[INDOLOGY] Modality in ancient Indian philosophy
Brendan S. Gillon, Prof.
brendan.gillon at mcgill.ca
Wed Jun 30 15:36:44 UTC 2021
Let me share some thoughts about `atyanta'. Before doing so, let me
say a few words about modality and its use in ordinary language and in
Most, perhaps even the vast majority of, natural languages have forms
which express modalities, comparable to the English adverbs
`necessary' and `possible' as well as to the auxiliary verbs `should'
and `must'. Modal logic has shown, through the usual model theory,
that modal operators correspond to universal and existential
quantifiers. Thus Np (it is necessary that p) is true in a model iff p
is true in each model to which the given model is related; or to put
it in the colorful, but misleading language, of many philosophers: Np
is true in this world iff p is true in every world to which this world
As participants on the list may know, there are many of different modal
logics, each corresponding to some feature or word found in natural language:
alethic modal logic for talk of necessity and possibility, temporal
modal logic for words such as `always' and `sometimes', deontic modal
logic for words such as `must' and `may'.
One needs to distinguish, in my view, between the use of modal
expressions in natural language, which extends to its use in
philosophical discussion, and the study or reflection on the concept as used
philosophically. Plato certainly used modal expressions of natural
language, but only Aristotle actually took up the explicit study of
modal expressions (Prior Analytics Book 1, for example). Clearly and
more subtly, there is a modal dimension to the distinction between
essential and accidental. My impression, shared by others it seems, is
that, while there is the use of modal words in philosophical
discussions, modality as such is not taken up for philosophical
reflection nor systemically deployed in metaphysics.
Let me finish by turning to the question of
`atyanta'. `atyantaabhaava' might be translated as `absolute absence'
or it might be translated as `absent for all time'. The latter
translation is indicative of a temporal modal notion. But even the
word `always' does not alwyas have a temporal modal meaning. It is generally
agreed by semanticists that if one says `a quadratic equation always
has at most two solutions', temporality is really pertinent here.
On 6/30/21 11:12 AM, Dan Lusthaus wrote:
As the book makes clear, the Prasannapadā reference is to MMK 17:26-30.
On Jun 30, 2021, at 6:33 AM, Dan Lusthaus <lusthaus at g.harvard.edu<mailto:lusthaus at g.harvard.edu>> wrote:
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Brendan S. Gillon email: brendan.gillon at mcgill.ca<mailto:brendan.gillon at mcgill.ca>
Department of Linguistics
McGill University tel.: 001 514 398 4868
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