Volume 17, December 2012
Meaning and Metaphor in the Early Nyāya School
In the Nyāya school of Classical Indian Philosophy, the concept of word meaning is described in detail; however, the theory of metaphor seems to clash with the theory of word meaning. This paper explores the theory of meaning in the early Nyāya theory and whether metaphor is compatible with it. The Nyāya theory of meaning is a 'basis for application' (pravrttinimitta) model: words pick out references because of the conventions and practices of use. Yet, these words can come to refer to something completely different by pushing off its conventional usage and taking on a metaphorical meaning. If the referent is determined on the basis of the properties it possesses, how it is possible that only some properties are applied to a referent in metaphorical cases when, conventionally, a referent must possess all of the properties before the word is applied to it? This paper will investigate three main questions: 1) what is the nature of a referent according to the Nyāya?; 2) what is the mechanism for metaphorical transfer that allow some properties to transfer and not others?; and 3) what are the philosophical implications of the Naiyāyikas understanding of meaning?