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A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1

Both Prabhakara and Kumarila agree on this point


S'abda

(word) as a prama@na means the knowledge that we get about things (not within the purview of our perception) from relevant sentences by understanding the meaning of the words of which they are made up. These sentences may be of two kinds, viz. those uttered by men and those which belong to the Vedas. The first becomes a valid means of knowledge when it is not

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uttered by untrustworthy persons and the second is valid in itself. The meanings of words are of course known to us before, and cannot therefore be counted as a means of proof; but the meanings of sentences involving a knowledge of the relations of words cannot be known by any other acknowledged means of proof, and it is for this that we have to accept s`abda as a separate means of proof. Even if it is admitted that the validity of any sentence may be inferred on the ground of its being uttered by a trustworthy person, yet that would not explain how we understand the meanings of sentences, for when even the name or person of a writer or speaker is not known, we have no difficulty in understanding the meaning of any sentence.

Prabhakara thinks that all sounds are in the form of letters, or are understandable as combinations of letters. The constituent letters of a word however cannot yield any meaning, and are thus to be regarded as elements of auditory perception which serve as a means for understanding the meaning

of a word. The reason of our apprehension of the meaning of any word is to be found in a separate potency existing in the letters by which the denotation of the word may be comprehended. The perception of each letter-sound vanishes the moment it is uttered, but leaves behind an impression which combines with the impressions of the successively dying perceptions of letters, and this brings about the whole word which contains the potency of bringing about the comprehension of a certain meaning. If even on hearing a word the meaning cannot be comprehended, it has to be admitted that the hearer lacks certain auxiliaries necessary for the purpose. As the potency of the word originates from the separate potencies of the letters, it has to be admitted that the latter is the direct cause of verbal cognition. Both Prabhakara and Kumarila agree on this point.

Another peculiar doctrine expounded here is that all words have natural denotative powers by which they themselves out of their own nature refer to certain objects irrespective of their comprehension or non-comprehension by the hearer. The hearer will not understand the meaning unless it is known to him that the word in question is expressive of such and such a meaning, but the word was all along competent to denote that meaning and it is the hearer's knowledge of that fact that helps him to

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understand the meaning of a word. Mimamsa does not think that the association of a particular meaning with a word is due to conventions among people who introduce and give meanings to the words [Footnote ref 1]. Words are thus acknowledged to be denotative of themselves. It is only about proper names that convention is admitted to be the cause of denotation. It is easy to see the bearing of this doctrine on the self-validity of the Vedic commandments, by the performance of which such results would arise as could not have been predicted by any other person. Again all words are believed to be eternally existent; but though they are ever present some manifestive agency is required by which they are manifested to us. This manifestive agency consists of the effort put forth by the man who pronounces the word. Nyaya thinks that this effort of pronouncing is the cause that produces the word while Mimam@sa thinks that it only manifests to the hearer the ever-existing word.


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