Yoga Body, a book by Mark Singleton---Add "dharma"

George Thompson gthomgt at GMAIL.COM
Thu Mar 10 01:38:34 UTC 2011

Dear Shyam Ranganathan,

Thank you for attempting to rescue us from this Humpty Dumpty conundrum that
Singleton has created!


On Wed, Mar 9, 2011 at 10:15 AM, Shyam Ranganathan <shyamr at> wrote:

> Dear all,
> Philipp Maas wrote:
> " In my view, a good example to support the view that there is such a
> radical break between the meaning of "yoga" in Indian philosophies and
> religions and its use in connection with postural modern yoga as to speak
> of
> two different words is a statement ascribed to the actress Julia Roberts
> (
> who allegedly said that she don't want yoga to change her life. Just her
> butt."
> In contrast to a purely linguistic or social scientific approach to the
> issue, I would like to raise a philosophical concern about defining yoga.
> Namely that The meaning of a word is also a philosophical question on two
> fronts. First there is the general philosophical question of what accounts
> for the meaning of a word. Much work in the philosophy of language and
> semantics is on this.
> Secondly, we ought to recognize, I think, that some words are used to
> articulate controversial theses in a debate. Words of a philosophical
> importance are of this sort, I have argued in my day job as an analytic
> philosopher (for instance in my in press 2011 "An Archimedean Point for
> Philosophy," Metaphilosophy 42(4)). For instance, "good," "right," "real,"
> etc., are all of them words employed by thinkers with differing theoretical
> and philosophical perspectives. It would be a mistake to say that the word
> "good" in the history of Western philosophy means different things when
> employed by Utilitarians and Kantians, for instance, for one would
> foreclose
> on the possibility of understanding that "good" operates as a token to
> articulate a philosophical disagreement between moral philosophers. It is
> true that Utilitarians take external states of affairs to be the referent
> of
> "good" while Kantians hold that only the praiseworthy will can be called
> "good." But it would be a mistake to believe that "good" means something
> different for Utilitarians and Kantians for if it did there would be no
> disagreement between them on goodness.
> In Ethics and the History of Indian Philosophy (Motilal Banarsidass 2007),
> I
> argue that contrary to the orthodox approach in Indology, the latter is the
> appropriate stand that we should take towards "dharma" if we want to
> understand the history of Indian moral philosophy. This of course runs
> counter to the tradition of treating "dharma" as a homonym whose semantics
> is catalogued by the speaker-identified-referent. Why ought we to take this
> stand with respect to "dharma"?
> We could, if we wanted to, adopt the more traditional approach in Indology
> by taking the position of a social scientist who has no interest in
> treading
> on historical debates in India: we simply want to describe and explain what
> *they* where talking about. Hence, deciding that Buddhists *mean* something
> different by "dharma" (many different things) from, say, the Smartha, is a
> fine way of not getting involved. And it seems perfectly objective for it
> allows the scholar to retain a type of philosophical agnosticism about what
> "Really Is Dharma" for methodologically she has decided that she is doing
> social science, not philosophy. But this approach to defining "dharma" with
> respect to its designata fails to preserve an important type of practical
> agnosticism, namely the practical agnosticism that characterized the shared
> discourse of Indian philosophy, where people disagree with each other. It
> seems to me that a better way of simply not getting involved in philosophy
> is to attempt to understand a term such as "dharma" as articulating
> theoretical disagreements about what is in fact Dharma. But to do so is to
> treat it as having a single meaning, like "good", across different
> philosophical systems and paradigms.
> I think something of the sort is appropriate for "yoga" as well. If we do
> not adopt such an approach to "yoga" we seem to be allowing Julia Roberts
> to
> decide what is Yoga, by definition. But what counts as yoga it seems to me
> is not something that anyone of us gets to decide, by definition, if it is
> a
> philosophical issue. I'd rather us take this approach to understanding the
> meaning of "yoga" for that allows the question to remain alive: what is it
> that truly counts as yoga?
> In taking this approach I am not denying that we cannot fruitfully define a
> word like "yoga" in terms of what particular theorists or commentators
> believe counts as yoga. Neither am I committed to denying that Julia
> Roberts
> is talking about something different from Patanjali: Patanjlai's conception
> of yoga (Yoga Sutra Book I.2, II.1) is a lot wider than mere tapas. But
> what
> I am suggesting we do is resist the notion that simply talking about
> different things amounts to employing a device with a different meaning. If
> we allow that "yoga" is a philosophically important word, we allow the
> philosophical question to remain open to discussion: whether Patanjali or
> Julia Roberts is right about what is yoga.
> Likewise, historically, while some theorists might draw distinctions
> between
> different types of yoga, it is probably more useful in understanding the
> history of Indian philosophy to regard "yoga" as having a common
> philosophical meaning that allowed theorists to participate in a wider
> debate on yoga.
> Best wishes,
> Shyam
> S. Ranganathan, MA, MA, PHD
> Department of Philosophy,
> York University, Toronto

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