There is more than emic vs. etic: Madeleine Biardeau and the history of philosophy

Is the only alternative one faces while speaking about South Asia that between an etic (i.e., Western) and emic approach?

Have you ever read Madeleine Biardeau’s Theory of knowledge and philosophy of language in Classical Brahmanism (the original is written in French, 1964)? I have a very positive opinion about it, but one must say that it presents the philosophical systems as if they had always existed, i.e., devoid of an inner development, as pure systems. Eli Franco, in his introduction (called On the Periodization and Historiography of Indian Philosophy) of the volume he recently edited, Periodization and Historiography of Indian Philosophy, individuates this attitude and blames for it the influence of an only emic approach, i.e., the adherence to the Indian ahistorical model.
More interestingly, however, Gérard Colas in “Histoire, Oralité, Structure. À propos d’un tournant dans l’oeuvre de Madeleine Biardeau” (Journal Asiatique 2012), reconstructs the cultural milieu in which Biardeau was working and recognises the influence of French structuralism, as shown by Biardeau’s own words in Biardeau 1964, where she declares that she wants to formulate “a structural study of the Indian thought”.
In other words, there is more than just the emic vs. etic contraposition, since even within the West (if this category at all makes any sense) different trends have developed and historicism was only one among them. Although historicism was perhaps the dominant trend in the German cultural milieu, the situation was completely different in France, where historicism has never be the rule (and, I will argue in future posts, in the UK, Italy, etc.).

Comments and discussions are welcome. Be sure you are making a point and contributing to the discussion.

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2 thoughts on “There is more than emic vs. etic: Madeleine Biardeau and the history of philosophy

  1. Hi, Elisa!
    I don’t think, that the set of all possible approaches towards Indian culture can be sufficiently described by means of one terminological opposition. Emic and etic approaches may be good in anthropology, but when we study Indian philosophy we try to understand the way Indians understood their own concepts and we try to explain the ‘results of our understanding’ in Western cultural terms. Thus we’re emic and etic at once))
    The opposition between Biardeau’s and Franco’s approaches seems to be similar to de Saussure’s opposition of synchrony and diachrony. Though unfortunately I do not remember much from what I read of Biardeau and in Franco’s volume I have just read the paper on sphota, not yet the editor’s introduction.
    In Russian Indology there is a tradition of opposing the so-called ‘philosophical’ and ‘philological’ approaches towards Sanskrit texts. Though this opposition is evident only if you compare the works of certain scholars, it is not universal. And I think some other oppositions can be valid in other contexts.

    • Hi Evgenija, nice to read you!
      I agree with your points. The situation is more complex than what seems to be implied by the emic vs. etic or philological vs. philosophical opposition (at least insofar as “philology” implies much more than crude textual criticism).