Why should the West Monopolize and Hijack Philosophy?
V.S. Gopalakrishnan September 17, 2007 Join Chowk
V.S. Gopalakrishnan September 17, 2007 Join Chowk
Why is the West abandoning Philosophy? The trouble with western books on philosophy is that they seldom cover Oriental philosophies. Like “God is dead” of Nietzsche, philosophy is nearly dead in the west. The real wealth in this area still lies in the ever-lasting eastern thoughts, which any book on philosophy should ignore only at its own peril.
The west has reached a stage now where the study of philosophy or evolution of philosophical thinking has come to be regarded as unimportant or irrelevant. Modern technocracy in the west has banished philosophy beyond the back-burner. A historical tragedy is that the philosophers of the west have been only men, and there is not a single woman to be reckoned with. In India, female philosophers Gargi and Maitreyi are mentioned in the Upanishads, and Shankaracharya is said to have debated with the female philosopher Udhaya Bharati.
“The unexamined life is not worth living”, said Socrates. There are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in philosophy, said Shakespeare, a non-philosopher. So, how can anybody bury philosophy at this stage of history? It has to be an endless quest, and with the evolution of man’s thinking leading to incredible discoveries and inventions in the last two centuries, there is every reason for humanity to discover more of itself in various facets, most particularly the purpose and meaning of life and existence. Man has discovered that there are several universes and there are twelve dimensions and not four (space and time). Man has found that an atom is like a universe with moving sub-atomic particles. These things are reviving our faith in some original creator. Why then is the west giving up philosophy?
It is perhaps better to give up philosophy than develop inane so-called philosophical ideas, as has happened in the west in the twentieth century. Ludwig Wittgenstein preoccupied himself with LANGUAGE and MEANING, and later admitted that his philosophy was meaningless. John Dewey and other American “pragmatists” espoused the great thought that the search for truth and reality is pointless, and what is useful to man is the only truth! For William James, a significant idea is that which has “cash value”! For Jean-Francois Lyotard, there is no meaning in asking the big questions, and only small things matter! Jacques Derrida, whose lecture the reviewer had attended, decried “Eurocentrism” and “Masculinism” but never came out with a real philosophy of his own. He simply recommended the “deconstruction” of the quest to understand cosmos and human history, whatever that means!
Similarly, we can perhaps ignore the so-called philosophies of Michel Foucault and Theodor Adorno of the last century. Foucault, himself a playboy, had some kind of a “philosophical” obsession with the underdogs namely the insane, the criminals and homosexuals. Adorno had a very narrow philosophy, that of just condemning modernity and the “cultural industries” (pop, media, advertising etc).
Martin Heidegger alone perhaps made some philosophical sense in the last century. He complained that the modern mechanical and technological world has given rise to the abandonment of the search of true “Being”. To him, questions such as awareness of death and of man’s finitude in the universe were of great importance.
Philosophers have been divided into four categories, namely, metaphysical philosophers, epistemological philosophers, social and political philosophers, and ethical philosophers. Down the ages one finds very little of metaphysical philosophy from the west. This is the real philosophy that deals with the really big questions relating to human existence. On the other hand there is an endless array of social and political philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jeremy Bentham, Hegel, Karl Marx and many others. They have very little metaphysics to contribute.
It is high time that the west realized that true philosophy essentially consists in metaphysics. Social philosophy, political philosophy etc are mere appendages. A great book on metaphysical philosophies of the west and the east should be the founding course on this subject (philosophy).
Eastern philosophies have the big concepts of and enquiries after the soul, reincarnation, transmigration, God, attaining oneness with God etc. apart from the concepts of morality and ethics. It is interesting to note that down the ages some western philosophers also had notions in these areas. Pythagoras believed in human soul and reincarnation. Plato believed in the human soul. Plotinus and other neoplatonists examined the liberation of the human soul and the union with the divine “One”. That reminds you of the Hindu Advaita. Augustine of Hippo wrote great books (“The Confessions” and “City of God”) and laboured to justify God. Thomas Aquinas wrote eight million words (Summa Theologica) to ‘prove’ the existence of God. For Descartes, the human mind was the soul. He believed in the existence of God. George Berkeley also believed in God. For Immanuel Kant, the reason has a limit and that is saying a lot of metaphysical things!
A study of a philosopher’s thoughts should go hand in hand, wherever possible, with a study of his life. Buddhism studied without a study of Buddha’s life would be somewhat meaningless. To fully understand Taoism, one should know about the life of Lao Tze. To understand Islam, the Koran and the Hadith, one should know the Prophet’s life story along with at least the immediate history of Islam after the Prophet’s passing away in 632 A.D.
Some western philosophers’ life stories give us amusing insights. Empedocles who theorized that cosmos was made of four elements jumped into the volcano Etna in order to prove his theory! We know that Socrates was condemned with the charge of “impiety” and given death sentence. Many may not know that Socrates fought in the Athenian army. Descartes fought in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). Nietzsche was insane in the last ten years of his life. Wittgenstein was a school teacher for some time and was thrown out for beating children. Heidegger was a pucca Nazi and remained so even after the defeat of the Nazis. Bertrand Russell was jailed as a conscientious objector during the World War I. So much for our study of philosophy!
Also by V.S. Gopalakrishnan Review of the Book: FREAKONOMICS The Corporation That Changed The World Medical Lessons from the Death of a Poet Similar Articles The Apology of Socrates Jabran chaudry Animism and Mythology Khuram Rafique A Free Being M. K Afzal The Impact of the Greek Philosophers on Modern Education zainab siddique The world of the Wise Lord Nazar Khan Copyright © 1997 - 2007 chowk.com.