Friday, November 25, 2011

Writing about Indian philosophy for philosophers

Do we want Indian philosophy to be a private area of study for Sanskritists? Or do we want to engage in wider dialogues with philosophers of different specialisations?

One of my long-term goals is to make Indian philosophy part of "Philosophy" tout court. That is, I hope that future text-books about philosophy will discuss causation including the satkārya- vs. asatkāryavāda debate; will discuss epistemology taking into account the pramāṇa approach, etc.
This is not something a single scholar will ever be able to achieve, hence I firmly believe in team-work. But even as a team, what could/should one do? One thing is to propose articles on Indian topics to philosophical audiences. Krishna Del Toso has just done it in a recent article submitted to the Open Journal of Philosophy. But a single article will not be enough. In order to raise interest among philosophers, one needs to feed them regularly with Indian stimuli. This is nothing Krishna (or any other) could do on his own.

Should not we co-ordinate our efforts so that each of "us" (whatever this means) has, e.g., an article every five or ten proposed to a philosophical journal?


krishna said...

Dear Elisa, thanks for mentioning my recent work!
I would suggest here also a further solution - besides your good ideas of team-working and submitting regularly papers to "general" (not specifically indological) philosophical journals -, that is, try to become a member of the editorial board of those very journals so as to have the possibility of working from the inside.
I don't know what you think about, but at the moment I'm trying to do exactly that.
:-) k

elisa freschi said...

Well, I tried with the Open Journal of Philosophy, but I never got any reply, hence I think that my application has been rejected. But yes, I really agree with you and wish you good luck! Keep me informed, please.

Anonymous said...

One of my long-term goals is to make Indian philosophy part of "Philosophy" tout court.

This is a noble goal. And as you said, one cannot do it alone. Just curious: do you know of other people with the same goal or who have worked towards it?

elisa freschi said...

Sure. For instance, Ch. Ram-Prasad, J. Ganeri, A. Chakrabarti, J. Taber, J.N. Mohanty…
Once A. Pinchard also wrote me agreeing on my "about" section on (where I state the same goal).
It is just a pity we do not join our efforts.

michael reidy said...

Elisa wrote:
This is not something a single scholar will ever be able to achieve, hence I firmly believe in team-work.
Hi Elisa,

It's not necessary to know everything to know anything or to at least have something useful to say on a subject. Without having read everything on satkaryavada for instance one can have an understanding of the topic. In general if the tradition of commentary is well established the main citations on the topic will be well known and reading much more than that will not give a philosophical return proportional to the effort. To offer a metaphor, the skilled worker can move into a house and see at a glance what was done poorly or well and what can be fixed and even what should be demolished and rebuilt.

elisa freschi said...

Hi Michael, very interesting point and one I have often been considering myself (how deep does one have to go with one's work on primary sources, if one's primary purpose is a philosophical understanding of a certain topic?). But why should not team work be needed? I will never be an expert on each school and each topic, I will always need you to direct me to passages of the Śāriraka;-)

peppe said...

To pursue the goal – which I totally agree with – of “making Indian philosophy part of "Philosophy" tout court”, a first step seems to identify specific areas and specific discussions where Indian philosophy has more contributions (or perhaps solutions!) to offer; secondly to send papers not only to periodicals of ‘general philosophy’, but also to specialized philosophy journals, where that discussions are mainly developed.
For example, I think a sector that should be bombarded with indological material is the (fashionable) one of ‘philosophy of mind’, about whose subjects – relation body-mind, intentionality, conscience, perception, ‘self’ sensation, etc. – history of Indian philosophy certainly has more to tell than the ‘usual’ (and certainly respectable) Aristotle, Descartes or Hume.
The time has indeed come to begin to give the message that, as well as everyone that works with Indian philosophy should not ignore – as indeed does not, and frequently uses – the outcomes of ‘western’ epistemology, psychology, linguistics or metaphysics, so it should be unacceptable (not to say absurd) that, at the present time, someone could speak about ‘the sense of ego’ or ‘semantics relations’ with no reference to the Buddhist anattavada or to Indian grammars (just to mention two subjects I am more confident with).

elisa freschi said...

Dear Peppe,

I agree with your point. It makes sense to try to "enter" those fields in which the Indian contribution is most likely to be welcome and needed. An easy example is linguistics, where indeed many mainstream textbooks do at least mention Indian ideas.

I have only a doubt, which I expressed today in a separate post (

Apart from this point, there is another down-to-earth problem, which reminds me of the necessity of team work. In fact, at least in the university systems I am slightly more conversant with (Italy, Austria, UK, Japan), one's work will be evaluated by people who are *not* working in this way. They are, hence, naturally not inclined to appreciate one's efforts to communicate outside "Indology" (whatever this means) and might even be ennoyed by one's simplifications of Sanskrit words and concepts while writing for "outsiders". Furthermore, we are all (I presume) also keen to communicate to people who share our background and with whom we might discuss also technical aspects (such as details of Mīmāṃsā hermeneutics, in my case). Hence, it is unlikely that one will write more than a paper each 12-18 months for a different audience (e.g., one specializing on Western hermeneutics). But such audience will never get used to the idea that Indian thought has to be taken into account until it is constantly exposed to it. Hence, we have to work together so that it receives not only one article each 2 years, but several articles per year (on different journals/conferences/…). What do you think?

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