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Meaning, Indian theories of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F052-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 15, 2024, from

Article Summary

The term artha in Sanskrit is used for the notion of meaning, in the widest sense of the word ‘meaning’; it can be the meaning of words, sentences and scriptures, as well as of nonlinguistic gestures and signs. Its meaning ranges from a real object in the external world referred to by a word to a mere concept of an object which may or may not correspond to anything in the external world. The differences regarding what ‘meaning’ is are argued out by the philosophical schools of Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Mīmāṃsā, Buddhism, Sanskrit grammar and Sanskrit poetics. Among these, Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika and Mīmāṃsā have realistic ontologies. Mīmāṃsā focuses mainly on interpreting the Vedic scriptures. Buddhist thinkers generally depict language as giving a false picture of reality. Sanskrit grammar is more interested in language than in ontology, while Sanskrit poetics focuses on the poetic dimensions of meaning.

Generally, the notion of meaning is stratified into three or four types. First there is the primary meaning. If this is inappropriate in a given context, then one moves to a secondary meaning, an extension of the primary meaning. Beyond this is the suggested meaning, which may or may not be the same as the meaning intended by the speaker. Specific conditions under which these different varieties are understood are discussed by the schools.

The various Indian theories of meaning are closely related to the overall stances taken by the different schools. Among the factors which influence the notion of meaning are the ontological and epistemological views of a school, its views regarding the role of God and scripture, its focus on a certain type of discourse, and its ultimate purpose in theorizing.

Citing this article:
Deshpande, Madhav M.. Meaning, Indian theories of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F052-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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