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  • Caring to Know:Response to Commentators
  • Vrinda Dalmiya (bio)

It is a privilege to have such extensive engagement with one's work as in the responses of Linda Alcoff, Eva Kittay, Keya Maitra, and Nilanjan Das. I am sincerely thankful for the intellectual generosity and thoughtfulness of their critiques. Before responding to their specific concerns, however, I lay out the general argument of Caring to Know in broad strokes to serve as the common backdrop to their comments.

The central idea of Caring to Know is that notions of 'knowing well' are intertwined with ideas of 'living well,' and so epistemology is linked with ethics and politics, and epistemic normativity is reconfigured to involve goodness and justice. Of course, reference to moral concepts when delineating epistemic concepts is not new. Feminists like Naomi Scheman (2001), for instance, speak of objectivity in terms of trustworthiness; Sally Haslanger claims that an epistemically valuable cognitive disposition is one "that figures in a kind of (moral, autonomous) agency that is intrinsically good" (Haslanger 2012, p. 357), and of course Miranda Fricker's (2007) influential work on epistemic injustice alerts us to how power can distort the functioning of epistemic norms of credibility and meaningfulness. In the Sanskrit Mahābhārata also, we see thirteen ethical dispositions like non-violence, [End Page 879] shame, and equanimity listed in answer to the straightforward epistemic query "What is truth? and How do we get it?" Thus, the blurring of epistemological and ethical borders by contemporary feminists is echoed in the completely different sociocultural time and context of the Classical Indian epic. The book attempts to mine the possibilities arising out of such a convergence in what can be called "comparative feminist philosophy."

Of course, there are different visions of living well and of knowing well both in feminist theory and Mahābhārata interpretations. In bringing them together, Caring to Know speaks of the former in terms of care ethics and of the latter as the virtue-theoretic perspective in theory of knowledge. Consequently, the book intertwines the moral virtues of care with the intellectual virtues of truth-seeking, and such a "care-based epistemology" is said to account for politically robust forms of both caring and knowing. In the comparative framing of the project, then, the Mahābhārata's vision of living life according to Dharma must speak to issues in both care ethics and virtue epistemology, and therefore the epic can intriguingly (and arguably) contribute to a feminist care-based virtue epistemology in spite of being a patriarchal text.

The claim that the Mahābhārata involves care ethics rests on an analysis of some key epic characters and its general shift from absolute non-violence (ahimsā) to the subtler virtue of non-cruelty (ānṛśaṃsya). The epic not only echoes concerns similar to that of care ethicists but complicates that perspective by highlighting uncertainty, self-reflexivity (caring about, caring), and a unique form of moral agency underlying care-ethical negotiations about how to be non-cruel. But while noting this extension, it is important to remember that care in the epic is the voice of privileged men: there is little sensitivity to oppressions and "secondary dependencies" resulting from care work that is typically assigned to those on the fringes of society and remains the focus of a feminist ethics of care.

A dialogue between the Mahābhārata and contemporary virtue epistemology, on the other hand, is initiated by reading the story of the angry sage, Kauśika against the grain. Kauśika, a man of privilege, models an epistemic character that includes love of truth along with what can be called 'relational humility.' In its simplest form, this virtue is best described as a dynamic between self-ascribing ignorance and other-ascribing knowledge. Humility structured in this manner makes inquiry social and could facilitate learning from the margins. But once again, it is important to note that the epistemic community sustained by relational humility in the Mahābhārata shatters individual pride and solipsism of knowers, but might do little to upset the status quo of structural power within it.

The challenge, then, is to reach out to other resources to...