non-western philosophy as NOT philosophy

Dipak Bhattacharya dbhattacharya200498 at YAHOO.COM
Fri Jun 8 03:55:21 UTC 2012

8 6 2012
Dear Colleagues,
My experience with teaching had
some points of similarity with that of Madhav. I solved it in my own way and
never by abstract synchronic comparison of ‘Western’ and ‘Indian’ philosophy. I
request colleagues to regard the following lines not as forming a lecture but
as part of a dialogue that shares experience.  
It was a strong point of nineteenth
century Western Indologists that both art and philosophy in India were subservient
to religion and, hence, not true philosophy. Being themselves highly religious
minded most of the Indian scholars who wrote on Indian philosophy, perhaps, thought
it impious to deny the integral relation between philosophy and religion in
India. The consternations caused by the use of derogative terms like ‘hand maid
of religion’ caused the production of some counter supercilious claims like those
of Coomaraswami but these were hardly comprehensive and consistent enough as guide. 
There are examples of secular
approach to philosophy like that in the Nāsadīya hymn (RV 10.129) or the one
found in Jayarāśibhaṭṭa’s Tattvopaplavasiṃha or in the views of the Cārvāka
school cited by others but they did not contribute to the mainstream. Only Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika contributed to the mainstream but its
eventual surrender to religious philosophy is a fact belonging to till now
unwritten history.
It is the existence of those secular
philosophical trends and, perhaps, also the compulsions of the situation that
made me teach my students that the common point between secular philosophy (atheism
according to Islamic terminology) and religious philosophy is that ultimately
none is pure search for truth. We cannot ignore the fact that Cogito, ergo
sum was the inspiration behind the many ground breaking thoughts that appeared
post-renaissance.  The Cartesian
influence is very evident in post-modern writings too. Religious philosophy is salvation
oriented while the secular one leads to worldly pursuit. Both are guides to
The impression that philosophy is
secular in the West and religious in the East is produced by deliberate
ignorance of the medieval thought in the West. Did Thomas Aquinas belong to the
East? It is a short period of urban dominance that produced Aristotle but its decline
gave rise to Plotinus. Again, it is the same urban ascendancy that produced
modern secular philosophy in the West. If one minutely looks at the
developments in India one will find that a lot of similar secular thoughts rose
during urban dominance in India.
Will this experience count with

 From: "Deshpande, Madhav" <mmdesh at UMICH.EDU>
Sent: Friday, 8 June 2012 7:31 AM
Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] non-western philosophy as NOT philosophy
Having taught the Introductory class for Indian Philosophy for a number of years at the University of Michigan, I find that most of the students in the class are second generation South Asian students, and they know neither Indian nor Western philosophy, and hence my class becomes a basic introduction to philosophical thinking.  I have to try to distinguish the Indian Philosophy class from my Introduction to Hinduism, and try to explain the distinction between religion and philosophy, which is also a difficult distinction for the students.  Would appreciate suggestions for introductory readings that would make this distinction between philosophy and religion.


Madhav M. Deshpande
Professor of Sanskrit and Linguistics
Department of Asian Languages and Cultures
202 South Thayer Street, Suite 6111
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104-1608, USA
From: Indology [INDOLOGY at] on behalf of John Taber [jataber at UNM.EDU]
Sent: Wednesday, June 06, 2012 5:50 PM
Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] non-western philosophy as NOT philosophy


The idea that philosophy is a distinctively, even exclusively, European phenomenon finds systematic expression in the continental tradition (as Victoria Lysenko notes in her fine lecture): Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger, in particular. (Nietzsche was a special case.) Wilhelm Halbfass offers insightful and nuanced discussions of their views in "India and Europe," Part I. I think one of the best "proof texts" for this position is Husserl's "Vienna Lecture" (1935), contained as an appendix in "The Crisis of European Sciencs and Transcendental Phenomenology." (Perhaps Matthew Kapstein and Jonardon Ganeri mention this text as well; at the moment I am not where I can check.) It makes for interesting reading, especially when read together with the "Crisis"; certainly, it is not complete nonsense. The strength of Halbfass' work is that he is both critical of this tendency and determined to understand it. The disparaging of Asian thought in the analytic tradition is
 more anecdotal, and usually takes the form of complaining that Asian philosophy is lacking in worthwhile arguments, i.e., arguments that can be employed in solving problems in contemporary analytic philosophy. B. K. Matilal (the pioneer) and now many others have tried to dispell this impression, but I think with mixed results.

Yours truly,
John Taber
Philosophy Department
University of New Mexico

On Jun 4, 2012, at 9:51 AM, David Fiordalis wrote:

Dear colleagues,

On Sun, Jun 3, 2012 at 10:16 PM, <mkapstei at<mailto:mkapstei at>> wrote:
Some Indology subscribers may be interested in the
following, from the electronic edition of the New York Times:

As someone who will be teaching an intro course called "Philosophy East and West" this coming academic year, the article Justin Smith published in<> resonated with me. I'm glad that Matthew Kapstein posted it to this list.

This may not be the most appropriate forum to ask, but given the wide reading of the members of this list, maybe some will have good suggestions to the following query. I'm currently looking for are clear, accessible statements -- proof-texts if you like -- from Western philosophical literature of the claim that non-western philosophy (Indian, Chinese, Islamic, African, etc.) is not philosophy or is otherwise lesser in some respect. Most often, this is an implicit assumption or one easily follows. I'm looking for a few choice quotes or short readings that will make an impact undergraduates with little to no prior exposure to the issue.

Thanks for any suggestions you might have.


David Fiordalis
Linfield College

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list