Sumana Roy, a professor of literature at Ashoka University near Delhi, wrote a wonderful recent essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education identifying significant problems with the way Indian literature is taught, in both American and Indian universities. In American universities Indian literature is expected to represent India, to provide a moral or political message about the country and its political life – and, Roy thinks, this American understanding has then been imported into India itself. When Indian universities teach English-language Indian literature, they are asked questions like “Analyze Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines as a critique of the nation-state” and “Write a note on Velutha as a Dalit character in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things”. Yet in the same departments John Donne is studied as “a metaphysical poet”, Virginia Woolf as “a stream-of-consciousness novelist” and so on. European and American writers, Roy thinks, can be appreciated and enjoyed for their aesthetic qualities; Indian writers are supposed to send a message.Continue reading
A while ago I was contacted by an academic publisher asking me to review a new introductory textbook on philosophy of religion. I didn’t do so, even though the publisher offered me a stipend. The main reason was just that I didn’t have the time for it. But the more interesting reason was my objections to the work’s entire project.
The book’s proposed table of contents spoke of a work devoted entirely to God: the concept of God, and arguments for and against his existence. That is not an idiosyncratic approach; there are many existing textbooks in “philosophy of religion” that take the same approach. So there was nothing especially or unusually outrageous about this textbook and its other. And that is exactly the problem.Continue reading
Jay Garfield and Bryan Van Norden have a widely circulated article in a recent New York Times, chastising American philosophy departments for paying insufficient attention to non-Western traditions of thought. It will surprise nobody that I sympathize with them, since I’ve been trying to get non-Western thought a hearing for years. But in part for that reason, I’ve also been thinking a lot about why it hasn’t got that hearing so far. The reasons for this are not all bad ones, and anyone working to change the situation needs to understand what those reasons are. Perhaps most importantly, they need to ask a vital question that I don’t see asked in Garfield and Van Norden’s article: why should we study philosophy? Continue reading
What is the connection between virtue and pleasure? The question came up in my discussion with Elisa Freschi on the previous post, and is in some respects a central question in the early history of Western ethics. At December’s Eastern APA conference, Lorraine Besser-Jones gave a really interesting talk on Aristotle’s approach to this connection, informed by some discussions in contemporary psychology. For Aristotle, she claimed, pleasure is an intrinsic part of virtue: nobody would call a man generous who does not enjoy acting generously. Besser-Jones wished to dispute this claim, on the grounds that virtuous activity is often not pleasurable. Continue reading
I attended a great panel yesterday at the Eastern APA. Two of the presentations addressed each other directly on a topic I’ve discussed before: skepticism in Indian thought. The presenters, Ethan Mills and Laura Guererro of the University of New Mexico, had clearly been engaged in a longstanding debate with each other on the subject beforehand, which I think helped sharpen their thoughts nicely for the talk.
Mills presented on Jayarāśi, whose Tattvopaplavasiṃha (“The Lion that Afflicts Categories”) is the only extant full text attributed to a member of the Cārvāka-Lokāyata, the atheist and materialist school of ancient Indian thought. But Jayarāśi takes the Cārvāka school’s thought much further than it is usually thought to go. Whereas this materialist school is normally understood to merely deny the existence of gods and karma, Jayarāśi denies the existence of pretty much everything. Previous Cārvākas were said to believe that the world was made up entirely of the four elements; Jayarāśi says, “Even the view of world as elements is not well established. How much less are all the others?” He is, in short, a skeptic. Continue reading
As of now, I will be taking a break from regular blogging for one and a half months. The holidays are a busy time; and afterwards, in January, my wife and I will be taking three weeks’ honeymoon. I won’t be posting much if at all during this time, although I might post something occasionally if inspired. (I intend to attend the Eastern APA meeting this year, since it’s in Boston; I might be particularly moved to write something by events there, we will see. If any of my regular readers/commenters will be coming, let me know and perhaps we can meet.) In the meantime, do feel free to leave additional comments. I’m delighted that the comments on the blog have become so active lately, and I thank all the commenters for their lively participation.
I will return to regular blogging in early February. When I do, my posting schedule will be reduced, from twice a week to once (on Sundays). The main reason: my blog posts have gotten steadily longer. When I began they averaged about 400 words; now they’re closer to 1000. I think this is a good thing overall; 1000 words gives me the space to develop an argument more fully. (I had originally tried to keep posts short out of fear that longer posts would scare an audience away, but this has happily turned out not to be the case.) But two 1000-word posts a week is tough to sustain, so I’m pulling back a bit. I’m hoping the reduction in post frequency might also give me time to develop the blog in other ways – such as redesigning the blog’s visual theme as I had earlier suggested. (No, I haven’t forgotten about that.)
Thank you all for reading, and I’ll see you in February!
Since my post on Pierre Hadot, I’ve come to realize that genuinely philosophical thought today must include elements of the domains usually called “religion” and “science” (and that those two domains must overlap to some degree). Having done a degree in religious studies, I’ve thought through the concept of “religion” a lot – mostly to identify what a misleading category it is, though of course the phenomena it typically points to matter a lot.
But what about science? It’s intriguing to me that for one of the most highly regarded philosophers of science, Karl Popper, the central problem in philosophy of science is demarcation. That is to say, for Popper, the most important thing philosophy of science needs to do is to distinguish science from non-science.
At first this seems an oddly defensive position to take. Compare “philosophy of science” in this regard to “philosophy of religion.” Continue reading