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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What is the use of our purpose?

I finally read the Introduction to P. Patil's Against a Hindu God (recommended to me by Malcolm Keating, see here). Interestingly, Patil writes:
In interpreting and critically explaining these arguments, I am moving beyond the usual historical and philological task of restating, in English, complex arguments formulated in Sanskrit. I am committed to viewing these arguments not just as historical artifacts from someone else's intellectual past but as an interculturally available source from which we can learn today. What is at stake for Ratnakīrti (and I hope for some of us) in these arguments is nothing less than the nature of rationality, the metaphysics of epistemology, and the relevance of philosophy to the practice of religion (p.4).
One can easily imagine a proud author beyond this statement and Patil is indeed one of the relatively few (although not as few as his "usual" might imply) who try to do philosophy along with Sanskrit sources. Why is this so important? Why choosing Sanskrit sources? What do we want to achieve through comparative philosophy (as distinguished from comparative history of philosophy)?
Last, I understand Patil's point, but am also convinced that history and philology are a conditio sine qua non for the proper understanding of a text, not just for its preservation (and preservation is also important, if we want future scholars to benefit of the sources we had the pleasure to read).


ombhurbhuva said...

They say that poetry is what is lost in translation but Philosophy is not poetry and what is required from the translator more than commonplace linguistic attainment is a working knowledge of philosophy. Swamis may dream in Sanskrit but their ignorance of philosophy is clear when they come to explain the meaning of the text. Bina Gupta writing on Vedanta Paribhasa in Perceiving in Advaita Vedanta rejigs the Madhavananda translation. I haven't the book in front of me and do not have philological competence to judge but the difference is marginal. Her exegesis is good. In a way we see through the text to the philosophy by reading multiple instances of its application. As in surveying we triangulate to get a sense of the terrain that lies under the words. There is nothing occult in this, nothing of the sphota of Kasmir Shaivism. It's more a matter of illative sense :

skholiast said...

"I am committed to viewing these arguments not just as historical artifacts ... but as an interculturally available source from which we can learn today." Would that this stance would be taken by more thinkers in the West about its own major figures! Scholarship is invaluable, but ascertaining merely whether Leibniz or Averroes or Aristotle, or for that matter Rumi or St Catherine of Sienna, taught X or Y, is mere marginalia if it is assumed that X or Y need not concern us. Obviously we must know what a thinker meant when they taught X or Y, but in order to care, I must lay myself open to this possibly changing how I think or even who I am.

elisa freschi said...

Skholiast, I agree with you insofar as I would not be able to spend precious years of my invaluable human life only to ascertain whether some other human beings did X or Y. However, I think that one has to start with that, in order to avoid "exploiting" an author instead of understanding him. See this previous post:

Amod said...

I feel slightly embarrassed that I haven't read this book yet, seeing as Parimal Patil was my dissertation advisor! But of course there is so much to read and so little time - I've no doubt I will read it eventually.

But knowing Parimal, I think he would agree with you at least to a certain point - I think by "moving beyond" he means "doing more than," not "doing instead of." He takes philology very, very seriously, and demanded philological exactness from me and from most of his students. As for history, I think he also finds it important to situate each text in the world of other texts it belonged to, in order to understand it - though he rarely cared about social or political history, context beyond the texts. (But then, when it comes to India, he had the fair point that we know so little about such things that it might not be worth bothering anyway.)

elisa freschi said...

Thanks Amod, you raise interesting points (and I am happy to get some insight about P.P.). I also hardly take into account the historical and political context when it comes to Indian philosophy and I am somehow suspicious of, say, Sh. Pollock's use of context in order to make sense of philosophical theories, since, I believe, the latter should be judged on their own. However, V. Eltschinger's book "Comprendre l'Autorite des Ecritures" (which has been, by the way, reviewed in various posts in this blog, see under "book") made me aware of the new horizons which this contextual reading could open. In case you don't know Eltschinger's book, his main concern is to explain historically the differences between Dinnāga's and Dharmakīrti's approach to śabdapramāṇa.

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