Indian Philosophy and Western Philosophy


Question

How does Indian philosophy interface with Western philosophy? Why isn’t Indian philosophy usually taught in Western philosophy departments?

Answer

H.D. Goswami Profile Picture

For those interested in Indian philosophy and how it interfaces with Western philosophy, and general Western assumptions about what constitutes, philosophy, and why Indian philosophy usually isn’t taught in Western philosophy departments, “Indian Philosophy: An Introduction to Hindu and Bhuddist Thought” by Richard King is an excellent resource.

I studied this book in 2008 to help prepare for the course I taught at the U. Florida. Especially the introduction of this book has an outstanding analysis of the prejudices and limitations in the Western notion of philosophy, and how that informs the Western view of Indian philosophy. The Intro also gives valuable general reflections on what we could call the history of the social, cultural and epistemological role of philosophy in the West.

For example, the author summarizes the well known history that many centuries ago, ‘philosophy’ referred to the learned, rational investigation of any aspect of reality. Thus what we now call ‘science’ was then called ‘natural philosophy.’ That’s why to this day, the highest degree in biology, geology, etc is called a Doctor of PHILOSOPHY.

With the explosive rise of science, it peeled off from philosophy and became its own powerful discipline.

With the rise of secularism and anti-religious “intellectualism”, philosophy divorced itself from theology, once the centerpiece of the great universities.

Having lost science and rejected serious metaphysics, philosophy then focused on the human mind, but the new and quickly rising field of psychology stole the lion’s share of that field from philosophy. This trend has accelerated with the modern emphasis on finding a neurological and general physiological and even sociological basis for mental states.

Finally, in search of a raison d’être, a reason for being, philosophy began to focus on language itself, with Wittgenstein et al. Since all other disciplines express their findings through language, if philosophy could control and regulate the proper use of language, they would restore their relevance. This coincided with an idea of some relevance-seeking academic philosophers that philosophy could become a type of meta-discipline that evaluates and passes judgement on the language-use and logical cogency of all other disciplines. Thus in a sense, academic philosophers wold become Reason’s gatekeepers.

The question here though is, “How many people are really listening to the gatekeepers?” Also, “Who manages the gatekeepers?” who tend be intellectually incestuous and blind to meta- issues in their own discipline, precisely for being so weak in metaphysics.

As I mentioned, the leading Indology sites seem entirely oblivious to philosophy in general and certainly to Western philosophy professors as arbiters of rational discourse. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, scientists tend to be unaware that there even is such a thing as philosophy, and therefore usually don’t realize they are promoting a specific philosophy, materialism, in the name of science and often making silly arguments in the process.

As I often say, even if you don’t study psychology, you have one. And even if you don’t study philosophy, you have one. Just as those who know something of psychology can recognize their own, ditto for philosophy.