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.