The Daily Naiyāyika?

Over the last week, debate has been in the news, or at least The Atlantic and Twitter. After writing an article on a "new field" called "erisology," Atlantic writer Jesse Singal was taken to task on Twitter by a number of philosophers for ignoring philosophical contributions to theories of argumentation (Daily Nous discussion of the article is here). Then, a few days later, he was the target of criticism for his remarks about the value of debating people who hold odious views, apparently implying that former African slaves in the United States were involved in debating slaveholders. Most recently, Agnes Callard has written about whether philosophy is "fight club," saying, "What could be better than a good old-fashioned philosophy battle?" and "Fighting, done right, is a form of inquiry."

What does this have to do with Indian philosophy?
In the spirit of Matt Dasti's recent post about public-facing philosophy, and Edith Hall's arguments for public philosophy on the basis of the Ancient Greeks, I think it's worth raising the question of what public philosophy with Indian (and more broadly South Asian) sources could look like. This semester I've been teaching students about vāda and anumāna in early to classical Nyāya and Buddhist philosophers, as well as the Upaniṣads and Caraka Saṃhitā. They have made connections with debates occurring in their own lives, other courses, as well as the public sphere.

Not only do they now have some formal tools for evaluating arguments, they have thought about the ethics of using sophistic arguments to defend the truth, they have considered under what conditions its prudent to enter into a debate, and most broadly, they've thought about what debate is, what it is for in a personal and societal sense, and how to engage in debate with people whose norms of debate and reasoning  differ from yours, questions predating "erisology." They've considered whether philosophical debate should be a debate for the truth or agonistic, or whether those categories aren't so very different--questions that Nyāya philosophers took up well before Agnes Callard. Of course,  because these ideas predate our current inquiry doesn't mean that they are better (or worse). It's just worth keeping an eye out for others who have gone before us, in case they've cleared a helpful path.

Given how fruitful this course seemed to be for my students, and how many connections I was seeing with contemporary issues, I began to wonder about strategies for, and the implications of, bringing broader attention to Indian reflection on reasoning and debate. While perhaps Nyāya philosophy will never be as pervasive as Stoicism, given that interest in debate is seeing a resurgence--although in new forms like Twitter threads, YouTube videos, and so on--is there room for something like the Daily Stoic for Nyāya? Is there a way to bring the Buddhist Asaṅga's reflections about norms of speech to people who want to to live a Buddhist life, but an "engaged" one? Or are the texts too inaccessible in existing translations? Are they too embedded in their cultural/religious context?

I haven't had the chance to work these thoughts out fully, but my intuition is that the cultural/religious nature of Indian philosophy could cut both ways. On the one hand, for (typically left-leaning, US-located) people who are attracted to things "Eastern," the idea that Indian philosophers had something to say about karma and yoga as well as logic, could be mind-blowing. It could lend a sort of exoticist initial intrigue which later leads to genuine appreciation. On the other hand, while it is easy for modern (think now, typically white and US-located) readers to abstract away from the ancient Greek cultural context, and think of Stoics as people just like themselves, but with togas, it is harder for them to do so when the people are brown-skinned and in "the East." The religious nature of Stoicism is easily co-opted into a modern godless Stoicism (though there are arguments about this) whereas I'll bet if we try to teach the "Hindu Syllogism," to most hearers, the term will have a religious connotation that "Stoic Syllogism" would lack.

Perhaps the most effective thing for professors like myself is to continue teaching Nyāya and Buddhist thought in the classroom, but making sure to develop connections between these texts and students' lives. That's not to say that thinking for its own sake isn't valuable, or that we shouldn't aim to awaken an intrinsic love of learning in our students. But these texts themselves make connections to the political and personal. Arguments happen among intimate partners (Draupadī and Yudhiṣṭhira), in courts in front of kings (Nāgasena and Milinda) between religious groups (plenty of examples in Jayanta Bhaṭṭa's Āgamaḍambara), and elsewhere. Though thousands of years have enabled those debates to cross miles in an instant, we're still struggling with so many of the same questions--why not look back in time for some help?

But, really, what about a "Daily Naiyāyika"? Would it fly?


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