Śrī Harṣa contra Hegel: Monism, Skeptical Method, and the Limits of Reason


This essay identifies salient points of affinity and divergence in the monistic metaphysics and skeptical methodologies of the German idealist Hegel and the Indian Advaitin Śrī Harṣa. Remarkably, both Śrī Harṣa’s Khaṇḍanakhaṇṇakhādya (ca. 1170) and Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes (1807) attempt to defend a monistic standpoint exclusively by means of a sustained critique of non-monistic philosophical positions. It is argued here, however, that Śrī Harṣa and Hegel diverge sharply in their specific views on the powers and limits of philosophy and on the precise nature of monistic reality. In stark contrast to Hegel, Śrī Harṣa rejects the very possibility of a philosophical justification of monism, since he claims that the non-dual reality of Brahman lies beyond reason. Moreover, while Hegel drives a wedge between thought and empirical praxis, Śrī Harṣa insists that how we think and reason depends on the nature of our mind, which is itself conditioned by how we live.