophy with an interest in other areas. I’d rather have it the other way around' ".

You can read the ad here.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Reuse of the Laternendecke in Indian, Tibetan, Central Asian art, etc.

The Laternendecke type of ceyling has been initially developed as a practical solution for areas where wood was scarce, but then assumed a symbolic meaning and has been reused in India, Central Asia, China, and in Hindū, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and Islamic contexts. How was this resemantization possible? Read the rest at my new blog, here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

PhD grant in Buddhist translation studies, University of Vienna

The Institute of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies at the University of Vienna is pleased to invite applications for one PhD grant in Buddhist Translation. Please read the rest at my new blog, here.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Pāñcarātra and Vedānta: a long and complicated relation

Why do we find Pāñcarātra first refuted by Vedānta scholars and then defended by other Vedāntins? What happened between the two groups? And what was at stake with Pāñcarātra?
Read the rest at my new post, here.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Yoshimizu, apūrva and a new reading of the Mīmāṃsā schools

There are various differences among the Bhāṭṭa and the Prābhākara schools of Pūrva Mīmāṃsā, respectively founded by Kumārila Bhaṭṭa and Prabhākara Miśra, who possibly lived around the 7th c. AD, but one of the most striking and telling ones is that regarding the concept of apūrva.
Read the rest at my new blog, here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Deputy director at SOAS

SOAS, University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies) will launch the SOAS South Asia Institute (SAI) in 2014. They also look for a deputy director, as you can read at my new blog, here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mystical perception, God’s intellectual intuition and normal people’s sense-perception

Is mystical perception (aka yogipratyakṣa) a kind of perception? Can we go without it, if we want to ground religious beliefs?
Read the rest at my new blog, here.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A round table on reuse

The Round Table at the end of the panel on Adaptive Reuse (see here) has been a chance for rethinking almost all the categories we had used until that point (and having to rethink is one of the things I appreciate more in scientific works).
How? Read the rest at my new blog, here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Postdoctoral Teaching Fellowship on South Asia (also Classical South Asia)

MELLON POSTDOCTORAL TEACHING FELLOWSHIP In the Humanities and Humanistic Social Sciences 2014-2016, read the rest at my new blog, here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Disciplines, Interdisciplinarity, Multidisciplinarity etc. in Sanskrit (and) Philosophy

If you have ever felt comfortable in one discipline… lucky you!

If not,  please read the rest of this post at my new blog, here.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Text, performance and “entextualization”

What is a text? Is a text opposed to a performance? Or are performances performances of a text? Is there a rigid opposition between written (i.e., closed, fixed) texts and performances?
Read the rest at my new blog, here.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

TT Hindī position at Chicago

Do you work on Sanskrit and want to remain in the Academy? Consider having Hindī as your bread-winning topic and Sanskrit as your passion.
Read the rest of the post at my new blog, here.

Monday, October 28, 2013

पदनित्यत्वं वेदनित्यत्वं च

किमर्थम् पदानित्यत्वं निषेद्धव्यम् ?
मीमांसकास् "शब्दो नित्य एव" इति मन्यन्ते । यथा वयं वृद्धव्यवहारे शब्दार्थसम्बन्धानधिगच्छामः, तथा भूते काले वृद्धाः अपि −इत्यनादिरेव शब्दप्रयोग इति ।
शेष इह पठितव्यम् ।

Friday, October 25, 2013

Read more books, in order not to be exploited: an interview with Camillo A. Formigatti

Camillo Formigatti works at the Cambridge Sanskrit Manuscript Project and is the author of many wonderful virtual catalogue sheets you can read directly online here. I met him only in 2009, while working at the first Coffee Break Conference, and now I wonder how I survived before without his acumen in the analysis of manuscripts as "things" and not (only) as carrier of a meaning

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Jobs in "Asian Studies"

If you are looking for a job in "Asian Studies" be sure to check this blog on Chinese Philosophy, featuring practically all Call for Papers and jobs linked with Chinese Thought. Many of them (for instance the PhD program in Philosophy offered by the University of Singapore) are open also to researchers specializing on other areas of Asia and/or of Philosophy.

Monday, October 21, 2013

What is "new"?

Did you just put in your research statement that you wrote a "new" argument in favour of Free Will, that your book offers a "new and fresh" perspective on the philosophy of history or even just that your interpretation of Plato is "completely new and compelling"? Consider reformulating.
In order to know why, read the rest at my new blog, here.

The Yoga in Transformation Conference 1 (Maas and Wujastyk)

This conference aimed at bridging the gap between yoga practicioners and yoga researchers, providing the former "convenient access to information on high-level research". Did it really fulfil this task?

Please read the remaining of the post at my new blog, here.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

9th Annual International Conference on Philosophy, 26-29 May 2014, Athens, Greece

I keep on thinking that one should prepare a panel on Indian philosophy for one of these conferences, but it is always too late when I finally remember it. Perhaps next year? Or do you have something ready?
Please read the full post at my new blog, here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Position in Buddhist Studies

At least in Taiwan, not writing in Chinese seems to be an advantage…

Please read the rest at my new blog, here.

Monday, October 14, 2013

More than one cause at once: Veṅkaṭanātha on sacrifices and other causes

What if one offers a Citrā sacrifices, but does not obtain the promised cattle? And what if one after the sacrifice does obtain some cattle, but only because one has received it as a gift? 

You can read the rest at my new blog, here.

Friday, October 11, 2013

32nd DOT in Münster: a thought-provoking experience

The 32nd DOT (Deutscher Orientalisten Tag, i.e., Assembly of the German Orientalists) took place from the 23rd to the 27th September in Münster (W). It was surely the biggest DOT ever and its 1,300 participants made it a bigger event than many (most, I would say) World Sanskrit Conferences. Was it also more interesting than them?

You can read the rest of the post at my new blog, here.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Who are the Vedāntins?

When did Vedānta become the standard interpretative frame of Indian thought? Some thoughts on the early history of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta here.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Friday, September 27, 2013

"Philosophy is the only thing alive''. An interview with Aleix Ruiz-Falqués (part 2)

Aleix Ruiz-Falqués (his blog is here) studies (in Cambridge) Pāli Grammatical Literature written in Burma. He is an engaged scholar and one who is not shy to get involved in controversies about ideas. You can read the first part of this interview here. This time I will be asking him more general (and more provocative) questions.
EF: In some of your posts (see here and here), you seem to be quite sceptical about Anthropology as applied to Buddhism (i.e., you seem to share the textual-based approach you described in the first part of your interview). You also exhibited some scepticism concerning comparative philosophy and comparatism in general. How do you see interactions with people outside your field? Are they still possible, these premisses notwithstanding?
ARF: I'm ---more or less--- a philologist. Thus, I don't believe interdisciplinarity is something additional. It is part of the discipline, since you can't do philology without history, etc. The problem I have with other disciplines, sometimes, is that they try to answer philological questions without philology and I think that's not possible. One needs to read the texts.
For instance, I read some time ago about the idea of canon in Pāli. Some anthropologists have been disputing the fixed idea of canon meaning the Tipiṭaka as we know it. They claim that in some libraries in villages in Thailand you don't find the whole orthodox canon but just parts of it, and then other texts that are not usually called canonical (some call them apocryphal). Now, all this information is really interesting, but it has nothing to do with the idea of canon in Pāli scholarship in Pāli, and I don't know why some scholars are against accepting the fact that some ideas are fabricated by an élite and still that's how they are. What the villagers do is not important at all.
EF: In my opinion, we are just talking about different things. Whenever I give a talk I tend to say at the beginning that I am not talking about the Veda as it is, but only with its intellectual reflection within the works of an intellectual élite.
ARF: Moreover, against those who consider Philosophy dead I maintain the opposite: Philosophy is the only thing alive.
EF: I cannot but agree. Saying that philosophy is dead is just part of a philosophical discussion. But then: if you cannot avoid asking philosophical questions, whence your hostility to using philosophy in the case of Buddhist studies?
ARF: Because I don't think that there is "philosophy" but "philosophies" and they are mutually incompatible. Thus, I like "applying" the philosophy I consider correct and I dislike applying the philosophy I consider incorrect. I more or less follow the ideas of a Spanish philosopher called Gustavo Bueno, who says that Philosophy is a knowledge of second degree. Philosophy would be the critical analysis of previously received knowledge, preferably knowledge already systematized, but not necessarily so. There are many disciplines and sciences and the main job of philosophy is the critical analysis of what we know.

EF: Can't this critical analysis (insofar as it is critical) be a shared enterprise? Why does it need to have only, say, Burma as its precinct of application?
ARF: It could be a shared enterprise, and in fact I believe it can only be such. If you want to say that I seemed to imply that I don't need comparisons to study Burma, well, I know that's not true.
We all need to compare. My problem with comparative studies is different, it has to do with the logic behind it, the aims of this research and its results, which seem to me very dubious most of the time. For instance,  I talk to a friend about Buddhist monasticism and the friend says "Oh, yes, that happened in Europe as well..." and he gives me the Rule of Saint Benedict. Now, I think that's a perfectly good topic of research, but the sheer comparison, trying simply to point out similarities as if they meant something in themselves, this I think is pointless.
EF: Well, I would say that sheer comparison (A is found also in context B) is non interesting because it is plainly descriptive. In other words: everything descriptive is uninteresting. I am also terribly bored by articles about history of art if they say things like "this sculpture represents a naked woman holding an arch".
ARF: I totally agree! My favourite target is "Buddhism and Science" ("What Kant said was already realized by Lord Buddha"…).
EF: I know this questions scares many. Do you have an overall idea of what you want to achieve within your research area? Are there priorities in your work or do you let yourself be driven by your interests of the moment?
ARF: I think I know (but then I might change my mind), but yes, right now I have a crystal clear idea of what I would do. I would like to study Pāli literature written in Burma and Theravāda Buddhism in Burma, from a  historical perspective. There is far too much for one person, thus drop me a line if you are interested.
As far as I am concerned, I'll be happy if I could do these two things before I die:
  1.  critical edition of Kaccāyanasuttaniddesa
  2. A study of Ariyavaṃsa and his Abhidhamma commentary Maṇisāramañjūsā

EF: Did you obtain a scholarship to study in the UK? Has it been difficult? What did you do ''right'' (I am asking so that someone else might copy you)?
ARF: I knew from a friend that there were some scholarships offered by one of the most powerful financial institutions in Spain, which has a sort of Fund for social work, scholarships, etc. They give yearly 20 scholarships for Masters and PhDs. Thus, I applied for a scholarship to study abroad and I got it, probably because they wanted to be sure that the person they give the scholarship to is passionate about his/her topic. It is probably the most effective way to know that s/he will not give up. Thus, I was lucky.
EF:  You have been studying in Spain, India, UK and have been researching in Burma. What would you recommend to younger colleagues?
ARF: It depends on the case. In my case, to tell you the truth, I went to India because I didn't know how to manage in Europe. But then, the approach in Pune University was very much plunging into the texts, and in case of doubt, reading a Sanskrit commentary, forget about English secondary literature. And I really liked that! Therefore, I would recommend to know the methods of every place beforehand and choose the method which is more suitable to one's own temper and interests. I prefer reading the sources.

What would you recommend?
Interviews are posted each last Friday in a month. You can read the first one (to Michela Clemente) here and the first part of Aleix' interview here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Rāmānuja's Śrī Bhāṣya and its readers

Rāmānuja is usually considered the real founder of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta. The Śrī Bhāṣya is usually considered his masterpiece. Thus, what would one expect in it?

Friday, September 20, 2013

How to justify Testimony? Indian and Western views

Concerning the Epistemology of Testimony, one can first distinguish between reductionists (claiming that Testimony is just a subset of Inference) and anti-reductionists (claiming that Testimony is a distinct instrument of knowledge). In India and in the West, we have reductionists (David Hume, Elisabeth Fricker, Buddhist Pramāṇavāda, Vaiśeṣika) and anti-reductionists (Thomas Reid, Jennifer Lackey, Arindam Chakrabarti, Nyāya, Mīmāṃsā).

Interestingly, however, in the West reductionists insist on the need for testimony to be grounded on something else (e.g., on the reliability of the speaker), whereas anti-reductionists claim that  we have a "presumptive right" to accept testimony, so that it "is a source of justification in its own right" (Gelfert 2010).

Monday, September 16, 2013

Secondary signification for Kumārila, Prabhākara and Rāmānuja

Can the Absolute be at the same time One and still be defined as existence, knowledge and bliss? Rāmānuja discusses this topic with an opponent in his Śrī Bhāṣya on Brahma Sūtra 1.1.1. The opponent says that if the Absolute brahman is only Oneness, then all attributes would end up as having to be understood only  metaphorically (lakṣaṇā). Rāmānuja replies that this would not be a problem, since contextual meaning (tātparyavṛtti) —which, we understand, includes the possibility of secondary signification (lakṣaṇā)— overrules direct meaning (abhidhānavṛtti):

Friday, September 13, 2013

Is the Veda the body of God? (Yoshimizu 2007–II part)

How can one interpret a Vedic passage by saying that a certain meaning was not "intended" (vivakṣita), while still thinking that the Veda has no personal author?

The Mīmāṃsā cannot renounce the idea that the Veda has no personal author (apauruṣeyatva): its whole theory about the Veda's validity depends on this principle. However, Kumārila needs also to explain in which sense one can decide whether an interpretation of the Veda is right or not on the basis of whether it is intended (vivakṣita). How can one speak of intention if there is no author?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sanskrit Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania

Do you want to focus on research only or do you enjoy teaching? If the latter is the case, the US can offer you many job opportunities.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Group blog on Sanskrit (and) Philosophy

I am firmly convinced that any purpose we might want to achieve within Sanskrit (and) philosophy can only be achieved through a joint effort (alone, we will never be influential enough). Further, working together means more fun:-) This is the foundation of the Coffee Break Project (see here) and I would like it to be the foundation also of a group blog on topics of Sanskrit (and) philosophy. It should work along the lines of other group blogs in the field of (Western) philosophy (see for instance: or or of Chinese philosophy, see:

Friday, September 6, 2013

Plurality of subjects in Mīmāṃsā: Kiyotaka Yoshimizu 2007

Is the plurality of subjects compatible with the idea of a Vedāntic kind of liberation (in which there seems to be no distinction among different souls)? And can there be an absolute brahman if there are still distinct subjects?

I just read Kiyotaka Yoshimizu's Kumārila's Reevaluation of the Sacrifice and the Veda from a Vedānta Perspective (in Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta, edited by Bronkhorst and Preisendanz, 2007). The paper elaborates on thematics close to the ones dealt with by Roque Mesquita (Die Idee der Erlösung bei Kumārilabhaṭṭa, WZKS 1994) and John Taber (Kumārila the Vedāntin?, in the same Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta) and adds to the debate Yoshimizu's close knowledge of Kumārila in general and of his less studied works in particular. The article focuses in fact on the Ṭupṭīkā, Kumārila's commentary on the last part of the Pūrva Mīmāṃsā sūtra, and compares it with the fragments of the Bṛhaṭṭīkā and with the Tantravārttika.
Kumārila is the chief exponent of the Bhāṭṭa school of Pūrva Mīmāṃsā and the Mīmāṃsā is mainly a school of Vedic exegesis. The Vedic sacrifices necessarily require someone responsible for their performance and responsibility is explicitly said to be individual. In other words, the Vedic injunctions enjoin specific individuals and not human beings in general. Thus, they require a plurality of subjects.
However, Yoshimizu shows how Kumārila accepts the notion of a paramātman 'supreme Self' in different passages of his works. paramātman can be used as a synonym of God, Īśvara, but is mostly used as a synonym of the all-encompassing brahman. The latter would contradict the plurality of subjects which is required by Mīmāṃsā.
Thus, we need to imagine that Kumārila's paramātman does not entail monism. What else could it mean, then, to say that liberation is the "attainment of the supreme Self" (paramātmaprāpti, TV, quoted in fn. 6). Given that the paramātman seems to be in all authors who mention it a single entity, the TV claim seems to entail that everyone achieves the dignity of the single paramātman. How can this not contradict pluralism?
One might suggest that pluralism only exists in the saṃsāra, but could a pluralistic ontology be compatible with its monistic evolution, given that the paramātman is said to exist also along the saṃsāra? Would it make sense to think of living beings as leaving the proscenio of their plural world one after the other, in order to dissolve into the paramātman?
Alternatively, one should think of Kumārila's claim as entailing an ontology akin to the one later known as Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta, i.e., only God exists independently, but human beings are his features (viśeṣa) and are, hence, not identical with him.

Can you think of other ways out?

P.S. Yoshimizu kindly informed me that he might elaborate further on the topic of the paramātman a new paper for the next World Sanskrit Conference in Bangkok.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

1 year Post-Doc on Buddhism

The Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS) of the Faculty of Humanities at Leiden University invites applications for a One Year full-time position (Post-doctoral Fellow) in the field of Buddhist Studies, to begin as soon as possible.

One Year Post-Doctoral Fellow Position in the NWO Project Buddhism and Social Justice (1.0 fte)
Vacancy number: 13-249

Duties and responsibilities

We seek a Post-Doctoral Fellow with excellent qualifications to work in the NWO Project Buddhism and Social Justice. Specialization is open, but the applicant should focus her/his work on the general subject area of the project. The project is ongoing (see, with the One Year vacancy made possible by the departure of a present Post-doc fellow for a tenured appointment elsewhere.

Applicants should  have a demonstrably excellent academic track record in Buddhist Studies, and hold a PhD in Buddhist Studies or a related field, or its equivalent. They should have an excellent command of English and be prepared to present their research results in English. Within the one year time frame, the successful candidate should engage in research, prepare at least one article for publication, and participate in the project’s upcoming international conference.

What we offer
The position is for one year with a full-time appointment. The salary is determined in accordance with the current scales as set out in the collective labour agreement for the Dutch universities (CAO): min. € 2.427, max. € 3.491, with additional holiday and end-of-year bonuses. Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break.

Further information

For more information about the position please contact Prof. dr. J.A Silk, tel. +31-71-527-2510, email Please note that applications should not be sent directly to Prof. Silk.

How to apply

Candidates please send your application (in English), including:
• a cover letter stating your motivation for this position, and proposed project
• a CV,
• copies of your academic transcripts,
• a copy of your PhD thesis and other relevant publications,
• the names and contact information for three referees.

These items should preferably be submitted in a single PDF document called “Family Name-Given Name-13-249.”

Review of applications will commence immediately and continue until the position is filled or this call is closed.

Please send your application electronically, indicating the vacancy number to:
All application materials should be sent in pdf format.

If it is not possible for you to submit an electronic application, you may mail your materials, citing the vacancy number, to:

M. van Asperen
Leiden University
PO Box 9515
2300 RA Leiden
The Netherlands

A telephone (or Skype) interview may be part of the selection procedure.

Further information:

Monday, September 2, 2013

New (Academic) Year, New Blog

I am planning to move to this new blog.
For the next month, I will post in both blogs, while starting from the end of September, I will only post in the new one.

  • Because wordpress makes it possible to embed pdfs, surveys, different styles of posts and other elements
  • Because it is more flexible (at least for people like me, who are not really at ease with html)
  • Because it allows tags, and I hope this will make the readers' experience more enjoyable
  • Because it allows for different pages to be ordered from the start-page, and I hope to be able to distinguish in this way between Sanskrit and English posts

Long story short, bear with me during the transition, update your links and don't forget to let me know what you think about the new blog!

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?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bibliography on absence and a question

Guha's article (discussed in this post), though thought-provoking, has a weak point, i.e., the fact that the author ignores much interesting material on the topic of absence (even on the smaller topic of absence in Nyāya and Mīmāṃsā), a topic to which I will dedicate a separate post. I am in a conflict of interests, since I wrote three articles on absence in Mīmāṃsā (they can be found on, here, here and here), but I am not talking about my work. Arindam Chakrabarti's great book Denying existence : the logic, epistemology, and pragmatics of negative existentials and fictional discourse (1997) is just ignored, and so are Schmithausen's (1965) comprehensive study of error in Indian philosophy (a topic closely connected to that of absence, since one might claim that in the case of error one grasps something non-existing) and Birgit Kellner's book (1997) and article (1997—but written well thereafter) on this topic.
Such works would have helped Guha to distinguish the topic of ontology as an "inventory of the world" from that of the padārthas, which are —in my opinion— not just part of this inventory, as proven by categories such as samavāya 'inherence', which could hardly figure in an inventory, although they are needed to make sense of the world in an economical way.
Further, Guha refers  to the view that "Most of the Indian schools that were interested in ontological categoriology began their journey from linguistic intuitions" (p. 113), without taking into account Bronkhorst's (Brill 1999, previously published in French) position about it (he refers, instead, to "Professor Gangadhar Kar", with no indication of any work).

Thus, to the question:
With today's Google Scholar and the like, can ignoring essential literature still be excused? Does reading enhance one's philosophical results or is it only pedantic?

For my praise of reading, see here. For the post on Guha's article, see here (be sure to check the interesting comments).

Monday, July 29, 2013

Difficult Apologetics: How to justify evil prescriptions in the Sacred Texts

Philosophers or "free thinkers" may abruptly dismiss whatever they don't understand or believe to be false in a Sacred Text —or even decide not to open one at all. But theologians and authors of apologetics have a much tougher task: they must make sense of everything within a Sacred Text —even what seems to be immoral or unjust.

The most well-known example in Indian apologetics is that of the Śyena-sacrifice. This is a malevolent ritual which is prescribed in the Veda with the words: "The one who wants to harm his enemy should sacrifice with the malevolent ritual Śyena''. Opposers easily used it as an evidence of the flaws in the Veda, whereas Mīmāṃsakas had to reconcile it with the ideal of non-violence, also believed to be of Vedic origin. One of the solutions is that of stressing the adhikārins, i.e., the people who are responsible for performing the sacrifice. The sacrifice is not, it is explained, prescribed to everyone, but only to the ones who "want to harm their enemies". This is  something one should never desire to do, thus, they are already committing something prohibited and in this sense the Vedic prescription about the Śyena is a way to bring these evil ones under the control of the Veda (śaṭhacittaśāstravaśatopāyo 'bhicāraśrutiḥ, Parāśara Bhaṭṭa).

Today it came to my mind that this is the same way Jesus Christ used to "rescue" the Mosaic permission to repudiate one's wife. Consider Matthew 19.3–9, where some Pharisees come, as it is often the case in the Gospel narrations, to Jesus in order to test him with a conundrum he would not be able to solve, namely, the seeming contradiction between the cruelty of repudiating one's wife and the fact that this practice is sanctioned by Moses (De 24:1-4):

"Why then," they [=the Pharisees] asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"
Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard […]." (International Version 2011)

Do you see it? Jesus is using the same device as the Mīmāṃsakas, i.e., saying that the passage in the Sacred Text which seems unjust is in fact the best possible solution for the (cruel) people it addresses and that the prescription is in fact not a general order, but an ad hoc permission, focusing on the ones who would not have been able to follow the best way.

Do you know of other instances of this apologetic move? Do you think the parallel holds?

On the Śyena conundrum you can read also this post.

Friday, July 26, 2013

How to be an excellent Tibetologist and land in a Marie Curie Fellowship: an Interview with Michela Clemente

I met Michela Clemente because we both studied at the faculty of Oriental Studies at "La Sapienza" in Rome and most of all because we studied together Tibetan at the IsIAO. She wrote her MA thesis on a 17th century religious master, Kun spangs pa Chos kyi rin chen, by translating his life-story, which was an uncommon type of biography and, to her knowledge, the only preserved copy of this text. The inner typology is so far the less-studied and least known among Tibetan biographies. She is thus the first scholar who translated a Tibetan “inner biography” into a European language (for further details on this genre of biographies and on Michela’s work in particular, see Clemente 2008).
Then, she wrote her PhD thesis on lHa btsun Rin chen rnam rgyal (1473-1557) a master who had a leading role in Tibetan printing history. Beside her interest for the contents of the works she has been dealing with, and for the genre of biographies in general, she has also been researching on their form, i.e., on Tibetan xylographies. These are woodblock prints and have been used since the beginning of the 15th Century in Tibet. Against in the case of modern printing with movable characters, the whole page was engraved in wood and then used as a stamp. Michela has been outlining some key elements for a philology of Tibetan xylographies (printing school, colophons, etc.). You can find, e.g., an abstract of her contribution on this topic to the first Coffee Break Conference here; the full article has been published on RSO 2011. She is now in Cambridge with a Marie Curie fellowship.

EF: What is your current project about?

MC: My current project is about Tibetan printings. It is entitled Tibetan Book Evolution and Technology. This is correlated to an international project entitled Transforming Technologies and Buddhist Book Culture: the Introduction of Printing and Digital Text Reproduction in Tibetan Societies, organized by the University of Cambridge (MIASU) in collaboration with the British Library and funded by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), which started in 2010 and in which I am involved. My project will study extant early Tibetan prints from the South Western area, where the first printing houses of Tibet were set up, in order to understand the introduction of xylography as a complex process involving technical, economic, political and religious factors. The project will focus on the 15th–early 16th century xylographs from various libraries in the UK (Cambridge University Library, Bodleian Library, British Library, Liverpool Library) as well as other prints from the National Archives of Kathmandu, numerous libraries in Tibet and from the Tucci Tibetan Collection of the IsIAO Library in Rome. By focusing on the study of these early prints a great deal of codicological information will be produced. This will be used to supplement the historical information from the texts and provide the starting point for a new method of identification of early prints based on book features. I will examine the texts according to codicological standards and in co-operation with experts from different disciplines thus obtaining the fullest understanding of all aspects of the texts through:

  1. 1) materials analysis [paper, ink, pigments];
  2. 2) the style of the edition [front page, layout, ductus, orthographic peculiarities, woodcut representations];
  3. 3) book cover typology (if present); 
  4. 4) the study of the colophon.

EF: Do you interact with colleagues working on similar topics but with South Asian and/or Western materials?

MC: I am interacting with colleagues at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies in Cambridge, who are working on a AHRC project which focuses on Sanskrit Manuscripts preserved at the Cambridge University Library. Within the AHRC project on Tibetan book, we are also organizing a workshop on printing as an agent of change in Tibet and beyond, which will involve experts of Japanese, Chinese and Indian prints as well.

EF: Which topics do you envision as the more urgent priorities in your field of study? What would you recommend as a topic for, e.g., a young graduate student looking for a theme for his/her PhD thesis?

MC: Tibetan culture is plenty of topics to deepen and I can’t say which one has the highest priority. Furthermore, I think that each young student should choose something fascinating to him/her. Passion is what leads a scholar to continue his studies despite difficulties. It is not easy to carry on research, especially in Italy, and especially in this field. There are numerous texts that have not been translated yet and that are now available. There are collaborative projects that are investigating different facets of Tibetan culture. If students who are interested in Tibetan culture would like to contact me, they can write me at this address.

EF: You managed to get a prestigious scholarship. Apart from your expertise on this field, what was the key of this success? What would you recommend to colleagues and readers?

MC: It is necessary to find the right institution which will host you. It must have an experienced and well-trained staff. The credibility of the institution is extremely relevant. The presentation of the project is also really important. The topic of the project must be comprehensible for anybody and it should be presented in a fascinating way. Do not write the application as a scientific article. Try to write as simple as possible. Do not use Tibetan or Sanskrit terms. People that evaluate these applications are researchers of all disciplines and also managers, publicists, and so on. Graphs and charts are appreciated as well as pictures. Take into consideration outreach activities for a wider audience. It is important that the project is useful not only to deepen one or more aspects of your field, but also for the community. Before submitting the application, ask someone who is not a specialist in your field to read it. If it is comprehensible to him/her, then you can submit it. You also need someone who help you with the preparation of the application. Many faculties have people who do this as part of their job. Your curriculum is another important part of the application, especially publications. If you manage to create a collaborative project, it would be something particularly interesting. Try to start the preparation of the application some months before the deadline or you will be forced to do it as a full-time job! Good luck!

EF: More in general, what would you recommend to prospective scholars/younger colleagues?

MC: I would recommend graduate students to publish as soon as possible and as much as possible, to participate in conferences, workshops etc, to interact with colleagues and scholars across the world, to collaborate to any kind of initiative or project of universities, cultural associations and institutions. 

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