Sunday, July 27, 2014

Nikam takes Sri Aurobindo to have successfully refuted māyāvāda

Christian Coseru on 26 July 2014 at 7:01 pm said: 
One thing worth noting about Aurobindo is the close association between him (and his ashram) and many pre-independence academic philosophers active in the Indian Philosophical Congress. As is well-known, the IPC even felt the need to hold a special session (at Almaner in 1950) on whether Aurobindo had refuted māyāvāda by shifting the emphasis from ‘illusion’ (māyā) to ‘play’ (līlā). Opinions seem to have been mixed, but nonetheless they reflect the seriousness accorded to Life Divine even outside Advaita (and neo-Advaita) intellectual circles. Hard to assess to what extent that is still the case today.
Garfield and Bhushan have an informative essay on this topic (‘Bringing Brahman Down to Earth’) that prefaces the papers read at that session of the IPC (by Indra Sen, N.A. Nikam, H Chaudhuri, and G. R. Malkani). Check out their recent anthology on Indian Philosophy in English. Definitely worth a read ( ).

Nikam’s essay, I think, sums it best: “Between the Māyāvāda of Śaṅkara and the Līlāvāda of the Life Divine, there is a Major Premise which is common to both. Māyāvāda says:
The world is a dream
Dreams are unreal
Therefore, the world is unreal.

The Līlāvāda of Life Divine says:
The world is a dream,
dreams are real.
Therefore, the world is real.”

Nikam takes Aurobindo to have successfully refuted māyāvāda, and offers an interesting outline of the new metaphysical theory:
“(i) In sleep, the waking activities are in abeyance, but the “inner consciousness is not suspended but enters into new inner activities.”
(ii) the whole of this inner activity we do not remember, we remember only what is near the surface.
(iii) near the surface there “an obscurer subconscious element which is a builder” (e.g. “dream-builder”).
(iv) but behind it is the “subliminal” self which is the totality of our inner being and consciousness…”

From this analysis, he concludes (by noting, in passing, the regressive nature of the dream argument) that the meaning of ‘dream’ has changed such that one can now even substitute the Cartesian cogito with something like “I dream, therefore, I exist”!
I’m no scholar of Aurobindo either, but it’s creative appropriations like these that served as a vehicle for modernity in India in the early decades of the last century (with, one may add, varying political consequences).
It’s also appropriations like these that got the likes of Matilal and Daya Krishna to build entire careers arguing that rationalism is the de facto core of Indian philosophy, or D. P. Chattopadhyaya to claim that the only living strand of Indian philosophy is in fact materialism!
The goal these days, of course, is a lot more modest as most everybody grapples with an ever wider range of problems (error theory, disjunctivism, the problem of other minds, arguments against physicalism, critiques of foundationalism, etc.). That’s certainly progress, but it’s not the one I articulate in my initial query.

I, for one, am just as baffled by this notion that the best and perhaps only way to do Indian philosophy is to do exegesis of antique positions in that bhāṣya, vṛtti, vārttika, and ṭīkā vein. Or, worse, use the same antiquated vocabulary and stylistic devices of the original thinkers with more than just a hint of nostalgia for the good old ways before the (ill-fated) advent of modernity. We’re not doing Indian philosophy to promote Hinduism (or Buddhism) but to pursue knowledge and understanding. Or are we? Last time I checked Jay Garfield is not Bob Thurman, and Jonardon Ganeri is not T. M. P. Mahadevan.

Amod Lele on 5 August 2014 at 12:09 pm said:
I remain boggled that anyone can try to take this approach. Far as I can tell, if you remove anything that can be described as “religious concerns” from Indian philosophy, there’s nothing of importance left. Sure, there are some technical debates on epistemology, but first you do interpretive violence to them, and second, it’s hard to see why anyone would care.
Though there are moments when I’m tempted to argue the same about Western philosophy. Once people get hostile to “religion”, hostility to philosophy is usually not far behind.
Once one has arrived at a position, presumably one wishes to defend it, whatever position that is. If one does believe that a Buddhist position is the truest one, then one would be intellectually dishonest to pretend otherwise; to acknowledge one’s belief in such a case is surely not to relinquish one’s title as philosopher. It is pretty clear to me that Daniel Dennett and John Rawls have clearly staked out doctrinal positions that they wish to defend. Are we therefore not to call them philosophers?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Emerson's influence on Nietzsche, Bergson, and James

Casey on May 27, 2014 at 6:11 pm said: 
Its interesting to tie Emerson into the discussion since he had an influence on James, of course, but also a still surprisingly little appreciated influence on Nietzsche. The emphasize on power seems to obviously reflect some of the same language that Emerson liked to use. I think that Emerson is perhaps in fact Nietzsche’s most important influence, not just in something as simple as the ideas that they shared, but in the style of thinking, what Charles Pierce might call the habits of thought that Nietzsche picked up from Emerson.
Sep 4, 2004 - DAVID MIKICS
The Romance of Individualism in Emerson and Nietzsche Mikics, David, The Romance of Individualism in Emerson and Nietzsche, Ohio University Press, 2003, 263 pp, $49.95 (hbk), ISBN 0821414968.
Reviewed by Steven G. Affeldt , University of Notre Dame
All students of Nietzsche know of his profound admiration for Emerson’s writing. However, as Stanley Cavell has observed, this knowledge has mostly been repressed or ineffective; which is to say that the extent, depth, and specificity of Emerson’s influence upon Nietzsche has remained largely unacknowledged and unassessed. In the course of the past decade or so, owing in large part to the influence of Cavell’s own work on Emerson (and Nietzsche), this situation has begun to change. Emerson’s work has increasingly been taken up philosophically, and students of both Emerson and of Nietzsche have begun to explore systematically the relations between them. While the present study devotes considerably more attention to Nietzsche than to Emerson, it constitutes a provocative and important contribution to this work and enriches our understanding of each of these thinkers. [...]

However, while Emerson and Nietzsche each begin from the bleakest of judgments about the condition in which humans mostly exist (in “The American Scholar” Emerson speaks of humans living as bugs or spawn), their work does not merely condemn nor does it succumb to despair or pessimism. Rather, Mikics argues, their writing is largely devoted to articulating the nature of individuality, exploring why it is mostly not and how it may be achieved, and, through their writing itself, working to enable or provoke that achievement for themselves and others.

Within this shared project, Mikics elaborates many more specific points of contact and traces central aspects of Emerson’s influence on Nietzsche. He warns, however, against too closely assimilating the two. He wishes “to outline a dynamic relation in which Nietzsche struggles with Emerson’s influence and example in order to develop his own path” (p. 2), and he focuses in large part upon articulating what he regards as decisive differences in the ways each understands and seeks the achievement of individuality. His reason for this focus goes beyond the ordinary intellectual scrupulousness that seeks to register differences where they exist, and lies at the heart of the most central and interesting concern of this work.
Jan 3, 2002 - (From Amos Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson: An Estimate of His Emerson's works were well known throughout the United States and Europe in his day. Nietzsche read German translations of Emerson's essays, copied passages from “History” and “Self-Reliance” in his journals, and wrote of the Essays: that he had never “felt so much at home in a book.” Emerson's ideas about “strong, overflowing” heroes, friendship as a battle, education, and relinquishing control in order to gain it, can be traced in Nietzsche's writings. Other Emersonian ideas-about transition, the ideal in the commonplace, and the power of human will permeate the writings of such classical American pragmatists as William James and John Dewey. [...]

Cavell's engagement with perfectionism springs from a response to his colleague John Rawls, who in A Theory of Justice condemns Nietzsche (and implicitly Emerson) for his statement that “mankind must work continually to produce individual great human beings.” “Perfectionism,” › ... › Philosophy › Movements
The great American thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson and the influential German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, though writing in different eras and ultimately ...
George J. Stack - 1992 - ‎Snippet view - ‎More editionsGeorge J. Stack traces the sources of ideas and theories that have long been considered the exclusive province of Friedrich Nietzsche to the surprisingly radical writings of the American essayist and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Jeffrey Church - 2015 - ‎Preview - ‎More editionsBy contrast, in my view, Nietzsche offers the lives of exemplary individuals as the truth about the good life and hence the ... Emerson, Nietzsche speaks of such individuals as “representative men” (Repräsentanten), as expressing the “image of ...
Jean McClure Mudge - 2015 - ‎Full view - ‎More editionsJean McClure Mudge. defeat in World War I, a successful German book mythologized Nietzsche as a pivotal Germanic-Nordic-Greek myth-creator for the German people.73 The next year, a booklet interpreted him as “Prophet” of an extreme, ...

Here are some recommendations of books to read that in some way or other challenge materialism. This is from Dr. Larry Dossey. Among his recommendations, I would particularly cite 
Smith’s “Beyond the Postmodern Mind”, 
Radin’s “Conscious Universe”, 
van Lommel’s “Consciousness Beyond Life”, 
Carter’s “Parapsychology and the Skeptics”, and 
Tart’s “The End of Materialism.” 
Perhaps the best of all – though a challenging read, heavily researched – is Kelley’s "Irreducible Mind.”
Edward F. Kelly, ‎Adam Crabtree, ‎Paul Marshall - 2015 - ‎Preview - ‎More editionsPhysicalism versus quantum mechanics. In Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics (3rd ed., pp. 245–260). Berlin: Springer.

The Emersonian Background of the Bergson-James Controversy
Anna M. Nieddu

13 I refer to the varieties of Emersonian suggestions that, also in Europe, spread out thanks to an exceptionally fast circulation of all the most important works by Emerson, and of Representative Men in particular. This almost immediate circulation is largely owed to the attendant success of Th. Carlyle’s works of 1841, On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, and to the novelty represented by the disagreement expressed nine years later by Emerson in his Representative Men. In this book, the greatness of man is depicted like a potentiality extended to all human beings and every ‘immediate’ theodicy, that foresee some person mysteriously elected by God, is denied. Emerson’s thought on this topic restores the possibility of an ethical approach to the problem of the ‘greatness of men’; an approach that can be found in Bergson as well as in James. In this paper, cross-references to Emerson’s works come from: R. W. Emerson, The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Centenary Edition, ed. by E. W. Emerson, 12 vols. Houghton Mifflin, Boston and New York, 1903-04.

19 The theme of “character” countersigns the reception of Emerson by Nietzsche too. The problem of the relationship Nietzsche-Emerson has almost crossed one century of the historiographical-philosophical search, considerably modifying some relevant interpretative parameters. An exhaustive outcome of this search is given by the book of an Italian scholar; B. Zavatta, La sfida del carattere. Nietzsche lettore di Emerson, Roma, 2004.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pots don't speak how monks live

justinon 10 May 2014 at 3:54 pm said: Thanks for this, Lyone, and my apologies for the late response. My worry with this approach: “The first few centuries of every religious tradition is pretty much the same in this regard: lacking in solid historic data” is that there are sometimes vastly different amounts of solid historical data among religions. So I couldn’t say “All we have is myth, legend, hagiography.” We do have those, but we also have archaeology, historians such as Josephus, linguistic analysis, etc. So I think we can and should do our best to separate out what is strictly claimed within the tradition (especially when the claims just appear much later in the tradition) and ideas and events which can be attested to from multiple sources.

justinon 10 May 2014 at 4:51 pm said: Dear Jayarava – many thanks for all of this. It’s a bit overwhelming in terms of what to try to respond do…
First, I’m not sure claims about “what the Buddha thought” aren’t a priori refutable. The body of texts we have can be used to argue for different interpretations and new texts may still be found to upset the whole thing. As you later stated, Gombrich is definitely a Popperian, so the (also later) point about “what counts as evidence” is really the key problem here. And as you also note, aside from Schopen’s possible contrarianism, the main arguments for distrusting texts come from Postmodernism.
Next, “Schopen in particular has pointed out that were we do have archaeological evidence it contradicts textual evidence –particularly with respect to how monks live and conducted themselves.” I think it’s fairer to say that *some* archaeological evidence contradicts textual evidence, and/or gives us new information. I think we have to be much more circumspect on what evidence Schopen presents and what conclusions he draws from it.
Schopen and others may have upped the game, so to speak, but I hope that in the process they have not also discouraged many great minds from looking at texts and thinking hard about what they mean and meant to Buddhists, past and present.

Tweets @blog_supplement
It is not about whether SSVC had an IndoAryan component or sarasvatI river or date of RV: These are separate even if related problems. Linguistic & philological evidence are superior to archaeological evidence as the latter is way more incomplete & pots don't speak
The core RV & older sections of ancestral AV shows signs of a mobile mixed pastoralist/agricultural society with evidence familiarity with regions closer to the Caspian sea & more northern latitudes than bhArata. The philological+linguistic evidence combined with genetics suggests that IA invasion was not likely product of elite dominance: it was a movement of a sizable population of IA speakers; thus genetic evidence supports not negates AIT hypothesis unlike what is spouted by those unfamiliar with such data in its original form.
Given the population movement & fact that IE appearance in Europe was comparable where autochthons likely overwhelmed, there's nothing wrong calling it an invasion: unlikely that it involved no military aspect at all, especially given that Indoaryans were a mobile warlike people
Willingness of certain Hs to kid themselves without grasp of primary data about autochthonism of original IA is a reflection of a certain intellectual cretinism stemming from the inability to transcend emotionalism while approaching a problem; this could come to bite them in more life-and-death and immediate geo-political issues than the origin of their long dead ancestors

Thursday, March 20, 2014

‘Tradition’ has moved towards less esoteric, intellectual fields

Neevel’s suggestion is that the life-spans of probably already long lives have been prolonged in order to make sure that every important teacher had met the previous one (Nathamuni-Yamuna-Ramanuja…). The life span of Nathamuni has been extended to 300 years in order to put him in touch with the Alvars. It was the way a tradition made its strong belief in their connection into history.

Daniele Cuneo on 19 March 2014 at 11:12 am said:
Hi Elisa, as you might imagine, along lines similar to those you have drawn, I would think of the theoretical developments within Pratyabhijñā (Kaśmīr Śaivism, Trika, paramādvaita or whatever we should call it). Probably very much influenced by Torella’s writings, my take would be that the ‘tradition’ has moved towards a progressive opening up with respect to different, and less esoteric, intellectual fields, social strata, scriptures and the like. Very briefly, and without checking references and stuff, from the world of Somānanda quite close to not only śaiva scripture and crowded with many enemies (famously, Bhartṛhari and the grammarians) and few allies, we move to the much more open intellectual universe of Utpaladeva (in which—for instance—Bhartṛhati has become a powerful ally), carefully constructed in order to debate with all the philosophical schools, in the open, so to say, practically outside the esoteric, only-Tantric circles; then Abhinavagupta systematizes even more the theoretical and scriptural grounds of it all, by coordinating—for instance—the various Tantric strands (Krama, Kaula, etc.) and by further incorporating the dualistic schools in the system; with Kṣemarāja, it seems to me, we witness a further moment of intellectual colonization, with the full inclusion of the Spanda-side of Tantric speculations and the appropriation of dualistic tantras (like the Netra or the Svacchanda) by means of clever commentaries that reinterpret them in a nondualistic framework. So, my general feeling would be that in the span from Yāmuna to Veṅkathanātha something similar was happening, with the gradual conquest of intellectual and social fields to the cause of the new edifice of Viśiṣṭādvaita. But it is just my feeling, very much imbued with my assumption on the social and cultural workings of making philosophy…

Thank you, Daniele. This is also my take on it. I even suggested that the sequence Yāmuna–Rāmānuja–Veṅkaṭanātha resembles the Somānanda–Utpaladeva–Abhinavagupta one (here:

Matthew, thanks for this. I will need more time to assess the value of the book (and will possibly write about it) —which, mea culpa, I did not know. By and large, however, it can be said that the book has a clear thesis (the continuity of the lineage from the Āḻvārs through Yāmuna to Rāmānuja) and that it develops it in an interesting way. Nothing can be said against the solid preparation of its author, although he might be slightly inclined to read the history of Viśiṣṭādvaita ante litteram through the lenses of what came out of it (e.g., by detecting in causal remarks in Yāmuna the seed of later developments). I am, for instance, not in the position to assess the authenticity of the Tamil’s comments embedded in the Divya Prabandham and attributed to Yāmuna, but it strikes me that Narasimhachary does not even address the issue. What do you think?

Sri Krishna Prem on science - This is a letter by Sri Krishnaprem, the unique case of a British professor who became an Indian yogi and eventually a Guru in his own right. He had his as...
I first read this in 1977. Now, 37 years later, I still find it one of the most inspired comments on the limits of modern science. As much as I admire Alan Wallace, whom I consider to be one of the greatest exponents of contemplative science in the world today, I’ve never seen anything in his writings that captures the whole picture as beautifully and as simply as this passage.
I think part of it is that not only was Ronald Nixon (his name before he took sannyas) a brilliant intellectual, but he had a spontaneity of devotion rare among westerners (rare for anybody, I suppose).

There’s a great story about his going to the Mother (of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram) for darshan. When he got to her, She said, “What do you want?” He replied, “To give myself.’
The Mother was known for having the capacity to look into the depths of one’s soul. She looked at Krishna Prem for an unusually long time, and said, “But you have given yourself.”
Without any hesitation, he quietly and sincerely replied, “Not enough.” The Mother later said that those two words impressed Her very deeply.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Maybe we need to ditch the label of “philosophy” altogether

Chris Framarin on 13 March 2014 at 4:19 pm said: Hi Shyam,
I think we should be more open to the possibility that the Yogasūtra (and other seminal Hindu texts) attribute direct moral standing to entities in virtue of their capacity for pleasure and pain (among other reasons). Your argument against this view reads:

One standard account that we find from Hedonic Utilitarians like Peter Singer and Bentham is the idea that someone counts, ethically, if they can suffer (Singer 2012). Animals count because they can suffer. I like the hedonic account, but it has problems. On this account, if I overcome suffering, I would no longer be in the category of things who should be taken seriously. This disincentivises me from overcoming suffering. That’s strange.

Ethan Mills on 14 March 2014 at 5:52 am said:
It seems to me that freedom vs. determinism wasn’t a major issue in the Indian tradition because almost everyone was a compatibilist (or soft determinist). Karma and rebirth simply wouldn’t work without determinism: the whole idea that certain actions inevitably lead to certain consequences seems like some kind of determinism. But it need not be hard determinism, the theory that determinism rules out freedom. A decision to follow the path of a specific school can be free in the sense of being caused by the right sort of desire or mental state, but one need not claim that such a choice must itself be solely caused by an agent (as in libertarian agent causation theories). Compare this with the sort of compatibilism advocated by Hume and Mill.

Now, I’m not saying that any classical Indian philosophers explicitly advocated compatibilism. They didn’t have to. In a tradition driven so heavily by disagreement, there was simply no reason to argue about an issue that almost everyone agreed about. I suspect this has been such a big issue in Western thought because of the religious background: if you can be damned for all eternity for your choices, they damn well better be fully yours. But with karma and rebirth, you simply need to be in a position where you can follow a path to liberation at some point. If it doesn’t happen now, you’ll have plenty more chances in future lifetimes.

andrew ollett on 8 March 2014 at 5:03 pm said:
there is clearly a lot to disagree with here, especially regarding the narrow construal of “philosophy,” which clearly reflects an enlightenment-era ideal of “reasoning without tradition” that is not only western, but even excludes an enormous amount of what had previously counted as philosophy in the west. i will limit my dissent to an obvious point: there may be “theology” and “philosophy” (maybe), but there are not “theologians” and “philosophers.” this is one instance of the myth of the schools, according to which everyone who ever wrote in india was a card-carrying member of one and only one philosophical (or should i say theological?) school. is kumārila incapable of philosophical thought because his primary output was commentaries on a system of scriptural interpretation? instead of kicking every important indian thinker (except for the later naiyāyikas, i guess) out of “philosophy,” we need to change our idea of what “philosophy” is. or maybe we need to ditch the label of “philosophy” altogether, constricting and judgmental as it is, and focus on the history of indian intellectual traditions.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Centenary of Sri Aurobindo's The Life Divine

Tusar Nath Mohapatra on 25 January 2014 at 7:01 am said:
Demarcation between philosophy proper and history of Indian philosophy has been deep since the arrival of Sri Aurobindo in the scene. This year marks the Centenary of his magnum opus “The Life Divine” and other original works like “The Secret of the Veda.” The Evolutionary dialectic of his Integral Ontology seeks to establish a universal template of philosophy that acts as applied psychology as well by suitably incorporating poetic aesthesis. So, not to include him in the list would be an injustice to the future of human civilization and education. [TNM55]

Tusar Nath Mohapatra on 26 January 2014 at 6:16 am said:
Bringing in other names while thinking of Sri Aurobindo is a real problem; so is the period during which he wrote. Most of his books, fortunately, allow us to concentrate on the subject proper and a slim volume like “The Problem of Rebirth” or “Heraclitus” can introduce one elegantly to his philosophical project that dovetails into poetry too.
Though neither germane nor palatable, let me say as a nonspecialist here that it is Sri Aurobindo who has saved the modern day Indians from the tyranny of “Indian Philosophy” by offering an alternative set of literature in English reading which is transformative as well. [TNM55]

Matthew Dasti on 25 January 2014 at 2:37 pm said:
I like how you framed this, Jonathan. In an undergraduate education with some focus on Indian philosophy, there’s only so much time. Given this, I would say you did a pretty good job. I am an Aurobindo fan, but imho, you can be considered literate, on an undergraduate level, in Indian philosophy without ever having read him (or others in his broad category), but not if you haven’t read Nagarjuna, Vatsyayana, or Dignaga, etc.
I would also suggest one more criterion: if a certain school or tradition is deeply important, then one of it’s most important thinkers should be included, to allow for an appropriately wide coverage. On that score, is anybody missing?
Also, you mentioned Vacaspati Mishra, but we don’t read him merely as Vacaspati, but as a commentator on various texts. Which ones were you thinking of? Reply ↓

Amod Lele on 25 January 2014 at 4:07 pm said:
I think lists like this are a marvelous exercise, and I thank Jonathan for posting it. Having said that, I have a lot of problems with the list in its details.
My biggest concern with the list is the relative absence of ethics, especially Buddhist ethics. I think Candrakīrti and Śāntideva need a place here. Which I suppose ties to a related point: that the “enduring impact” of Indian philosophers shouldn’t be judged only on their influence in India, but outside its borders as well. That can mean Tibet, China, Southeast Asia in the premodern period… and it’s another reason to include the likes of Aurobindo in the modern. (Śāntideva never amounted to much in India proper, but he’s among the most important of all philosophers in Tibet.)

Jonathan Edelmann on 25 January 2014 at 7:22 pm said: Hello All, 
Thanks for this interesting and thought-provoking dialogue! Let me first respond to a few points:
1. My knowledge of Jain philosophers is woefully scant, so I appreciate Patrick’s suggestions. My list was only meant to generate discussion. It was partial and surely needs refining. I also appreciate the other names mentioned.
2. I do think there is a rationale for including philosophers like Sri Aurobindo. One might also mention Vivekananda, Ramakrishnan, and Matilal as well. Again, my list was partial. That also brings up another interesting question, however. Does one need to be Indian to be an Indian philosopher? Gerry Larson, for example, has recently published an article ...