Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Multiplist Ethics and Scholarly Etiquette

I just read a very interesting essay of Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad. It is the first (out of five) chapter of his newest book, Indian Philosophy and the Consequences of Knowledge: Themes in metaphysics, ethics and soteriology (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2007). It is a challenging essay, dealing with the proposal of multiplism in ethics. This is compatible with the Jaina theories of anekāntavāda, nayavāda and syādvāda, although Ram-Prasad is honest enough to admit that it is not sure that this a philologically sound interpretation of the Jaina material. Hence, Ram-Prasad (just like J.N. Mohanty and many others) reinterprets classical Indian philosophy to think further. And he does it in a field which is in bad need of new paradigms, that of the encounters with the other (or the Other? or others?). The Jaina/Ram-Prasadian approach has the benefit of non hypostatising the Other in her Otherness while at the same time not swallowing her. That is, in Ram-Prasad's intention, multiplism allows the other her space and freedom to be as she wishes (even to become closer to oneself). Furthermore, it promotes a friendly encounter with her/him since reality is inherently multiple and hence inter-related.

The only disadvantage of this thought-provoking essay is the lack of the Sanskrit texts Ram-Prasad refers to or translates, if only in the footnotes. I wondered whether I have been irritated by this absence just because this does not conform to the scholarly etiquette I am used to. But there is something more on top of that, that is, the absence of the Sanskrit text makes for the reader impossible to counter-check the arguments. Moreover, due to the semantics of Sanskrit, a translation is (even more than in other languages) no more than an interpretation. Hence, if there is no Sanskrit text available, one cannot prosecute further Ram-Prasad's enterprise of thinking along the lines of the Sanskrit tradition (of course, one could go to the library and check the Sanskrit texts, but often Ram-Prasad refers only to the page number of a certain edition –which is not the only available one– instead of referring to the inner partitions of the text).

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