Further notes on Mīmāṃsā permission

The following are a few random notes on permissions which have not (yet) found a place in an article.

1. A colleague wondered whether the command my co-authors and I have been discussing in several articles on Mīmāṃsā and called the “better-not permission” can be meaningfully described as permission at all. In fact, the term `permission’ in Euro-American philosophy or in Deontic Logic is strongly polysemic, covering, among others, acts that are not normed as well as acts that were previously prohibited and are permitted, and even rights.

Philosophers of the Mīmāṃsā school, by contrast, adopt the standard Sanskrit terms for permission, anujñā and anumati), but focus on only one aspect among better-not, encouraged or normatively indifferent, and use different terms for the others, thus offering a way out of the polysemy of `permissions’ (for instance, adhikāra comes close to rights, as I will discuss in a separate text).
Using the term `permission’ thus highlights a single shared aspect and suggests a way out of the polysemy of `permissions’.

2. Within the Mītākṣara commentary on Yājñavalkya, Vijñāneśvara discusses better-not permissions for Brāhmaṇas in distress. For instance, the general prohibition to steal is overrun by the permission to steal if one has not eaten for three days, provided one is stealing only from a non-brāhmaṇa (thus presupposing that the prohibition to stealing from a brāhmaṇa holds unconditionally).

The Mitākṣarā commentary further explains that stealing from a non-brāhmaṇa is permitted, provided one has not eaten for three days and one only takes enough for one meal and not additional supplies

Now, if one goes on like that for a long time, one might eventually die of starvation (because one is stealing only enough for one meal and only once every three days). Verse 44 suggests the solution (the king should take care of one), but this is not a solution one can count on in every case. Hence, Mitākṣarā verse 43 does not rule out a situation in which, in order to avoid violating the prohibition at stake (that of stealing in general), though weakened by the permission to steal from a non-brāhmaṇa if one has not eaten for 3 days,) and F(stealing from a brāhmaṇa/in general)) one ends up actually dying.

This further strengthens the point that there is no obligation to avoid starvation as the result of the general prohibition to perform any violence.

3. I use the term `command’ to cover all sorts of deontic statements. Thus, a command can convey an obligation, a prohibition or a permission. This terminology is different than the one adopted in Guhe, pp. 422–423, where `permission’ covers elective obligations. This distinction is due to the fact that E. Guhe relies on the definitions found in a late Nyāya primer, the Nyāyakośa, whereas I focus on Mīmāṃsā. It is historically interesting that later Nyāya authors considered elective rituals as permissions (they aren’t Mīmāṃsā better-not permissions, but they share with Euro-American permissions the fact that there is no risk connected with their lack of performance).

(cross-posted on my personal blog, elisafreschi.com)

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.

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