Friday, May 31, 2013

Absence in Ontology and Epistemology: a new article

Nirmalya Guha has just published on the Journal of Indian Philosophy (2013, no. 41) an interesting article about "An Onto-Epistemic Analysis of Absence". Guha's article is clear and well-written and nicely separates ontology and epistemology. The ontological question about absence (abhāva) is, in Guha's formulation,
Is an absence ontologically different from its locus?
Whereas the epistemic question is:
Does a separate epistemic tool (pramāṇa) other than sense organs apprehend an absence?
Further, Guha draws a nice table summarizing the answers of Nyāya and of Bhāṭṭa and Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā to the two questions.
Last, he offers his own support to the Prābhākara view that absences are not ontologically different from their locus and that no separate epistemic tool is required to know them. In fact, he explains, the absence of X is real, but at the ontological level it is nothing but the presence of Y, W, Z. And for him "making ontology is making an inventory of the world. And my claim is that such an inventory does not need any absence". As for the epistemic question, no further instrument of knowledge is required, agrees Guha, although a further psychological process is in fact needed, to shift from one's perception of the floor to one's cognition of the absence of the pot on it. But, as with Prābhākaras, "Since no epistemic instruments capture x —rather they fail to capture x— when the subject cognises that 'x is absent from y', the cognition of absence is not caused by any epistemic factor. […] But cognizing absence is an introspection of some sort" (p. 127).
If you think that Guha's denial of a separate instrument of knowledge for seizing absences is parasitic on the denial of an ontological existence of absences, I think you are right. Guha argues as follows:
  1. 1. no absence exists
  2. 2. instruments of knowledge only grasp existing things
  3. 3. thus, no distinct instrument of knowledge for absence exists

A different perspective is Kumārila's, according to whom absences do not exist ontologically as separate state of affairs, but are a modality seized by a distinct instrument of knowledge (the one which enables us to notice "my glasses are not on the desk!" instead of just seeing the desk's surface).

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Varieties of instruments of knowledge — a conceptual hoax?

Is a single source of knowledge (pramāṇa) sufficient enough to generate a piece of cognition (jñāna), or is cognition the result of a complex whole, where different pramāṇas can only artificially be distinguished?  Or, is the very notion of sources of knowledge only a post-cognitive analytical convention? 
For me, it seems to be the last one.  During the cognitive process the very source of cognition is in a state of confusion (since the cogniser is busy cognising the object, and is not in a position to analyse the source of it).  Epistemologists only engage in a postmortem of this “cognitional complex”, i.e. the end-product.   
Pratyakṣa, Anumāna, Upamāna, Śabda, Arthāpatti – all these share a common property of being a pramāṇa; as such these are mere classifications made by epistemologists for the sake of convenience, and there is only one pramāṇa or pramāṇaikatva (again this very notion of pramāṇa is a convention subscribed to by epistemologists).  These pramāṇas can be artificially abstracted from the whole of a cognitive act, just as one can abstract elements such as pitch/sonority/aspiration/occlusion, etc. from a phoneme, although these elements are never perceived separately when one hears a word.  Such classifications again are made by attaching preference to a particular pramāṇa over others in accordance with the immediacy of the particular pramāṇa concerned. 
Thus, when we say, ayaṃ ghaṭa ityatra pratyakṣapramāṇasya upayogo bhavati, we are not denying the role of other cognitive elements, which one could analytically classify as śābdajñāna, upamānajñāna, etc., but which are inextricably melted together; however, merely because of the immediacy of the contact of my eye with the jar, I am only giving preference to it over others.  But this in no way amounts to a negation of the role of other pramāṇas.  Underlying all this, is the suggestion that the discovery of sources of knowledge – one or many, giving preference to one of them over the others, etc. are all an epistemologist’s attempt to understand a “cognitional complex” (= the end product of an act of cognition) within his self-devised analytical framework of sources of knowledge.

[This is a guest-post by Sudipta Munsi, whom you can follow also on his blog here]

Monday, May 27, 2013

A beginner's guide to the Coffee Break Project

The Coffee Break (henceforth CB) Project is led by young researchers located in Italy or in other European countries who aim at a new concept of scholarly exchanges. In this sense, the name "Coffee Break" aims at highlighting the possibility of a real conversation, as it happens during coffee breaks, although often not during standard conferences. The CB Conferences are indeed chances for dynamic interactions and exchanges regarding methodologies, open problems and perspectives.
The field of investigation of the researches fostered by the CB Project is the Indian subcontinent, although comparisons with other parts of the world are welcome and the panels organised in the CB conferences always focus on specific problems and topics and not just on a mere geographic area. Similarly, the study of Classical India is not separated from that of contemporary India, and a multi-disciplinary approach is promoted as the key to the investigation of each cultural phenomenon.

Activities of the CB project

The members of the Coffee Break Project have organised five Coffee Break Conferences, plus a Coffee Break meeting, hosted by prestigious universities and research institutes in Italy ("Sapienza" University of Rome; National Museum of Oriental Art "Giuseppe Tucci", Rome; University of Turin; Torino World Affairs Institute, Turin; University of Cagliari) and financed by research centres in Italy and in Europe ("Sapienza" University; University of Turin; Torino World Affairs Institute; University of Cagliari; National Museum of Oriental Art "Giuseppe Tucci"; Italian Association of Sanskrit Studies; Institute of the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna).
Researchers from Europe (Austria, France, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, UK), India and USA have participated to our meetings and to the ensuing volumes of proceedings.

As an instance, the 2013 CB conference in Turin is articulated into eigth panels: The Philosophy of testimony, International relationships, Metrics and phonology, Labour questions in neoliberal India, Cultural astronomy, Gods in space, Sociocultural constructions of sexuality, Change of paradigms and mechanical (re)discoveries: Manuscript and print cultures across Asia.
The general purpose is that of an open discussion which should enable the participants to see India as not an "exotic" Other but as the necessary complement of Ourselves and the Others.

Further info on the CB project and on the past and future conferences can be found here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

PhD and Post-doc position in the history of Sanskrit sciences

(The following application regards positions as PhD students or Post- Docs in Paris).

The great majority of mathematical texts known from the ancient and medieval Indian subcontinent are chapters in theoretical treatises on astral sciences written in Sanskrit. Are these mathematics different from the mathematics found elsewhere in the Indian subcontinent and not related to astral science? What was the relation between the chapters on mathematics and the computations and algorithms expounded in other chapters of the same treatise? How were these mathematics related to mathematical tools used in the wider realm of the astral corpus (in horoscopy, astrology...). For example a research proposal could aim at tracing and characterizing the use of similar algorithms, like the Rule of Three, the Pythagorean theorem, rules to derive and interpolate Sines, algorithms to solve indeterminate problems, or others, in different parts of a treatise, or else across different texts by a same author. Were there mathematical practices that were standard in astral science and not found in mathematical chapters and vice-versa?

More generally, any research project that would help understand the specificities of mathematical activities adhering in one way or another to astral sciences, by contrast to other mathematical practices attested to in the Indian subcontinent, and/or involve sources in Indian languages that are not Sanskrit would be welcomed.

Applicants are expected to mention specific sources and topics on the basis of which they intend to explore these questions.

The deadline for applications is: June 21, 2013 (for the position to be taken up as of September 1, 2013 or as early as possible thereafter). Short-listed candidates will be informed at the beginning of July 2013 and phone or Skype interviews are expected to take place during the first week of July 2013.

The scholarship is granted for one year. Pending positive evaluation, the doctoral scholarship is renewable for two additional years and the post-doctoral scholarship is renewable for one additional year. The monthly stipend amounts to about 1400 euros for the doctoral scholarship and to about 2000 euros for the post-doctoral scholarship (amounts to be updated at the contract signing). It includes social security benefits and retirement provisions. In the case of a doctoral scholarship, the recipient, under the supervision of Agathe Keller, will have to achieve a degree of the academic institution the SAW project is affiliated to.

Applications should be sent to the SAW Project Director Karine Chemla by email only: It is recommended to request an email acknowledgement of receipt.

Information on the SAW project is available online at Project-SAW-&lang=en

Monday, May 20, 2013

Does one study out of desire? Aristotle and Veṅkaṭanātha

A brahman must learn by heart the Veda and study its auxiliaries (metrics, astrology —to know when to perform a certain ritual—, etc.). But does he have to also dwell in it and investigate further beyond its sheer phonic form? And, if there is no duty to do it, why do people nonetheless start studying Mīmāṃsā (defined as the study of the meaning of the Veda)? Veṅkaṭanātha's answer, in his Seśvaramīmāṃsā (ad MS 1.1.1) and in the Śatadūṣaṇī is clear: out of desire (rāga). He thus replies to opponents who claim that the duty to learn the Veda extends beyond its phonic form and includes the Mīmāṃsā. Thus, Aristotle's approach ("Human beings naturally love to know") triumphs and the stereotype of an Indian adversion to desire is —once again— to be at least rediscussed:

To begin with, the study of the whole Veda, together with its auxiliaries and with the Brahmasūtra is established, be it promoted by the injunction to study (as claimed by the Bhāṭṭas) or by the one to teach (as claimed by the Prābhākaras). Also the investigation about its meaning regards the whole [Veda], be it promoted by an injunction (as claimed by the Bhāṭṭas) or by one's desire (as explained in the Seśvaramīmāṃsā), since there is nothing hindering the one or the other (injunction or desire).

[Objection:] There might well be no hindrance to the promotion [of the study of the meaning of the Veda] by a prescription, but there is certainly a hindrance to the promotion by [one's] desire [to know the meaning of the Veda], because it is incongruous that one undertakes an activity as long as there is desire.

[Reply:] It is not so, because both the [following] options (vikalpa) are not possible: Is [desire to know it] an hindrance in the investigation about the brahman, or is it [an hindrance in the investigation] about ritual action (karman)? Not the first one, because a human being desires all four human aims (i.e., pleasure, success, dharma and liberation) [and not just the first three], and because there is no contradiction if, in [their] sequence, one [also] enjoys [them]. […]
(Śatadūṣaṇī 3)

Thus, desire is legitimate and legitimated, even within Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta… 

For further posts on Veṅkaṭanātha see this one (and its links).

Friday, May 17, 2013


In the last four years I was surprisingly glad to attend and participate to three of the first four IIGRS conferences. The rationale behind it is to give younger researchers the chance to present their papers in a scientific environment, but the result was by far much better than that: In fact, the first, second and fourth IIGRS (International Indological Graduate Seminar) have been a big success and we all enjoyed coming together and discussing for hours before and after every paper. (I was not there at the third IIGRS, but I guess the same happened there, too. A participant even told me that the third one was the best one.)

In most cases, the too vague label "Indology" did not hinder fruitful discussions and, on the other hand, the age-group (within 5 years since the end of one's PhD) was well-cut in order to select people who are (still? :( ) desirous to exchange ideas, develop new trends of research, welcome challenges and engage in new approaches.
I wonder why is it so difficult to keep oneself open towards this kind of chances? Why do we increasingly tend to close ourselves into our own studies –only to complain about our isolation later? Whatever the answer, the IIGRS remains a unique chance to interact, challenge and be challenged.

This year, the seminar will be hosted in Bochum, Germany, October the 17th--18th 2013. The deadline for applying is the 30th of June, 2013.

Did you ever participate to an IIGRS? What did you like (or dislike) in it?

For my comments on the fourth IIGRS, see this post and this one.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Are Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta the same śāstra?

Veṅkaṭanātha discusses in his Seśvaramīmāṃsā, in his Mīmāṃsāpādukā and in his Śatadūṣaṇī the unity of Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta. The topic is not completely new and Veṅkaṭanātha insists on the fact that his endeavour is perfectly harmonised with what has always been the trend in the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta school, quoting mostly Nārāyaṇārya, Yāmunācārya, Rāmānuja and Dramiḍācārya. A big evidence in favour of the unity of Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta is the fact that Bādarāyaṇa, the author of the Brahmasūtras often mentions Jaimini and agrees with his opinion. After having discussed it, Veṅkaṭanātha adds:

Alternatively, there is no contradiction as for the unity of meaning, even in the case of the thesis of the [PMS, UMS and SK] having been put together (saṃ-dhā) by extracting (uddhāreṇa) singular passages (ekadeśa) which are contradictory, like when one fills (pūr-) what remains with a cement (saudhā), etc., in a [building] made by another.
athavā parakalitasaudhādiśeṣapūraṇavat viruddhaikadeśoddhāreṇa saṃhitatvapakṣe 'pi nārthaikyavirodhaḥ.
 In other words, contradictory passages may need to be excerpted, and holes filled with new cement and still the building remains the same. So the PMS, UMS and SK convey the same meaning even if they have been done by different people.
I have to admit that I struggled with the simile of the cement until I found a parallel in Veṅkaṭanātha's Śatadūṣaṇī 3:
Is it the case that there is no unity of a building if one completes what remains [to be done] by taking away the uneven parts, which where the parts of the palace previously done?
kiṃ pūrvakṛtaprāsādakhaṇḍaviṣamāṃśāpanayanena śeṣanirmāṇe tadaikyaṃ nāsti?
I am personally fascinated by the idea of Veṅkaṭanātha modifying the same passage because he likes the simile but does not want to repeat it verbatim. Which passage do you think was the first one to be composed?
We probably know the answer, since the Seśvaramīmāṃsā is referred to in the Śatadūṣaṇī and one would hence think that the former passage precedes the latter. This is interesting, because I would have thought that the Śatadūṣaṇī's passage is clearer and that, accordingly, the Seśvaramīmāṃsā's one is a more cryptic version of it, a hint to what readers would have already read in the Śatadūṣaṇī. Since the actual sequence appears to be the opposite one, I wonder whether Veṅkaṭanātha felt he had to add a further explanation regarding the equation between contradictory sūtras and uneven parts to be taken away from a palace because some readers/listeners did not grasp the simile while reading it in the Seśvaramīmāṃsā.

Which criteria would you recommend to determine the priority of one or the other parallel passage?

For further posts on Veṅkaṭanātha see this one (and its links).

Monday, May 13, 2013

Requisites of the listener

Matthew Dasti, in a comment to a post, kindly informed me of his article on Testimony, Belief Transfer, and Causal Irrelevance: Reflections from India's Nyāya School (can be found here on Jstor and also read online without charge, even for people who are not part of a research institution). The article is quite interesting from several points of view, among which I would like to stress the following ones:
  1. 1. highlighting the disagreement between Mīmāṃsakas and Naiyāyikas on the interpretation of āptopadeśaḥ (the Nyāya definition of testimony as found in the Nyāyasūtra). It means "statement of a reliable [person]" according to Naiyāyikas, who want to stress the importance of the source and "reliable statement" for the Mīmāṃsakas, who want to stress the independence of language as an instrument of knowledge.
  2. 2. the shift between ancient Nyāya and Navya Nyāya, since Gaṅgeśa acknowledges the possibility of testimony being successful even in the case of an unreliable speaker, if only she is transmitting a true belief (a typical example might be a liar who believes that B is the case and, thus, says A, but does not know that in fact A is the case) and the listener understands it (see Sudipta Munsi's article here (scroll to the button of the page) for further notes on the competence of the listener).
  3. 3. the similarity between this position and J. Lackey's one.
  4. 4. Dasti further includes among the possible witnesses also clocks, thermometers, and similar instruments which are not in themselves reliable (since they do not want to be sincere, nor do they know what they convey). 

I wonder, however, whether a Sanskrit philosopher would not answer that one infers the hour from a clock because of the position of the hour hand and the minute one. Thus, this would be a case of inference (as in the case of gestures), not of Linguistic Communication. What do you think?

For further posts on Linguistic Communication, see here. For further comments on the listener, see this post.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Testimony: Does the listener also need to be competent?

A colleague and friend of mine, Sudipta Munsi, has sent me an article through which we would like to participate to our CBC discussion on testimony (although he will not be able to join us in Turin). You can find it on the Asiatica wiki, here.
Comments would be welcome. And I would be especially pleased if you could comment on Sudipta's point about the listener's competence (on the last page).

Do you agree that a listener also needs to fulfil special requirements in order for an act of testimony to be successful?

For further posts on testimony, check the labels "śabda" and "epistemology". My Italian blog on Linguistic Communication in Indian and Western philosophy can be read here. On the panel of testimony at the next CBC, see this post.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why starting with ritual and not directly with Vedānta? Veṅkaṭanātha's answer

Should a Vaiṣṇava really first start with the study of the ritual action (i.e., with the Pūrva Mīmāṃsā) and only later on reach what really matters, i.e., the study of Vedānta? —This seemed to have been a popular question at Veṅkaṭanātha's time, as testified most of all in his Mīmāṃsāpādukā:

It is possible to investigate on ritual action (karman) also immediately after the investigation on brahman. Therefore, the brahmakhaṇḍa [of the Veda, i.e., the Upaniṣads] should precede, and this (investigation on karman) should come after (and not the other way round, as the sequence of Pūrva- and Uttara-Mīmāṃsāsūtra would suggest). If it is so, the announcement of an investigation in the form of "Now, the desire to know the brahman" (i.e., Brahmasūtra 1.1.1) would regard the whole Veda, and the announcement in the form "Now, the desire to know the dharma" (i.e., Mīmāṃsāsūtra 1.1.1) would regard only what is explicitly heard [in it] (i.e., the dharma=karman). Therefore, given that there is nothing which makes one decide between the alternatives, there is no unity of the śāstra (i.e., of Pūrva and Uttara Mīmāṃsā). […] If you say that in the brahmakhaṇḍa one investigates on Sāmaveda verses, and that these are included in the karmakhaṇḍa, which thus needs to be done first, then [remember] that also the investigation on the brahman should be done before that on the karman, since Viṣṇu is the object of voiceless sacrifices and thus the cognition of various sacrifices […] depends on the cognition of him.
(Satpathasaṃcāra commentary on the Mīmāṃsāpādukā 1.1.15)

The following is (most probably;-)) Veṅkaṭanātha's answer:

Without a specific cognition of the ritual actions, one cannot perform the Udgīthas and the other [Vedic offerings and recitations]. Even without a specific cognition of the All-pervader one can perform a ritual action. The immaculate cognition which has the All-pervader as its content does not come first because it is independent.

(Satpathasaṃcāra commentary on the Mīmāṃsāpādukā 1.1.15)
In other words, it is out of the sequence and thus does not need to come first. Thus, the sequence is ruled by other principles, such as the fact that the ritual actions need to be investigated in order to be performed.

What led a Viśiṣṭādvaitin to the wish and need to inglobate Mīmāṃsā in his philosophy?

For further posts on Veṅkaṭanātha, check here. For his struggles with Mīmāṃsā see here ("retrospect").

Monday, May 6, 2013

Linguistic communication epistemologically precedes perception

Do we first see an oak and then come to know its name from an expert friend or is it the case that
Vicky Asp, Oak hillside
only because our expert friend has made us aware of oaks we can recognise them within the undistinct mass of trees? I uphold the (radical, I know) theory that the latter is the case and that our perception is informed by what we know through linguistic communication.

I have recently received an amusing piece of evidence for my theory: an Italian trio has started taking true portions out of well-known English songs (e.g., Bob Marley's Keep on Jamming at 11.40' of this audio file) and read them giving them an Italian meaning. This can be done because some English words, if differently grouped, do in fact (by chance) resemble Italian ones (don't you remember having thought that "Let it be" was a love song dedicated to "Lady B."?). Now, the funny part of the experiment is that, once you have heard the "Italian" song, you are just no longer able to distinguish the English words in it. Your auditory content is the same as before, while you were able to distinguish the English text, but if you focus on the Italian text, you can no longer recognise the English one, as in the rabbit/duck experiment (where you can only perceive the one or the other animal, but not the two together).

Is not it a further evidence of the fact that our so-called perceptions are theory-loaden and that Linguistic Communication is an unavoidable instrument of knowledge?

My Italian blog on Linguistic Communication in Indian and Western philosophy can be read here. For further posts on Linguistic Communication as an instrument of knowledge, see here (where I call it "Testimony").

Friday, May 3, 2013

Update on my volume on textual re-use

This is the provisional Table of Content of the forthcoming volume on the analysis of the reuse in Indian philosophical texts. Beside each title you can find its state of advancement.

Preface, by Raffaele Torella

The re-use of texts in Indian Philosophy, by Elisa Freschi (Vienna, ÖAW) [as usual, I still need to finish my own introduction, but I have a good excuse, since I am linking to the articles]


Quotations, References, and the Re-Use of texts in the Early Nyāya Tradition, by Payal Doctor (CUNY-LaGuardia Community College) [ready]

Types of quotations as connected to the types of siddhānta in the Nyāyamañjarī 6, by Alessandro Graheli (Vienna) [1st draft]

Dharmottara’s Re-Use of Arguments from the Kṣaṇabhaṅgasiddhi in the Pramāṇaviniścayaṭīkā, by Masamichi Sakai (Cambridge, Massachusetts / Tokyo) [ready]

Quotations of the Kāśikāvṛtti in Grammatical texts and the manuscript transmission of the Kāśikāvṛtti, by Malhar Kulkarni (IIT Mumbai) [ready]

Āgamārthānusāribhiḥ. Helārāja’s use of quotations and other referential devices in his commentary on the Vākyapadīya, by Vincenzo Vergiani (Cambridge) [minor things still to be settled, waiting for the author's answers]

Quotations, References, etc. A glance on a late Mīmāṃsaka's writing habits, by Elisa Freschi (Vienna, ÖAW) [waiting for the author's answers to herself…]

Quotations and (lost) commentaries in Advaita Vedānta: Some philological notes on the 'Fragments' of Bhartr̥prapañca, by Ivan Andrijanić (Zagreb) [ready]

“Old is Gold!” Madhusūdana Sarasvatī’s way of referring to earlier textual tradition, by Gianni Pellegrini (Turin) [minor things still to be settled, now in my hands]

The Case of the Sārasaṅgaha. Reflections on the Reuse of Texts In Medieval Singalese Pāli Literature, by Chiara Neri (Rome "Sapienza") [ready]

The creative erudition of Chapaṭa Saddhammajotipāla, a 15th-century grammarian and philosopher from Burma, by Aleix Ruiz-Falqués (Cambridge) [minor things still to be settled, waiting for the author's answers]

The introduction of canonical and non canonical quotations in Pāli commentarial literature, by Petra Kieffer-Pülz (Mainz, AWL) [in my hands for a final check]


Commenting by quoting. The case of Manorathanandin's Pramāṇavārttikavr̥tti, by Cristina Pecchia (Vienna) [1st draft]

Text re-use in early Tibetan epistemological treatises, by Pascale Hugon (Vienna, ÖAW) [ready]

A discussion of some problems related to the Madhyamakaratnapradīpa with particular attention to the quotation from Saraha’s Dohākośagīti, by Krishna Del Toso (Trieste) [3rd draft, waiting for the author's answers]

"As it is said in a Sūtra": Liberty and Variation in Tibetan quotations from the Buddhist scriptures, by Ulrike Rösler (Oxford) [1st draft]


Quotations in Vedic Literature: is the changing of a mantra a stylistic device or the degeneration of a “beautiful mind?, by Elena Mucciarelli (Tübingen) [almost ready, English is currently being reviewed]

The verb vijñāyate as a quotation mark from the śruti in the Āśvalāyanaśrautasūtra, by Pietro Chierichetti (Turin) [almost ready, English still needs to be reviewed]

To borrow or not to borrow? The case of "vaibhavīyanarasiṃhakalpa" within the scope of Pāñcarātra literature, by Ewa Debicka-Borek (Krakow) [in my hands for a final check]

Observations on the Use of Quotations in Sanskrit Dharmanibandhas, by Florinda De Simini (Naples/Turin) [2nd draft, waiting for the author's answers]

Re-use in artistic field: the iconography of Yakṣī, by Cristina Bignami (Cagliari) [almost ready, English is currently being reviewed]

Any suggestion concerning the sections' titles, their sequence, their internal organization, etc.? (I am grateful to Elena Mucciarelli for discussing the topic with me and helping me in assembling the papers in this partly new way).

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