Veṅkaṭanātha as a way for reconstructing the history of Sanskrit philosophy in South India: The Bṛhaṭṭīkā

Veṅkaṭanātha is an important milestone for the reconstruction of the history of Indian philosophy. In fact, he is a historical figure and the reconstruction of his thought is also facilitated by the contextual knowledge already available about the times, the cultural and geographical milieu, and the religious tradition related to him.

A review of Vincent Eltschinger’s Buddhist Epistemology as Apologetics

An interesting review of Vincent Eltschinger’s last book, Buddhist Epistemology as Apologetics, by Peter Bisschop which has the advantage of

  1. summarising the main thesis of the book (the Buddhist epistemological school is not only a natural development of the Buddhist tradition of dialectics, but also the reaction to external attacks, e.g., by Kumārila Bhaṭṭa)
  2. highlighting Eltschinger’s innovative methodological choice of reading Buddhist epistemology through its social history
  3. adding a few critical remarks* about the structure of the book (“An overall conclusion rounding off the four individual chapters would have been welcome, in particular because the subject of the first two chapters […] and the last two chapters […] differ quite strongly from each other”, p. 268) and about the possible distinction between Vaiṣṇava and Śaiva attitudes towards Buddhism (“A text like the Skandapurāṇa […] does not contain a single reference to pāsaṇḍins [‘heretics’, EF]. This may not only reflect a difference in time but also in position, that of the conservative, anti-Buddhist Vaiṣṇavas of the Viṣṇupurāṇa on the one hand and the soon-to-be dominant Śaivas of the Skandapurāṇa on the other”, p. 265).

*Long-term readers will now know that I am biased in favour of structured criticism (and against lists of useless typos and baseless praises). Accordingly, they may disagree with me on the importance of this last point if they prefer different types of reviews.

Studying philosophy without its history is like thinking you can swim without touching water

Studying philosophy through its history is one of the few elements of my intellectual biography I have been adding again and again to all versions of my cv (and I have written many!) and I really believe that philosophy needs to be linked to its history and that history of philosophy needs to engage philosophically with its contents. Now, the last claim is almost incontroversial, since all historians of philosophy agree that they need to be (at least: also) scholars of philosophy.

The first claim, instead, encounters frequent objections. The last time I read one such objections, it came from a younger colleagues suggesting that one should rather weight the independent strength of an argument. This is an admirable task to undertake, but I wonder how one will be able to appraise an argument unless one has been training herself in their history. I might be too pessimistic, but let me be skeptic about anyone’s autonomous philosophical capacities.
Ibn al-Nafīs might be right and an isolated child might be able to refine his faculties on a lonely island until he can rival with learned people. But can this happen also in our infotainment-polluted world? I doubt it. Without history, a self-proclaimed philosopher will just lack the depth to appreciate the degree of innovation of her ideas, possibly thinking she is a genius only to discover at the first journal rejection that several people before her have already discussed the same argument centuries back.

On Ibn al-Nafīs you might want to read Marco Lauri’s forthcoming article on Confluence and, meanwhile, this presentation.

Why studying Mīmāṃsā within Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta: An easy introduction for lay readers

The Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta is a philosophical and theological school active chiefly in South India, from the last centuries of the first millennium until today and holding that the Ultimate is a personal God who is the only existing entity and of whom everything else (from matter to human and other living beings) is a characteristic.

Hugo David’s review of Duty, language and exegesis in Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā

This post is part of a series dedicated to a discussion of the reviews of my book Duty, language and exegesis in Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā. For more details on the series, see here. For the first post (on Andrew Ollett’s review) of the series, see here. For the second post (dedicated to Taisei Shida’s review), see here. As already hinted at, I welcome comments and criticism.

Hugo David’s review is (to my knowledge) the only one in French. It is encouraging that great work is still done in languages other than English, but I will allow myself some longer summaries of it, for the sake of readers who may not know French. (I beg the reader’s pardon for my translations, which do not convey the elegance of David’s original French).

Reviews on Duty, Language and Exegesis in Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā: Many thanks and some notes —UPDATED

Most of my long-term readers have had enough of my discussions of Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā, of its late exponent Rāmānujācārya, and of its theories about deontic logic, philosophy of language and hermeneutics. They may also know already about my book dedicated to these topics. More recent readers can read about it here.
You can also read reviews of my book by the following scholars:

  • by Taisei Shida on Vol. 31 of Nagoya Studies in Indian Culture and Buddhism. Saṃbhāṣā (2014), pp. 84-87.
  • by Andrew Ollett on Vol. 65.2 of Philosophy East and West (2015), pp. 632–636 (see here)
  • by Gavin Flood on Journal of Hindu Studies, published on line on 13 October 2015 (the beginning is accessible here)
  • by Hugo David on the vol. 99 of BEFEO (2012-13), pp. 395-408 (you can read the beginning here)

I am extremely grateful to the reviewers (I could not have hoped for better ones!) for their careful and stimulating analyses and for their praising my attempts to make the text as understandable as possible and to locate sources and parallels in the apparatus. In fact, as a small token of gratitude for the time they spent on my book, I will dedicate a post to each one of their reviews, where I discuss their corrections and suggestions. The first one in this series will appear next Friday.

What happened at the beginnings of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta?—Part 2

Several distinct component are constitutive of what we now know to be Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta and are not present at the time of Rāmānuja:

  1. 1. The inclusion of the Āḻvār’s theology in Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta
  2. 2. The Pāñcarātra orientation of both subschools of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta
  3. 3. The two sub-schools
  4. 4. The Vedāntisation of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta
  5. 5. The impact of other schools

Deontic logic applied to Sacred Texts

I discussed already in several previous posts a project on the application of deontic logic to the understanding of the Mīmāṃsā exegesis of the Vedas. Now, the project leader, Agata Ciabattoni, made me ponder about a question I should have considered long ago, namely whether someone else has been applying deontic logic to other Sacred Texts.

At first sight, I would have thought that this would have certainly been the case, given that Sacred Texts are, at least in part, prescriptive texts.

172nd Philosophers’ Carnival—SECOND UPDATE

Welcome to the 172nd Philosophers’ Carnival! Read, enjoy, add your favourites in the comments below and submit here your proposals for the next edition of the Philosophers’ Carnival (which will be hosted by Samuel Paul Douglas).

As a general framework, let me start with Catarina Dutilh Novaes’ review of Williamson’s Tetralogue, discussing the possibility of rational dialogue to advance knowledge —that is, the reason which could make philosophy more than a Glasperlenspiel.

Should philosophy (of religion) go out of its comfort zone?
In this post, Aaron Thomas-Bolduc suggests that we should go out of our comfort zones and test our ideas outside them. A few days before, Adriano Mannino had posted here his comments on a study by Helen De Cruz and asked whether philosophy of religion is more than Christian apologetics.
This post by Michael Almeida shows that arguments about philosophy of religion can be dealt with in a purely logical way (from premisses to absurd consequences). Similarly, Eric Schwitzgebel discusses here the application to artificial intelligence of a problem originally dealt with within philosophy of religion, i.e., God’s responsibility for our well-being (and our responsibility towards AI, if we ever were to create one). By the way, the author includes in his dialogue also the Confucian approach of ethical obligations (which get stronger the closer one is to oneself, so that one has higher obligations towards one’s family than towards strangers).

Free will within and without contemporary Western philosophy
The idea of going out of one’s comfort zone brings me to the following series of posts, dedicated to free will. One can start with John Danaher‘s general summary of the possible meanings of “Liberty” and “Free will” as explained by Skinner (John Danaher has further interesting posts on freedom and work and democracy).
Next, this post by Jayarava Attwood discusses the Buddha’s defense of free will while debating with a denier of free will in a text of the Pāli Buddhist Canon. The same author has also dedicated a more general post to the issue of free will at the boundaries of philosophy and neurosciences, here. Again on Buddhism, Amod Lele discusses here how ethics is possible even within a deterministic worldview. Last for the non-Western series, this post discusses Free will vs. divine omnipotence in a Vaiṣṇava theologian, Rāmānuja. Stewart Duncan discusses here some passages of Leibniz which suggest that he might have conceived of things deterministically and of thoughts as actions, depending on the souls only.
Flickers of Freedom is the usual reference point when it comes to free will. This month, this post by V. Alan White on whether responsibility comes in degree especially recommends itself.

Language and reality
Richard Yetter Chappell discusses here an aspect of the problem entailed in the naturalistic account of meaning.

On a similar vein, Tristan Haze discusses here a paradox, namely

If you’re a brain in a vat then you don’t have hands
You don’t know that you’re not a brain in a vat
Therefore you don’t know that you have hands

Interestingly, Haze does not enter into the ontology of the topic, but rather dwells in its linguistic and logical consequences (what does it mean to say that one has hands? To what does language refer?).

On the arbitrariness of the signified and its implications for linguistics, Alexander Pruss discusses here the problems one encounters when translating English hand with Polish rȩka. Pruss closes his post with a thought on false implicature (could occur in cases such as the one described) and lying (morally problematic).

On a sidetrack, Jon Cogburn discusses here how some misunderstandings of the so-called Continental Philosophy by Analytic Philosophers might just be due to wrong translations of French expressions such as l’event or l’autre as “The Event” (=the creation? what other key event?) and “The Other” (Satan?), does creating unwanted metaphysical entities.

Concerning lying, a post at Experimental Philosophy and PeaSoup by John Turri discusses how people react when one asks them whether telling the truth while trying to lie still counts as lying. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the answers depend on how the question is phrased.

At Practical Ethics, Hannah Maslen discusses a bias which seems to lead to more problems than it can solve, namely the hostile attribution bias, which is the cause of avoidable bloody fights, especially among teenagers, just because someone was “looking at me funny”. If you are schocked and ask yourself what could be done to interrupt this vicious circle, have a look at Eric Schwitzgebel’s memories of his father and of how he engaged young criminals, thus automatically making them relinquish crime.

Again at Practical Ethics, this post by Chris Chew discusses what could be the best death.

A new blog on the philosophical problems connected with disability has helped in raising an interesting debate on whether the discussion on some problems, such as the abortion of disabled fetuses, or the moral justification of evil, should be altogether avoided. On the Philosophers’ Cocoon, Marcus Arvan summarises the discussion and adds his view.

At Aesthetics for birds, Rebecca Victoria Millsop discusses the role of originality in painting and whether the research of originality at all costs does not lead astray (I agree). Rebecca is herself an artist (beside being a fifth-year PhD student in philosophy of art) and this perspective deeply enriches her post.

Last, although this is a philosophical Carnival, I hope readers will forgive me —given the high symbolic impact of the Paris attacks on the issues of freedom of thought and critique— if I add this post (which I discovered through Catarina Dutilh Novaes at NewApps) by Juan Cole, a historian of the Middle East, discussing the recent facts in Paris.

By coincidence, the colleague who will host the next Philosophers’ Carnival, Samuel P. Douglas has also a post on the epistemology of conspiracy theories, in relation to the Charlie Hebdo attack.