SV: Origins of the "double-truth"

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at ONLINE.NO
Mon Dec 25 09:06:32 UTC 2000

Bjarte Kaldhol [SMTP:bjartekal at AH.TELIA.NO] skrev 25. desember 2000 00:14:

> Given the 'otherness' of India, even before Buddhism, I would say it is
> very likely that Greek philosophers would have heard about and been
> interested in early Indian thinking. Plato's forerunners Parmenides and
> Pythagoras "smell of" mother India. I do not understand why Plato (fourth
> century BC) could not have heard of Buddhist philosophy? What is wrong
> my dates?

Bjarte Kaldhol here raises an interesting question: to what extent is India
the "mother" of Greek ideas? I would like to point to Bruce Lincoln who in
his book

Lincoln, Bruce. 1986. Myth, Cosmos, and Society. Indo-European Themes of
Creation and Destruction. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England:
Harvard University Press.

discusses the ideas of Parmenides and other early Greek philosophers in an
Indo-European context. As we know, there are at least three ways to obtain
similar ideas in two different areas: 1) the ideas are part of a common
tradition, 2) the ideas have spread from one area to another, and 3) the
ideas have arisen independently in two (or more) different places. Steve
Farmer has given an interesting theory for why 3) happens. Lincoln
discusses criteria for 1) (as against 2)), and suggests that 1) is
indicated by the degree of (linguistic) specificity. If you find formulaic
expressions of great similarity in two traditions, and if these have been
part of the historical development of the language (i.e. subject to sound
laws etc.), then you have a case of alternative 1). Thus Lincoln places
Parmenides and other early philosophers in an Indo-European tradition of
which India also is part. As for 2), we have to consider the likelyhood
that Indian Brahmins were willing to share their more or less secret wisdom
with mlecchas. Some Indian ascetics apparently were (e.g. the
"gymnosophists" that were in contact with Alexander the Great), and the
Buddhists would have few scruples about spreading Buddhism to Westerners.
But we do not have to assume that the early Greek philosophers were
influenced by India. Many of their ideas are demonstrably part of an
Indo-European heritage.

All the best,

Lars Martin Fosse

Dr. art. Lars Martin Fosse
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0674 Oslo
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