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Friday, June 28, 2013

Crowd-funding Indological (and/or) Philosophical projects?

A few months ago, two valiant scholars I know (Mark Singleton and James Mallinson) proposed a project for crowdfunding on They got the 50k dollars they applied for (in fact, they received even more than that) and are now happily funded for 1 or 2 years. I did participate to the crowd-funding and I do not regret it. A few days ago, another colleague (Michael Slouber) applied for crowd-funding, again on (his project is here). This time the amount of money he needs is much less and he is quite frank in explaining that he needs a few more months to complete his book, otherwise he will not be able to land in a TT job. I hesitated a bit, but then decided to help him (after all, I have now a job, but have been unemployed in the past, and will probably be unemployed again in the future). (Update: In fact, I had decided to support the project, but then failed to do it as it was too late, sorry Michael, in case you are reading.)

HOWEVER, I am not sure whether this is the right path, especially insofar as it might be an escape from the responsibility of convincing your peers within the Academia of the importance of your project (I am thinking especially of projects which may sound appealing but are not well-grounded). Apart from the anti-nihilist argument raised here by Eric Schliesser (i.e., if you are a nihilist, you have far less chances to be funded than an applied ethicist, no matter who is a better scholar), here are some thoughts by Steven Lindquist (Associate Professor in the US), expressed in a the Indology mailing list —which is visible to the public— (emphasis added by me):

Not only does crowdsourcing of academic work create its own "popularity" system for producing scholarship (traditional grant routes do this as well in supporting particular academic trends, but the key difference in my mind is that there is a formal, learned vetting system, even if it is not ideal). My larger concern relates to the privatization of funding for research, especially for individuals and for specialized works. Crowdsourcing of academic work gives an all-too-easy excuse for grant-giving and governmental bodies to disconnect from the funding of individual scholarship altogether. It does the same for the publishing industry, where they can require or increase already-required subventions. Arguably, these groups are already doing this in different fashions, especially under current austerity measures and the economic debacle many countries are in, but this sort of crowdsourcing could make their argument radically easy if it were to become at all popular in academic circles. Who can't envision members of government, when considering funding priorities, stepping back altogether and saying, "If it has any public appeal, the public will fund it" and use crowdsourcing as a justification to cut funding completely? Or a publisher doing the same in requiring a subvention? Crowdsourcing scholarship would certainly be appealing to certain university higher admin types who could easily justify eliminating internal funding altogether—especially for the humanities, where "practical value" and larger fund-raising potential are hard arguments to make.
While I am not a fan of slippery-slope type arguments, I wonder if we are hurting ourselves in the long run if we circumvent the standard grant vetting based on an academic market for a different sort of market-driven popularity. Perhaps certain types of work are more appropriate for crowdsourcing, I don't know. And, of course, I admit there is still the vetting that takes place with the publisher, though that industry is in flux. But are we going to see many more of these sorts of appeals? A future onslaught across list serves? Or to think it out further: are people going to increasingly turn to colleagues to fund any project they don't get a grant for or don't self-finance? How about requests to fund unfunded dissertation projects? Or to fund [insert name here]?
 What do you think? I am especially worried at the idea that one starts avoiding tough research and recurring instead to appealing videos to get funded. On the other hand, I myself have often repeated that we have to become responsible for the results we want to be achieved, and cannot any longer count on state-funding.

Thus, it seems that the dilemma, in my case at least, is not about crowd-funding or not, but rather about which projects should one crowd-fund. For instance, I am ready to finance one's project about actions aiming at saving small seals in northern Canada from being killed because of their furs, a project for which the Canadian government will surely not give any money (given that it probably earns out of the fur industry). By contrast, I am not ready to finance one's vacations on the Canarian Islands. More in general: I am ready to finance what the governments do not deem right to finance (for whatever reason) but is intrinsically altruistic and valuable, whereas I am not ready to finance projects which mainly regard one's own interests. If you need a break because you are close to a burn-out, I see your problem, but will not finance you (unless you are a close relative of friend).

Did you ever participate in a crowd-funding? Why (not)?

For a post in favour of crowd-funding, see here. On different platforms, don't miss this post (and its comments) and this article (I got the link through one of the commentators to the previous post).
(small note: I am writing this post on Tuesday the 22nd of May, but I will only post it on June the 28th, that is, after the crowd-funding of Michael Slouber is completed, since I want to avoid even the very remote possibility that one should not fund Michael's project after having read my post).

Monday, June 24, 2013

You thought no one could still say that there is an "Asian Philosophy" stressing order over single individuals?

Consider the following statements:

This paper analyzed different texts from the Buddhist, Daoist, and Hindu religions. […] It is clear, from the reading of all the texts that each religion tries to explain the human soul’s relationship to the cosmic order of reality. The spirit of a human being is under thesupreme control of the Tao, Universal Consciousness, dharma, or whatever a religion describesas the Ultimate Reality. This connection between the human being and the Ultimate Reality cannot be broken or crafted by a third party. This connection only exists between an individual human being and that person’s ability to empty his or her consciousness, for the purposes of enlightenment. That is the sole purpose of existence on this earthly plane. This is the universal message of all of the religions examined. The similarities far outweigh the differences.

Add the fact that the chapter on Hinduism has as single reference the Bhagavad Gītā, with no word of caution added. Where do these words come from? 
A 19th c. handbook for the primary schools? No, a paper just uploaded on Academia.
 I do not know the author and his/her university's website looks suspicious enough. Still, how did it happen that the scholarship on Buddhism, "Hinduism" (and Daoism) until now has not yet managed to eradicate such simplistic views?

Should we do more to explain that "Asian religious traditions" are more complex than that? Or are the authors of such essays biased by a too strong confirmation-bias?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Axel Gelfert on the epistemology of testimony

Can we live without relying on other people's words? And, once we have decided that we cannot, does it mean that we have to blindly rely on everything they tell us?

Next week at the IKGA (Apostelgasse 23, Wien), at 5 pm, Axel Gelfert will discuss David Hume's account of the philosophy of testimony, showing the two poles of his discussion, i.e., the necessity to rely on testimony on the one hand and the critique of miracles on the other.
Axel is a scholar of Western philosophy, but the fact that he teaches at the university of Singapore has made him sensitive to comparative issues and this lecture is, in this sense, an attempt to initiate a discussion on testimony/āptavacana reaching beyond geographic borders. Further details can be found here:

Axel Gelfert
Hume, the “Indian Prince”, and the Line Between Miraculous Testimony and Probable Belief
Datum: Mi., 26. Juni, 17 Uhr c.t.
Ort: Institut für Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens, Seminarraum 1
Apostelgasse 23, 1030 Wien
Organisation: Elisa Freschi, Helmut Krasser (IKGA)

Thema/ Topic

The talk will deal with the topic of Linguistic Communication as instrument of knowledge from the point of view of David Hume.


The aim of the talk is a thorough reconsideration of David Hume's views on the word of others as a source of knowledge. Much of the discussion of Hume’s views on testimony has traditionally revolved around his essay ‘Of Miracles’ (Section 10 of the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding), in which he argues for categorical rejection as the only rational response to alleged miracles. Yet, the specific shortcomings of miraculous testimony are hardly representative of the large class of ordinary beliefs we justifiedly acquire on the basis of everyday testimony -- and which may nonetheless include information about distant lands and ancient times. The fact that Hume acknowledges the special status of miraculous testimony is evident from his argumentative strategy: instead of calling into question the credibility, sincerity, or competence of the witnesses involved in the various historical cases of (alleged) ‘miracles’, Hume grants that the testifiers in question exhibit ‘gravity’, ‘solidity’, ‘probity’, ‘candour’, ‘veracity’, ‘unquestioned integrity’, and other fine epistemic characteristics. Yet he demands that we ought to reject miraculous testimony, even when we receive it from reputable witnesses. By contrast, ordinary testimony is showered with praise by Hume. In a famous phrase that has perhaps not been taken seriously enough by contemporary interpreters, Hume writes that ‘there is no species of reasoning more common, more useful, and even necessary to human life, than that which is derived from the testimony of men’. And yet a number of questions remain: How are we to manage instances of testimony that we encounter in everyday life? And how can we draw a line between ‘miraculous’ and (merely) ‘marvellous’ testimony? Was the ‘Indian prince’ (in Hume's — inherited and embellished — anecdote) right to reject the Dutch ambassador's testimony that, in the cold weather of Holland, water becomes so solid that an elephant could walk on it?

top↑ Vortragender/ Speaker

Axel Gelfert
Axel Gelfert completed his PhD in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge in 2005, having previously studied Physics at the Humboldt University in Berlin and the University of Oxford. Before his current position at the Philosophy Department of the National University of Singapore, he held a Junior Fellowship at Collegium Budapest (Institute for Advanced Study) in Hungary, where he also guest-lectured in the Department of Philosophy and History of Science (Budapest University of Technology and Economics). In the summer of 2009, and again in the first half of 2011, he was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh.
He has widely published on History of Philosophy, Epistemology of Testimony, Epistemology, Philosophy of Science and Technology. You can read more of him on his page on Academia.

For further posts on the epistemology of testimony, see here. On comparative philosophy, see here.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The next conferences: DOT, IIGRS, CBC, PhC, etc.

While you are waiting for the DOT people to let you know whether they accepted your panel/your presentation —which you have probably sent before the deadline, i.e., before the 31st of March 2013— and you ask yourself what is happening to the old good Germans (and, in case you are Italian, while you are waiting for the results of the ASN), you might consider:

  1. 1. submitting an abstract for the next IIGRS conference (the deadline is the 30th of June and you will know by the 4th of July!)
  2. 2. submitting an abstract for the Philosophers' Cocoon Conference (did not I tell you that we [=scholars of Indian philosophy] have to show that we are also doing philosophy?). The deadline is July the 1st and decisions will be communicated by August the 1st. 
  3. 3. coming to the next CBC conference in Turin (September, 4th to 7th)
  4. 4. starting thinking about the next conferences: CBC conference in Rome (May 2014), Dharmakīrti conference in Heidelberg, IABS conference in Vienna (both in August 2014), WSC in Thailand (June–July 2015).

Am I missing something?

For my comments on the IIGRS, see this post. For my introduction to the CB Project see this one.

Monday, June 17, 2013

New Sanskrit-related Job within SARIT

SARIT is a project for the advanced digitilization of Sanskrit texts. In other words, it does not only make digital Sanskrit texts available, but it also tag them according to the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative). Recently, the project has received further fundings and Birgit Kellner has posted on Indology a job application for a project-coordinator. If you have at least an MA in South Asian Studies (or Buddhist Studies) and enjoy working with TEI, I recommend you to apply.

Project coordinator

(50% German academic salary scale TVL-13, 36 months)

The successful applicant  oversees  and  organizes  the  production  of TEI-conformant digital editions and actively participates in the ongoing development and refinement of markup in consideration of the specific nature and structure of Sanskrit literature. He or she also acts as main liaison with the partners in Columbia and with technical staff of the  Heidelberg  Research  Architecture  (HRA),  Heidelberg’s  digital  humanities  unit (

Candidates should hold a MA or equivalent degree in Indology, Buddhist Studies or related field at the time of appointment. Knowledge of Sanskrit is required; proficiency in English is necessary. German is  not required,  but German language classes  are available upon request.

To apply, send CV, academic transcripts, a one-page statement of motivation and names of two professors as references to Ina Chebbi (, subject line “SARIT coordinator.” Send all documents as one PDF file.

The deadline for applications is 31 July 2013. Interviews will be conducted via Skype. The successful applicant is expected to start by 1 October 2013.

Heidelberg University is an equal opportunity/affirmative-action employer. In case of equality of qualification and suitability of applicants, applications made by female researchers will be given preferential consideration. We also encourage and welcome applications from disabled persons.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Aikaśāstrya: what does it mean?

I am still puzzled by the details of the problem of  एेकशास्त्र्य (aikaśāstrya). It literally means 'unity of the teaching', but what does 'teaching' (śāstra) refer to? And how close is the unity spoken of?

Rāmānuja mentions the unity of Pūrva and Uttara Mīmāṃsā, but then seems to care more for the unity of the Veda, which would mean the unity of Upaniṣad and Brāhmaṇa parts. And the unity of the Veda seems to be his chief argument in favour of the unity of Pūrva and Uttara Mīmāṃsā. Veṅkaṭanātha stresses much more the unity of Pūrva and Uttara Mīmāṃsā for their own sake, with the addition of the Saṅkarṣa Khaṇḍa, four supplementary chapters of the Mīmāṃsāsūtra about which I do not know whether they were considered as distinct from the Mīmāṃsāsūtra also by Veṅkaṭanātha's predecessors (the Vṛttikāra speaks of the 16 chapters of the Mīmāṃsāsūtra, thus including in it the Saṅkarṣa Khaṇḍa).

Further, should aikaśāstrya be a single "school of thought" (darśana) or a single text? In other words, do Rāmānuja and Veṅkaṭanātha aim at the unity of Jaimini's Mīmāṃsāsūtra and Bādarāyaṇa's Vedāntasūtra or at the unity of Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta, or both? Veṅkaṭanātha's works contain indications for both theses, since they mention the examples of single texts (e.g., the Kāśikā Vṛtti on the Aṣṭādhyāyī in Śatadūṣaṇī 3), but also of systems (Vyākaraṇa, again in ŚD 3).

Do you know of other instances of aikaśāstrya, referring to a text or to a system?

For further posts on Veṅkaṭanātha see this one (and its links).

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Nārāyaṇārya, Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta and Mīmāṃsā —UPDATED

Nārāyaṇārya was a Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedāntin author whose only (as far as I know) extant work is the Nītimālā. Already this work shows some of his basic tenets:
  1. 1. the focus on Pūrva Mīmāṃsā (the Nītimālā has a long section on Vedic prescriptions*).
  2. 2. the attempt to reinterpret Pūrva Mīmāṃsā according to the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta tenets (Vedic prescriptions are read as orders of God*).

In this sense, Nārāyaṇārya is among the ones who paved the way to Veṅkaṭanātha (aka Vedānta Deśika) and it is no surprise that Veṅkaṭanātha often refers to him while justifying his attempt to interpret Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta as a single śāstra. However, Veṅkaṭanātha's use of Nārāyaṇārya includes a possible problem, i.e., the fact that Nārayaṇārya allegedly authored a text in which he dealt with only 500 of the adhikaraṇas of the Pūrva Mīmāṃsā Sūtra. Since Veṅkaṭanātha wants to say that all adhikaraṇas are to be accepted, he needs to justify Nārāyaṇārya's move as a sign of his being an advanced scholar. In this connection, he quotes the following verse, seemingly from Nārāyaṇārya:

adhyasya vyākriyādoṣaṃ ye sūtram api tatyajuḥ |
prāyaḥ sphaṭikam apy ete jahyur eva japābhramāt ||

Which seems to mean:

The ones who, after having themselves superimposed (adhyasya) a fault (doṣa) in [the sūtra's] analysis (vyākriyā) abandoned even a sūtra,
these would in general, abandon even a crystal [although the faults are not in the crystal, but have only been superimposed on it], because of a fault in the China rose (behind it).

Now, the simile can be understood as follows: the errors are not in the Pūrva Mīmāṃsā Sūtra themselves, but in their later commentators (beginning with Śabara) and one only superimposes them on the PMS, just like the faults one seems to see in a crystal are only the faults of something else, behind it.

On Vedānta Deśika, see this post (and its links).

*about which, see the excellent thesis by Himal Trikha.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Workshop on Veṅkaṭanātha: Updates

Veṅkaṭanātha's Perspective on Mīmāṃsā
Datum: Wed-Thu, 12–13 June, 10am – 5pm
Ort: Institut für Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens, Seminarraum 1
Apostelgasse 23, 1030 Wien
Organisation: Elisa Freschi; Marion Rastelli; Marcus Schmücker (IKGA)

Thema/ Topic

The workshop will focus on Veṅkaṭanātha's (1269–1370) approach to Mīmāṃsā through the works he dedicated to this school, i.e., Seśvaramīmāṃsā, Mīmāṃsāpādukā and, secondarily, Śatadūṣaṇī.
Veṅkaṭanātha was the foremost systematizer of the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta and immensely contributed to its positioning within the Indian philosophical landscape, while still presenting his contribution as doing nothing more than explicating his predecessors' position. In particular, he chose to introduce the Mīmāṃsā within the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta, notwithstanding the fact that the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta is essentially a Vaiṣṇava school, whereas the Mīmāṃsā is usually regarded as atheistic. Veṅkaṭanātha further needed to take into account his predecessors' (chiefly Yamuna and Rāmānuja) sceptical standpoint on Mīmāṃsā.
Parallel passages dealing with selected topics in the three texts will be read in the original Sanskrit and analysed, with a particular focus on Veṅkaṭanātha's innovations in his interpretation of Mīmāṃsā and on his solutions to the problems hinted at above.

Topics to be dealt with:
aikaśāstrya (the unity of Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta): beginning of Seśvaramīmāṃsā, section 3 of Śatadūṣaṇī, Mīmāṃsāpādukā vv. 5--14
(if there is enough time:)
—does one study (Mīmāṃsā) out of desire? Seśvaramīmāṃsā ad 1.1.1, Mīmāṃsāpādukā v. 3
Texts to be read and editions used:
For the Seśvaramīmāṃsā and the Mīmāṃsāpādukā: 1971 edition, Ubhaya Vedānta Granthamālā.
For the Śatadūṣaṇī: 2004 edition edited by Śaṭhakoparāmānuja Tātāyāryadāsa. Chennai.

NB: Scans of the relevant texts can be received from Elisa Freschi. Hard copies will be distributed at the beginning of the workshop.

The workshop will be conducted by Larry McCrea

Friday, June 7, 2013

Why comparing?

My first answer is simple: because it is unavoidable. We learn by comparing the unknown to the known and avoiding comparisons only means avoiding explicit comparisons, while one keeps on comparing within oneself.
An additional reason is that comparing makes one's convictions less sure:

By the sheer fact of the accumulation of juxtapositions, this book makes both traditions more exposed, open to scrutiny, and freed for imaginative experimentation (Francis X. Clooney, Divine Mother, Blessed Mother: Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin Mary, p. 24).
 The third reason is that at times one does learn something unexpected and yet true by seeing A through the lenses of B.

What are your reasons for comparing or not comparing?

For my personal campaign against implicit assumptions, see this post. On Clooney's approach to comparativism, see this post. For my first post on comparison (in Italian), see this one.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Why do you write?

I am always busy with several collaborative projects (the Coffee Break Conference one, organizing panels for other conferences, editing a collective volume on textual re-use and so on) and this makes me encounter and collaborate with many other scholars. Once, after having heavily edited an article which I though was too weak (lacking a structure and repeating the same points randomly), I received as an answer that

"Your proposals are valid and stimulating and can certainly make the end-product effective, but they obviously make it into your product, not mine"

Now, I know, editors and authors will always argue. I also know that authors might be too sensitive about their own wording, etc., and that I might have been too "cruel" in cutting repetitions and the like. But let me now just focus on the (unwritten) background assumption of this sort of answers:

I write articles in order to express myself. To me, they are like my work of art. And no one has the right to tell a painter that she should paint in a different way, if this is not her way.

This is, to me, striking. I do not write articles to express myself (for that, I use blogposts, comments, emails and the like). I write articles to communicate ideas in an effective way. If someone can find a better way, one that is clearer and takes into account possible objections, I might probably resist, but in an argumented way (e.g., by saying that she has misunderstood my point X at line Z, or that her changes make my argument vulnerable to objection Y), and not because MY product has been violated.
Moreover, I (optimistically, I agree) see my articles as part of a collective enterprise (e.g. "enhancing the historical understanding of the philosphy of testimony" or "making Indian philosophy part of 'philosophy' tout court"). The end-result is, thus, for me much more important than the tools which will lead to it. In sum,

I write articles in order to contribute to the discussion of a problem. My articles are instrumental to something else and not an end-in-themselves. 

I should now add that I have nothing against the first approach. I will just try to avoid collaborating too closely with someone upholding it, as our different views will inevitably clash.

How do you feel about your articles and books? Why and for whom do you write?

For my collaborative projects, see here and here (on the Coffee Break Project), here (philosophy of Testimony), here (volume on quotations), here (my next projects) and here (my free reviews).

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Why should philosophers study Indian philosophy?

If you have ever tried to ask a philosopher, why he never even tried to start reading about Indian philosophy, you surely know his/her answer: I have already too much to do with Western philosophy! (In the worst case, s/he might even just say "I have already too much to do with philosophy").

Here is how the scholar of Buddhist philosophy Jay Garfield replies to this argument (my emphasis):

3:AM: One of the issues you raise is the ethics of approaches to intellectual and cultural traditions less powerful and less respected than the Western ones. How should we think about this?
JLG: Easy. Suppose that someone argued that the philosophical curriculum in their college could not include any texts by women, because there are just so many important books by men, and not enough time to address all of them, let alone to go on to read stuff by women, or that the faculty is not expert in women’s philosophy. He would be howled down not on the grounds that there are indeed not too many books by guys, but that given a history of sexism, it is immoral as well as irrational to ignore the contributions of women in the curriculum. But people get away with saying that their department can’t offer courses that address non-Western philosophy because they are struggling to cover the “core,” that students have so much Western philosophy to learn that they don’t have time to read the non-Western stuff, and that there are no specialists in non-Western philosophy in the department. In the wake of colonialism and in the context of racism, the only legitimate response is to howl them down.
As far as I am concerned, I usually do not stress the fact that it is immoral, and that the West has a debt to pay because of centuries of racism. Rather, I tend to stress the fact that, as in the case of female philosophers, it runs against one's own interests to exclude from the philosophical debate so many important authors. If we want the discipline to advance, it would just be foolish not to take advantage of the many fresh insights we can gain from a different philosophical tradition.

What are your reasons when you explain why Sanskrit/Pāli/Tibetan/… philosophy/history/litetature/linguistics… have to be part of the normal curricula?

I am thankful to Justin Whitaker who, in this post, pointed to the interview. The full interview can be found here.

Monday, June 3, 2013

"How do you find ideas for your articles?"

I  never had this problem. Rather, I often feel overwhelmed by the many ideas which, I fear, will remain orphan because I will die before having been able to dedicate some time and attention to them. But if I were to look at myself from without, I would answer the problem as follows:
I read many primary texts and since I focus on Sanskrit philosophy, they are by rule immediately able to let me look at old questions with new eyes (e.g., in the case of the epistemology of testimony), or to ask new questions altogether (e.g., how can an atheist school of thought accommodate belief in God?).
I get the same feeling whenever I am able to go back to Western texts with some distance, for instance, because they are chronologically, thematically or stylistically far away (e.g., reading Orthodox theology, or Augustine's dialogues, or some of Derrida…). With new questions and new ways to look at the world, I never had the problem to look for new ideas, rather, I have often the feeling of having too many for a single life (which does not mean that they are philosophically sound).
Discussing with colleagues and friends is also a constant source of inspiration.

UPDATE: I once asked this question to a senior and learned colleague, who seems to share my feeling, since he answered: "I do not look for ideas, they pursue me!" and then added "If this is not the case, just quit!".

What about you? Do new ideas follow you, no matter where you try to flee? Or do you actively look for them? And where?

This paper has been triggered by this one on the Philosophers' Cocoon.
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