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Books > Hindu > Sabdapramana: Word and Knowledge In Indian Philosphy
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Sabdapramana: Word and Knowledge In Indian Philosphy
Sabdapramana: Word and Knowledge In Indian Philosphy
Description
About the Book

Sabdapramana or ‘Testimony’ is a formidable doctrine within Indian philosophy. A thorough investigation of this thesis is long overdue. What is 4abdapramana (word as knowledge)? What is involved in ‘hearing’ words? Is the understanding derived through hearing utterances direct or indirect? Does this peculiarly linguistic understanding (Sabdabodha) amount to knowledge (pramas!), or does it depend on certain other conditions for its truth? Further, what sort of theories of meaning, understanding, and knowledge would be required to ground a successful Sabdabha, as Prama need careful attention. It is sometimes said that Indian thinkers had no particularly interesting theory of understanding.

The present work sets out to address these issues — issues that have engaged traditional and modern thinkers alike Based on the classic text Advaita Vedantaparibhasa of Dharmarajadhvarindra (17th century), the analysis and arguments extend to the views of and criticisms from the Nyaya Purva Mimamsa and the schools within Indian philosophy, with a treatment of similar concerns in Western philosophy There is a compelling thesis here that should be taken seriously in any philosophy.

Long discarded as a distinct source of knowledge in Western philosophy, Testimony might be fruitfully re examined. This could lead to mutual dialogue between philosophy and religion, and pave the way for critical metaphysics.

About the Author

Dr Purushottama Bilimoria, PhD is a Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Deakin University and Senior Fellow at Melbourne University. He has held fellowships and has lectured in universities in the USA, UK, Europe, Canada, and India. Dr Bilimoria is a visiting professor at State University of New York, Stony Brook and Columbia University. He is an editor-in-chief of Sophia, an international ourna1 for metaphysical theology; and co-editor of the two-volume compendia on Indian Ethics, and t he Routledge History of Indian philosophy He is currently editor of “Studies of Classical india Series.

The aim of this series is to publish fundamental studies concerning classical Indian civilization. It will conclude editions of texts, translations, specialized studies, and scholarly works of more general interest related to various fields of classical Indian culture such as philosophy, grammar, literature, religion, art and history.

In this context, the term ‘Classical India’, covers a vast area both historically and geographically, and embraces various religions and philosophical traditions, such as Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism, and many languages from Vedic and Epic Sanskrit to Pali, Prakrt and Apabhramsa. We believe that in a profoundly traditional society like India, the study of classical culture is always relevant and important.

Classical India presents an interesting record of deep human experience, thoughts, beliefs and myths, which have been a source of inspiration for countless generations. We are persuaded of its lasting value and relevance to modem man.

By using extensive and for the most part unexplored material with scientific rigor and modern methodology, the authors and editors of this series hope to stimulate and promote interest and research in a field that needs to be placed in its proper perspective.

Foreword

Dr Purushottama Bilimoria’s book on sabdapramara is an important one, and so is likely to arouse much controversy. I am pleased to be able to write a Foreword to this book, at a stage in my philosophical thinking when my own interests have been turning towards the thesis of sabdapramana as the basis of Hindu religious and philosophical tradition. Dr Bilimoria offers many novel interpretations of classical Hindu theories about language, meaning, understanding and knowing. These interpretations draw upon the conceptual resources of contemporary analytic and phenomenological philosophies, without sacrificing the authenticity that can arise only out of philologically grounded scholarship. He raises many issues, and claims to have resolved some of them. Certainly, he advances the overall discussion, and this is the best one could hope for in writing on a topic to which the best minds of antiquity and modern times have applied themselves.

In this Foreword, I wish to focus on one of the issues which I have raised on earlier occasions, and on which Dr Bilimoria has several important things to say. The issue is: is sabdabodha eo ipso a linguistic knowing, i.e., sabdaprama, or does sabdabodha amount to knowing only when certain specifiable conditions are satisfied. It the second alternative be accepted, these additional conditions could not be the same as the familiar asatti (contiguity), yogyata (semantic fitness), ákanksa (expectancy) and tatparya (intention), for these are, on the theory, conditions of sabdabodha itself. For these conditions, the reader should consult the text of this book. It should be noted that on the first alternative, all sabdabodha is pram, i.e. true, so that a false (a-prama) sabdabodha would be a contradiction in terms. And yet, in an intuitively clear sense, one does understand a false sentence. What then hearing a false sentence being uttered by a speaker taken to be competent generates in the hearer could not be knowledge. It can only be an understanding of the meaning of the sentence. From this, one could proceed to the more general thesis: in all cases — whether the sentence heard is true or false — there is a linguistic understanding. In the case of a true sentence, the understanding becomes a component of knowing. In the case of a false sentence, when the falsity is discovered (and so is the incompetency of the speaker), the knowledge claim is revoked, the underlying understanding stands all by itself.

Now this last picture is clearly rejected by the theories of the sabdabodha in classical Indian philosophy (with the possible exception of the so- called grammarians). These theories, in fact, take (i) sabdobodha to be, by definition, true, (ii) and consequently have no interesting notion of linguistic understanding. A notion of understanding requires not only a concept of meaning, but also one that is different from that of reference. It is not necessary that this theory of meaning be as strongly Platonistic as the Fregean theory of sense; what is necessary is that it not be a purely referential theory. The Indian theories under consideration did subscribe to a purely referential theory. Words directly refer to their objects. A sentence directly refers to a complex relational object. Understanding a sentence is knowing this object, if the sentence is true i.e. if there is such an object. What happens if the sentence is false?

The Indian theories generally held the view that we do not have a sabdabodha of a false sentence. (Rather, what we have in such a case is a peculiar mental (manasa) state.) Is this view counter-intuitive? It would be so, only if we construe sabdabodha as linguistic understanding. It is counter-intuitive to say that we do not understand the meaning of a false sentence. But the view is not counter-intuitive, if by sabdabodha is meant linguistic knowledge: we surely cannot be said to know, when the sentence heard is false.

Let me then take it as uncontroversial (1) that we do understand false sentences, but (2) do not have a knowledge upon hearing and understanding such a sentence. (1) entails a theory of understanding which the Indian theories do not have. (2) leaves the basic theory of sabdabodha intact: Sabdabodha is intrinsically prama (at least, with regard to utpatti, if not with regard to jnapti — i.e., it is true, to begin with, even if it is not known to be so).

But this would be an unsatisfactory solution, for (1) and (2) cannot be held together. A theory of understanding as is implied in (1) requires a theory of meaning — of meaning that is grasped in understanding a sentence, no matter if that sentence is true or false. But such a theory of meaning which cannot be purely referential, for then (1) will have to be rejected — will undermine the claim made in (2). Nothing less than a purely referential theory can save (2), and yet a purely referential theory will undermine (1). That (2) needs a purely referential theory is corroborated by the passage, Dr Bilimoria cites from the late K.C. Bhattacharyya: a word qua sentence refers “directly to the thing, expresses the thing, touches it.” (K.C- Bhattacharyya, Studies in Philosophy, Vol. 1, Ch. III, p. 83, cited in this book, p. 326, fit. 150). With a purely referential theory of meaning, understanding a false sentence becomes a ‘mock-understanding’ (as Arindam Chakraborty would have it using a Fregean locution).

Let me here turn to Arindam Chakraborty’s paper ‘Understanding Falsehoods: A Note on the Nyya concept of Yogyata (The Journal of the Asiatic Society, XXVIII, 1986, pp. 10—20) in which he directly confronts the problem. Chakraborty recognizes that on the usual understanding of ‘yogyata’ as (semantic) compatibility or fitness, although sentences such as “Idleness is green” and “He is sprinkling with fire” are ruled out from generating sabdabodha, a false sentence such as “The jar is on the floor” is not, (when there actually is no jar on the floor referred to in the context of the utterance). Wishing to rule out this possibility, Chakraborty then interprets a suggestion from Siddhantamuktavali as implying that a sentence ‘a is P is characterised by fitness (yogyata) only if a is F — which makes fitness collapse with ‘truth’. Only true sentences are fit and so can generate sabdabodha. Not only contradictory sentences such as “The fireless hill has fire”, but also consistent but semantically absurd sentences such as “Idleness is green” and even contingently false sentences such as “It is raining” (when it in fact is not) — all these cannot generate sabdabodha. They may generate “a mental state” consisting of memories of the referents of the component words, but they cannot generate a relational, qualificative cognition, for there is no such relational entity to know.

Now, this ingenuous interpretation of ‘yogyata’ is indistinguishable from ‘truth’, in fact, it is the same as that. It smacks of ruling out the possibility of understanding false sentences by stipulating by a fiat, as it were, that truth is a condition of sentence-understanding. Even if this anxiety is in some way alleviated, consider this interpretation of yogyatä together with the position that what is required for sabdabodha is not yogyata itself but awareness of yogyata, then a certain determination of truth is being built into the theory — which is in conflict with the thesis of parata-pramanya. The only way of obviating this is to weaken the sense of ‘awareness of yogyata (= truth)’ to mean ‘absence of firm disbelief in absence of yogyata (i.e. in untruth)’, but in that ease when one believes a sentence (in fact false) to be true (and regards the speaker to be competent etc.) one must be understanding it, and since he is not knowing anything, this understanding has to find a place in a theory of sabdabodha. To say that in this and other cases of putative understanding of false sentences, what occurs is simply recalling of meanings of the component expressions but no integrated sentence meaning won’t do for four reasons: first, to base this claim on the fact that there is no integrated ‘featured individual’ of the sort is precisely to beg the issue about what one grasps in understanding (as contrasted with knowing); secondly, one cannot distinguish phenomenological the two experiences (i.e. understanding a false sentence when believed to be true and understanding a true sentence believed to be true); the matter gets — in the third place — more complicated, to the disadvantage of the proposal under consideration, when one considers true sentences taken to be false; and, finally, the way the distinction is sought to be drawn (namely, that in the case of true sentences there is a ‘qualificative cognition’ whereas in the case of false sentences there is merely memory of ‘unrelated’ substantial meanings) is compatible with the Prabhakara theory of a-khyati rather than with the Nyaya theory of anyathakhyati.

Let me now return to the sentence quoted from K.C. Bhattacharyya: The word directly refers to the thing, expresses the thing, touches it in a sense.” Likewise, “The sentence at once refers to an objective relation.” There are two things about K.C. Bhattacharyya’s thesis (or interpretation of sabdapramana) which deserve attention. For one thing, in the sentence just preceding the first-quoted one, he writes that even in the case of a word remembering is not understanding the meaning. This contrasts with the account we examined earlier: in the case of a false sentence, we do understand the meanings of words by way of remembering them, but that does not constitute self-understanding. K.C Bhattacharyya is, in fact, distinguishing between (let us not forget, he is interpreting the Vedanta, and not the Nydya theory) the name, the concept and the objective reference, for he goes on to write: “The free concept not only requires the name for its support but is identical with it, though transcending it.” Then, a little later, he continues: “the same determination of the self gives the name and the concept an identical object-reference.” I take “the free concept” to mean “meaning” (as distinguished from objective reference). By “the determination of the self”, I take it, following the editor’s footnote at that place, to mean “the assertive function of the self”. Read this together with what follows in the next paragraph (and this is the second thing to be attended to):

“The primordial objective reference of a judgement is a provisional belief, a belief, it may be, with a certain general cautiousness induced by experience: if it is only thought, it is at any rate continuous with knowledge.” And we are far removed from the Nyaya theory commented upon earlier. It is a theory of direct reference of sentence, mediated by provisional, uncontradicted belief, and also a theory of direct reference of words, again mediated by a concept that is not distinguished from the name. Let us remember that the locutions “direct” and “indirect” are ambiguous: one can ask, how direct? How indirect? You may have a concept of mediation by a sense-content (conceived as transparent, objectified only in reflection) which is compatible with a theory of direct reference. This is what I have been intending these critical remarks to point to.

At the end, I will raise another question about the idea of sabda as a means of knowing, as a pramana. In what sense, one wonders, is linguistic knowing (sabdajnana), a grasping (grahana) of a relational ontological structure (or of a properly qualified individual)? Since one may also perceive the same individual (exactly as qualified as in the case of linguistic knowing), how is the purely linguistic grasping of the object different, qua grasping, from a perceptual grasping of it — especially from the sort of perceptual grasping that, according to both Nyaya and Mimamsa, is shot through (anuviddha) with linguisticality, i.e. from the so-called svikalpaka percention? Of course, one may want to explain the cognitive difference by means of the different way each is caused, but what I am at present interested in is, how is the one cognition, as a grasping, different from the other when both are graspings of the same object. Perhaps, the distinction between ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ (‘aparoksa’ and ‘paroksa’) will help, but this distinction is hopelessly ambigiuous as already pointed out. Perhaps the locution of ‘grasping’ is misleading, when extended from perception to linguistic knowing. It may be that the Jaina distinction between ‘vi4ada’ and ‘visada’ (‘clear’ and ‘not-clear’) will help.

Introduction

The problem
This book makes an attempt at a systematic examination of a rather important problem in Indian philosophy—in particular, a thesis within Advaita Vedanta’s theory of knowledge (but not restricted to Advaita, since this is a thesis that also concerns Nyaya, Purva Mimamsa , Samkhya and other schools). The thesis in question generally goes under the rubric of sabdapramana or ‘sabda-pramana’ the derivation of knowledge from linguistic utterances or words. This work borders between epistemology and philosophy of language, but as such is not an exercise in linguistics, though its relevance in the context of the present discussion cannot be underrated. The problem itself is worthy of philosophical investigation as it has implications for theories of knowledge, language and ‘revelation’— implications which should be of considerable interest to scholars and students of philosophy and religion, and of Indian thought and ‘spirituality’ at large.

The basic aim here is to make sense of the theoretical basis of the ‘doctrine of the word’, and to consider whether sabdapramana, so understood, is a philosophically sound thesis. The traditional presentation of the thesis and of the grounds for its acceptance has often been dense and a difficult terrain, so to speak, for the uninitiate to wade through without loosing oneself in the plethora of arguments, counterarguments, analyses, criticisms and sometimes sheer polemics. Each of the three or four major schools of thought (darsanas) that accepts this particular pramãna or means of knowledge goes about justifying its respective stance in quite different ways. Attempts have been made to synthesise the various different approaches to this problem, but here again several significant issues have been left unattended or not dealt with adequately. In our own times, similar attempts, scarce as they are, have been hampered by, on the one hand, an excessive preoccupation with philological-historical analyses, and, on the other, over-indulgence in speculative ‘metaphysic’, albeit with a sectarian tinge to it.

It has been thought necessary, therefore, to re-state the thesis in more contemporary terms, while reconstructing the arguments and examining each of the steps in the appropriate contexts of the linguistic, cognitive and epistemic processes that supposedly render successful this particular pramana vis-à-vis other means of knowledge Consequently, what I attempt to develop here is a relatively broad epistemologically based theoretical framework for analysing, understanding and appraising the thesis. And although the source for the analysis was initially derived from works in Advaita Vedãnta, the present investigation is by no means confined to Advaita epistemology. Rather, Nyãya arguments and, to an extent, (Purva) Mimamsä understanding constitute strong and serious grounding for the present work. Reference to texts from all three schools, therefore, is profuse and varied. (It may be noted in passing that ‘Vedanta’ is itself regarded to be a version of Mimãmsä, namely Uttar Mimämsã, presumably coming ‘after’, or being hermeneutically posterior to, the orthodox (Purva) Mimamsa school.) The relevant views of the Grammarians are also considered, although not to the same extent as the Advaita-Nyaya views are.

In basing the examination largely on Sanskrit texts, I do not mean to deter the non-specialist from participating in this enterprise; rather, my aim has been to make the thesis equally accessible to the general reader who has some acquaintance with the sorts of philosophical issues we are concerned with here. It is for that reason that I have attempted to trans late or explain each difficult term or notion used in the context of the discussion. A few pages later, some of the general terms of the doctrine are elucidated.

There should be interest here for religion and moral culture as well, which is derived from the consideration that sabda, in its varying forms, is one of the fundamental bases or sources for the sorts of experience and understanding that fall specifically within the domain of religious discourse and doctrinaire activities. The ramifications are enormous when we consider that sabda constituted by sruti, or the special class of sacrosanct scriptures of Hinduism, such as the Upanisads and certain other texts of the Vedas, is the basis for the authentication and acceptance of some very fundamental beliefs and ideas that are regarded to be central to the Hindu tradition. Thus it is that the notions of authority and tradition weigh heavily on the ‘doctrine of the word’.

As such the doctrine is, in the words of Kalidas Bhattacharyya, ‘critically relevant for all transcendental Indian philosophy, and also for much of Indian ethics (life of action). That is why all forms of Vedänta, Yoga, Jainism and mimamsa. .speak so much, and in such finest details, on sabda-pramana, taking the scriptures (of various sorts) as (probably) the only anchorage for all that is transcendental and ethical.

To be sure, as Prof. J. N. Mohanty, in calling for a re-examination of the priorities and relative strengths and weaknesses of this doctrine, remarks: ‘[N]o other age since antiquity has been, sheerly on theoretical grounds, more congenial to the idea of recognising the centrality of linguistic texts in a culture’s self-understanding and of language in cognitive, moral and religious lives.’

Nevertheless, it is a doctrine that is also, as Kunhan Raja put it, ‘the most misunderstood and most misrepresented in the entire range of Indian philosophy.’3 It is an issue in Indian philosophy and religion generally that, according to Prof. Ninian Smart, has hitherto not received the systematic treatment it clearly deserves.4 This point cannot be stressed more. The present work was undertaken with a view to rectifying these shortcomings in the current state of scholarship.

The approach
The work deals basically with a technical theory from one area of Indian philosophy in light of philosophical and epistemological issues in the context of recent developments. While I am taking into account recent development and thus, to that extent, am engaged in comparative philosophy, this is not the main concern here. The extremes in any ‘comparatives’ approach, as in the early movements in religious studies, are to be avoided. For, one danger is that the ‘native’ view, so to speak, can get overlaid with categories extrapolated from another alien tradition or system, and, in the process, lose its original meaning and function. And yet, at the same time, it is desirable to make intelligible the views of another system of tradition in terms accessible to another school or system, so that there is mutual appreciation, critical reflection—and self-reflection—and an enhancement of what must be, in the last resort, a common quest.

One cannot afford, however, to minimise the difficulties encountered in reading some of the abstruse texts of classical Indian philosophy, which require not only some acquaintance with the texts, written mostly in Sanskrit (perhaps also Pali, Tibetan, Find, Bengali, etc.), but also familiarity with the technical terminology of the philosophical and religious tracts that utilise that language and form of discourse. That understanding may require one to read widely and also to sit with traditional scholars and pandits in order to appreciate the background texts and contexts against which some of the views were developed and have or had gained currency. Mastery of linguistic skills is one requirement, while insightful skills in the discourse is another, indispensible, requirement.

In other words, being proficient at reading texts is not sufficient; one also has to be able to interpret and critically appraise the philosophic intent that underscore the arguments. It is here that the real task of the philosopher/scholar begins; and at the same time one has to be sensitive to the totality of the contexts of the thought being studied, not shying away from the useful insights and assistance that relevant intellectual disciplines besides philosophy may have to offer. This, however, is not a plea as such for inter-disciplinarily (whose relevance in particular areas of inquiry is not being questioned), much less for the multi-disciplinary approach popular in some quarters.

Being wary of the works of grand generalisations and wild speculations (supposedly based on Indian philosophy and spirituality), on the one hand, and the formidably stringent approach expected by Indologists (and their predecessor Orientalists, preoccupied more with philological than with philosophical concerns), on the other hand, I have tried to steer clear of both extremes.5 Philosophy, in a somewhat wider sense than the currently dominant approach would have it, is where I would place this work. I am guided, though, by the awareness that the method of philosophy is doubtless a tight and a disciplined one inspired by critical reflection and not one given to vain speculation or fanciful flights. Philosophy, indeed, begins with description and the clarification of one’s understanding of some problem in relation to the views of others or other systems of thought. As Ludwig Wittgenstein put it: ‘a philosophical work consists essentially of elucidation.’

I have, accordingly, struggled to elucidate what I believe underlies an insight into a particular problem of knowing in a tradition of philosophy, bearing in mind developments in another. The abstruse nature of the subject matter apart, and notwithstanding Quine’s principle of in determinacy of translation (and, by extension, of interpretation), the material for this work has been drawn in main from Sanskrit, but also from Hindi and contemporary writing in the area, and has been worked at over some nine years.

Contents

ForewordVII
Pre-wordXIII
PrologueXIX
AcknowledgementXXVII
AbbreviationsXXIX
Introduction
The Problem1
The approach3
Aim and objectives4
The thesis and its background6
Pramana7
Jnana10
Prama13
Sabda14
Ideality of language19
Sruti20
The dogma of surti: apauruseya20
The text and its author21
Cit: consciousness in the knowing process24
Dharmaraja and navya-nyaya24
Chapter 1Outline of the argument for sabdapramana31
Chapter 2On word Linguistic karana and the word52
AKarana causal instrument for sabdabodha52
BWhat is a word61
Chapter 3On meaning
ASome general remarks on meaning84
BIndian theories of meaning91
CThe linguistic functions of meaning104
Chapter 4Sabdabodha: Psycholinguistics of sentence understanding
ASabdabodha128
BSamsargamaryada142
Chapter 5The karans
AAranksa syntactic expectancy164
BAsatti linguistic contiguity180
Chapter 6The phenomenological karanas195
AYogyata semantic competency195
BTatparya intentionality209
Chapter 7Sabdapramanya problem of truth and authority of the word
ATruth and falsity of sabdabodha235
BAuthority and praxis aptabhava292
Appendixes
ATransliteration of AGAMA test from vedantaparibhasa327
BBibliography335
APrimary sources335
BSecondary sources and related texts347
Indexes
Name index369
General index373

Sabdapramana: Word and Knowledge In Indian Philosphy

Item Code:
NAE345
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Hardcover
Edition:
2008
ISBN:
9788124604328
Language:
English
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9.0 inch x 5.5 inch
Pages:
413
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Weight of the Book: 723 gms
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About the Book

Sabdapramana or ‘Testimony’ is a formidable doctrine within Indian philosophy. A thorough investigation of this thesis is long overdue. What is 4abdapramana (word as knowledge)? What is involved in ‘hearing’ words? Is the understanding derived through hearing utterances direct or indirect? Does this peculiarly linguistic understanding (Sabdabodha) amount to knowledge (pramas!), or does it depend on certain other conditions for its truth? Further, what sort of theories of meaning, understanding, and knowledge would be required to ground a successful Sabdabha, as Prama need careful attention. It is sometimes said that Indian thinkers had no particularly interesting theory of understanding.

The present work sets out to address these issues — issues that have engaged traditional and modern thinkers alike Based on the classic text Advaita Vedantaparibhasa of Dharmarajadhvarindra (17th century), the analysis and arguments extend to the views of and criticisms from the Nyaya Purva Mimamsa and the schools within Indian philosophy, with a treatment of similar concerns in Western philosophy There is a compelling thesis here that should be taken seriously in any philosophy.

Long discarded as a distinct source of knowledge in Western philosophy, Testimony might be fruitfully re examined. This could lead to mutual dialogue between philosophy and religion, and pave the way for critical metaphysics.

About the Author

Dr Purushottama Bilimoria, PhD is a Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Deakin University and Senior Fellow at Melbourne University. He has held fellowships and has lectured in universities in the USA, UK, Europe, Canada, and India. Dr Bilimoria is a visiting professor at State University of New York, Stony Brook and Columbia University. He is an editor-in-chief of Sophia, an international ourna1 for metaphysical theology; and co-editor of the two-volume compendia on Indian Ethics, and t he Routledge History of Indian philosophy He is currently editor of “Studies of Classical india Series.

The aim of this series is to publish fundamental studies concerning classical Indian civilization. It will conclude editions of texts, translations, specialized studies, and scholarly works of more general interest related to various fields of classical Indian culture such as philosophy, grammar, literature, religion, art and history.

In this context, the term ‘Classical India’, covers a vast area both historically and geographically, and embraces various religions and philosophical traditions, such as Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism, and many languages from Vedic and Epic Sanskrit to Pali, Prakrt and Apabhramsa. We believe that in a profoundly traditional society like India, the study of classical culture is always relevant and important.

Classical India presents an interesting record of deep human experience, thoughts, beliefs and myths, which have been a source of inspiration for countless generations. We are persuaded of its lasting value and relevance to modem man.

By using extensive and for the most part unexplored material with scientific rigor and modern methodology, the authors and editors of this series hope to stimulate and promote interest and research in a field that needs to be placed in its proper perspective.

Foreword

Dr Purushottama Bilimoria’s book on sabdapramara is an important one, and so is likely to arouse much controversy. I am pleased to be able to write a Foreword to this book, at a stage in my philosophical thinking when my own interests have been turning towards the thesis of sabdapramana as the basis of Hindu religious and philosophical tradition. Dr Bilimoria offers many novel interpretations of classical Hindu theories about language, meaning, understanding and knowing. These interpretations draw upon the conceptual resources of contemporary analytic and phenomenological philosophies, without sacrificing the authenticity that can arise only out of philologically grounded scholarship. He raises many issues, and claims to have resolved some of them. Certainly, he advances the overall discussion, and this is the best one could hope for in writing on a topic to which the best minds of antiquity and modern times have applied themselves.

In this Foreword, I wish to focus on one of the issues which I have raised on earlier occasions, and on which Dr Bilimoria has several important things to say. The issue is: is sabdabodha eo ipso a linguistic knowing, i.e., sabdaprama, or does sabdabodha amount to knowing only when certain specifiable conditions are satisfied. It the second alternative be accepted, these additional conditions could not be the same as the familiar asatti (contiguity), yogyata (semantic fitness), ákanksa (expectancy) and tatparya (intention), for these are, on the theory, conditions of sabdabodha itself. For these conditions, the reader should consult the text of this book. It should be noted that on the first alternative, all sabdabodha is pram, i.e. true, so that a false (a-prama) sabdabodha would be a contradiction in terms. And yet, in an intuitively clear sense, one does understand a false sentence. What then hearing a false sentence being uttered by a speaker taken to be competent generates in the hearer could not be knowledge. It can only be an understanding of the meaning of the sentence. From this, one could proceed to the more general thesis: in all cases — whether the sentence heard is true or false — there is a linguistic understanding. In the case of a true sentence, the understanding becomes a component of knowing. In the case of a false sentence, when the falsity is discovered (and so is the incompetency of the speaker), the knowledge claim is revoked, the underlying understanding stands all by itself.

Now this last picture is clearly rejected by the theories of the sabdabodha in classical Indian philosophy (with the possible exception of the so- called grammarians). These theories, in fact, take (i) sabdobodha to be, by definition, true, (ii) and consequently have no interesting notion of linguistic understanding. A notion of understanding requires not only a concept of meaning, but also one that is different from that of reference. It is not necessary that this theory of meaning be as strongly Platonistic as the Fregean theory of sense; what is necessary is that it not be a purely referential theory. The Indian theories under consideration did subscribe to a purely referential theory. Words directly refer to their objects. A sentence directly refers to a complex relational object. Understanding a sentence is knowing this object, if the sentence is true i.e. if there is such an object. What happens if the sentence is false?

The Indian theories generally held the view that we do not have a sabdabodha of a false sentence. (Rather, what we have in such a case is a peculiar mental (manasa) state.) Is this view counter-intuitive? It would be so, only if we construe sabdabodha as linguistic understanding. It is counter-intuitive to say that we do not understand the meaning of a false sentence. But the view is not counter-intuitive, if by sabdabodha is meant linguistic knowledge: we surely cannot be said to know, when the sentence heard is false.

Let me then take it as uncontroversial (1) that we do understand false sentences, but (2) do not have a knowledge upon hearing and understanding such a sentence. (1) entails a theory of understanding which the Indian theories do not have. (2) leaves the basic theory of sabdabodha intact: Sabdabodha is intrinsically prama (at least, with regard to utpatti, if not with regard to jnapti — i.e., it is true, to begin with, even if it is not known to be so).

But this would be an unsatisfactory solution, for (1) and (2) cannot be held together. A theory of understanding as is implied in (1) requires a theory of meaning — of meaning that is grasped in understanding a sentence, no matter if that sentence is true or false. But such a theory of meaning which cannot be purely referential, for then (1) will have to be rejected — will undermine the claim made in (2). Nothing less than a purely referential theory can save (2), and yet a purely referential theory will undermine (1). That (2) needs a purely referential theory is corroborated by the passage, Dr Bilimoria cites from the late K.C. Bhattacharyya: a word qua sentence refers “directly to the thing, expresses the thing, touches it.” (K.C- Bhattacharyya, Studies in Philosophy, Vol. 1, Ch. III, p. 83, cited in this book, p. 326, fit. 150). With a purely referential theory of meaning, understanding a false sentence becomes a ‘mock-understanding’ (as Arindam Chakraborty would have it using a Fregean locution).

Let me here turn to Arindam Chakraborty’s paper ‘Understanding Falsehoods: A Note on the Nyya concept of Yogyata (The Journal of the Asiatic Society, XXVIII, 1986, pp. 10—20) in which he directly confronts the problem. Chakraborty recognizes that on the usual understanding of ‘yogyata’ as (semantic) compatibility or fitness, although sentences such as “Idleness is green” and “He is sprinkling with fire” are ruled out from generating sabdabodha, a false sentence such as “The jar is on the floor” is not, (when there actually is no jar on the floor referred to in the context of the utterance). Wishing to rule out this possibility, Chakraborty then interprets a suggestion from Siddhantamuktavali as implying that a sentence ‘a is P is characterised by fitness (yogyata) only if a is F — which makes fitness collapse with ‘truth’. Only true sentences are fit and so can generate sabdabodha. Not only contradictory sentences such as “The fireless hill has fire”, but also consistent but semantically absurd sentences such as “Idleness is green” and even contingently false sentences such as “It is raining” (when it in fact is not) — all these cannot generate sabdabodha. They may generate “a mental state” consisting of memories of the referents of the component words, but they cannot generate a relational, qualificative cognition, for there is no such relational entity to know.

Now, this ingenuous interpretation of ‘yogyata’ is indistinguishable from ‘truth’, in fact, it is the same as that. It smacks of ruling out the possibility of understanding false sentences by stipulating by a fiat, as it were, that truth is a condition of sentence-understanding. Even if this anxiety is in some way alleviated, consider this interpretation of yogyatä together with the position that what is required for sabdabodha is not yogyata itself but awareness of yogyata, then a certain determination of truth is being built into the theory — which is in conflict with the thesis of parata-pramanya. The only way of obviating this is to weaken the sense of ‘awareness of yogyata (= truth)’ to mean ‘absence of firm disbelief in absence of yogyata (i.e. in untruth)’, but in that ease when one believes a sentence (in fact false) to be true (and regards the speaker to be competent etc.) one must be understanding it, and since he is not knowing anything, this understanding has to find a place in a theory of sabdabodha. To say that in this and other cases of putative understanding of false sentences, what occurs is simply recalling of meanings of the component expressions but no integrated sentence meaning won’t do for four reasons: first, to base this claim on the fact that there is no integrated ‘featured individual’ of the sort is precisely to beg the issue about what one grasps in understanding (as contrasted with knowing); secondly, one cannot distinguish phenomenological the two experiences (i.e. understanding a false sentence when believed to be true and understanding a true sentence believed to be true); the matter gets — in the third place — more complicated, to the disadvantage of the proposal under consideration, when one considers true sentences taken to be false; and, finally, the way the distinction is sought to be drawn (namely, that in the case of true sentences there is a ‘qualificative cognition’ whereas in the case of false sentences there is merely memory of ‘unrelated’ substantial meanings) is compatible with the Prabhakara theory of a-khyati rather than with the Nyaya theory of anyathakhyati.

Let me now return to the sentence quoted from K.C. Bhattacharyya: The word directly refers to the thing, expresses the thing, touches it in a sense.” Likewise, “The sentence at once refers to an objective relation.” There are two things about K.C. Bhattacharyya’s thesis (or interpretation of sabdapramana) which deserve attention. For one thing, in the sentence just preceding the first-quoted one, he writes that even in the case of a word remembering is not understanding the meaning. This contrasts with the account we examined earlier: in the case of a false sentence, we do understand the meanings of words by way of remembering them, but that does not constitute self-understanding. K.C Bhattacharyya is, in fact, distinguishing between (let us not forget, he is interpreting the Vedanta, and not the Nydya theory) the name, the concept and the objective reference, for he goes on to write: “The free concept not only requires the name for its support but is identical with it, though transcending it.” Then, a little later, he continues: “the same determination of the self gives the name and the concept an identical object-reference.” I take “the free concept” to mean “meaning” (as distinguished from objective reference). By “the determination of the self”, I take it, following the editor’s footnote at that place, to mean “the assertive function of the self”. Read this together with what follows in the next paragraph (and this is the second thing to be attended to):

“The primordial objective reference of a judgement is a provisional belief, a belief, it may be, with a certain general cautiousness induced by experience: if it is only thought, it is at any rate continuous with knowledge.” And we are far removed from the Nyaya theory commented upon earlier. It is a theory of direct reference of sentence, mediated by provisional, uncontradicted belief, and also a theory of direct reference of words, again mediated by a concept that is not distinguished from the name. Let us remember that the locutions “direct” and “indirect” are ambiguous: one can ask, how direct? How indirect? You may have a concept of mediation by a sense-content (conceived as transparent, objectified only in reflection) which is compatible with a theory of direct reference. This is what I have been intending these critical remarks to point to.

At the end, I will raise another question about the idea of sabda as a means of knowing, as a pramana. In what sense, one wonders, is linguistic knowing (sabdajnana), a grasping (grahana) of a relational ontological structure (or of a properly qualified individual)? Since one may also perceive the same individual (exactly as qualified as in the case of linguistic knowing), how is the purely linguistic grasping of the object different, qua grasping, from a perceptual grasping of it — especially from the sort of perceptual grasping that, according to both Nyaya and Mimamsa, is shot through (anuviddha) with linguisticality, i.e. from the so-called svikalpaka percention? Of course, one may want to explain the cognitive difference by means of the different way each is caused, but what I am at present interested in is, how is the one cognition, as a grasping, different from the other when both are graspings of the same object. Perhaps, the distinction between ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ (‘aparoksa’ and ‘paroksa’) will help, but this distinction is hopelessly ambigiuous as already pointed out. Perhaps the locution of ‘grasping’ is misleading, when extended from perception to linguistic knowing. It may be that the Jaina distinction between ‘vi4ada’ and ‘visada’ (‘clear’ and ‘not-clear’) will help.

Introduction

The problem
This book makes an attempt at a systematic examination of a rather important problem in Indian philosophy—in particular, a thesis within Advaita Vedanta’s theory of knowledge (but not restricted to Advaita, since this is a thesis that also concerns Nyaya, Purva Mimamsa , Samkhya and other schools). The thesis in question generally goes under the rubric of sabdapramana or ‘sabda-pramana’ the derivation of knowledge from linguistic utterances or words. This work borders between epistemology and philosophy of language, but as such is not an exercise in linguistics, though its relevance in the context of the present discussion cannot be underrated. The problem itself is worthy of philosophical investigation as it has implications for theories of knowledge, language and ‘revelation’— implications which should be of considerable interest to scholars and students of philosophy and religion, and of Indian thought and ‘spirituality’ at large.

The basic aim here is to make sense of the theoretical basis of the ‘doctrine of the word’, and to consider whether sabdapramana, so understood, is a philosophically sound thesis. The traditional presentation of the thesis and of the grounds for its acceptance has often been dense and a difficult terrain, so to speak, for the uninitiate to wade through without loosing oneself in the plethora of arguments, counterarguments, analyses, criticisms and sometimes sheer polemics. Each of the three or four major schools of thought (darsanas) that accepts this particular pramãna or means of knowledge goes about justifying its respective stance in quite different ways. Attempts have been made to synthesise the various different approaches to this problem, but here again several significant issues have been left unattended or not dealt with adequately. In our own times, similar attempts, scarce as they are, have been hampered by, on the one hand, an excessive preoccupation with philological-historical analyses, and, on the other, over-indulgence in speculative ‘metaphysic’, albeit with a sectarian tinge to it.

It has been thought necessary, therefore, to re-state the thesis in more contemporary terms, while reconstructing the arguments and examining each of the steps in the appropriate contexts of the linguistic, cognitive and epistemic processes that supposedly render successful this particular pramana vis-à-vis other means of knowledge Consequently, what I attempt to develop here is a relatively broad epistemologically based theoretical framework for analysing, understanding and appraising the thesis. And although the source for the analysis was initially derived from works in Advaita Vedãnta, the present investigation is by no means confined to Advaita epistemology. Rather, Nyãya arguments and, to an extent, (Purva) Mimamsä understanding constitute strong and serious grounding for the present work. Reference to texts from all three schools, therefore, is profuse and varied. (It may be noted in passing that ‘Vedanta’ is itself regarded to be a version of Mimãmsä, namely Uttar Mimämsã, presumably coming ‘after’, or being hermeneutically posterior to, the orthodox (Purva) Mimamsa school.) The relevant views of the Grammarians are also considered, although not to the same extent as the Advaita-Nyaya views are.

In basing the examination largely on Sanskrit texts, I do not mean to deter the non-specialist from participating in this enterprise; rather, my aim has been to make the thesis equally accessible to the general reader who has some acquaintance with the sorts of philosophical issues we are concerned with here. It is for that reason that I have attempted to trans late or explain each difficult term or notion used in the context of the discussion. A few pages later, some of the general terms of the doctrine are elucidated.

There should be interest here for religion and moral culture as well, which is derived from the consideration that sabda, in its varying forms, is one of the fundamental bases or sources for the sorts of experience and understanding that fall specifically within the domain of religious discourse and doctrinaire activities. The ramifications are enormous when we consider that sabda constituted by sruti, or the special class of sacrosanct scriptures of Hinduism, such as the Upanisads and certain other texts of the Vedas, is the basis for the authentication and acceptance of some very fundamental beliefs and ideas that are regarded to be central to the Hindu tradition. Thus it is that the notions of authority and tradition weigh heavily on the ‘doctrine of the word’.

As such the doctrine is, in the words of Kalidas Bhattacharyya, ‘critically relevant for all transcendental Indian philosophy, and also for much of Indian ethics (life of action). That is why all forms of Vedänta, Yoga, Jainism and mimamsa. .speak so much, and in such finest details, on sabda-pramana, taking the scriptures (of various sorts) as (probably) the only anchorage for all that is transcendental and ethical.

To be sure, as Prof. J. N. Mohanty, in calling for a re-examination of the priorities and relative strengths and weaknesses of this doctrine, remarks: ‘[N]o other age since antiquity has been, sheerly on theoretical grounds, more congenial to the idea of recognising the centrality of linguistic texts in a culture’s self-understanding and of language in cognitive, moral and religious lives.’

Nevertheless, it is a doctrine that is also, as Kunhan Raja put it, ‘the most misunderstood and most misrepresented in the entire range of Indian philosophy.’3 It is an issue in Indian philosophy and religion generally that, according to Prof. Ninian Smart, has hitherto not received the systematic treatment it clearly deserves.4 This point cannot be stressed more. The present work was undertaken with a view to rectifying these shortcomings in the current state of scholarship.

The approach
The work deals basically with a technical theory from one area of Indian philosophy in light of philosophical and epistemological issues in the context of recent developments. While I am taking into account recent development and thus, to that extent, am engaged in comparative philosophy, this is not the main concern here. The extremes in any ‘comparatives’ approach, as in the early movements in religious studies, are to be avoided. For, one danger is that the ‘native’ view, so to speak, can get overlaid with categories extrapolated from another alien tradition or system, and, in the process, lose its original meaning and function. And yet, at the same time, it is desirable to make intelligible the views of another system of tradition in terms accessible to another school or system, so that there is mutual appreciation, critical reflection—and self-reflection—and an enhancement of what must be, in the last resort, a common quest.

One cannot afford, however, to minimise the difficulties encountered in reading some of the abstruse texts of classical Indian philosophy, which require not only some acquaintance with the texts, written mostly in Sanskrit (perhaps also Pali, Tibetan, Find, Bengali, etc.), but also familiarity with the technical terminology of the philosophical and religious tracts that utilise that language and form of discourse. That understanding may require one to read widely and also to sit with traditional scholars and pandits in order to appreciate the background texts and contexts against which some of the views were developed and have or had gained currency. Mastery of linguistic skills is one requirement, while insightful skills in the discourse is another, indispensible, requirement.

In other words, being proficient at reading texts is not sufficient; one also has to be able to interpret and critically appraise the philosophic intent that underscore the arguments. It is here that the real task of the philosopher/scholar begins; and at the same time one has to be sensitive to the totality of the contexts of the thought being studied, not shying away from the useful insights and assistance that relevant intellectual disciplines besides philosophy may have to offer. This, however, is not a plea as such for inter-disciplinarily (whose relevance in particular areas of inquiry is not being questioned), much less for the multi-disciplinary approach popular in some quarters.

Being wary of the works of grand generalisations and wild speculations (supposedly based on Indian philosophy and spirituality), on the one hand, and the formidably stringent approach expected by Indologists (and their predecessor Orientalists, preoccupied more with philological than with philosophical concerns), on the other hand, I have tried to steer clear of both extremes.5 Philosophy, in a somewhat wider sense than the currently dominant approach would have it, is where I would place this work. I am guided, though, by the awareness that the method of philosophy is doubtless a tight and a disciplined one inspired by critical reflection and not one given to vain speculation or fanciful flights. Philosophy, indeed, begins with description and the clarification of one’s understanding of some problem in relation to the views of others or other systems of thought. As Ludwig Wittgenstein put it: ‘a philosophical work consists essentially of elucidation.’

I have, accordingly, struggled to elucidate what I believe underlies an insight into a particular problem of knowing in a tradition of philosophy, bearing in mind developments in another. The abstruse nature of the subject matter apart, and notwithstanding Quine’s principle of in determinacy of translation (and, by extension, of interpretation), the material for this work has been drawn in main from Sanskrit, but also from Hindi and contemporary writing in the area, and has been worked at over some nine years.

Contents

ForewordVII
Pre-wordXIII
PrologueXIX
AcknowledgementXXVII
AbbreviationsXXIX
Introduction
The Problem1
The approach3
Aim and objectives4
The thesis and its background6
Pramana7
Jnana10
Prama13
Sabda14
Ideality of language19
Sruti20
The dogma of surti: apauruseya20
The text and its author21
Cit: consciousness in the knowing process24
Dharmaraja and navya-nyaya24
Chapter 1Outline of the argument for sabdapramana31
Chapter 2On word Linguistic karana and the word52
AKarana causal instrument for sabdabodha52
BWhat is a word61
Chapter 3On meaning
ASome general remarks on meaning84
BIndian theories of meaning91
CThe linguistic functions of meaning104
Chapter 4Sabdabodha: Psycholinguistics of sentence understanding
ASabdabodha128
BSamsargamaryada142
Chapter 5The karans
AAranksa syntactic expectancy164
BAsatti linguistic contiguity180
Chapter 6The phenomenological karanas195
AYogyata semantic competency195
BTatparya intentionality209
Chapter 7Sabdapramanya problem of truth and authority of the word
ATruth and falsity of sabdabodha235
BAuthority and praxis aptabhava292
Appendixes
ATransliteration of AGAMA test from vedantaparibhasa327
BBibliography335
APrimary sources335
BSecondary sources and related texts347
Indexes
Name index369
General index373
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