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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Are Indian philosophers "practical"?

Are Indian philosophers practical? In favour of an affirmative answer lies a long series of statements by modern scholars working on Indian philosophy. Even more importantly, Indian authors start their works by laying down, among other things, what the purpose of their text is and they also discuss the purpose of this purpose. This purpose of the purpose is generally the soteriological relevance of their work. In other words: they claim they wrote in order to reach liberation (or help other people reach it).
This has been restated recently by Aleix Ruiz-Falqués in a very interesting post:

When I say practical, I do not mean "pragmatic" in the common sense of the word. What I mean is that Indian philosophers ALWAYS start a work saying WHY they are writing this. There is always a reason for them to write, and generally, the reason is LIBERATION. 

Now, I agree that the fact of having to put down one's purpose probably enhances the plausibility that you will reflect about it. Furthermore, a society which expects from you to state your purpose is in general more likely to see with favour writing with a purpose and see without favour writing with no apparent purpose (one is lead to think at the opposite example of Aristotle's definition of philosophy as being done for its own sake).
In addition to that, many Indian schools of thought have been developed by people who lived side by side with people practicing religious paths (sometimes the two types of people coalesced in a single one), or practicising yoga, etc.

However, classical Indians were human beings. I do not think that they were so much different from other philosophers, all around the world and the times. I doubt that they wrote about, e.g., logic always and ever keeping in view its ultimate purpose. I think they enjoyed diving deeper and deeper in logical or epistemological problems also for their own sake.

More in general, I tend to think that thinking of Indian philosophy as having distinct categories tends to offer an excuse for those who will say that they are not having programs about Indian philosophy, because this is "indeed" a soteriology (or a theology, or nothing but religion and so on).

What do you think? Are Indian philosophers more "practical"?

The discussion with Aleix started here and has several follow-ups, here and here (on this blog) and here (on his).

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