Conceptions of Knowledge, Lecture seven

Bhartṛhari on sentences and consciousness

Bhartṛhari belies in a fundamental power of language over consciousness and the world at lager. Such beliefs come in part from believes in the Vedic tradition. In this tradition, Vedic priests composed the Vedas by listening to the primordial vibrations of the universe. Recitation of these words would then influence the world in a certain way.


The Mīmāṃsā were interpreters if the Vedas. In this school of thought, there are two main branches: the Bhāṭṭa and the Prabhākara. The Bhāṭṭa believes that the meaning of language was carried by the words. The Prabhākara on the other hand believe in a sort of sentence wholism where the meaning is carried by the entire sentence. The Bhāṭṭas held that is imposable for sentences to carry meaning because there are an infinite number of them. For any person to learn a language, they would have to learn an infinite amount of sentences. Words on the other hand are finite in number thus making the study of language possible. The Prabhākara eventually could not quite refute the fact that individual words carry meaning. This is because they did not want to fully embrace sentence wholism, unlike Bhartṛhari.


Bhartṛhari believes that knowledge is inherently linguistic. This implies that language is not mere convention. Language in Bhartṛhari's view is without beginning, because in order to establish convention we already need language. Cognitions in this theory can illuminate and identify objects. The latter of these two contains the linguistic aspect. If cognitions had only an iluminatory aspect, we would never notice objects. The identification of objects happens with language.