In an interesting comment to this post, Aleix Ruiz-Falqués asks:
There are many problems nowadays (War, Famine, Economic Crisis, etc) and the role of philosophy is to offer a guideline for thinking correctly about these problems, so that we can solve them. This is exactly the practical approach of Indian philosophers. But I wonder if we (philologists and doxographers) are as practical as ancient and modern philosophers. I have heard many times, from academics, that "we are not here to solve problems, but to point them out" - to "problematize", as they call it. I think this is bullshit, because the real agenda is to preserve a teaching post per saecula saeculorum. What do you think? For instance: starting from Mīmāṃsā, how do you approach the recent tensions between Israel and Iran? I remember a Nyāya pandit once told me something like: "For the naiyāyikas, the problems of terrorism are simple to solve: you send the army..." etc.etc. He was Indian, of course, and 100% philosopher.
I am not completely sure I can subscribe to the idea that Indian philosophers are "practical". I guess that many of them were and many others were not. And problematizing is my favourite activity…
Nonetheless, I see Aleix' point and it is difficult to deny that if philosophers want to be paid through taxes (i.e. by the money earned by simple people) they must be ready to have also a social function. Plus, luckily enough he did not claim that philosophers should solve problem, bur rather offer a guideline to think correctly about them.
This social function amount to, in my opinion, instructing people in the following:
- logical thinking: e.g., show that if B is included in A and if X claims that ~A (e.g.: no European fundings for agriculture, we do not want to pay taxes for that!), he or she cannot then claim that B (e.g.: more European fundings for tobacco-farms of my county!).
- epistemological thinking: e.g., show that one cannot believe that A because "someone" (e.g. Wikipedia) said it, unless this "someone" is a reliable source.
- looking at the broader picture: due to our psychology (or perhaps physiology), we tend to focus on today's egg and cannot take into account the disasters the egg-industry might produce. A philosopher should be brave enough to logically warn about the consequences of today's actions and choices (be it about climate change or about women's instruction).
As for the problems with religious and political fundamentalism, I can see Mīmāṃsā's contribution as highlighting the distinction between a descriptive and a prescriptive reading of Sacred Texts. Once Sacred Texts are not read as descriptions of the way the world is, one will no longer have to condemn people for believing in the existence of dinosaurs, nor will one speak about the "contrast" of religion and science.
What do you consider the purpose of scholars of (Indian) philosophy?
For my thoughts on applied Indian philosophy, see this post. The present discussion with A. Ruiz-Falqués started on this post.