What counts as philosophy?

On the normative disguised as descriptive (SECOND UPDATE)

As a scholar of Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā I am well aware of how the normative is often disguised as descriptive. “It is seven o’ clock” says the mother, but what she means is rather “Get up! You have to go to school”.

For Sanskrit and Tibetan scholars: 6 years Post-Doc position in Vienna

The University of Vienna (15 faculties, 4 centres, about 188 fields of study, approx. 9.700 members of staff, more than 92.000 students) seeks to fill the position from 15.11.2016 to 14.11.2022 of a

University Assistant (post doc)

at the Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies

The subject as knower and doer in Yāmuna’s Ātmasiddhi

Again on the ontology of qualities and substances

Opponents coming from the Advaita field figure often in Yāmuna’s Ātmasiddhi, which shows that even before Rāmānuja Vaiṣṇava authors were taking seriously the challenge of Advaita. Even more interesting is the way Yāmuna answers to them. Let us see some examples concerning the concept of self (ātman):

[Obj.:] But the fact of being a cogniser is the fact of performing the action of cognising and this implies modifications and is (typical of) insentient things and belongs to the sense of Ego.

Viśiṣṭādvaita and Nyāya on qualities UPDATED

Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta authors claim that the whole world is made of the brahman and that everything else is nothing but a qualification of it/Him.

This philosophical-theological concept, it will be immediately evident, crashes against the (Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika) idea of a rigidly divided ontology, with substances being altogether different from qualities. In other words, the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika world if seen from outside is similar to the world of today’s folk ontology, the one influenced by scientism, while its structure resembles the one of Aristotle’s ontology.

Philosophical commentaries in ancient India (UPDATED)

Commentaries can be manifold in ancient India. They have different purposes and form, but they all share some characters:

  • they have a given text as their main interlocutor/they are mainly about a given text
  • like with Origene’s commentaries, they are a genre in its own right, not a minor specialisation for authors at their beginnings (Sakai 2015, section 4, suggests that authors in fact needed to have already become acknowledged authorities before being entrusted with the honour of composing a commentary on an influential text.)
  • they are characterised by a varied but strong degree of textual reuse
  • they allow for significant degrees of innovation (This is evident in the case of the Navya Nyāya commentaries on the NS. Outside the precinct of philosophy, juridical commentaries often reflect the recent juridical developments much more than the original text they are commenting upon.)

What is a commentary? UPDATED

And how the Nyāyamañjarī and the Seśvaramīmāṃsā do (not) fit the definition

What makes a text a “commentary”? The question is naif enough to allow for a complicated answer. First of all, let me note the obvious: There is not a single word for “commentary” in Sanskrit, where one needs to distinguish between bhāṣyas, vārttikas, ṭippanīs, etc., often bearing poetical names, evoking Moons, mirrors and the like.

Podcasts on Indian philosophy: An opportunity to rethink the paradigm?

Some readers have surely already noted this series of podcasts on Indian philosophy, by Peter Adamson (the historian of Islamic philosophy and Neoplatonism who hosts the series “History of philosophy without any gaps” —which I can not but highly praise and recommend, and which saved me from boredom while collating manuscripts) and Jonardon Ganeri.
The series has several interesting points, among which surely the fact of proposing a new historical paradigm (interested readers may know already the volume edited by Eli Franco on other attempts of periodization of Indian philosophy, see here for my review). They explicitly avoid applying periodizations inherited from European civilisations, and consequently do not speak of “Classical” or “Medieval” Indian philosophy. What do readers think of this idea? And of the podcast in general?

I have myself a few objections (which I signalled in the comment section of each podcast), but am overall very happy that someone is taking Indian philosophy seriously enough while at the same time making it also accessible to lay listeners. In this sense, I cannot but hope that Peter and Jonardon’s attempts are successful.

The series includes also interviews to scholars: Brian Black on the Upaniṣads, Rupert Gethin on Buddhism, Jessica Frazier on “Hinduism” (the quotation marks are mine only), myself on Mīmāṃsā. Further interviews are forthcoming. Criticisms and comments are welcome! (but please avoid commenting on my pronunciation mistakes.)

Embedding (materialist) philosophy into a narrative (a guest post by Syed Arman)

This post starts a series of guest posts by younger colleagues. Syed Arman is a student of Muzaffar Ali and the following text was composed in connection with a class on Ethics. Please let me know what you think about this post and about the series by leaving a comment below.

A visit to the Cursed Village (The Lokayatas)

Summary: Sarah, a German girl, was on a visit to India for a study of its diverse culture and age old tradition. Here she meets Daksh, a young chap from a small town, who helps her in exploring the various spheres of the Indian heritage. It becomes an entirely different experience for her, many rare customs and traditions which she had only read about; she stands now a witness to all these. Sarah had an idea about what her visit in India would be like but there was something which came out of the box, and she is utterly astonished and dazzled to learn about that. It changes the way she used to look at the teachings of this land. Her visit to a place referred to as “Cursed Village” by the locals—the village of the Indian materialists, the Lokayatas—makes her realise that Indian philosophy is not limited to the limitless transcendental atman, but there are some who reduce transcendental Atman to the limited living-body and have a reason for that. The dialogues show how the cursed village turns out to be a blessing for Sarah and Daksh.

Written by:
Syed Arman
B.A. 2 nd yr. Philosophy Hons.
Hindu College, Delhi University, India

The full text is available below or here:

Should we have more dialogues, or more Asian philosophy?

Readers will have surely read the article by Garfield and Van Norden on The Stone concerning the need to either admit more philosophical traditions into the normal syllabi or rename departments as “Institute for the study of Anglo European philosophy” or the like.
However, someone might have missed Amod Lele’s rejoinder, here. He starts arguing that “Western Philosophy” is not as bad a label as it might look like and then concludes saying that the inclusion of Asian Philosophy, etc., in the curricula should be based on its relevance, not on the wish to be more inclusive, e.g., towards Asian American students.
On Academia.edu, Cosimo Zene explains, again in connection with Garfield and Van Norden’s article, speaks in favour of the necessity to study “World Philosophies”.
Following Amod’s arguments, one can, perhaps, decide that a certain philosophical tradition should not be included in the curricula because, unlike Indian philosophy, it is neither “great” nor “entirely distinct”. Cosimo, by contrast, seems to claim that dialog is an end in itself, since it “probes” one’s thoughts as well as on the basis of political and ethical reasons (what else could help us in solving moot political issues, if we are not trained in mutual understanding?).

What do readers think? Do we need more dialogues (with whatever tradition), more space for the great traditions of Indian philosophy, etc., or a little of both?