Methodological remarks

Broadly speaking, a “fragment” can be understood as a passage in an extant text that reflects the words or a thought of an earlier author whose work is now lost. The “Fragments of Indian Philosophy” project is collecting such pieces of information in order to reconstruct parts of Indian philosophy’s lost heritage.

When searching for and identifying fragments, a main task is to collect evidence that a particular passage was not written by the text’s author, but represents a discussion that has been taken from another work. It was common practice for Indian philo¬sophers of the classical and medieval periods to use the arguments and theories of their predecessors and opponents. This was done by embedding textual material from other sources into their own argumentation.

In the process of establishing that a particular passage is a fragment, it is necessary to differentiate between vari¬ous types of references to earlier works. In some cases, words from a lost work are preserved as a quotation. In other cases a passage is a paraphrase of someone else’s words. And sometimes merely passing mention is made of an earlier work. The degree to which such fragments mirror an original is proportional to how close they are to a literal citation.

Categorization and criteria

Identifying embedded textual material requires a great degree of famil¬iarity with the compositional style of individual authors. It is also necessary to know how particular topics were discussed by authors in their other works, by other authors within the same tradition, and by opponents.

In the process of determining whether a piece of text is a quotation or has been “re-used”, it is useful to have a means for system¬atically classifying the various types of external textual material.

If several extant works contain corresponding passages that are very similar, it can be presumed that the passage is a quote from an earlier text and closely reflects the original wording. The correlation between such passages can be assessed using either quantitative or qualitative criteria. A quantitative comparison examines the degree of verbatim correspondence. Qualitative criteria deal with the context of an embedded passage. Examples of this are the mention of an author’s name, a description of the original work or mention of its title, the use of iti and verba dicendi, etc. Assessing how the author citing the passage has judged its contents – positively, negatively or ambivalently – can also sometimes provide valuable information.

When aligning such corresponding passages, in some cases it is possible to determine that one passage quotes the other (i.e. they are interdependent) or, conversely, that their transmission has been independent of one another. And sometimes it is possible to gain other information: whether deviations in a quotation were intended or unin¬tended, whether a paraphrase has been rendered faithfully or was deliberately distorted, and so forth.