General and specific rules in Mīmāṃsā?

What happens when commands clash? A standard devise to deal with the topic is the idea of taking one as a general rule and the other as a specific one. In Sanskrit, these are called, respectively, utsarga and apavāda. Mīmāṃsā authors have, however, other devices.

For instance, Kumārila, discusses the prohibition to perform violence and its seeming conflict with the ritual prescription to perform ritual killing within a given sacrifice.
See his Commentary in verses (Ślokavārttika), chapter on Injunction (codanā), vv. 223—224:

तेन सामान्यतः प्राप्तो विधिना न निवारितः ||
फलांशोपनिपातिन्या हिंसायाः प्रतिेषेधकः |
“Therefore the prohibition to killing, obtained in general applied and not stopped by another injunction, prohibits the killing when it pertains to the fruit-portion |

Is this a case of a general rule overturned by a specific one (as claimed in Kei Kataoka 2012, Is Killing Bad?)?

If it were so, we would have the general prohibition to perform violence (F(violence)/T) being overruled by the more specific obligation to perform ritual killing in a specific setting:
O(violence)/sacrifice for Agni and Soma

However, this is not the solution adopted by Kumārila. Rather, Kumārila’s point is that the original prohibition to perform violence should be reconfigured as a prohibition regarding only violence as the result of the action, and not regarding instrumental violence.

That is, according to Kumārila, the Vedic prohibition to perform violence should not be read as
but as
F(violence as a result)/T
which does not conflict with (instrumental violence)

Comments, as usual, welcome!

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.

11 Replies to “General and specific rules in Mīmāṃsā?”

    • Thanks, Amod! Yes, I do think that rethinking Mīmāṃsā response to the problem of clashing commands can help thinking of different options or question assumptions. I submitted some weeks back an application in this sense, you’ll hear more if it is approved!

  1. Hi Elisa,

    Is this just an ad hoc solution, or is there a general principle behind it? Is there a paribhaashaa (as it were) to cover this way of interpreting the rules?

    • Thank you Boram. The ones about utsarga vs apavāda are nyāyas (the Mīmāṃsā name for paribhāṣā) and so are the rules concerning dyadic operators (the fact that commands have a specific adhikārin as their viṣaya, for instance). A really ad hoc solution is that of later authors claiming that ritual violence is not violence because it is “bringing the goat to heaven”.

    • In continuation I wish to say :
      The two-truth system comes to my mind.The general is the basic and ideal rule and the particular is the conventional rule suited to the occasion as determined by the context and the prevalent collective mindset of the times.
      The particular seems to be having an upper hand , in practice.

      • Yes, the particular wins, but why exactly? And how does this not jeopardise the authority of the Vedic passage being superseded? The Mīmāṃsā schools does not want just to come up with a practical solution, but also to theoretically justify it.

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