About the Book:
This book contains an elaborate discussion of different Western and Indian theories of language, a comparative study of epistemology of authority, and Navya-Nyaya theories of meaning of words, and of sentences of different moods - indicative, imperative, optative, - and alsoof ought-sentences.
About the Author:
Sibajiban Bhattacharyya, formerly B.N. Seal Professor of Mental and moral philosophy, Calcutta University, taught different branches of philosophy for more than 45 years in many universities, institutions in India and abroad; published more than a hundred papers in journals, anthologies, encyclopedias, Indian and foreign; has published many books on different topics.
This work was undertaken during the tenure of National Fellow-
ship awarded to me by the Indian Council of Philosophical
Research, New Delhi, from October 1992 to September 1995. I
thank the authorities of the Council for giving me an opportunity
to give a systematic form to my ideas on the subject.
I consider this work as belonging to the field of comparative
philosophy which develops different points of view on any topic.
In presenting the views of Western philosophers, I have used
almost exclusively Knowing from Words edited by B.K. Matilal
and A. Chakrabarti, for it contains the most recent statements of
contemporary Western philosophers. In explaining Bhartrhari's
theory, I have depended again, almost exclusively, on K.A. Iyer's
Bhartrhari. In explaining the Navya-Nyaya theories, I have used
Jagadisa's Sabdasaktiprakasika, Gadadhara's Saktivada.
In dealing with language, I have accepted the composition
principle of sentence meaning, for an adult speaker uses a limited
stock of words to construct a much larger set of sentences; an
adult hearer, too, does not understand the meaning of, or know
the message conveyed in, a sentence immediately, but step by
step as it were. This has led me to reject, rather arbitrarily, holistic
theories of meaning. If one has to learn the whole language to
understand adequately the meaning of words and sentences, then
a five-year old child will understand only inadequately the mean-
ing of such Simple sentences as 'shut the door' or 'sugar is
sweet'. But to me this consequence, if it is a consequence, of
holism is contrary to fact. Moreover, no one knows the whole of
any living language, 'from the basement to the attic'. A theory of
language which presupposes aknowledge of the whole language
will be Impossible.
Moreover, a holistic theory does not consider unanalysed
language as whole. A holistic theory requires language to be
analysed into sentences, sentences into words. Only a word does
not have any meaning in isolation; it has meaning only in the
context of sentences, actual and possible.
It has been claimed that the condition of complete extension-
al access together with semantic monism leads to a holistic theory
of meaning. But so far as Sanskrit is concerned, where the limit
of basic words is generally fixed, holism is not necessary for
complete extensional access to meanings of expressions. There is
also a difference in the concept of dictionary. It has become a
regular feature of a dictionary, say, of English, to give meanings
of words by citing larger contexts, sentences, clauses, phrases, in
which the words occur. But in a dictionary of Sanskrit the mean-
ings of isolated words are given by isolated words. Thus the
concept of dictionary of a language varies with the theories of
meaning of words of that language.
Then, I have explained two Indian theories of the function of
language. According to Navya-Nyaya, the main, and even the
only, function of language is communication, conveying factual
information to a hearer. According to Bhartrhari, however, the
main function of language is self-expression from a deeper level
of consciousness to the surface level of consciousness, i.e. of
articulate speech. This outward movement of consciousness is
necessary to explain the empirical reality of communication. But,
for self-realisation one has to move from the surface level of
articulate speech to deeper levels of consciousness. By tracing the
origin of the word in consciousness one comes to the deepest
level of consciousness.
As I have accepted the composition principle of sentence
meaning, it is necessary for me to distinguish between words and
sentences and give an independent meaning to the term 'word'.
This has been done variously in various theories. In Paninr's
grammar a word is syntactically characterised as that expression
which ends with suffixes, nominal or verbal. As Sanskrit is an
inflectional language, words (names, verbs etc.) have to have
suffixes. Against this syntactical criterion to distinguish sentences
from words, Navya-Nyaya philosophers recommend a semantical
criterion. A word, according to this theory, is that which has
semantic power to mean objects. According to this Navya-Nyaya
theory even suffixes are words, as they have meaning. English
which is not in general an inflectional language still retains a
vestige of inflection in some typical cases. Thus 'goes' has the
suffix 'es' which, according to Navya-Nyaya philosophers, means
present tense, singular number, and refers to a third person
subject. Thus, according to Navya-Nyaya philosophers, 'go-es' is
a sentence as it is composed of two words related syntactically
and as their meanings are related semantically.
These are difficult issues which need to be thoroughly dis-
cussed. There are other difficult problems which I have not
discussed at all. One is the holistic theory of meaning which I
have merely mentioned, but which needs serious discussion
which I have not provided. There is also a theory that the
world is not constituted by ready-made objects, that we use the
conceptual framework of language to slice up an amorphous
world into objects of different categories. This explains why
different languages have different worlds. Another problem
concerns the relation between speaking and thinking (judging).
It has been proposed that judging is just interiorisation of
speech. I have assumed that by speaking we express what we
know, feel, or desire. I have not attempted to write here SUMMA
SEMANTICA as Mark Platts has said about his own book.
Then, there is a historical matter. In Chapter Five, I have
explained some topics of Navya-Nyaya semantic theory. In sec-
tion 4 of Chapter Five I have explained the Navya-Nyaya theory
of ought-sentences as given in Udayana's Nyaya-Kusumanjali.
My justification for including Udayana in the Navya-Nyaya
school is that many scholars regard him as the originator of
Navya-Nyaya. Moreover, Udayana's exposition is much simpler
than those found in Gangesa and later writers. I have considered
it to be more appropriate to this introductory treatment of the
One of the main topics of this work is the epistemology of
testimony. Many Western theories on this topic are summarised
and compared and contrasted with many types of Indian theo-
ries. I hope that this work will be of use not only to those who
know or are interested in Indian philosophy, but to all those who
are interested in the subject.
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