“But is Indian thought really philosophy?”

We can answer the question “What is it?” for a religion or worldview by proceeding either sociologically or doctrinally. […] In philosophy, for example, the question “But is it philosophy?” can be not so much a question about the boundaries of the discipline taken doctrinally as it is a rejection of any approach not already favored by the elite in power, In that case, the genus within which the question “But is it philosophy?” falls is not philosophy but rather politics, or maybe even just bullying. (Eleanore Stump 2013, pp. 46, 48).

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.)

What is the center of Indian philosophy?

Karl Potter (Presuppositions of Indian Philosophies, see here) relates all Indian philosophical systems to the fact that they are goal-oriented and all seek mokṣa ‘liberation’. Jonardon Ganeri (in his History of Philosophy in India, with Peter Adamson) introduces the subject in a similar way (see here), speaking of the fact of seeking the “highest good”. As often the case, Daya Krishna disagrees:

The deliberate ignoring of [the] […] twentieth century discussion […] is only a symptom of that widespread attitude which does not want to see Indian philosophy as a rationcinative enterprise seriously engaged in argument and counter-argument in its long history and developing […]. This, and not mokṣa, is its life-breath as it is sustained and developed by it. Those, and this includes almost everybody, who think otherwise believe also that Indian philosophy stopped growing long ago. (The Nyāya Sūtras: A new commentary on an old text, p. 8)

What do you think? Is there a common core to all Indian philosophical schools?

Understanding false sentences

For Mīmāṣakas, a non-defeated belief counts as knowledge as long as the opposite is proven. This means that according to Mīmāṃsakas, for the Veda, the absence of defeating conditions is in itself equivalent to its truth. from Art.com
This, however, does not amount to its truth from the point of view of a theory which considers only justified true belief as knowledge. Incidentally, the Mīmāṃsā’s refusal to distinguish between justified belief and knowledge offers a way out of a difficulty found in every account of linguistic communication as an instrument of knowledge, i.e. the problem of how we can understand false utterances (see Chakrabarti 1986, Matilal 1990:61-8, Mohanty 1992:253-5, Ganeri 1999:18-25). Roughly, the problem lies in how we can understand that there is a snake in the next room after hearing the sentence “there is a snake in the next room” although there is no snake in the next room. Linguistic communication is an instrument of knowledge, but the belief that there is a snake in the next room cannot amount to knowledge. How can this content be possibly conveyed? In order to justify that we understand false sentences, Indian theories of linguistic communication as an instrument of knowledge would need a (preceding) status of non-committed awareness of the meaning, claim the authors listed above.
However, this is not needed in the case of Mīmāṃsā. Mīmāṃsakas would describe this situation by saying that our initial knowledge of the presence of a snake in the next room is later defeated as soon as we see that there is no snake there.

Basic bibliography for Bhaṭṭa Jayanta

Suppose you want to undertake the study of Indian Philosophy and you want to read primary sources? Where should you start? I argued (in my contribution to Open Pages in South Asian Studies) that Bhaṭṭa Jayanta is a great starting point,

  1. Because he is a philosopher
  2. Because he deals with texts of other schools and thus aims at being understandable
  3. Because he is a talented writer

“Is there Philosophy in India?” and what this question tells us, an essay by Ankur Barua

After many years, I am sort of fed up with having to answer the question above, and this is also why I had not read the essay by Barua (bearing the title Is there ‘Philosophy’ in India? An Exercise in Meta-Philosophy and available here) until he recommended it to me. In fact, the article tells more about what it means to ask the question, than about the answer (which is a straightforward “yes”).