Hello, everyone—Matthew asked me to write a guest post on some of my work on Mukulabhaṭṭa and pragmatics in Indian philosophy. I’d be interested in everyone’s thoughts!
Mukulabhaṭṭa was a ninth-century Kashmiri thinker who wrote a critical response to Ānandavardhana’s important Dhvanyāloka. Mukula’s only extant work, the Abhidhāvṛttamātṛkā (Fundamentals of the Communicative Function) is a study of literal and non-literal meaning, but his work straddles genre boundaries, including recognizably alaṃkāra-śāstra themes within a broader epistemological and linguistic framework. His work, though influential for Ālaṁkārikas who follow him, such as Mammaṭa, has not been given significant attention by modern scholars until relatively recently, most notably in Larry McCrea’s “The Teleology of Poetics in Medieval Kashmir.”
Lakṣaṇā as Removing Apparent Incompatibility
(1) “gaur vāhīka.” (“The peasant is a bull.”)
(2) “gaṅgāyam ghoṣaḥ.” (“The village is on the Ganges.”)
(3) “pīno devadatto divā na bhuṅkte.” (“Fat Devadatt does not eat during the day.”)
According to Mukulabhaṭṭa, all of these expressions have something in common: their full meaning is understood through lakṣaṇā, often translated as “indication.” In his Abhidhāvṛttamātṛkā, he argues against Ānandavardhana’s view that we need suggestion (dhvani) in order to account for these meanings.
In my current work, I am especially interested in the relationship between lakṣaṇā and arthāpatti. Mukula claims that (3), which is a standard instance of śrutārthāpatti, is also a case of lakṣaṇā. Throughout his text, Mukula explains how lakṣaṇā removes apparent incompatibilities as in (3). Unlike Ānandavardhana’s view of lakṣaṇā, however, he thinks that the apparent incompatibilities need not only exist between component words in a sentence. Rather, there are multiple contextual facts: speaker, sentence, utterance, as well as the place, time, and circumstance.
Lakṣaṇā and IBE, arthāpatti, and Grice
What is of interest to me is the way in which interpretation through lakṣaṇā is analogous to the sort of inference to the best explanation which drives Gricean pragmatics. In fact, looking at H.P. Grice’s original definition of conversational implicature (which, of course, has had many emendations and objections over since its first publication), its structure is strikingly similar to arthāpatti
S conversationally implicates that q in saying that p iff S implicates q when:
- S is presumed to be observing the conversational maxims (or the Cooperative Principle),
- The supposition that S thinks that q is required to make saying that p consistent with this presumption,
- S thinks, and expects H to think that S thinks, the hearer can work out or grasp intuitively, that the supposition that q is required.
Inference to the best explanation (which I distinguish from abduction) can be defined as below (Mackonis 2013):
- The surprising fact, C, is observed;
- But if A were true, C would be a matter of course.
- No available competing hypothesis can explain C as well as A does.
- Hence, A is true.
Finally, arthāpatti as defined by Kumārilabhaṭṭa in the Ślokavārttika:
When an object is known through the six pramāṇa, which otherwise could not be, another, unseen object is imagined—this is an example of arthāpatti.
pramāṇa-ṣaṭka-vijñāto yatra artho na anyathā bhavet; adṛṣṭaṃ kalpayed anyam sa-arthāpattir udāhṛtā.
Grice’s #2, (although he uses the unfortunate term “consistent” which cannot be, strictly speaking what he means) points at the idea that the role of a conversational implicature q is to explain p against a background set of assumptions which includes #1, the CP. In the schema of IBE, q is equivalent to A, and p is equivalent to C. In the schema of arthāpatti, the adṛṣṭam is the conversational implicature which removes the apparent incompatibility between, for instance, the speaker’s utterance and background knowledge.
In the case of Devadatta, what is implicated is that Devadatta eats at night. It is surprising that a fat man would be this way without eating during the day, and so we conclude that he must eat at night. In the case of the peasant, where it is surprising that a speaker would identify a human being with an animal (Mukula points out that “peasant” and “bull” cannot have the same qualifying substratum), we presume that there is a metaphorical meaning. In the case of the village on the Ganges, it is suprising that a speaker would use the locative case for Ganges, since we know villages cannot be supported by rivers, so we conclude that she must be speaking metonymically and by “on the Ganges” she must mean “on the bank of the Ganges.”
If I am right that this general interpretive structure is characteristic of lakṣaṇā, which involves arthāpatti, then Mukula has a highly flexible and context-sensitive alternative to Ānandavardhana’s proposal of a new śakti, in addition to denotation and indication. However, it also raises several questions.
- In discussing frozen or conventional metaphors (the word ‘rājan’ applied to non-kṣatriya rulers), Mukula notes that it’s possible to retrace the relationship between a literal meaning and a non-literal meaning through reflection (vicāraṇa) even if people do not actually go through a reflective process ordinarily. To what degree are interpreters expected to be able to calculate the relationship between literal and non-literal meanings? Or, related, to what degree, ought we be able to reconstruct such a relationship, and in what cases (note the Gricean distinction between conventional and conversational implicatures—does lakṣaṇā reject such a distinction, and why)?
- What makes a given interpretation the best one? Mukula says the interpretation for (3) that Devadatta drinks is blocked (badhita) because nighttime is mentioned. How strong is this defeater? Could there be two equally strong interpretations?
- Mukula often uses “ādi” to fill out the list of metaphorical content—the peasant and the bull both have dullness, laziness, and so on. If arthāpatti is the underlying pramāṇa by which hearers come to understand what is meant, should its deliverances be determinate? If so, what particular list of things counts as understanding the metaphor? If we do not come to understand a determinate proposition, then how should we understand lakṣaṇā in comparison to denotation and the other traditional śakti? Is this evidence that Ānandavardhana was right about suggestion in some way?
- Finally, a larger question is about the relationship between the pramāṇas of testimony, inference, and arthāpatti. If speakers sometimes utter non-literal sentences with the goal of conveying knowledge, how do their hearers come to have niścaya, or warrant, in what is communicated?
Ānandavardhana. The Dhvanyāloka of Ānandavardhana with the Locana of Abhinavagupta. Number 49 in the Harvard Oriental Series. Harvard University Press, 1990.
Kumārilabhaṭṭa. Ślokavārttika of Śrī Kumārila Bhaṭṭa with the Commentary Nyaayaratnākara of Śrī Pārthasārathi Miśra. Tara Publications, Varanasi, 1978.
Muklabhaṭṭa. Abhidhāvṛttamātṛkā. Vidyābhavana Saṃskṛta granthamālā 165, Varanasi 1973.
Mukulabhaṭṭa. Abhidhāvṛttamātṛkā. Trans. K. Venugopalan. Journal of Indian Philosophy, 4:203-265, 1977.
H.P. Grice. Logic and Conversation. In H.P. Grice, editor, Studies in the Way of Words. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1989.
Adolfis Mackonis. Inference to the best explanation, coherence, and other explanatory virtues. The Philosophical Review, 190:978-95, 2013.