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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F008-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

Article Summary

The school of Mīmāṃsā or Pūrva Mīmāṃsā was one of the six systems of classical Hindu philosophy. It grew out of the Indian science of exegesis and was primarily concerned with defending the way of life defined by the ancient scripture of Hinduism, the Veda. Its most important exponents, Śabarasvāmin, Prabhākara and Kumārila, lived in the sixth and seventh centuries ad. It was realist and empiricist in orientation. Its central doctrine was that the Veda is the sole means of knowledge of dharma or righteousness, because it is eternal. All cognition, it held, is valid unless its cause is defective. The Veda being without any fallible author, human or divine, the cognitions to which it gives rise must be true. The Veda must be authorless because there is no recollection of an author or any other evidence of its having been composed; we only observe that it has been handed down from generation to generation. Mīmāṃsā thinkers also defended various metaphysical ideas implied by the Veda – in particular, the reality of the physical world and the immortality of the soul. However, they denied the existence of God as creator of the world and author of scripture. The eternality of the Veda implies the eternality of language in general. Words and the letters that constitute them are eternal and ubiquitous; it is only their particular manifestations, caused by articulations of the vocal organs, that are restricted to certain times and places. The meanings of words, being universals, are eternal as well. Finally, the relation between word and meaning is also eternal. Every word has an inherent capacity to indicate its meaning. Words could not be expressive of certain meanings as a result of artificial conventions.

The basic orientation of Mīmāṃsā was pragmatic and anti-mystical. It believed that happiness and salvation result just from carrying out the prescriptions of the Veda, not from the practice of yoga or insight into the One. It criticized particularly sharply other scriptural traditions (Buddhism and Jainism) that claimed to have originated from omniscient preceptors.

Citing this article:
Taber, John A.. Mīmāṃsā, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F008-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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