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  • Response to Joydeep Bagchee's "The Bhagavadgītā:Philosophy versus Historicism
  • Christopher G. Framarin

My thanks to Joydeep Bagchee for his review of my book in this issue of Philosophy East and West. Here I will respond to some of his objections, and offer some points of clarification. First, I want to say something about Bagchee's claim that the earlier papers in which I worked out some of my thoughts on the issue of desireless action are relevant to understanding the book. Bagchee seems to mean this as a criticism, since he says,

Each chapter marks a new ingress into the problem. This only becomes clear when one looks at the way Framarin develops the individual approaches in his papers, because he unfortunately does not always spell out the consequences of his moves in the book.

I assume that the consequences that Bagchee would like me to elaborate have to do with the implications that my interpretation of desireless action has for soteriology and ethics. If this is right, then this is a fair criticism. My previous papers on this subject are not of much help here, though, and I worry that readers of the review will get the impression that the book cannot be understood in its own right. Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 7, along with all three appendices, are new, and chapters 5 and 6 diverge significantly from the papers from which they were developed. The book as a whole, I hope, is much more fluid, thorough, and consistent than the papers. The book represents my considered position, whereas most of the papers do not. I would encourage anyone who is interested in my view on this topic to read the book rather than the articles, and not feel as if the articles supplement the book in some way.

Second, I think Bagchee is correct to criticize the lack of integration between the chapters and the appendices. Chapter 5 should be read with appendix 1, and chapter 6 should be read with appendices 2 and 3. If I had to it all over again, I would begin each of these chapters with this advice to the reader. There is a lot of material in the appendices that is not covered in the corresponding chapters, and vice versa, and my interpretations of these texts are more plausible in light of the running commentary that I offer to the relevant passages in the appendices. The appendices demonstrate that I have not simply cherry-picked evidence in favor of my view. I am able to sustain the interpretation through a reading of the passages in their entirety.

Third, I want to clarify Bagchee's summary of my critique of the so-called "belief-desire theorist" who claims that all action is motivated by both a belief and a desire. My point in chapter 1 is that even if the claim that desire is a necessary condition of [End Page 718] action is true, it is not so obviously true that it should serve as a constraint on interpretations of desireless action. Since contemporary philosophers continue to debate whether desire is a necessary condition of action, it is simply false that classical Indian authors must have thought that desireless action is impossible. Yet most of the contemporary authors who write on desireless action assume just this. They say, "the Indian traditions advocate desireless action. But desireless action is impossible. Therefore the advice should not be taken literally." It is not until chapter 7 that I attempt to refute common Western arguments for the claim that desire is a necessary condition of action. Bagchee, however, implies that I refute the belief-desire view in the first chapter simply by drawing the distinction between an agent's reason or purpose and desire. A belief-desire theorist might acknowledge this distinction, however, without abandoning her position. So "refuting the common sense [that is, belief-desire] view" is not as "straightforward" as it might seem.

Fourth, Bagchee seems to characterize my view, at one point, as the view that "it is not what one performs, but the state of mind or the knowledge out of which one performs the action that is decisive." I...