If you have honey at home, why going to the mountains? The principle of parsimony in Mīmāṃsā

“If you can find honey on a tree nearby, why going to the mountains?”
arke cen madhu vindeta, kim artham parvataṃ vrajet

Beside their specific commitment to some hermeneutic metarules regarding the linguistic and prescriptive nature of the Vedas, Mīmāṃsā authors also strictly adhere to the principle of parsimony (lāghava). This principle says that one should avoid unnecessary effortsand it applies to different fields. For instance, if a ritual prescription says that one should sacrifice “animals” (in plural), one should sacrifice the lowest number of animals satisfying the requiremenet of the prescription, namely three (two animals would be expressed in Sanskrit with the dual number). Similarly, unnecessary speculations should be avoided, if an easy explanation of a given phenomenon is available, as with Ockham’s Razor.

The principle of lāghava is also differently expressed. In the Śābarabhāṣya ad 1.2.4, this is expressed as in the title of this post, with a further hemistich explaining that there is no point in making further efforts once the result can be easily achieved, but the principle is omnipresent in Mīmāṃsā. For instance, it rules the way Mīmāṃsakas apply the instruments of knowledge to understand what is connected with a given prescription (from śruti onwards, see PMS 3.3.14), with the general idea that unless there is a serious reason, one goes for the easiest solution (e.g., what is directly enjoined overrules what one could understand out of context). Careful readers will have already noted that this is the same approach which is detectable in Kumārila’s most well-known epistemological innovation, namely his theory of the self-validity of cognition (svataḥ prāmāṇya). There, once again, unless and until the opposite is proved, each cognition should be accepted as valid, and there is no requirement to always look for further confirmations.

What is the impact of the principle of parsimony on the overall Mīmāṃsā philosophy? In my opinion, it hints at the fact that what runs the risk of being seen as a direct realism is instead a system based on truth-as-consistence more than on truth-as-correspondence.

I am grateful to Kiyotaka Yoshimizu for having discussed the topic of kalpanālāghava with me (all mistakes in this post are only mine).

On Kumārila’s theory of self-validity, see this post, and this one. On the hermeneutic principles in Mīmāṃsā, see this post.
(cross-posted on my personal blog.)

About elisa freschi

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