Friday, September 19, 2014

Did Indian Philosophy have an Early Modern Period?

Thus for example the early modern [European] philosopher who perhaps declared his independence from the past most loudly, Descartes, can be shown to have had a significant debt to Augustine, and this even in the work, the Meditations, in which he declares that it is his intention to proceed having forgotten everything he has learned up until this time.

In India, there is no such comparable expression of radical individualism. But Ganeri has compellingly shown that there is nonetheless a complex interplay between innovation and authority that mirrors the conciliatory syntheses going on simultaneously in Europe, even if the rhetoric of innovation is rather more subdued. In the Indian expression of this interplay there was, Ganeri emphasizes, no ‘quarrel of the ancients and the moderns’, that is, no radical rejection of the authority of tradition, nor any bold claim of the superiority of the present age. What there is, however, is a marked decline in deference to the ancients, and a parallel rise in calls to readers to think through philosophical problems themselves. Thus Ganeri cites the 16th century Nyāya philosopher Raghunātha Śiromaṇi, who insists that “these matters spoken of should not be cast aside without reflection just because they are contrary to accepted opinion” (4; Inquiry 1915: 79, 1-80, 3; trans. Potter 1957: 89-90).

One reason why the sort of call for independent thought that Raghunātha expresses here has generally been overlooked, or has not won for Indian philosophy in this period the appellation ‘modern’, is that most philosophers continued to write works of commentary. 
One very significant difference between European and Indian modern philosophy, also emphasized by Ganeri, is the fact that in the former case the shape that philosophy took, indeed the self-consciousness of philosophy as modern, was largely, or nearly entirely, a consequence of the emergence of modern science. There simply is no sense in thinking about modern European philosophy in general without thinking about the way it is shaped by such developments as the decline of geocentrism, the invention of the microscope, the development of key elements of what would later be called the ‘scientific method’, and so on. In India, by contrast, early modern philosophy continued to engage principally with questions of what we would call ‘epistemology’ and ‘philosophy of language’.
Thus, in Europe, the rise of science provoked a break from the past and we see the emergence of a new cultural rank. That didn't happen in India.

H/t, 3QD.

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