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So Be It: Ontology and Commandment in Medieval Brahmanism

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The linguistic phenomenon of injunction (vidhi) was the subject of an intense reflection in early medieval India, first and foremost among grammarians, logicians and exegetes of the Veda (the main corpus of Brahmanical religious Scriptures). Starting from an attempt to explain action as it takes place in the ritual (“Why do people obey injunctions transmitted in the Veda?”), Indian theoreticians soon engaged in a wider philosophical interrogation on the causes and justifications of human actions, both in a linguistic framework (“Why do we obey other people’s commands?”) and independently (“Why, in general, do people act?”). From the 7th century onwards, for reasons that still need to be clarified, this debate came to have decisive implications for the development of Brahmanical ontology, and indeed became one of the privileged contexts for a discussion of being (sattā) as a general concept, possibly encompassing the whole diversity of beings (sant) under a single notion. In this talk, basing my argumentation on the work of some of the early exegetes (Kumārila, Prabhākara, Maṇḍana Miśra), I will investigate the tight relationship existing between ontology and the analysis of commandment in medieval Indian thought, and try to understand how a reflection principally dealing with what should be eventually developed into a questioning of what there is.

This talk is part of the Queens' Arts Seminar series.

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