The unifying motif of Bimal Krishna Matilal's work is the study of rational traditions in Indian philosophical thought. With his ability to span the divide between the Indian and Western intellectual traditions, he brought contemporary techniques of analytical philosophy to bear upon the issues raised in classical Indian philosophy and, conversely, to highlight the relevance of Indian thought in the modern world.
From analyses of the arguments of the classical philosophers to an evaluation of the role of philosophy in classical Indian society, from critique of Western perceptions of Indian philosophy to reflection on the thought of Indian intellectuals like Bankimchandra and Radhakrishnan, the two volumes bring together rare and landmark essays. This volume includes sections on scepticism and mysticism; Nyaya realism; Indian Buddhism; Sanskrit semantics; and philosophy in India: perceptions and problems. The companion volume, Ethics and Epics, deals with dharma, rationality and moral dilemmas; epics and ethics; pluralism, relativism, and interaction between cultures; ideas from the east; and concepts in Indian religions.
JONARDON GANERI is Recurrent Visiting Professor of Philosophy, kings’s College Longon, and Global Professor, New York University. His writings include The Lost Age of Reason (2011) and the self (2012)
Bimal Krishna Matilal (1935-91) became Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at the University of Oxford and Fellow of All Souls College in 1976, before which he held teaching positions at the University of Toronto for eleven years. He was born in Joynagar, West Bengal, and left for Calcutta at the age of fourteen, where he studied first at the Islamia College and then at the Sanskrit Department of the University of Calcutta. In 1957 he was appointed as lecturer in the Government Sans-krit College. He continued to study Nyaya there with a number of eminent pandits, and under their guidance completed a traditional degree, that of Tarkatirtha, Master of Logic and Argument, in 1962. For some time prior to this, Matilal had been in correspondence with Daniel Ingalls, who suggested to him the possibility of moving to Harvard in order to acquaint himself with the work being done by W.V.O. Quine in philosophical and mathematical logic. Breaking with the tradition in which he was trained, Matilal followed this advice, completing his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1965 having taken Quine' s classes, and continuing his studies in mathematical logic with D. Follesdal. In his doctoral thesis, The Navya-lVyaya Doctrine of Negation. published by Harvard University Press in 1968, he gives voice to his growing conviction that 'India should not, indeed cannot, be left out of any general study of the history of logic and philosophy'. This was to be the first statement of a thesis to the defence of which he devoted his academic life, that our philosophical understanding of fundamental problems is enriched if the ideas of the philosophers of classical India are brought to bear in the modern .
These volumes have a double function. The first is to bring together many articles that have been published before in journals, anthologies and Festschriften. Many of Matilal's articles from before 1985 have al-ready been reprinted, sometimes in a revised form, in his earlier collection, Logic, Language and Reality (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1985; 2nd edition, 1990), and for that reason are not included here. Nor have I included articles which have appeared as chapters in one of Matilal's other books, notably The Word and the World (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990). In the section 'The Provenance of the Essays', I have given details of the original place of publication of all of Matilal's essays, and where they can be found, if not in Philosophy, Culture and Religion then as chapters in one of these books.
The second function of these volumes is to publish for the first time a set of essays on which Matilal was working at the end of his life. Matilal was engaged principally on three projects (I do not include here his preparation of The Character of Logic in India, published by SUNY Press, 1998 and OUP Delhi). One project Epics and Ethics, sought to uncover the dynamic moral theorizing implicit in the epic, narrative and dharma-s'astra literature. This literature, he argues, redresses the classical philosophers' failure to fully discuss moral philosophy. Some essays from this project have already been published, but several are new. A second project was to study the role perceptions India had in the rise of the 'guru culture' of the sixties, in the movements founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Prabhupada and Yogi Bhajan. This project was entitled Ideas from the East, and resulted in the four long essays under that heading in Volume 2. Finally, Matilal had begun work on a new introductory book to Buddhism, in which philosophical ideas were to have a central place. The part he completed is now 17-1 (Essay 17, Volume 1). Several other previously unpublished essays, some of which have their origin as conference papers or talks, are included here too for the first time.
Collected together, Matilal's essays reveal the extraordinary depth of his philosophical interest in India. His reputation as one of the leading exponents of Indian logic and epistemology is, of course, reflected here. Yet those who know of him through his major books in these areas, The Navya Nyaya Doctrine of Negation (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1968), Epistemology, Logic and Grammar in Indian Philosophical Analysis (The Hague: Mouton, 1971), and Perception: An Essay on Classical Indian Theories of Knowledge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986; 2nd edition 1991), may be surprised to discover the range of his other writings. The essays here deal, in general, with every aspect of the relation between philosophical theory and Indian thought: from analysis of the arguments of the classical philosophers to evaluation of the role of philosophy in classical Indian society, from diagnosis of western perceptions of Indian philosophy to analysis of the thought of past Indian intellectuals like Bankimchandra and Radhakrishnan. Matilal, strikingly, is willing to look at a great range of sources for philosophical theory. As well as the writings of the classical Indian philosophical schools, he uses material from the grammatical literature, the epics, dlturtnos' astrus, medical literature, poetics and literary criticism. This eclecticism is no accident but has important methodological motivations. Matilal argues that it is only in the study of such diversity of literature that one can discover the mechanisms of the internal criticism to which a dynamic culture necessarily subjects itself in the process of revising and reinterpreting its values and the meaning of its fundamental concepts, and to be sure that one's own evaluation and criticism is immersed in, and not detached from, the practices and perceptions of the culture (27-1, 28-1). He also observes that a selective attention to particular aspects of Indian culture is part of what has generated a set of myths and misperceptions about Indian philosophy, most notably the popular idea that Indian philosophy is primarily spiritual and intuitive, in contrast to the rational West. Explicitly recognizing this risk of bias produced by selective attention, Matilal extends as widely as possible the 'observational basis' from which his conclusions are drawn (25-1).
While the great majority of the essays appeal to classical Indian sources, Matilal's treatment is neither historical nor philological. He does not engage in the reconstruction of the original Ur-texts, nor in descriptions of the intellectual development of a person or the evolution and chronology of a school. Instead, Matilal approaches the Indian materials with a methodology that is explicitly, if moderately, comparative-philosophical. In one essay (23-1), he describes the aims of this approach in the following terms: 'the purpose of the Indian philosopher today, who chooses to work on the classical systems, is to interpret, and thereby offer a medium where philosophers . . ., both Indian and Western, may converse.' Behind this modest statement lay a bold intellectual programme, a reinterpretation of the relationship between contemporary philosophy and the classical traditions, the main features of which I shall attempt briefly to describe. The history of Indian philosophical studies in the twentieth century has been a history of comparisons, comparisons between Indian philosophy on the one hand, and whatever philosophical system was in vogue on the other. British idealism, logical positivism, neo-Kantian philosophy, the ordinary language school, and many other theories have all been used as counterpoints for a comparison with Indian theory. Matilal, an Oxford philosopher himself, depended mainly on the developments in contemporary anglo american philosophy. Is Matilal's work, then, simply the latest in a long line of fashionable but transient comparisons, this time between Indian philosophy and the western analytical school? Matilal himself responded to this criticism, arguing that, if nothing else, his work was a much needed 'corrective', a way of displacing prevalent myths about the irrational and mystical nature of the Indian philosophers (Perception, pp. 4-5). He also criticized early comparativists for 'misunder-standing the nature and extent of the problem' they were addressing (23-1). The early comparativists were unclear first of all about the purpose of making the comparison, and in consequence rarely got further than merely juxtaposing doctrines, making priority claims in the history of ideas, or, at best, arguing that a doctrine acquires prima facie support if it can be shown to have arisen independently in different places. They could supply, however, no criterion for determining when a point of comparison is significant and when merely superficial. Indeed, the very existence of such a criterion is cast in doubt by J.N. Mohanty's observation that, in practice, 'just when an exciting point of agreement is identified and pursued, surprising differences erupt; and just when you have the feeling that no two ideas could be further apart, identities catch you off guard' (Mohanty, 1993, p. 216). Comparison is always a process of simplification, in which allegedly 'accidental' differences in formulation or context are eliminated, but without a criterion for distinguishing the accidental from the essential, the comparison lacks proper grounding. Another objection to the early approach is that the Indian theories were mostly treated as the objects of the comparison, to be placed in correspondence with some sub-set of western theory, an approach which necessarily denied to them the possibility of original content.
In Matilal's work, on the other hand, the goal is not merely to compare. It is informed, first and foremost, by a deep humanism, a conviction that the classical thinkers should not be thought of as mysterious, exotic or tradition-bound creatures, but as rational agents trying to understand their cultures and societies with as little prejudice as possible: 'we may discover in this way that in the past we were not all gods or spiritual dolls, but we were at least humans with all their glories and shortcomings, their ambitions and aspirations, their reasons and emotions' (24-1). It is this humanism in Matilal 's approach which is brought out in his claim that the comparativist should create the means whereby philosophers of different ages and societies may converse. The point is to establish the prerequisites for a debate or an interaction, something which can sustain, in Amartya S en ' s apt phrase, an 'intellectual connecting' between philosophers and traditions (Sen, 1992. p. 5). The basis for such an interaction is a shared commitment to a set of evaluative principles, norms on reasoned argument, the assessment of evidence and value, rather than to any particular shared body of doctrine. A little like the adhyaksa or 'supervisor' in a traditional Indian debate, the comparativist's role in Matilal's conception is to set out and oversee those ground-rules, adherence to which is a pre-condition for the conversation to take place. The same commitment to rational inquiry can be found elsewhere-for example, in Greek and medieval philosophy, phenomenalism and elsewhere. Matilal's field of expertise was analytical philosophy, however, and so he sought to open the conversation between the classical Indian philosophers and their contemporary analytical colleagues. Where he succeeds so well here-is in charting the philosophical terrain, identifying the salient groups of texts appropriate for the analytical enquiry (most notably, the pramitna-kIstra), and pin-pointing the topics in which Indian theory can be expected to make a substantial contribution. A good example of the latter is the epistemology of testimony, where the extensive Indian discussions have a real prospect of informing contemporary debates. A volume of articles co-edited by Arindam Chakrabarti and B.K. Matilal (Knowing from Words, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1994) brings together the leading Indian and western philosophers in the area, and is an impressive illustration of the sort of philosophical 'interconnecting' Matilal sought for and believed to be possible.
Matilal stresses that it is essential for the modern comparativist to have, in addition to sound linguistic and philological skills, a good under-standing of 'what counts as a philosophical problem in the classical texts' (23-1; cf. Logic, Language and Reality, p. xi). How does one know, when reading a classical text, what is to count as a philosophical problem? Broadly speaking, there have been two sorts of response to this question: those of universalism and those of relativism. Universalism, in its extreme form, is the doctrine that philosophical problems are global, that diverse philosophical traditions are addressing the same questions, and that the differences between them are ones of style rather than con-tent. A more moderate universalism claims only that there is a single 'logical space' of philosophical problems, in which different traditions explore overlapping but not necessarily coextensive regions. Universalists believe that there is a philosophia perennis, a global philosophy, whose nature will be revealed by a synthesis or amalgamation of the ideas of East and West. The opposing doctrine, relativism, states in its extreme form that philosophical problems are entirely culture-specific, that each tradition has its own private conceptual scheme, incommensurable with all others. A more moderate relativism permits a 'notional' commensuration of the ideas of diverse cultures, but insists that the similarities are in style alone, and not content. The doctrines of the East can be made to look familiar, similar enough indeed to seem intelligible; but in substance, they are readically different.
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