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  • Reason and Experience in Indian Philosophy
  • Alan Preti
Reason and Experience in Indian Philosophy. By Bina Gupta. New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 2009. Pp. xii + 305. Hardcover Rs. 500.00.

In his lecture "Philosophy and the Crisis of European Man," delivered in Vienna in 1935 near the end of his life, Husserl identified ancient Greece as the unique birthplace of a "new kind of attitude of individuals toward their environing world," an attitude that rapidly gave rise to the cultural form the Greeks called philosophia.1 In contrast with the civilizations of India and China, which exemplified the "mythical-religious" attitude associated with a worldview whose interests are practical, "only with the Greeks . . . do we find a universal . . . vital interest in the new form of a purely 'theoretical' attitude."2 This revolution in human thought served to produce an interest in theoria for the sake of theoria, an interest that became the destiny of Europe and Europe alone. The identification of philosophical thinking as a distinctly European phenomenon was not, of course, limited to Husserl, but was a view that gained currency among a number of Western philosophers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries upon their encounter with translations of the original sources of non-Western philosophic and religious traditions.

As a result of such sentiments, Indian scholars of the early twentieth century educated both in India and the West found themselves in an interesting situation: on the one hand, they sought to demonstrate that India was indeed home to a rich tradition of philosophy that was just as logically rigorous as that of the West; on the other, they often accentuated such oppositions as intellect /intuition, theory/practice, and reason/revelation, exalting the latter of each pair as uniquely Indian and as superseding its contrary in value. Thus, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, one of the leading figures in the presentation of Indian thought to the West, consistently characterized Indian philosophy as 'spiritual,' 'practical,' and 'intuitive' throughout his works; reason has its place, but the synoptic intuitive vision is necessary to apprehend truly the object of reason's limited abstract analysis. Such an emphasis, influenced in large part by Vivekananda's neo-Vedānta and found to varying degrees in some of Radhakrishnan's [End Page 273] contemporaries (e.g., M. Hiriyanna and S. N. Dasgupta), was meant partly as a corrective to the West's seeming exaltation of reason with respect to knowledge of reality, and partly to demonstrate the importance, if not the superiority, of the contrary pole of the opposition.

Husserl and his Western contemporaries may perhaps be excused for their lack of familiarity with the Indian tradition (or perhaps not—how could such eminent thinkers have not been more cautious in weighing in on matters which they had not explored more thoroughly?). However the case may be, over the past several decades, even as 'comparative philosophy' has become more widespread throughout the United States, some of the same clichés about the nature of Indian philosophy remain firmly in place—a cursory perusal of introductory textbooks reveals that Indian philosophy is concerned primarily with spiritual liberation; a darśana is a "way of seeing"; reality cannot be known through the intellect, but only through direct experience; and so on. At the same time, Bina Gupta, in her new book Reason and Experience in Indian Philosophy, points out that attempts by contemporary scholars such as Daya Krishna, B. K. Matilal, and J. N. Mohanty to redress the earlier mischaracterizations nevertheless implicitly retain to some extent (although in different ways) the dichotomies mentioned above, and "do not question the use or applicability of such fundamental Western concepts as 'reason,' 'experience,' 'revelation,' 'intuition' etc., in the Indian context" (p. 7). For Gupta, these and other scholars, reading the original Sanskrit texts and writing in English, fell prey to risky interpretations due to the ambiguities associated with such philosophical terms.

Reason and Experience in Indian Philosophy is, in effect, a comparative study in which Gupta seeks to illuminate how the terms just mentioned function (if they do at all) in Indian thought. Are there Sanskrit words for 'reason,' 'experience,' 'revelation,' et cetera? If so, are they used in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1898
Print ISSN
0031-8221
Pages
pp. 273-278
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-26
Open Access
No
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