Rights in Mīmāṃsā and further steps in mapping the deontic horizon—Updated

I have been working for years on mapping the deontic space of Mīmāṃsā authors. In order to do that, I tried to find a balance between systematicity, for the purpose of which I need as many information as possible and I often take whatever I can from whatever source, including many different authors, and historical attention to individual authors.

In order to strike this balance, I tend to assume that by default the same deontic concepts are shared by all authors, unless and until the opposite is proven, either because someone has an explicitly competing theory (e.g., Maṇḍana’s iṣṭasādhanatā) or because they de facto do something different (like Medhātithi’s approach to permissions if compared to Kumārila’s).

This ongoing attempt has led my coauthors and myself to understand some basic elements applying to all deontic concepts, such as their dyadic nature (each command is always of the form O(x/y) and not just O(x) or F(x)). We also examined the non-identity relation between prohibitions and obligations (in short: F(x/y) is not tantamount to O(~x/y), but an ideal system will not have F(x/y) and O(~x/y) ceteris paribus) and that between permissions and other commands (again P(x/y) is not tantamount to ~F(x/y), but P(x/y) presupposes a previous either O(~x/T) or F(x/T), with T being more general than y). In other words, if something is permitted it means that one would naturally be inclined to do it, but that its performance had been prohibited (or that refraining from it has been prescribed). The state of affairs of something being already available to one as something one is inclined to do is generally captured by the expression “prāpti“. So, there is a permission only with regard to something prāpta and niṣiddha (or the opposite of which has been vihita). Furthermore, the analysis of permissions as being always “better-not” permissions has also made us able to discuss supererogations, which occur when, although a permission to do x is present, one still avoids doing it.

Now, some authors have suggested that P(x) with no prior negative obligations or prohibitions is needed because of making sense of rights. This led me to think about rights and their seeming absence in the deontic landscape of Mīmāṃsā and Dharmaśāstra authors. The starting point is that we should not expect the same concepts to be present in each deontic landscape. Hence, we shouldn’t be looking for an equivalent of a given concept in a different setting. Rather, we should be looking at the different systems that each deontic author construes. In Mīmāṃsā, there are no “rights” as Euro-American authors know them (and, after all, this might be a good idea and we may suggest that the category of “rights” is muddy and unclear!), but there are other concepts that are times overlapping. One of them is the idea of adhikāra.

This is discussed at length in relation to rituals in the context of PMS 6.1 and its commentaries and sub-commentaries. Basically, Śabara etc. observe that adhikāra presupposes ability, but have then to explain that temporary inability does not infringe on adhikāra. In this context, they speak of an external (bahirbhūta) inability (like, being poor or having a sprained ankle) and an intrinsic (ātmavarttin) one, which blocks the adhikāra (like an inborn disability). They seem to oppose therefore śakti (for the intrinsic ability) and sāmarthya (that can be temporary).

UPDATE (thanks to MS for raising the issue): Another thing that we have not looked into yet are the various types of prescriptions (utpatti-, viniyoga-, adhikāra– and prayogavidhi) and how they behave deontically.

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.

6 Replies to “Rights in Mīmāṃsā and further steps in mapping the deontic horizon—Updated”

  1. Just to note that I have made some very preliminary comments on the category of “rights” in India in my contribution to J. Ganeri, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Indian Philosophy. I believe that we are largely in agreement about this, in all events.

  2. I am very interested in the comparative angle here, of how this all relates to deontic concepts in European languages (especially if it helps us rethink them). If adhikāra presupposes śakti – that sounds a lot like Kant saying ought implies can! I guess a question there is whether adhikāra is more like an “ought” or a right. If you have the adhikāra to do X, is it fine if you choose not to do X? If yes, then it’s more like a right, and if no, more like an “ought” – though the Latin ius seems to have changed from the latter sense to the former, on the way from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

    • Hi Amod, thanks for commenting! Just to start: Ought entails can clearly applies to Mīmāṃsā deontics, as proven by numerous cases (basically: you can’t interpret as a prohibition seeming-prohibitions like “you ought not to build an altar in the sky”, because F(x) presupposes that x is possible).

      • Isn’t this just one aspect where it correlates.
        It’d be more interesting to see how Kant addresses the idea, ‘the law is a law and must be followed’, the reasoning most commonly offered in Mimamsa.

        Since rituals are to be performed even if one is physically incapable of it, the get it done somehow idea is evident in Mimamsa, I don’t recollect the exact sutra now. I figure you’re exploring why this is so. Are there papers however as to why Kant thinks any theory should be justifiable through the ought-can conception, given that it again depends on realistic possibilities of what ‘can’ here entails, which would differ on a subjective basis. So there can be no objective minimal justification for the ought-can theory as well from a Mimasa pov because the human himself while vital to the ritual’s goal is secondary, including his desires. Why is the question of rights important at all to Kant, as that feels like giving more importance to ego than the duty prescribed. The possibility of ‘can’ in that case further justifies immoral deeds can be got away with because of supposed incapability at the present by neglecting past and given there is no Western notion for Karma, the theory itself seems weak. Please share any sources if any that draw out the contrast you’ve mentioned here.

        • Hi Yamadutta,

          please see the post itself on how rituals don’t have to be performed if one is physically incapable. If it is a kāmya ritual, then they will just not undertake it, unless they are able to complete it. If it is a nitya ritual and there disability is temporary, they will perform it according to their ability (yathāśakti), if it is a nitya ritual and they are permanently disabled, they just lack the adhikāra to perform it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *