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Indian Philosophy

April 29, 2007

Title: Indian philosophy; an introduction to Hindu and Buddhist thought
Author: Richard King
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press (1999)
Pages: 263

This book gives me refreshing point of view about Indian modes of thinking. We are used to the idea that Indian philosophy is mainly concerned with Hindu religion. The more cynical ones even consider everything that lies east of Suez (‘Occidental’) is not worth mentioned as philosophy as it is not rational.*

Western philosophers before the Renaissance were also concerned with matters which are now considered to be the main field of theologians and psychologists. After the Renaissance ‘philosophy’ is more and more inclined to be a science than a ‘love for wisdom’.

I am pleasantly surprised that the author agrees with me concerning the supposedly-origin of Western philosophy, namely the Greek one. He observed that Socrates and his cohorts never made a sharp distinction between theoretical and practical matters. You need both in order to be a good man in society.

The disctintion between those two in Western philosophy started actually in the post Renaissance era, when the Europeans felt the need to get rid of the restriction of the religious institutions.

The Indians, on the other hand, never had the need to make a differentiation between wordly and spiritual matters. However, there were and are some schools that base their source of knowledge (pramāna) on perception and material matters, and deny the intuitive one (Cārvāka school).

Furthermore, most of the contemporary Western philosophers insist on their pure objective, abstractive way of reasoning. The Indians, on the other hand, are more honest and realistic. They admit that it is inevitable that one speaks from a particular perspective (darśana).

I, in particular, am charmed by the inferential proof of Nyāya school:
1. Pratijñā – the statement, premise or position that is to be established (sādhya)
2. Hetu – the cause or reason for the statement
3. Udāharana – the example
4. Upanaya – the application of that example
5. Nigamana – the conclusion

The illustration goes like this:
1. This hill has fire
2. Because it has smoke
3. Since whatever has smoke has fire, e.g. an oven
4. This hill has smoke, which is associated with fire
5. Therefore, this hill has fire

Compare with Aristotelian syllogism:
1. The statement or major premise (Smoke is always a sign of fire)
2. The minor premise (This hill has smoke)
3. Conclusion (Therefore, this hill has fire)

Some may argue that the ‘slimmer’ Aristotelian suffices to proof your argument. However, the Indians go much further that merely testing the soundness of the logic. They place emphasis on empirism. Inference cannot occur on an empirical vacuum, it must remain at leas hypothetically verifiable in some manner if it is to have any validity.

Last but not least, to think that Indian philosophy is one homogenic mass of Hindu-oriented religious mode of thinking is a big misconception. Buddhist and Jain traditions also exercise their influence on Indian philosophy. It is also false to think that everything ‘Oriental’ is irrational, you could even say that some of them are even more ‘positive’ than the ‘Occidental’ thought. India has indeed a rich and heterogenous tradition of philosophy.

*If you are interested in the history of the coining of the terms Occidental-Oriental, then I suggest you should read Orientalism by Edward Said.

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