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  • A Response to Christopher Framarin
  • Joydeep Bagchee

I thank Christopher Framarin for his response and would like to address three points he raises in this brief rejoinder.

Framarin's book is a self-standing analysis of the central argument of the Gītā, and the reader should take my comments about his papers as additional material in support of the book. In drawing attention to them, my aim was to stress Framarin's long engagement with the subject.

Although Framarin's book deals quite extensively with other texts from the Indian tradition, the Gītā is central to the analysis. In fact, Framarin explicitly turns to the other texts "[a]s a means to answering the second question," namely whether the claim that action entails desire is widely held in the Indian tradition. The reader should not skip the chapters covering these other texts as they entail careful textual work and provide a critical component of the main argument.

Finally, although I have emphasized the epistemological aspect, the question of right action cannot be posed without taking the kind of action itself into consideration. It is implicit that the "fully knowledgeable agent" would not perform certain kinds of actions, and I think Framarin would be in agreement that an intention or purpose is defined as the right one only if it is the one a fully knowledgeable (and [End Page 720] rational) agent would have. In turn, the fully knowledgeable agent has the intention or purpose that brings about the most valuable states of affairs. One could hence express their relation as: an intention or purpose is the right one just in case it is the one that brings about the most valuable states of affairs.

This analysis has significant implications for our evaluation of the Gītā's doctrine of action. Contrary to the criticism that the Gītā raises the question of action from a purely political and hence implicitly self-serving perspective, this analysis demonstrates that the question of action is never as simple as recommending what is politically advantageous to a specific group. This criticism is mostly associated with German Indology, which claims that the Gītā's view on action is propagated, narratively, by a Kṛṣṇa eager to achieve his own political ends and, historically, by Brahmins eager to shape the text to their own ideological purposes—an interpretation we may call the Siegerjustiz (victors' justice) reading in that its underlying assumption is that texts are reshaped by the victors to legitimize their point of view and can be understood exclusively from this perspective. Seen in this light, it becomes in particular clear why German philology sees its historical and destinal mission to be that of deploying a "hermeneutics of suspicion" against the received interpretation.

But there is another criticism of the Gītā associated more with German philosophy: the well-known charge of "quietism," made by, among others, Hegel. Here, too, Framarin's insightful analysis shows that the Gītā's reflection on action is always concrete: although epistemologically sophisticated, it is never merely abstract or lacking practical application.

Let me conclude with some general reflections. Framarin's book is important as one of several new, philosophical interpretations of the text that implicitly challenge dominant Orientalist attitudes. In language reminiscent of the early twentieth century, von Simson dismisses the work of S. K. Belvalkar, the editor of the Critical Edition of the Bhagavadgītā, on the grounds that he is a "devout Hindu" (von Simson 1969, p. 161),1 the implication seemingly being that one cannot simultaneously be a "devout Hindu" and a conscientious scholar. I have already drawn attention to the language employed by Malinar, von Stietencron, and Hanneder in the review. Such unscientific prejudices must be countered through logical argumentation and philosophically clarified methodological approaches, as Framarin has done. The allegedly critical approach of the historical-critical school (in reality, a theological school deriving from 18th century Evangelical theology; cf. Howard 2000) has only one function: to suppress critical reading. In this sense, Framarin's work represents a turn away from a leveled-down and worn-out "hermeneutics of suspicion" to a form of hermeneutics Ricoeuer himself explicitly called for: a...