Sanskrit jurisprudence and hermeneutics on how to solve legal controversies
The panel focuses on how jurisprudence (Dharmaśāstra) in precolonial South Asia adopted the paradigms elaborated by the exegetical school (Mīmāṃsā) and applied them to the concrete cases of juridical disputes. The participants in the panel will approach these issues from multiple perspectives.
What to do when an authoritative text contains seemingly contrasting commands? Should the more general one be overruled? Should there be option? These dilemmas can apply both to religious texts prescribing ritual obligations as well as to corpora of laws. The first scholars dealing with such conflicts in South Asia were the thinkers of the Mīmāṃsā school. In fact, the main focus of the school was the exegesis of the ritual part of the Vedas and its exponents spent time and energy trying to deal with the Veda as a consistent whole and explaining away any possible contradiction. They elaborated a system of rules (nyāya) meant to deal with deontic texts according to basic principles, some of which can be detected also in distant traditions (e.g., the principle of economicity or that of specificity). According to Mīmāṃsā, sense-perception and the other instruments of knowledge ultimately elaborating sense-perceptual data are the only source about what there is in the world. By contrast, the Veda is the only source for what has to be done. This means that no conflict can be solved by an appeal to other instruments of knowledge, but also that all norms, from the ones ruling local festivals to the ones about mixed marriages, are either be invalid or ultimately depend on the Veda. The panel focuses on how jurisprudence in precolonial South Asia adopted the paradigms elaborated by the exegetical school and applied them to the concrete cases of juridical disputes. This appropriation was not a sheer transfer of rules from one context to the next. The participants will approach these issues from multiple perspectives, from cultural history to argumentation theory.