Book note: Vincent Eltschinger’s “Penser l’autorité des Écritures”

The starting point of every discussion on this book is that it is an amazing achievement: more than 160 pp. of translation of Dharmakīrti’s Pramāṇavārttika and Svavṛtti which will enhance further studies on Buddhist and non-Buddhist epistemology and, even more important if possible, enable non-Sanskritist readers to have a glance of Dharmakīrti’s arguments on the epistemological foundation of one’s beliefs and actions.

The first lot of my comments is directed on the long introductory study which is, explains the author, only a methodological device to avoid an over-loaded annotation. In fact, the introductory study is sometimes (most of all in the first chapter: Contexte historique et idéologique –V. Eltschinger is a passionate historian), a page-turner. Sometimes, on the other hand, it resembles more a collection of arguments needed to understand the following translation and hence runs the risk to be either too long (to be a handy compendium for the translation) or too short (if one –as in my case– looks for a philosophical insight into the Buddhist-Mīmāṃsaka debate).

More in detail, my only genuine criticism is about §1.3.3, p. 45, where the author describes the Mīmāṃsā’s understanding of the Veda as

The Smṛti and the Purāṇas are an authorised source of knowledge of dharma only insofar as they confirm an uncreated revelation, which is the only one to be inscribed in the order of things. (emphasis original)

(Les Smṛti et les Purāṇa ne sont source autorisées de connaissance du dharma que parce qu’ils corroborent une révélation incréée, seule inscrite dans l’ordre même des choses.)

This would hint at the idea that there is a natural order of things and that the Veda is part of it. On the other hand, I have rather the impression that the Veda is felt by Mīmāṃsakas to be of a complete different nature as our common experience and to be the only possible authority in its precinct. That is, as for dharma, there is no order of things which enables the Veda to be the only authority, rather, the realm of dharma is tantamount to Veda. Moreover, the Veda is an instrument of knowledge (pramāṇa) only as far as its prescriptive part is concerned. Hence, no descriptive knowledge of dharma can be driven out of it, whereas V. Eltschinger’s passage and even more his hinting at the order of things seems to imply that the Veda has an epistemological validity in its descriptive rather then prescriptive passages.

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5 thoughts on “Book note: Vincent Eltschinger’s “Penser l’autorité des Écritures”

      • 100 pages in, and it’s delightful and informative so far. Just finished Parimal Patil’s masterful response to Sheldon Pollock’s periodization of late Indian philosophy, the death of Sanskrit, etc., by a study of Nyaya-Vaisheshika. I think his chapter should be read as a companion to Ganeri’s *Lost Age of Reason*. Franco’s introduction, which traces and problematizes some of the distinctive attempts to provide frameworks for the history of Indian philosophy, is also very helpful. Like you (http://elisafreschi.com/2014/01/03/is-there-really-a-single-author-of-the-yogasutra-and-yogabha%E1%B9%A3ya/), I find Mass’s argument that the sutrakara and the bhashyakata of the Yogasutra are the same person (he says this in a bit more nuanced way than this) to be quite intriguing.

        As to be expected, all the essays (that I’ve read so far) are profoundly erudite.

  1. the issue of what is, and isn’t, included in “the order of things” is a big one, and i suspect that a mīmāṃsaka might consider himself a “realist” (in this and many other respects) by virtue of his belief that the vedas are indisputably a part of reality. however, a modern scientist is likely to disagree, since the stuff that the veda is supposed to tell us about (if you perform sacrifices, good stuff will happen to you) is ex hypothesi known from the veda alone, and is not grounded in any “reality” outside of the veda. is this just a question of definition?

    regarding the issue at hand: smṛti and purāṇas require vedic authority, and since they often can’t be corroborated by actually-existing vedic texts, mīmāṃsakas allow the assumption of a lost text in certain cases. so this is one case where the révélation incréée is not coextensive with the veda in the narrow sense of the śākhās that are actually transmitted.

  2. @Andrew, you are right and I have been imprecise: révélation incréée includes all the Vedas, the known ones and the lost or scattered ones.

    As for the order of things and the first part of your comment, I beg to disagree a little bit. I think you are also (like Vincent) interpreting the Vedic prescriptions as if they were descriptive. By contrast, unless one follows Maṇḍana, svargakāmo darśapūrṇamāsābhyāṃ yajeta and so on do not state that if you perform the DPM you will reach heaven. Rather, they prescribe you to perform them. They are, thus, referring to a different approach, namely a prescriptive one. We might then decide that we want to make “reality” so inclusive as to extend until the prescriptive realm. But I am almost sure that the expression “the order of things” does not refer to it, since it implies a stative description (“order”) of what is there (“things”).
    Long story short: It seems to me that neglecting this specific dimension of the Mīmāṃsā approach is a sort of lectio facilior. It is easier for us, but easyness does not need to be true.

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