Dhruv Raj Nagar: Sanskrit in between Prior & Posterior Hermeneutics: Sankara’s Apophatic Depth-grammar & its Contribution to Vedic Hermeneutics

Dhruv Raj Nagar

PhD Student, Philosophy of Religions

Sanskrit in between Prior & Posterior Hermeneutics: Śankara’s Apophatic Depth-Grammar & its Contribution to Vedic Hermeneutics

Following Nietzsche’s cautionary remarks in the Genealogy of Morals, Henri Bergson, A.N.
Whitehead and other philosophers have been wary of and sensitive to the way in which language may be implicated in metaphysical discourse, entrenching and naturalizing a substance metaphysics based, for instance, on such grammatical structures as the subject-predicate schema. Later David Bohm dreamed of a language— the rheomode— naturally suited to denote processes and activities as a more accurate description of the world. Now if substance metaphysics may be a product of a substance-centered grammar then already the linguistic preconceptions of the Vedic milieu, as manifest in Vedic Sanskrit, lead us away from a substance-centric grammar to one centered on activity, an insight later explicated in the school of Pūrva Mīmāṃsā, the Prior Hermeneutics of the Veda, according to which language denoting action, accomplishment and ritual creation is language par excellence. Sanskrit, indeed, displays many features of the Bohmian rheomode. The prior-hermeneutists take recourse to various such resources and features of Sanskrit language in order to argue for the fundamentally processual and dynamic character of reality. However I will argue that, in contradistinction to both substance-metaphysical and process-oriented uses of language, the eighth-century philosopher Śaṅkara discovers and develops a Posterior Hermeneutics (Uttara Mīmāṃsā) of the Veda that argues for a quietist and niṣkriya (actionless) explication of Sanskrit and therefore of reality itself by way of foregrounding certain linguistic heterotypes marginalized by the prior-hermeneutic tradition in their exploitation of Sanskrit grammar. Śaṅkara’s Vedānta will thus be found to be grounded in an “apophatic depth-grammar” which, by revealing various depth features of linguistic and sentential cognition makes genuinely new contributions to the discipline of vākyaśāstra. I will discuss some of these features as employed by Śaṅkara, the extent to which they are indebted to and carry forward the Mīmāṃsā project of developing a hermeneutics of the Veda and of language per se, and lastly the question of whether and to what extent the historical articulation of substance metaphysics and its overcoming is peculiar to Western thought and what bearing, if any, it has on the schools of thought under discussion.

Wednesday, March 6, 12:30 PM, Swift 400

Refreshments provided

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