Monday, October 25, 2010

"Philosophy" in India

Angot, in the book discussed in my last post, defines philosophy as intimately connected to the exercise of doubt:
*Since* the method of (ancient) Nyāya includes the methodological doubt and inquires *without limitations* and in all domains of knowledge, the label "philosophy" is appropriate for it, although Vātsyāyana etc. did not ask the same questions as Socrates or Kant. But outside ancient Nyāya and Sāṅkhya the situation (=i.e., the appropriateness of the label "philosophy") becomes more complicated. And the fact that Nyāya is considered philosophy does not exclude the reflection we need to do on the modern usage of this term (=philosophy) in the Indian context.
(my translation, my parentheses and emphases, p. 23)
I like the last sentence, but for the last words. In fact, as Angot himself points out, we need to question our usage of "philosophy" altogether, since we have no problem in considering Nietzsche, the Aquinas, Epicurus, and so on as "philosophers". As another French philosopher, P. Hadot (also quoted by Angot) notes, "philosophy" in Ancient Greece (and in India? and in some Christian authors? and in the contemporary "Applied Philosophy"?) includes a practice of life. This is quite far from the "philosophy" at the time it "became professionalizes in Europe, by the end of the 18th c." (p. 24). As for Angot, he is fine with this use of "philosophy", if only –so it seems– the requisite doubt and scope mentioned above are also there.

But does this make sense?
A part from possible problems within Western philosophy, I wonder:
  • whether a generalised doubt is altogether possible
  • why should not specialised inquiries not be considered "philosophy"?
Nāvya Nyāya seems a plausible candidate as "philosophy", although it focuses (only) on certain topics. But, if so, then why not accepting as "philosophy" those schools which explicitly acknowledge the authority of the Veda and then philosophize in other domains?


Anonymous said...

I find your last question very intriguing. If I do not accept as “philosophy” a school that recognizes the authority of the Vedas, I am implicitly rejecting a locution such “Kantian philosophers”, that would be an oxymoron. To some extent, schools that refuse every possible authority are somehow establishing themselves as the actual authority, and that denotes even a more narrow (and less philosophical) view. I am obviously simplifying, but I am also trying to point out the dangers hidden in a too strict categorising.
Of course, it depends a lot on the reasons why a school accepts someone or something as an authority.

elisa freschi said...

Very interesting comparison, Giuliano.
I also agree with your last point, and possibly in a more radical way: I do not think we could ever do without authorities (the amount of that, which we can verify first-hand is nothing compared to the amount of that, about which we have to rely on the authority of others). Hence, the only option left is whether to pretend not to have any and then implicitly assume one (possibly subconsciously, as with Aristotle's category of "res" for Descartes), or to consciously *choose* the best one. How? Several Indian schools examined the criteria of the reliable authority.

However, I guess (can another reader help me?) that Angot might answer that philosophy is an *enterprise* and not an established system. Hence, the point is not whether one can do without authority in a closed system, but rather whether one can question everything. Of course, this amounts to the renounciation to build a coherent system.

Anonymous said...

Dear Elisa,
I think that what has to be doubted and discussed first is the term 'authority'. If we mean by that a blind adherence to a view, there would be very little space for philosophical reasoning. That is the very interpretation that prevents many thinkers from sympathizing with a doctrine or system, and it is perhaps a legitimate fear, as blind faith and enquiry do not match very well. A common reaction to this threat is an escape into an as blind adherence to 'free thought', i.e. an accurate avoiding of any pre-established path. I am afraid that this is throwing out the baby with the bath water.
On the other hand, if one interprets authority as a source of thought and method, there would be both a precious point of reference to rely on and an open path of questioning.
The definition of philosophy as an enterprise instead of an established system might eventually turn useful, as everybody would agree that any enterprise has more chances to be successful by using a compass and/or a map.

elisa freschi said...

Yes, I agree (again… what's happening?). The point is which kind of authority one accepts and whether this is the result of an epistemological enquiry or just of blind faith (not understood in its positive meaning). Of course, many blind believers are convinced not to be one and vice versa, and this makes the transition from epistemology to pragmatics less smooth.

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