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  • In Search of Affinities:Knowledge and Action in Indian Thought
  • Douglas L. Berger
Indian Philosophy and the Consequences of Knowledge: Themes in Ethics, Metaphysics and Soteriology. By Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2007. Pp. xiv + 176.

In Indian Philosophy and the Consequences of Knowledge: Themes in Ethics, Metaphysics and Soteriology, his newly-released contribution to the fields of Indian and cross-cultural philosophy, Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad offers a collection of essays published over the past eight years exploring important ethical, epistemological, and soteriological issues in Jainism, the Brāhmiṇical darśanas, and Indian Buddhist thought. The very broadly construed theme that unifies the essays in this collection is an explication of the various uses of knowledge articulated in the Indian tradition. This explication, Ram-Prasad tells us, is "about both conducting a purely intellectual study of reality and seeking some higher end that this study is held to secure" (p. xi). That the pursuit of knowledge is conceived as meaningful in classical India in order to attain some "higher end" is a perfectly valid focus for any study of this philosophical tradition. What makes Ram-Prasad's collection especially valuable is the clarity with which this focus is trained on fundamental and defining problems that the tradition struggles with, and how the analysis of these problems by classical Indian philosophers still holds great value for contemporary reflection and discussion. As Ram Prasad himself points out, the value of studying Indian philosophy lies not merely in giving a precise linguistic and conceptual interpretation of ancient Saṇskṛta texts nor in constructing some abstract apologia for the genuinely philosophical character of Indian thought (p. xii). The value of Indian philosophy for us lies in understanding its continued relevance to persistent human problems and aims. Ram-Prasad's essays succeed in revealing this relevance with the characteristic felicity and svayaṃprakāśattva "luminosity all his own," that we have come to expect from his works.

The book's first essay, "Multiplist Metaphysics and Ethics," recasts the fundamental Jaina philosophical notions of syādvāda ("conditionality"), anekāntavāda ("multiplicity"), and nayavāda ("circumscribed schemas") in order to build a reflective and attitudinal nonviolent "multiplist" engagement toward the "Other" (p. 13). Though he follows the classical Jain authors Mahāvīra, Kundakunda, and Siddhasena in giving precise formulations of these concepts, Ram-Prasad repeatedly emphasizes that the goal he is after in this reconstruction is "affinity" with the Other, a goal not found in the Jaina literature but one not incompatible with Jain principles (p. 43). The modern discursive context within which this search for affinity takes place [End Page 583] is one that deals with the cultural, intellectual, and religio-ethical "Other" in terms of three alternative strategies that have ultimately proved ineffective. The strategies have been "homogenization," in which the Other is to be overcome through overt physical violence or cultural coercion; exclusion, in which the other is marginalized and neglected; and pluralism, in which one nonviolently acknowledges otherness by "tolerating" but not sympathetically engaging with its difference (pp. 5–11).

The "multiplist metaphysic" of Jainism offers us a more active form of nonviolent engagement with the Other through a philosophical justification of the Other's worldview that renders it an indispensable perspective on reality. It will not do, as conventional interpretations of the logical formulations of syādvāda have done, to understand Jaina philosophy to be claiming that the complexity of reality lends itself to only apparently contradictory points of view. This would only minimize contradictions between views by resolving epistemic disagreements through adequate predication (pp. 15–16). Relativistic construals of syādvāda cannot successfully depict true contradiction of views either, for they deny that the putatively contradictory views are being asserted about the same reality (pp. 25–29). The limbs of logical conditionality according to syādvāda claim alternatively of a thing that is p, not p, is non-simultaneously p and not p, simultaneously p and not p, or combinations of these, and thus is a depiction of irreducible conflict.

This brings us to the second principle of anekāntavāda, which asserts that between contradictory views, for example of Brāmiṇical...