Dear fellow readers,
Hi. My name is Patrick, and I’m a Doctoral Candidate at Cornell University. For the month of March 2021, I’ll be taking the lead in this blog series for graduate students to discuss their research. In this first blog post, I’ll speak briefly about my dissertation project:
My research interests primarily orbit around philosophy of language in premodern South Asia, and my dissertation project seeks to tell an intellectual history of Gaṅgeśa’s philosophy of language in the Tattvacintāmaṇi (c. 1320 CE).
My intellectual-historical narrative is tied together by the theme of appropriating resources and positions from Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā: Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā emerged with Śālikanātha (c. 900 CE?) as on the cutting edge of the field of philosophy of language through his antithetical engagement with Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā to coopt their philosophical resources within a Prābhākara model, and then Naiyāyikas in turn developed their own philosophy of language antithetical to the then-dominant textual tradition of Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā, primarily by rehabilitating and refining positions from Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā, and especially from Maṇḍanamiśra (active late 600s/early 700s?).
On the content/philosophical side of the project, one of my core theses is that the competing systems on philosophy of language were primarily concerned with the topic of human motivational behaviour. For the Naiyāyikas, humans are rational agents and are motivated by a calculation of self-interest, whereas for the Prābhākaras, humans’ initial impulse to act is disinterested from the result and stems from a sense of duty or obligation. The framework in which this debate occurred was a perception model of language (i.e., how the language-listener computes meaning), and specifically commands. One of my goals is to show how other topics within their systems harmonize with their positions on this core topic.
I have published some preliminary writing which will feed into the first section of my dissertation as an article in the Journal of Hindu Studies titled: ‘Commands and the Doctrine of the Apūrva in Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā’ (hereafter, Cummins 2021). In the article I argue that Śālikanātha developed a new model of the archetypal Vedic command svargakāmo yajeta (‘the man desiring heaven must sacrifice’) for Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā whereupon the apūrva is directly signified by the command suffix –eta. I attempt to show that this reconfiguration allows Śālikanātha to subordinate Kumārila and Maṇḍana’s theories of bhāvanā (‘bringing into being’) while coopting their philosophical resources. The first section of my dissertation will expand upon the article, covering other topics in Śālikanātha’s treatises where this theme is replicated.
While Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā rose to a position of dominance in the wake of Śālikanātha, this is only now gaining some recognition in the field: much of the post-Śālikanātha corpus is lost and the extant pieces remain deeply understudied (see Cummins 2021 pp. 4-5, 36-7). And on the flip-side, scholastic attention given to Nyāya in the past century has primarily focused on their theories of perception and inference, not their philosophy of language, even though philosophy of language was an equal concern for the Naiyāyikas themselves (e.g., the Śabdakhaṇḍa constitutes 1/3rd of the whole Tattvacintāmaṇi). Given all this, it is unsurprising that our field hasn’t realized that Gaṅgeśa was the final voice in several centuries of responses to Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā. Gaṅgeśa was, as his son Vardhamāna called him, a master of Mīmāṃsā (lit: a seer of the far shore of Mīmāṃsā [mīmāṃsāpāradṛśvane], vs. 3 of the Prakāśa on the Nyāyakusumāñjali). The very language we typically think of as synonymous with later Nyāya – avacchedakas and whatnot – is all but absent in Gaṅgeśa’s Śabdakhaṇḍa. Instead, the language that permeates the Śabdakhaṇḍa is the language of Mīmāṃsā.
The biggest challenge in this project is one of reconstruction. Gaṅgeśa engages Prābhākara interlocutors’ whose treatises are no longer extant, and Gaṅgeśa does not name names. To compound the problem, Gaṅgeśa’s commentators in the following centuries appear to not have direct access to Gaṅgeśa’s source materials nor is their commentarial modality historicist. This leaves me in the situation of trying to figure out if a Prābhākara interlocutor’s position on a given topic in the Śabdakhaṇḍa tracks with any Prābhākara interlocutors’ positions on other topics (and conclusions from this methodology can only go so far). Similarly, on the Nyāya side of things the treatises of two important Naiyāyikas are also lost: Trilocana (pre-Vācaspati) and Soṇḍāda (post-Śaśadhara but pre-Gaṅgeśa). Thus, although much can be said with certainty, there will nevertheless be gaps and hypotheses which can only be resolved via the emergence of new materials.
One of my working hypotheses is that this conversation between Prābhākaras and Naiyāyikas primarily happened in the Mithilā to Bengal region. While it’s not at all a controversial claim on the Naiyāyika side of things that Vācaspati, Udayana and Gaṅgeśa were all from the Mithilā region, it is perhaps more controversial on the Prābhākara side (as Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā was well-studied in the South too, as confirmed by inscriptional evidence and engagement by Vedāntins). However, I’ve found evidence that points to Śālikanātha as from Bengal (see Cummins 2021 n. 109). Likewise, no other Sanskrit intellectual seems to have direct access to Gaṅgeśa’s immediate Prābhākara interlocutors’ materials –> this makes it so I can’t but seriously consider the possibility that these Prābhākaras were from his immediate locale. I need to scour the inscriptional evidence from the greater Mithilā and Bengal region for references to Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā (it’s high on my to-do list!), but I would be love to hear if anyone has further thoughts on this issue.