Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mediating between Western and Indian Philosophy

Western philosophy, to the extent that it refuses to take an interest in these texts, will remain, as I've said before (paraphrasing Nietzsche), nothing more than a catalogue of its own prejudices.
(Justin Erik Halldór Smith)

Without knowing anything of Sanskrit philosophy, one cannot be a "genuine" philosopher, but rather someone who is avoiding dangerous questions (i.e., the very core of the philosophical enterprise).

If one were to object that one cannot be an expert on everything, and that one consequently neglects Indian philosophy because of lack of time, the appropriate answer would be, in my opinion: team work. One cannot be an expert on everything, but one ought to know that one is not and one ought to seek advice and help. From whom? From people who must be aware of both Indian and Western tradition and must be able to mediate and "translate". In the same post where I read the line reproduced here above, J.E.H. Smith also claims that he would like to become such a philosopher. I cannot but wish him good luck (and offer him my help, in case he could need it).

Do you share a similar agenda? Or similar concerns? Why (not)?

You can read the entire blog post by J.E.H. Smith here. And you can read a similar program in my own "about" page in Academia.


Ruy D'Aleixo said...

I think the problem is always "doxography". Philosophy has become, in many academic areas, a doxographical discipline. We just learn what this or that philosopher said. This is NOT philosophy properly speaking, this is History of Ideas, doxography, etc. Philosophy can only opperate with the present. Everything has to be constantly updated in order to be real philosophy, and even if we deal with "eternal" problems, they have to be tackled today. This is my point of view.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks Aleix, this is a good point.
I am a big supporter of the importance of history of philosophy, but insofar as I think that listening to the Other is the basis of philosophy and in this sense the history of philosophy is already philosophy. Dossography (in your sense) is something different and probably only regards biographical data, lists of works and does not really engage with what an author thinks.
Last, you are right that Indian philosophy does not belong to the usual dossographical accounts of "philosophy". I see it as a *kārya* (which, as a Mīmāṃsakā I cannot but relate to myself:-)) to change this paradigm. And you are surely right that thinking philosophically today about Indian philosophy is part of this enterprise.

Ruy D'Aleixo said...

In general I agree with you, Elisa. I think,however, that doxography includes studying the views of old philosophers:
What I mean is that when we study (let's say) Kant, we spend more time discussing what he really says than what he says. So instead of learning from Kant, we speculate about Kant, as if unearthing a treasure, as if Kant's philosophy was not explained in Kant's books. In Indian Philosophy there is a lot of doxography. I'm reading right now a book on Bhartrhari and Dignaga, and I can't believe there are so many different interpretations of the word jâti in Bartrhari (let alone other words in Bhartrhari, let alone the word jâti in other philosophers). I think that when we spend hours and hours trying to understand what Bhartrhari means by "jâti", we are doing philology, not philosophy. Philology is great, no doubt. But we should not be confused about this: one can do philology on philosophical texts, and still one is not doing philosophy. I think we should do philosophy, without giving up philology. The first ones that come to my mind are Schopenhauer and Chomsky (among those influential Western thinkers who benefited from Indian ideas). I have no special sympathy for any of them, but still, they are or were modern thinkers and they did/do not read Indian Philosophy esoterically. 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 Mimamsa, how do you approach the recent tensions between Israel and Iran? I remember a Nyaya pandit once told me something like: "For the naiyayikas, the problems of terrorism are simple to solve: you send the army..." etc.etc. He was Indian, of course, and 100% philosopher.

elisa freschi said...

Aleix, you raise two very interesting points (philology vs. philosophy and implementation of philosophy in order to solve problems). Would you mind if I (or even better you) post each part of your comment as a separate post and then reply to it? It is a complex issue and I would like it to have full space and emphasis. (Please don't think that I am just avoiding to answer, I shall do it as soon as you reply).

Ruy D'Aleixo said...

Good idea! But I think you can start from my comment, and then I will comment again. Is that ok?

elisa freschi said...

Fine, I will post the first post of two tonight around midnight. Let me know if you will I have chosen the wrong excerpt from your comment once you have read it.

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