Saturday, December 20, 2014

What is "History of Philosophy"?

Since my lengthy comment at the Indian Philosophy Blog is practically a post, I'll reproduce it here. It's in response to Matt Dasti asking:

So, what makes something “history of philosophy’ such that it need be distinguished from some other way of framing it (e.g., simply epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, or the close study of this or that thinker)? Is there a good set of criteria, or at least rough guidelines that work? Or must we simply come to the same conclusion we do with many labels or concepts: they are simply a shorthand that we use, knowing full well that they are sloppy and problematic, but for which there are no easy substitutes or fixes. Or, finally, is this distinction between history of philosophy and philosophy proper pernicious and akin to other sorts of problems that the cosmopolitan impulse seeks to shun?

There’s a nice collection of essays on this topic published by OUP: Analytic Philosophy and History of Philosophy. Gary Hatfield has written a piece called “The History of Philosophy as Philosophy” which argues that analytic philosophy has, in actuality, been more “historical” than philosophers with “anti-historical” attitudes would have it. He then sets out a few ways in which we use past texts (and explores them in the context of history of early modern philosophy):

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Classification of "schools" in Indian philosophy

I've been re-reading Daya Krishna's articles collected in the 1991 Indian Philosophy: A Counter Perspective. His essays, "Three Myths about Indian Philosophy", originally published in 1966, makes points that are still relevant today. One them, which is becoming increasingly recognized as a myth, though yet not sufficiently so, is the idea that the darśana-s or "schools" of Indian philosophy are rigid distinctions easily attributable to some combination of (1) attitude towards the Vedas and (2) fixed philosophical commitments.

I recommend the entire article, but here is a nice excerpt:
Indian philosophy is divided first into 'orthodox' and the 'unorthodox' schools, and then these are subdivided into Buddhism, Jainism and Cārvāka on the one hand, and into Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Sāṁkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta on the other...There is no such thing as final, frozen positions which the term 'school' in the context of Indian philosophy, usually connote. If 'schools' change, developed, differentiate and divide, then they are never closed, finished or final with respect to what they are trying to say. There could, then, be no fixed body of Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Sāṁkhya, Mīmāṃsā, Vedānta, Buddhist, Jain or Cārvāka except in a minimal sense. These would, on the other hand, rather be styles of thought which are developed by successive thinkers, and not f ully exemplified by any. Nor would these styles be treated as exhausted by any group or groups of thinkers belonging to any particular historical epoch.
This passage came to mind as I was reading the opening paragraphs of Anantalal Thakur's "Influence of Buddhist Logic on Alaṁkāra Śāstra", which says:

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Classroom Salon: Teaching Engaged Reading

It's a common complaint among college instructors that students just don't read. Or, if they do read, they don't read well. At the same time, most of us don't teach students how to read in our classes. The reasons we don't? We have a lot to cover and teaching reading would take time away from content. They should already know how to read; they're college students, after all. Sometimes the very motivated among us will take a few minutes in a class session to go over a passage, showing students how they should be engaging.

This summer, after attending the 2014 AAPT/APA Seminar on Teaching and Learning in Philosophy, I became convinced that I needed to revise my approach to teaching students philosophy if I wanted them to read and read well. The approach was two-pronged, and in this post, I talk a little bit about my reasoning and the results in an intro-level World Philosophy course.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Chart of "Eastern Philosophy"

I'll reproduce here a comment I left on Daily Nous about the newest chart of philosophy from a website called "Super Scholar." The chart is not good, for a number of reasons, from its selection of philosophers and relative emphasis (spending significant detail on Indian philosophy but not East Asian, Islamic, etc. leaves one with the impression that the latter are lacking in development, which is absolutely not true). I chose to focus on the section on Indian philosophy in my comment, which I encourage anyone who may be thinking about using this chart for research to read.


First, this chart would be better served not treating “Eastern philosophy” as a single discrete category. That would allow more space for properly treating the vast histories of philosophy in India, China, Japan, Korea, and so on. 
Second, in terms of its treatment of Indian philosophy, I am puzzled by the omission of the Grammarian tradition (Pāṇini, Patañjali, Bhartṛhari…) as well as the Nyāya, who are only represented as “Vaisheshika” in two terminal nodes, oddly characterized only as a “logical system to prove the Veda” (their concerns were much more wide-ranging). Similarly, Mīmāṃsā (note diacritical marks missing in the chart) is given only a single terminal node with Jaimini in 250 BCE, as if he is the last word and not the beginning! These three–Grammar, Nyāya, and Mīmāṃsā–are central to the “āstika” (so-called “orthodox”) tradition of Indian philosophy, and ought to be given more representation. One would be forgiven, reading the history of Indian philosophy in this chart, for thinking that the history of Indian philosophy is primarily Buddhism, which it is not. 
With just these problems noted–and there are more, but I think the point is clear–as well as the spelling errors throughout (“Patanjali” instead of “Patañjali”, “Vedanta” instead of “Vedānta”), I think they ought to go back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Mukulabhaṭṭa and pragmatics in Indian philosophy


Mukulabhaṭṭa was a ninth-century Kashmiri thinker who wrote a critical response to Ānandavardhana’s important Dhvanyāloka. Mukula’s only extant work, the Abhidhāvṛttamātṛkā (Fundamentals of the Communicative Function) is a study of literal and non-literal meaning, but his work straddles genre boundaries, including recognizably alaṃkāra-śāstra themes within a broader epistemological and linguistic framework. His work, though influential for Ālaṁkārikas who follow him, such as Mammaṭa, has not been given significant attention by modern scholars until relatively recently, most notably in Larry McCrea’s The Teleology of Poetics in Medieval Kashmir.

Lakṣaṇā as Removing Apparent Incompatibility

(1) “gaur vāhīkaḥ.” (“The peasant is a bull.”)
(2) “gaṅgāyam ghoṣaḥ.” (“The village is on the Ganges.”)
(3) “pīno devadatto divā na bhuṅkte.” (“Fat Devadatt does not eat during the day.”)

According to Mukulabhaṭṭa, all of these expressions have something in common: their full meaning is understood through lakṣaṇā, often translated as “indication.” ... [Read the full post at the Indian Philosophy blog.]

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Some recommended blogs

It's been over a year since my last blog post. Between my dissertation defense scheduled in two months (November 21), preparing for the job market, and teaching responsibilities, I don't have time to resume regular blogging, although I just wrote a blog post which will appear elsewhere.

That post will appear at some point on the Indian Philosophy blog, and I thought I'd take the time to recommend it, along with a few others relevant to language and philosophy:
  • The Indian Philosophy Blog: quite a long list of contributors on this group blog, and established scholars engage with junior faculty in comment threads. It's a great place to hear about new research. Recently Elisa Freschi gave summaries of some conferences she attended, which was very valuable.
  • Language Log: also a group blog, the topics here range from funny "crash blossoms" in the news to reflections on contemporary research in linguistics. It also has tends to have valuable comment threads.
  • Angelika Krazer's Semantics Notebook: while not updated frequently, it's a rich read, focusing on current research.
  • Finally, Futility Closet describes itself as an "idler's miscellany of compendious amusements" but it includes short excerpts from philosophy papers, logic puzzles, math problems, as well as amusing anecdotes. It's a good resource for teaching.