Prof. Amartya Sen

N. Ganesan naga_ganesan at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Oct 19 12:32:34 UTC 1998

A. Sen, the latest Nobel Laureate and a citizen of India
has lots of work on Indology. For example,

1) On interpreting India's past
[in] Nationalism, Democracy and Development, 1997

2) Internal criticism and Indian rationalist traditions
[in] Relativism: Interpretation and Confrontation, 1989.

Happy Diipaavali and Best regards,
N. Ganesan

> From A. Sen, Indian traditions and the Western imagination,
Daedalus, Spring 1997:

"Another interesting example concerns Mill's reaction to
Indian astronomy and specifically the argument for a rotating
earth and a model of gravitational attraction (proposed
by Aryabhatta, who was born in A.D. 476, and investigated by,
among others, Varahamihira and Brahmagupta in the sixth
and sevent centuries). These works were well known in the
Arab world; as was mentioned earlier, Brahmagupta's book
was translated into Arabic in the eight century and retranslated
in the eleventh. William Jones had been told about these
works in India, and he in turn reported that statement.
Mill expresses total astonishment at Jones' gullibility.
After ridiculing the absurdity of this attribution and
commenting on the "pretensions and interests" of Jones'
Indian informants, Mills concludes that it was
   "extremely natural that Sir William Jones, whose
    pundits had become acquqinted with the ideas of
    European philophers respecting the system of the
    universe, should hear from them that those ideas
    were contained in their own books."

 For purposes of comparison it is useful to examine Alberuni's
discussion of the same issue nearly eight hundered years earlier,
concerning the postulation of a rotating earth and gravitational
attraction in the still-earlier writings of Aryabhata and Brahmagupta:
    Brahmagupta says in another place of the same book:
    "The followers of Aryabhata maintain that the earth
    is moving and heaven resting.People have tried to
    refute them by saying that, if such were the case,
    stones and trees would falfrom the earth." But
    Brahmagupta does not agree with them, and says that
    that would not necessarily follow from their theory,
    apparently because he thought that all heavy things
    are attracted towards the center of the earth.

Alberuni himself proceeded to dispute the model, raised a technical
question about one of Brahmagupta's mathematical calculations,
referred to a different book of his own arguing against the
proposed view, and pointed out that the relative character of
movements makes this issue less central than one might
first think: "The rotation of earth  does in no way impair the
 value of astronomy, as all appearances of an astronomic
character can quite as well be explained according to this
theory as to the other". Here, as elsewhere, while arguing against
an opponent's views, Alberuni tries to present  such views
with great involvement and care. The contrast between
Alberuni's curatorial approach and James Mill's magisterial
pronouncements could not be sharper.

  There are plenty of other examples of "magesterial" readings
of India in Mill's history. This is of some practical importance,
since the book was extremely influential in the British
administration and widely praised. It was described by
Macaulay as "on the whole the greatest historical work which
has appeared in our language since that of Gibbon".
Macaulay's own approach and inclinations echoed James Mill's:
    I have no knowledge of either Sanskrit or Arabic ...
    I am quite ready to take the Oriental learning at the
    value of the Orientalists themselves. I have never found
    one among them who could deny that a single shelf of
    a good European library was worth the whole native
    literature of India and Arabia


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