Speaking indirectly : theories of non-literal speech in Indian philosophy



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How do hearers recognize when someone is speaking figuratively, and how do they recover the content--whatever it is--of an utterance? "Speaking Indirectly" explores this question in Indian philosophy, showing along the way that it is a helpful conversation partner with Western philosophy of language. Focusing on the debate between ninth-century Indian philosophers Mukulabhatt̤a and Ānandavardhana about competing explanations of non-literal meaning, I argue that Mukulabhatt̤a's proposal can be understood in the spirit of Gricean pragmatics, and is broadly successful. I also show that he tacitly appeals to reasoning known as arthāpatti to explain the interpretive process, a process which I conclude is a version of inference to the best explanation. I also employ contemporary conceptual tools, such as the theory of sort-shifting, to illustrate the plausibility of Mukulabhatt̤a's analysis of non-literal speech. A significant aspect of my dissertation is a new, philosophically informed, English translation of Mukulabhatt̤a's Sanskrit text, the Abhidhā-vṛtta-mātṛkā (Fundamentals of the Communicative Function).