Within chapter 11 of his masterpiece, the Vidhiviveka `Discernment about prescription’, Maṇḍana identifies the core element which causes people to undertake actions. Maṇḍana expands on Kumārila’s intuition about human behaviour being always goal-oriented by offering a radical reductionist hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, being a motivator is nothing but communicating that the action to be undertaken is an instrument to some coveted result. In this sense, prescribing X to people desiring Y is nothing but explaining that X is the means to achieve Y.
At this point, Maṇḍana introduces some opponents, mainly one upholding pratibhā.
The term pratibhā is found in Bhartṛhari, whom Maṇḍana extensively quotes in chapter 11 of his Vidhiviveka. It is clear that Maṇḍana suggests the pratibhā as an alternative way of making sense of what motivates people to act. In this sense, pratibhā is a pravartaka `motivator’, something causing one to act. It is the key alternative to Maṇḍana’s own proposal that the knowledge that the enjoined action will lead to a desired result is what causes people to act. The pratibhā theory radically opposes this one.
In fact, Maṇḍana’s theory is primarily cognitive (you act with regard to X because you know something relevant about X), whereas the pratibhā theory is almost behaviourist (you act with regard to X because of the pratibhā inducing you to act).
The Prābhākara opponent within Maṇḍana will later appropriate this theory and join it with their own deontological understanding, according to which we act primarily because we are enjoined to do so, thus adding a deontological nuance which was absent in Bhartṛhari’s view of pratibhā.
But what is pratibhā before its Prābhākara reinterpretation? A key passage for the understanding of the pratibhā theory in Maṇḍana before its Prābhākara appropriation is the very sentence introducing it, at the beginning of section 11.3. There, the opponent suggests pratibhā as the thing causing one to undertake an action. An uttarapakṣin asks which kind of artha this is and the answer is at first sight surprising: It is no artha at all (na kaścit). What is it then? It is a cognitive event (prajñā) leading to action.
The point seems to be that there is no mental content, but only the urge towards acting. The pratibhā is a mental state without intentional content.
A further hint is found at the beginning of 11.5, where Maṇḍana responds to the paradox that the pratibhā cognition has no object, but it causes activity. This results, says Maṇḍana, in an undesirable consequence. In fact, if in the case of pratibhā the cognition of the connection between word and meaning plays no role, because the pratibhā has no intentional content, a person hearing a prescription should act independently of any cognition of the meaning.
But can we have purely agentive mental states? Can there be incitement to action without any content?
I am grateful to Hugo David for an inspiring talk on pratibhā back in 2018. This interpretation should, however, not be blamed on him. Similarly, I am always grateful to Elliot Stern for his edition of the Vidhiviveka and for the work we shared in the last 12 months.
Cross-posted on my personal blog.