Indian Thought and Language: a raw recipe imported in the east

In his Philosophy of History, Hegel mistakenly believed that

“Hindoo principles” are polar in character. Because of their polarity which vacillates between “pure self-renouncing ideality, and that (phenomenal) variety which goes to the opposite extreme of sensuousness, it is evident that nothing but abstract thought and imagination can be developed”. However, from these mistaken beliefs, he rightly concluded that grammar in Indian thought “has advanced to a high degree of consistent regularity”. He was so impressed by the developments that he concluded that the development in grammar “has been so far cultivated that no language can be regarded as more fully developed than the Sanscrit”.

This is enlightening to the extent of what even Fred Dallmayr in his opus on Hegel titled aptly “G. W. F. Hegel: Modernity and Political Thought” would be most happy to corroborate. This is precisely what I would call ‘Philosophy in the times of errors’ (pun intended for Hegel and his arrogance).

About the nature of language, I quote in full the paragraph:

“Language is intimately related with our life like the warp and weft in a cloth. Our concepts determine the way we look at our world. Any aberration in our understanding of language affects our cognition. Despite the cardinal importance of language, the questions like “What is the nature of language?” “What is the role of semantics and syntax of language? ” What is the relationship between language, thought and reality?” How do we understand language—do we understand it by understanding each of the words in a sentence, or is the sentence a carrier of meaning?” “How does the listener understand the speaker?” are the questions which have been an enigma.”

Philosopher Christopher Gauker created quite a ruckus with his influential yet, critically attacked book called “Words without Meaning” and I quote a small review of it from the MIT press (which published the book):

“According to the received view of linguistic communication, the primary function of language is to enable speakers to reveal the propositional contents of their thoughts to hearers. Speakers are able to do this because they share with their hearers an understanding of the meanings of words. Christopher Gauker rejects this conception of language, arguing that it rests on an untenable conception of mental representation and yields a wrong account of the norms of discourse.

Gauker’s alternative starts with the observation that conversations have goals and that the best way to achieve the goal of a conversation depends on the circumstances under which the conversation takes place. These goals and circumstances determine a context of utterance quite apart from the attitudes of the interlocutors. The fundamental norms of discourse are formulated in terms of the conditions under which sentences are assertible in such contexts.

Words without Meaning contains original solutions to a wide array of outstanding problems in the philosophy of language, including the logic of quantification, the logic of conditionals, the semantic paradoxes, the nature of presupposition and implicature, and the nature and attribution of beliefs.”


This is indeed a new way of looking up at the nature of language and the real question is if anyone in the Indian tradition comes really close to doing this, i.e. a conflation of what Gauker says with that of the tradition. Another thing that I discovered thanks to a  friend of mine is a book by Richard King on Indian Philosophy. He quotes about Bhartṛhari/भर्तृहरि thus:

Bhartṛhari/भर्तृहरि, like his Lacanian and Derridean counterparts rejects the view that one can know anythin outside of language.There is an eternal connection between knowledge and language which cannot be broken”

If this identity between knowledge and the word were to disappear, knowledge would cease to be knowledge. (Bhartṛhari/भर्तृहरि himself)

Thus he equates Śabda and Jñāna as they become or come identical in nature.

Language could indeed be looked as a function that may take the arguments as getting passed on to it that need not specifically base itself upon communication as an end, but could somehow serve as communication as a means. I would somehow call this as the syndrome of language (or maybe even a deficit of language, to take the cue from the ‘phenomenological deficit’), as in whatsoever way it is looked upon, i.e. transcendental realization or an immanent force (‘play’ would be better suited here) ‘in-itself’ for the sake of establishment, the possibilization of keeping out communication cannot be ruled out. Language would still be communico-centric for all that.

But another way of looking at realizing (by not establishing or introducing) relations between two relata, and by this if it could indeed be thought of is, if we somehow attribute language to ‘Objects’ and therefore even call the untenability of interactions between any entities as based on a relation that is linguistic in ways we might not comprehend.

No wonder, why I am getting drawn into the seriousness of objects as a way of realizing their interactions, their language and this all, away from the mandates we (anthropocentrism) have hitherto set upon them.

Why I insist on the objects having a language of their own and that too divorced from the realm of humans is maybe the impact of Whitehead on reading the tool-analysis of Heidegger. It must be noted that Whitehead never shied of embracing inanimate reality, of never using words like ‘thought’, ’emotions/feelings’ for the inner life of the inanimate entities. If these things, in their hermeneutical exegesis get attributed to the inanimate entities, there can be no doubt of these ‘Objects’ possessing language, as I said that is far away from the human interference. This could indeed be a way of looking at language in the sense of transcendentalizing possibility, this time, maybe, through the immanent look……


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