Permissions for Prabhākara

Is it possible to command someone who is already inclined to act according to Prabhākara? 

Bṛhatī ad 6.1.1 says na pravṛttapravartane prayogaḥ āmantraṇādiṣu vyabhicārāt, literally: “[Exhortative endings] are not used to promote people who are already active, because of the deviant case (vyabhicāra) of invitations”. 

In fact, Prabhākara appears to believe that commands are always imparted on someone who is not yet active and who becomes active upon hearing them. The addressee of a command  desires something already and recognises themselves as the addressee through such desires (see Freschi 2012), but they are not active until they become enjoined.

Now, if Prabhākara means that active people are never promoted to act, why are āmantraṇas a good example? Orders (ājñā) are not used as a standard example because their being a clear case of promoting someone not already active had been attacked by the opponent in the previous line.

As for āmantraṇa, the situation with āmantraṇa is ambiguous, but Śālikanātha takes it as connected to a command uttered among peers (thus, it is not a clear case of a command uttered for people who are not already active). Moreover, what is the role of the vyabhicāra argument? How can a vyabhicāra argument be used to convince someone that something is *always* the case? A vyabhicāra can be used to show that it is incorrect to claim that “All As are B”, since there is at least one A that is not a B, but it can’t be used to corroborate “All As are B” by showing a further case of an A that is indeed B. In other words, why speaking of “vyabhicāra” and not of “yathāmantraṇeṣu” or the like? The only possible explanation seems to be to think of āmantraṇādiṣu vyabhicārāt as “because the case of invitations, etc., deviates from the [opponent’s] claim”.  

Still, if it is impossible to command someone who is already inclined to act, how can Prabhākara make sense of permissions? When we are already about to light a cigarette and look around and ask whether it is OK and someone tells us “No problem, go ahead!”, isn’t the “go ahead” a command directed to someone who is already active? Could Prabhākara perhaps say that a command cannot enjoin someone who is already active because it would miss the apūrva element?

About elisa freschi

My long-term program is to make "Indian Philosophy" part of "Philosophy". You can follow me also on my personal blog:, on Academia, on Amazon, etc.

4 Replies to “Permissions for Prabhākara”

  1. Elisa,

    I agree with you that “…the case of invitations” is meant to deviate from the opponent’s claim. That seems to be the most obvious reading, so I am puzzled by your puzzlement about it. But if I were reading it in Sanskrit without the aid of your translation, I’m sure I would be at a loss.

    On permission, I think you make a great point. However, if you are inclined to smoke but refrain from actually doing so until a permission is granted, I assume that there must be some regulative psychological mechanism that checks your inclination from moving you all the way to action. So, my guess is that the permission removes the check (pratibandhaka?), and thereby enables your inclination to be translated into action. Without removing the check, you will be prevented from acting upon the desire to smoke, and that seems in line with Prabhākara’s position.

    What I don’t know is the kind of moral psychology held by Prabhākara and other Mimamsakas. Do they allow for a kind of regulative psychological mechanism that checks or approves of desires? Also, it seems to me that pratibandhaka-talk reduces to talk about absences and absentees, so I wonder if Mimamsakas would countenance such talk.

    Coming now to invitations, I am afraid that Śālikanātha’s explanation just isn’t helpful to me. If “invitation” is a feasible English translation for āmantraṇa, then what I understand by it is quite different!

    So, suppose that Amy invites Bob to write a chapter for a book that Amy is editing. If Bob accepts the invitation and writes the chapter, whose desire is he acting on? It seems to me that the content of the action is given by the content of Amy’s desire rather than Bob’s. Bob might have a general desire to add a few more lines to his CV in the area of Amy’s book, and that’s why he accepted Amy’s invitation. But prior to Amy’s invitation Bob may not even have had a desire to write a chapter for her book.

    To strengthen the example, suppose that Bob was not even aware that Amy was editing a book prior to the invitation. A fortiori, then, Bob could not have been writing a chapter for Amy’s book (at least under that description) prior to her invitation.

    And I think the point generalizes beyond this particular example to others like wedding invitations, housewarming invitations, and so on. So if the translation of “āmantraṇa” as invitation is not misleading, then I can see how Prabhākara’s example supports his objection.

  2. Thank you Boram!
    Śālikanātha describes āmantraṇa as occurring among sama speakers, i.e., speakers of the same level (whereas “order” occurs when the speaker is of higher status, and “request” occurs when the speaker is of inferior status).
    Thus, if Amy were Bob’s supervisor, then she would be issuing an order (no way he could just say no). If she were his student, she would be issuing a request (he could say no and if he did say yes, she would be thankful). If they are colleagues, it is a case of āmantraṇa. As to whether Bob is already pravṛtta or not, he seems to be not pravṛtta in the case of Prabhākara, and therefore perhaps also not so in the case of Śālikanātha. They are thus a case proving that the pravṛtta-application of commands is wrong.

    Concerning the semantics of “invitation”, again, I think that “order” clearly conveys the superior->inferior direction of the command. “Request” conveys, I think, the inferior—>superior direction. “Invitation”, also in the cases you mention (like wedding invitations) indicates that it is neither the one nor the other. What do you think?

  3. Elisa, thanks for your explanation of Śālikanātha’s gloss!

    When I said earlier that his gloss (that invitation is among peers) is unhelpful, what I meant is: it does not help me understand why Prabhākara takes invitations to be a counterexample to the opponent’s thesis.

    Sure enough, invitation is among equals, but how does this explain that invitations deviate from the opponent’s position (that exhortative endings urge those who are already inclined to act)? It may be a lack of imagination on my part, but I fail to see how.

    Following up on your suggestion, we could focus on the fact that refusing a superior’s order is difficult (we can’t say no), whereas refusing a peer’s invitation is relatively easy (we can say no). But I can see how the opponent can use this very point to show that invitations vindicate their position. The opponent can say: whether I accept a wedding invitation or not is decided by whether I am inclined to go to the wedding or not; so the case of invitations supports my position, not yours.

    It appears that a superior’s order would better serve Prabhākara’s purpose here than a peer’s invitation, because the order can’t be refused even if one is disinclined to follow the order.

    So, the question remains, why does Prabhākara regard invitations in particular as a deviant case for the opponent’s position?

    • In an attempt to answer this last question, I made a different suggestion in my first comment. In that suggestion, I tried to highlight a different feature of invitation (different, that is, from Śālikanātha’s).

      Namely, an invitation to X is based on the inviter’s inclination to X, not the invitee’s. So when the invitee accepts the invitation to X, the invitee is doing so based not on her/his own inclination, but in order to accommodate the inviter’s inclination (thereby obliging the inviter).

      According to the opponent’s position, however, the inclination to X should be the invitee’s.

      So that, I think, is roughly how invitations deviate from the opponent’s position. (And seen in this light, the kinds of exhortations that would best fit the opponent’s position are advice and recommendation. In these cases, the advisor or recommender would presumably have to take the advisee/recommendee’s desires into account, and say one should do this or that to achieve those desires.)

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