A reader on “Indian Philosophy”?

Shall we try to write/edit readers with Sanskrit philosophical materials? Yes, by all means. Everything is better than neglect. However
if you share with me the idea that “Indian” philosophy deserves to be more than a sub-class of philosophy, as a sort of “ethnic exoticism”, you might consider the following point:

Creating readers or manuals for “Indian Philosophy” runs the risk, I am afraid, of relegating the whole field to a specific subclass, something to be dealt in a separate course and not worthy of being discussed as part of the philosophical discourse sic et simpliciter. I would rather want epistemological arguments elaborated by Kumārila, etc., along the ones elaborated by his Western peers. Just like Kant is not taught in a class about “German Philosophy”.

In this sense, the ideal case would be a reader on, say, epistemology which includes Dharmakīrti side by side with Karl Popper and the like. Until then, and given that an author who might be willing to do the effort has almost nothing helping her in the selection of the relevant Indian authors, we might follow our colleagues who wrote manuals or readers about other neglected philosophers, most notably about Women Philosophers.

However, I would prefer readers and manuals about Sanskrit or Indian philosophy of language, or aesthetics, or logics (and so on), rather than on “Indian Philosophy” in general. The latter suggests the title of an additional (perhaps, optional) class in a curriculum purely dedicated to Western philosophy, whereas the former might lead to the inclusion of Indian authors within a class on deontic, ethics, etc. Or, at least, to the addition of more than one class on Indian staff.

This post is a response to this proposal by Anand Vidya, but by no means a criticism of it.

TYPO NOW FIXED! Many thanks to Justin Weinberg!

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

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16 thoughts on “A reader on “Indian Philosophy”?

  1. I have to agree with you. To some degree the whole subject of ‘Eastern Philosophy’ must be drawn out of self imposed otherness which has the taint of orientalism.

  2. I too think that the practice of keeping preserves like ‘Indian Philosophy’, ‘Chinese Philosophy’, etc. should be discontinued. It is a sure sign of Eurocentrism. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya used to react strongly when somebody spoke or wrote of ‘Jaina mathematics’ or ‘Indian materialism’. He preferred such titles as ‘Mathematics of the Jains,’ ‘materialism in India’ and the like.

    • What is interesting, here, however, is how far apart contemporary Indology and Sinology are on this question (at least in English). To me (although this is just my very unscientific impression) so much of the thinking of so many working in the history of Chinese philosophy at present is reminiscent of the kind of mentality (now largely passé) in Indology from several decades ago, eg. Radhakrishnan and others, regarding the culture-bound specificity of the philosophical tradition in question and its essential incompatibility with so-called ‘Western’ thinking. It might be interesting to speculate why this is.

      • Yes, it is indeed an interesting topic. My guess would be that there is a mix of two elements at play here:
        Chinese thought has several peculiarities which would make a direct dialogue with the hard-core of (Western) philosophy (meaning metaphysics and epistemology) not that easy, thus it makes sense for interpreters of Chinese thought to point to a different perspective for this encounter. The situation is, it seems to me, quite different when it comes to Ethics (especially Virtue Ethics) or Political Philosophy. What do you think?

        • I not sure, but I suspect it may have more to do with academic trends than with cultural or linguistic characteristics. About the same time that Indian thinkers were emphasizing the ineffability and non-Western nature of Indian philosophy, Chinese thinkers such as Fung Yulan and Hu Shi were claiming the opposite as regards Western and Chinese philosophy. How things have changed!

          • Thanks, Paul, this is really interesting! Sorry for asking a naïve question, but could you speculate more on Fung Yulan’s and Hu Shi’s arguments?

    • Thank you for this interesting suggestion, Prof. Bhattacharya. “Materialism in India” sounds great, although I am slightly less satisfied by titles such as “Philosophy of the Indians”, which seem to me risk to suggest that Indians are not really able to do real philosophy and that theirs is, thus, only a subspecies of philosophy. Perhaps “Philosophy in India” or “Philosophy in classical India”?

      • ‘(Philosophy) of’ would be appropriate foro a particular school or schools (e.g., Buddhists, Jains, etc.), but ‘(Philosophy) in’ for a particular country (e.g. , India, China, etc.) or a particular area (e.g., South Asia).

  3. Hi Elisa!

    I see your worry now in much more detail. I apologize for not seeing initially what you may have been pointing out. And I agree that the kind of reader I proposed may lead to exactly the problem you are pointing out. Here are some brief comments.

    1. It is possible to produce both readers in Indian philosophy, such as the one I am trying to do, and also make readers in philosophy of language, logic, metaphysics, epistemology… that have both Indian philosophy as well as other traditions of philosophy. It may be the case that by doing them together one satisfies the demands of two distinct markets. The market need for more readers on Indian Philosophy as well as more need for philosophy readers that are more inclusive of other traditions. In fact I am trying to create a whole book series dedicated to just that — putting Indian philosophy along side other philosophical traditions. And in particular I am working on one right now for philosophy of mind that would present a lot of Indian philosophy alongside analytic and phenomenological discussions.

    2. Again my motivation for a reader in Indian philosophy stems from the felt need in the market and in the class room for such a book. But yes I had not considered the critique you offered. And while there is a reader in epistemology, by Ernie Sosa that has both western and classical Indian philosophy in it, unfortunately it does not have enough.

    3. I welcome any ideas for both kinds of books.

    • Anand, you do need at all to apologise, the burden to explain my view is on my side!
      —The idea of a reader on the philosophy of mind which presents ideas and arguments coming from different milieus sounds great, congrats and good luck for that! By the way, should you really work on a series, let me know if you need help for the volumes on linguistics and epistemology (I might have mentioned to you already that I once proposed a reader on the philosophy of testimony, meaning śabdapramāṇa, to a philosophical publishing house —unfortunately the project was in Italian and the publishing house refuted it).
      —Concerning the second idea, I wonder whether one could not re-create a specialisation within the book by, for instance, re-thinking it as, e.g., “The argumentative style of Indian philosophy”. In this way, you could still cover all the topics you mentioned in your original TOC, but with a specific perspective, that of the way Sanskrit (or Pali…) authors dealt with their topics. What do you think? I know that publishing houses will still insist on “A Reader for Indian Philosophy”…

      • Hi Elisa,

        Thanks for your comments. I am learning more from you as I read more. I am rethinking the project right now and I am in conversation with Matthew Dasti about this. Feel free to join in on helping. I am working on the philosophy of mind reader also.

        I realize that there are a lot of politics involved in how answers to philosophical questions that come from India (note the explicit attempt to avoid using “Indian Philosophy”) are presented to different audiences. I am not one to avoid that issue. I am hoping to learn more from others about how to avoid misrepresenting answers to philosophical questions that come from India.

  4. Interestingly, this same sort of problems occur generally for “Medieval” philosophy at large (where my area is different because not even the most fervent Western-Centric historian could disentangle “Arabic” and “Western” philosophies in the Middle Ages.* They translated Aristotle from Arabic after all; but then, they were all “Medieval”, so a subset regardless).

    * Not that nobody tried, but to my knowledge, these attempts were all universally and rightly ridiculed.