Kumārila on sentence meaning

Who are the opponents in Kumārila’s Ślokavārttika (henceforth ŚV), chapter on sentence-meaning? And did the ŚV set the standard for all further discussions on the topic?

The ŚV vākya chapter deals with the PMS [Pūrva Mīmāṃsā Sūtra] 1.1.24, which focuses on the signification of sentences. The chapter is thus prompted by the initial objection that although the innate meaning of words has been secured (in PMS 1.1.5–23), this still does not entail the validity of the Vedas, since these are made of sentences and sentences are human compositions (ŚV vākya 1). Just like the Jayanta’s Nyāyamañjarī (henceforth NM) 5, section on sentence meaning, the section then opens with a short summary of the possible theories concerning sentence and sentence meaning and then examines them in more detail (ŚV vākya 2–3). It is noteworthy, however, that the positions listed in NM 5, section on vākya, do not correspond to the ones highlighted by Kumārila. The reasons for this differences could be of key importance in order to understand how the debate about the sentence-meaning had shifted in the time between Kumārila and Jayanta. Kumārila mentions:

  1. The words communicate the sentence meaning one by one
  2. The words communicate the sentence meaning taken together
  3. There is a distinct linguistic element apart from the words (i.e., the sphoṭa)
  4. The word meanings communicate the sentence meaning one by one
  5. The word meanings communicate the sentence meaning taken together
  6. The instruments of knowledge [for the word meaning?] communicate the sentence meaning
  7. The memories [of the word meanings?] communicate the sentence meaning one by one
  8. The memories [of the word meanings?] communicate the sentence meaning collectively
  9. The notions of a relation [among word meanings] communicate the sentence meaning one by one
  10. The notions of a relation [among word meanings] communicate the sentence meaning collectively

Jayanta, instead, listed:

  1. ‘ The sentence-meaning is constituted by cognition, since no external sentence meaning is possible (attributed to kecit)
  2. ‘ The sentence meaning is an external state of affairs, constituted by the coordinated connection (saṃsarga) of word-meanings which correspond to external entities (attributed to anye)
  3. ‘ The sentence meaning is the exclusion of anything else (attributed to apare)
  4. ‘ The sentence meaning is an action, with the action factors subordinated to it, since no coordinated connection is possible (attributed to apare)
  5. ‘ The sentence meaning is the arthabhāvanā and, in the case of exhortative verbal endings, the śabdabhāvanā is also added as a sentence meaning (attributed to anye)
  6. ‘ Since it is cumbersome to postulate two different things to be denoted by the exhortative verbal endings, only the prescription is denoted by exhortative verbal endings (attributed to apare) —two sub theories are discussed
  7. ‘ The sentence meaning is the effort

Why are Jayanta’s and Kumārila’s list so different? Kumārila focuses on which elements convey the sentence meaning, whereas Jayanta’s is a semantic analysis, focusing on the nature of the sentence meaning. Once this is established, it is interesting to see that the two lists still have little overlappings:

  1. Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā (=K 5, J 5)
  2. Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā (=K 2, J 6)
  3. Vijñānavāda (=K 10, J 1)

Why so? Had the linguistic fashion changed between Kumārila and Jayanta? Or do they just focus on different things?

For another post on Jayanta and his sources in NM 5, see here.

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3 Replies to “Kumārila on sentence meaning”

  1. The differences in part seem to depend on the structure of the system in which vākya is discussed (i.e., K. has already refuted J3), but I would say they reflect a difference in philosophical methodology, rather than simply “focus” (although J. “presupposes” K. in some sense). K. starts by combining the possibilities for (a) what elements produce a sentence-meaning and (b) the manner in which they produce it, since he wants to show that only one combination is philosophically defensible and also removes the doubt with which the section begins, viz. whether or not sentence-meanings are eternal in the same way that word-meanings have been proven to be. The actual positions that other philosophers have taken can be mapped against this matrix, but those positions are not what give the matrix its shape. J. is interested in the positions themselves. The question for him is “what are the available conceptions of sentence-meaning” rather than “under what skeletal conception of sentence-meaning can it possibly work out to be eternal.” As answers to this question, K2 and J6 (for example) are completely different characterizations of the Prābhākara view, such that I would even hesitate to call K2 a characterization of the Prābhākara view (more like a skeletal conception that the Prābhākara view could potentially be shown to rest upon).

  2. Just two remarks.
    Kumarila’s approach seems ‘more linguistic’. Obviously his classification is a development of Bhartrihari’s list of sentence definitions (VP II.1).
    If we consider Jayanta’s listing to be comprehensive, then J1 must refer to sphota theories also.

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