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  • Conceptualizing Philosophical Tradition: A Reading of Wilhelm Halbfass, Daya Krishna, and Jitendranath Mohanty
  • Anna-Pya Sjödin

This article takes as its point of departure the question of how Wilhelm Halbfass, Daya Krishna, and Jitendranath Mohanty have conceptualized tradition in relation to “Indian” philosophy. They have all reacted to, and criticized, homogeneous and static conceptions of Indian philosophies, and by articulating different ways of apprehending tradition they have tried to come to terms with such limiting images. My reading of their texts has been informed by a questioning of how they, in turn, conceptualize tradition. Most of all this is related to the tendency, on the one hand, to stress that tradition is open-ended and dynamic but at the same time to speak of tradition as one singular and universalizable phenomenon, sometimes even as a reified phenomenon (“it”). This discussion is connected to a concern of mine regarding how to conceptualize a plurality and heterogeneity while avoiding a reifying, generalizing language. Toward the end I present a reading of the Nyāyasūtra and how the concept of siddhānta could be understood in the light of three of its commentaries. This reading is here framed as the practical and philosophical outcome of the reflections made in the analysis of Halbfass, Krishna, and Mohanty.

Darśana and “Philosophical Tradition” in Sanskrit

The question concerning what terms in Sanskrit would correspond to the concepts of “philosophy” (philosophia) and “tradition” has been discussed at length by Mohanty, Halbfass, and Krishna. Their writings on this topic could be understood as forming an interactive and creative meeting place between Indology as a philological undertaking and Indian philosophy as a philosophical undertaking. In the following I will formulate what kinds of images are drawn within this place and through a critical reading try to take the discussion a step further.

Darśana, in its Sanskrit lexical form, means “seeing,” “looking at,” or “showing”; in a philosophical context it conveys “a point of view” or “perspective.” This term became popular in the late eighth- to tenth-century writings of philosophical compendiums in India. In this genre of texts, which could be called doxographical, the authors described the major tenets of what they sometimes called the darśanas. The term darśana was subsequently taken up and used within the field of Indian and comparative philosophy as a term for the so called six classical orthodox Hindu schools of philosophy in India: Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Sāṁkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṁsa, and Vedānta. This use of the term darśana for Indian philosophy has been contested [End Page 534] and discussed in later Indian philosophy and Indology. Halbfass, for example, has pointed out that the use of the term darśana is somewhat restricted to the doxographical discourse and, moreover, that it sometimes is extended to denote non- Hindu philosophies as well.1

Mohanty’s, Halbfass’, and Krishna’s discussion of darśana and philosophical tradition is centered within the relation between “Indian” and “Western” philosophy. That different conceptualizations of “Western philosophy” are at work in these discussions, both explicitly and implicitly, is a very important fact to be aware of. In short, then, none of these scholars writes in a vacuum; their thought transpires from the complex web that constitutes the relationship, often unequal, between “Indian” and “Western” philosophy. Mohanty utilizes darśana in order to achieve a contrast between a Greek philosophia and an Indian darśana. Halbfass discusses it in the context of a debate over which Sanskrit term should be used for the term “philosophy,” and Krishna questions the very concept of schools of Indian philosophy within the idea of a “philosophy proper.”

Tradition as “Styles of Thought”

Krishna’s is perhaps the most radical and thought-provoking idea regarding tradition. He articulates and critiques three myths about “Indian philosophy”: the myth about spirituality, the myth about authority, and the myth about schools of thought. For him the questions on authority and schools of philosophy are bound together insofar as such an understanding of Indian philosophy implies an understanding of a finished system of thought carrying with it its own corrective framework. This is a thought that follows...