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Introduction: Why Indian Philosophy? Why Now?

Abstract and Keywords

This Introduction explains the overall plan for the volume. There is, first of all, a focus on figures. The contributions engage with the very qualities that make the field fascinating to a contemporary audience: the interplay between charismatic individuals, the negotiated interaction of widely different intellectual outlooks, the intervention of critical voices of dissent and disavowal. There is, second, a new periodization of the history of philosophy in India. The earliest period of what I call “philosophies of path and purpose”; the period of compilation of sūtra and its legacy; an age of dialogue within a Sanskrit cosmopolis; an age of disquiet; a period initiated by Gaṅgeśa; a period of early modernity; the period we might describe as “the eve of Independence”; and finally, the period of post-Independence modern Indian philosophers. The Introduction concludes by saying something about the very concept of philosophy.

Keywords: Indian philosophy, Indian philosophers, periodization, philosophy as global, concept of philosophy

The Oxford Handbook of Indian Philosophy tells the story of philosophy in India through a series of exceptional individual acts of philosophical virtuosity. It brings together forty leading international scholars to record the diverse figures, movements, and approaches that constitute philosophy in the geographical region of the Indian subcontinent, a region sometimes nowadays designated South Asia. The volume aims to be ecumenical, drawing from different locales, languages, and literary cultures, inclusive of dissenters, heretics, and skeptics, of philosophical ideas in thinkers not themselves primarily philosophers, and reflecting India’s northwestern borders with the Persianate and Arabic worlds, its northeastern boundaries with Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and China, as well as the southern and eastern shores that afford maritime links with the lands of Theravāda Buddhism. Indian philosophy has been written in many languages, including Pali, Prakrit, Sanskrit, Malayalam, Urdu, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Marathi, Persian, Kannada, Punjabi, Hindi, Tibetan, Arabic, and Assamese. From the time of the British colonial occupation, it has also been written in English. It spans philosophy of law, logic, politics, environment, and society, but is most strongly associated with wide-ranging discussions in the philosophy of mind and language, epistemology and metaphysics (how we know and what is there to be known), ethics, metaethics, and aesthetics, and metaphilosophy. The reach of Indian ideas has been vast, both historically and geographically, and it has been and continues to be a major influence in world philosophy. In the breadth as well as the depth of its philosophical investigation, in the sheer bulk of surviving texts and in the diffusion of its ideas, the philosophical heritage of India easily stands comparison with that of China, Greece, the Latin West, or the Islamic world.

(p. 2) A Focus on Figures

In compiling this book, my hope is to present a balanced and impartial picture of the detail, diversity, and depth of philosophy in this region. What is the nature of a thinker’s philosophical project? What are the methods of philosophical inquiry used in pursuit of their goal? What defines the philosophical movement and intellectual lineage to which an author belongs, and how does that affiliation bear on a thinker’s philosophical project? To fulfill such an ambition requires that the contributions engage with the very qualities that make the field fascinating to a contemporary audience: the interplay between charismatic individuals, the negotiated interaction of widely different intellectual outlooks, the intervention of critical voices of dissent and disavowal. It is essential to emphasize regionality, vernaculars, subaltern communities, eccentrics, and to explore scholarly networks, nodes of philosophical activity, transnational encounters, and contexts of philosophical invention. New research contained in this volume highlights previously unexplored thinkers and themes, drawing upon a vast array of scarcely studied and sometimes not even edited work. While past scholarship has tended toward obsessive interest in a select few individuals, the timeline that precedes this introduction is a record of a hundred outstandingly important thinkers, and this is but half of one percent of the total number known with certainty to have lived and whose writings have been preserved. There is important philosophical thinking among mathematicians and medics, in the poets and the pilgrims, while studies of philosophy in sūfī India, secular India and stately India, of India’s impact on global philosophical movements, and their effects on India all fall within the remit, not to mention the way Indian philosophical ideas migrate and transform in diaspora, in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma, Tibet, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, China, Japan, Central Asia and into the Persian and Arabic worlds and on to the West.

The chapters in this Handbook provide a synopsis of the liveliest areas of contemporary research and set new agendas for nascent directions of exploration. The volume comprises contributions each centered on philosophical ideas in a major figure, identified either by name or only descriptively as the author/compiler/redactor of a given text. The exact list has been determined by criteria that include the importance of the figure to the philosophical tradition, the philosophical interest of their ideas, and the availability of a contemporary scholar able to write about them with the requisite level of philosophical engagement. Although organized around figures and texts, the chapters deal with a specific philosophical question or issue that the given figure or text most centrally raises, the arguments presented in favor or against, rather than consisting in intellectual biography or a survey of a thinker’s oeuvre. Often in conversations between two thinkers, perhaps separated in time but also often contemporaneous, scholarly affiliation (śāstra) is not the most salient indicator in understanding what is at stake, and what two interlocutors share as common points of conceptual reference may be as important as line and lineage (sampradāya); indeed, these exchanges, reciprocations, and reactions, actual or implied, constitute an important part of a thinker’s intellectual identity. (p. 3) Too great an emphasis on “systems,” apart from repressing chronology and innovation, marginalizes the role of dissidents, doubters, and free-thinkers in providing interstitial critique. Talk of “schools” meanwhile implies a form of institutional organization and social arrangement alien to Indian contexts of scholarship. A danger in organizing material solely by discipline (for example, aggregating all and only Buddhist philosophy in one volume, journal, institute, or workshop, Hindu philosophy in a second, Islamic philosophy in a third) is that it makes it seem that the only exchanges that matter are internal, and this is a mistake because criss-crossing and boundary-hopping encounters are often highly significant, philosophically and prosopographically. There are plenty of examples of individuals—Vācaspati Miśra is one, Vijñānabhikṣu another, Appayya Dīkṣita a third—who found being bound by just one disciplinary code an unbearable limitation on philosophical freedom; we cannot hope to understand what they were about as philosophers (creative engagement, concordance, criticism, etc.) unless this is acknowledged.1 Still others—most notably Jayarāśi and Śrīharṣa—dismiss system-construction as a good way to do philosophy. In this volume, therefore, I have kept the focus firmly on individual philosophers, and have allowed them to tell us which interlocutors and questions they have found most engaging, whether this be from within the same discipline or lineage, or not. Surveys of general doctrine in Indian “schools” and “systems” are in any case already readily available and need not be replicated here.2 What this volume does is to let the story of philosophy in India play out in the form of a sequence of individual acts of uncanny philosophical genius.

“Indian philosophy” is thus a designation for a vast and still vastly under-researched body of inquiry into the most fundamental topics ever to engage the reflective human mind. As the discipline of academic philosophy begins to address its history of elitism and exclusion, and to evolve into a genuinely diverse and pluralistic field, India’s past represents an unquantifiably precious part of the human intellectual biosphere. For those who are interested in the ways in which culture influences structures of thought, for those who want to study alternative histories of ideas, and for those who are merely curious to know what some of the world’s greatest thinkers have thought about some of the most intractable and central philosophical puzzles about human existence and experience, Indian philosophy is a domain of unparalleled richness and importance. Meanwhile, for those who draw upon India’s intellectual past to give sustenance to contemporary programs of social and political reform, it is essential that the whole of this past, the fullness of its vast diversity and richness, is available and acknowledged.

A Brief History of Philosophy in India

It has become something of a commonplace to speak of “classical Indian philosophy” or “philosophy in classical India.” The term “classical,” though, is problematic with respect to Indian philosophical historiography, as indeed is the term “medieval.” This is because of the exceptional longevity and continuity of the tradition when contrasted with other (p. 4) civilizations. We need to use a different stratification of India’s intellectual past, not one borrowed from a history of European ideas. Historical narratives of Indian philosophy need also to be responsive to the different rythms and trajectories of different locales in that vast region. Let us start afresh, with a new periodization. I’ll distinguish first a period when philosophy was seen as essentially tied to the way one lives one’s life, and it was also thought of as a vehicle through which one could achieve liberation or release from the sufferings implicated in any human life. I’ll call the philosophies of this first period, which is from around the eighth century bce until around the second century ce, “philosophies of path and purpose.” Included in this broad designation will be the ancient wisdom of the Vedas, a body of ritual prescriptions seemingly brought to India by Aryan settlers and written in a sort of proto-Sanskrit called Vedic. Included too will be the Upaniṣads, beautiful and majestic texts articulating a vision of the unity of humanity, ritual, and cosmos. And it will include the original teachings of the Buddha, who seems to have lived after the composition of the earliest of the Upaniṣads but before the remainder, as well as other “striver” (śramaṇa) intellectuals including Mahāvīra the Jina. The Buddha certainly taught a philosophy of path, since the fourth of his four Noble Truths is called the Truth of the Path, a path leading from suffering to nirvāṇa, the state of health in which one is free from spiritual as well as physical pain. Another text I would include in this period is the complex Hindu epic, the Mahābhārata, an order of magnitude grander than the Greek Iliad and Odyssey, which contains as a sort of inserted interlude that famous moral discourse between Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna known as the “Song of the Lord,” the Bhagavad-Gītā. Yet while the Gītā has justly been the subject of intense scholarship there is much interesting philosophy in the body of the epic itself, an ethics of ambiguity and disorientation that also reveals the important relationship between a work’s literary form and its philosophical ambitions.

Dating authors and texts in the history of Indian philosophy with any precision is, I should caution, an extremely fraught exercise. At best, usually, one can work out the relative chronology, if for example one text directly cites another. More often even that is problematic. Issues of authorship are as complex as those of chronology. Attaching an author’s name to a text is often vexed, for the texts of Indian philosophy are sometimes compilations, the composite work of a variety of hands and mouths that have been edited and reedited over a long period of time and in different recensions. The names that are traditionally put forward as the authors of these texts are sometimes no more than literary fictions; sometimes too a text is attributed to a famous philosopher as a way to give it extra clout. Even the date of the Buddha is controversial. Tradition teaches that he died in 486 bce at the age of 80. Modern scholarship is tending to push his date forward, perhaps to somewhere around 400 bce or even sooner. On the other hand a recent excavation of the Mahā Devī temple at his historical birthplace, Lumbini, has unearthed evidence that perhaps the tradition is correct after all. Only time will tell; or maybe it won’t. Whenever it was that the Buddha lived, it was an interesting time from a philosophical point of view, and the records of his life contain colorful reports of a whole host of unusual and unconventional thinkers. The founder of Jainism, Mahāvīra, lived perhaps a little earlier, but Jainism and Buddhism share a spirit of defiance against (p. 5) the social and intellectual status quo. The Jainas’ commitment to principles of tolerance, harmony, and rapprochement led them to a philosophy of pluralism in metaphysics and ethics, and to perspectivalism in epistemology and semantics.

The second period I will distinguish is what I will call “The Age of the Sūtra, ” a period when considerable effort was indeed spent in the philosophical construction of conceptual arrays (śāstra; tantra). The term sūtra means “thread,” and a sūtra is both a single numbered philosophical aphorism and a text comprising an entire collection of such aphorisms. More important than even the sūtras themselves were the initial commentaries written on them. These first commentaries—the technical designation of which is bhāṣya—had as their explicit aim the construction of an organized body of concepts, a weaving of the threads into a single unified cloth of philosophy; and it is not unheard of for commentary and core to be co-produced in a single act of textual production. The authors of those first commentaries (Śabara, Patañjali, and Vātsyāyana, to name but three) were the true structure-creators in India. It is something of a common-place to talk about the “six systems of Indian philosophy,” but I will reject this rather superficial doxography, orientated as it came to be around orthodox Hinduism’s commitment to the veracity of the Vedas, ignoring less orthodox Hindu movements as well as all the dissenters, most especially the Buddhists and the Jainas, not to mention more naturalistic or materialist thinkers and other interstitial and dissident groups, and, as with all doxographies, enforcing an artificial order. It is worth remembering that to an eighth-century doxographer like Haribhadra the only philosophical systems were those of Buddhism, Jainism, Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Sāṃkhya, Mīmāṃsā, and, grudgingly, Lokāyata. What is more important is that in the period from let us say 100 bce until 450 ce a large part of the philosophical activity in India was focused on a crystalization of philosophical wisdom into more organized philosophical treatises. They retain the idea that learning philosophy is a way to the highest good, and thus a path with a purpose, but now see their primary work as consisting in detailed descriptions of the structure of the human being, of the world which human beings inhabit, and of the capacities human beings have to learn about this world. So the topic of the existence, make-up, and aspirations of the self retains center-stage, but supplemented now with an interest in, to use the Indian parlance, the pramāṇas, or principles for knowing reality, and the prameyas, reality as it is so known. Analogous ambitions in Buddhism and Jainism from the period are reflected in works such as Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya and Umāsvāti’s Tattvārthādhigama-bhāṣya. Early Jainas and Buddhists use the term sutta to refer to the reported words of Mahāvīra and the Buddha: in the Age of the Sutta, philosophical effort takes the form of seeking to identify and order the categorical philosophy those words contain.

Indeed until the second century ce, Buddhist and Jaina philosophy in India was written mostly in the languages of Pali and Prakrit, languages that, while not dissimilar to Sanskrit, were not destined to become the main vehicle for intellectual discussion on the subcontinent. Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga, “The Path of Purification,” is an organizational masterpiece, a structured representation of philosophy in the sutta as mediated by the then-extant Sinhala commentaries on canonical Abhidharmic classifications. (p. 6) At a time when Sanskrit began to emerge as a shared discursive medium, the switch to Sanskrit by these thinkers was to prove monumental, and their impact on philosophy in India from then until the end of the first millennium immeasurable. Their rivals found themselves having to defend the foundations of their philosophical matrices as they had never had to before, and they skillfully adapted and reimagined the resources those structures made available in attempts to give answers to the challenges presented by Buddhist and Jaina thinkers, all the while co-opting and reusing Buddhist and Jaina ideas as they went. Among the most notable Buddhist philosophers in this period are Nāgārjuna, whose anti-foundationalist quietism led to the formation of the branch of Buddhist philosophy known as Madhyamaka, the Middle Way, and Vasubandhu, who standardized Sarvāstivāda and Abhidharmic schematization in Sanskrit.

Dignāga, sixth-century developer of the branch of Buddhist philosophy known as Yogācāra, inaugurates a new epoch. Dignāga lived and taught at the Buddhist university of Nālandā, founded in the same century and destined to become one of the world’s greatest centers of learning. Dignāga owed much to internal dialogue with a contemporary of his, the grammarian-cum-philosopher Bhartṛhari. His disciple Dharmakīrti would go on to reinvent Dignāga’s innovation and adapt it to the needs of new Buddhist communities in ways Dignāga himself may not have imagined, most notably by giving it an idealist inflection. Dignāga’s breakthrough work was decisive in shaping the next period of Indian philosophy, a cosmopolitan Age of Dialogue in Sanskrit that runs at least until the relocation of Buddhists like Kamalaśīla to Tibet. An emerging scholarly consensus agrees in identifying Dignāga as marking the beginning of a new era in Indian philosophical thought, some scholars emphasizing his theoretical innovations3 and others his transformation of discursive practice.4 Dignāga’s new citational and critical practices were swiftly adopted by his opponents, a change already evident in the technical styles of respondents including Uddyotakara and Kumārila. As important as these shifts in doctrinal formulation and discursive practice was the transformation Dignāga achieved in ways of reasoning, with a movement away from an epistemic localism to a rule-based universalism. The Age of the Sūtra, distinguished by its use of a style of inquiry grounded in adaptation and projection from locally normative paradigms, was over. Now too the precise formulation of definitions of key philosophical concepts takes center-stage as constitutive of philosophical practice, rival definitions of what purports to be a single concept locking horns in contexts of philosophical debate. Rapidly this became the hallmark of philosophical activity in a broad Sanskrit cosmopolis that was to endure for centuries and whose geographical borders spread well beyond the subcontinent. During this period of dialogue between Buddhist, Jaina, and Hindu astonishing theoretical advances were made in understanding the working of the human mind’s properties, processes, and powers—in analyses of selfhood, consciousness, moral psychology, and agency by philosophers from Praśastapāda to Prabhākara, from Kumārila to Śaṅkara, from Śāntideva to Śāntarakṣita.

With the decline of Buddhist societal influence in subcontinental India—and of course this did not affect its continuing importance in the neighboring territories of Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Nepal, Tibet, China, the Maldives, Cambodia, and (p. 7) Indonesia—a new era of philosophy commences in India, now hallmarked by a spirit of uncertainty and questioning. This was a time of intellectual turbulence, as philosophers increasingly doubted the foundations of the structures they had done so much to construct and defend. With the Buddhists less available to provide a foil, philosophers of various persuasions, persuasions that would only later be aggregated under a unifying label “Hindu,” began to question themselves and to interrogate each other, while Jaina philosophers assumed if anything even greater significance. I’m inclined, therefore, to describe the period from the ninth or tenth to the thirteenth or fourteenth century, as an Age of Disquiet. Some of its great figures come from Kashmir, including Śaiva thinkers like Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta, the Nyāya genius Jayanta Bhaṭṭa, and possibly also the transformative Cārvāka Udbhaṭa. If Jayarāśi had announced himself to be a lion come to upturn every philosophical cart, and Vasiṣṭha had declared the world to be nothing but imaginary emergence, matters came to a head with a revolutionary critique of the fundamentals of epistemology provided by Śrīharṣa. His twelfth-century philosophical classic, Amassed Morsels of Refutation (Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhādya), is a brilliant take-down of the definition-mongering philosophical activities of past generations of thinkers. Śrīharṣa attempts to demonstrate that a philosophical method based on the search for definitions is misguided, indeed incoherent. He develops a rival method, a method of refutation, to expose the vacuity of a way of doing philosophy that had become de rigueur with Dignāga. His new method required him to reconstruct the best possible version of any definition, not merely the best one actually formulated, and his ability to articulate philosophical positions with greater insight, accuracy, and acuity than their own proponents is astonishing. This though was perhaps also his Achilles heel insofar as his reconstructions afforded great assistance to those he sought to refute.

When Gaṅgeśa intervenes in the fourteenth century, he is therefore responding to a variety of pressures internal to the Sanskrit world, critiques that had already been gathering force for some time. One came from the direction of the rival Mīmāṃsaka philosophical theory about the nature of inquiry, developed within a context of defense of the legitimacy and authority of Vedic knowledge. If the Vedas are authoritative then there is no question about the truth of the beliefs we form from them and no further project of verification. Such an attitude toward inquiry is profoundly at odds with one which sees the truth as a matter of discovery and confirmation. The other came from a challenge to the pluralist metaphysics of common sense, and found its most severe articulation in Advaitic thinkers who sought to undermine the principle that appearance is trustworthy, and in particular that there is a world populated by middle-sized objects and known to a plurality of distinct cognizers. Gaṅgeśa’s brilliant response, in a book that claims itself to be the “jewel which fullfills the wish for truth” (Tattvacintāmaṇi), was to re-equip the philosopher’s analytical arsenal, and his new conceptual methodologies rapidly gained currency throughout Sanskritic intellectual space, spreading to disciplines other than philosophy and to other regions, including the South where they secured much admiration but also admonishment from the Mādhva thinkers Jayatīrtha and Vyāsatīrtha. Disquiet continued too in the form of new Hindu arguments against a Hindu God. (p. 8)

A distinctive form of Early Modernity began to emerge in the sixteenth century. Occasioned in part by new overlappings with the Persian cosmopolis, with exposure to new paradigms of thinking, Sanskrit philosophers self-consciously set out to innovate, to think with the old structures but not defer to them. An astonishingly vast number of works in Sanskrit exists from this enormously rich period, today lying unedited and sometimes in a single copy in manuscript libraries around the world. In the writings of those philosophers who followed Raghunātha Śiromaṇi, from about the middle of the sixteenth century until the middle of the eighteenth, there is a metamorphosis in epistemology, metaphysics, semantics, and philosophical logic. The works of these philosophers, many of whom lived in Raghunātha’s hometown of Navadvīpa in Bengal, are full of phrases that are indicative of a newly open and exploratory attitude, phrases like “this should be considered further,” “this needs to be reflected on.” Openness to inquiry into the problems themselves is what drives the new work, not merely a new exegesis of the ancient texts, along with a sense that they are engaged in an ongoing project. A second group of philosophers, this time based in Vārāṇasī (Benares), and again profoundly influenced by Raghunātha, sought to use his work in reinterpretations of ancient metaphysics, sometimes with the encouragement of Mughal patronage and support. At the same time, and in opposition to Raghunātha’s band of new reasoners, while also coopting his methods, the works of thinkers like Madhusūdana Sarasvatī, Appayya Dīkṣita and Nīlakaṇṭha Caturdhara brought a distinctive renewal to Vedānta, in their own complex negotiations with Mughal patronage and power and with their own pasts. In tandem with these developments in the realms of Sanskrit, Islamic philosophers were producing important and innovative philosophy in parallel centers of Islamic learning. Three important Islamic trends in India emerge during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: first, the Perso-Indica project of Dārā Shikuh and others involving a wide-ranging translation of philosophy from Sanskrit into Persian; second, the sūfī philosophy of Muḥibballāh Ilāhābādī, a prolific author in Persian and Arabic and defender of the Andalusian Ibn ʿArabī; and third, the debate between Avicennans—notably including the influential philosopher Maḥmūd Jawnpūrī—and Illuminationists. Meanwhile, Muḥibballāh al-Bihārī’s Sullam al-ʿulūm is a milestone seventeenth-century Indian textbook in Arabo-Islamic logic. We still have only the most rudimentary understanding of the nature of intersections between nodes of Sanskrit, Persian, and Arabic philosophical scholarship during this profoundly innovative era of early modernity in India. Nor at present do we have much insight into the dynamics of philosophical activity in Indian vernacular languages in the period.

Then came British colonial occupation, and with it new philosophical priorities, perhaps most especially the need to respond to the incompatibility between the pretensions of European claims on the values of liberty, tolerance, equality, and secularism and the multiple and manifest illiberalities, intolerances, and inequalities of colonial rule, which began first during a period of exploitative governance by the East India Company from the Battle of Plassey in 1757 until the failed Independence War in 1857 and then under direct colonial rule by the British Crown until independence was finally won in 1947. In the end-game, a period we might describe as the Eve of Independence, Indian thinkers (p. 9) including Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, and Tagore, often writing in English, bring political and social philosophy to the center-stage where in earlier times it had been epistemology and metaphysics, while philosophers like Krishnachandra Bhattacharyya and Anukulchandra Mukerji reflect deeply on the nature of the subject, its freedom, agency, and identity, in a concerted effort to formulate the philosophical grounds of an intellectual decolonization. In the struggle for freedom from political and intellectual servitude the whole of India’s philosophical past became an immense resource that could be drawn on, and in particular its perceived spirit of negotiated pluralism and non-coercive cosmopolitanism were made central in the design of a post-independence nation.

The Concept Philosophy and Its Congenetics

Let me conclude this introduction by saying something about the application of the concept philosophy in reference to India. Fortunately long gone are the days when Hegelian historians could seriously claim that there was no such thing as philosophy in India because the word “philosophia” is a Greek word. The proprietary argument is in any case spurious given that Alexander arrived to India with the Greek language in his retinue, and the word later thrived in India in its Arabic and Persian form falsāfa; yet names in Indian languages are available for coincident species of that genus of intellectual skill to which philosophy also belongs. A Sanskrit term ānvīkṣikī, for example, meaning something like “critical investigation,” is used in a work on statecraft dating perhaps from the fourth century bce, Kauṭilya’s Arthaśāstra; its author, a royal minister in the Magadha empire, is said to have written it in order to educate princes in the necessary skills required for a successful and prosperous rule. There are, he ventures, four branches of learning in which young princes should be trained: ānvīkṣikī, the methods of critical investigation; trayī, the religious canon made up of the three Vedas; vārttā, the sciences of material acquisition such as trade and agriculture; and daṇḍanīti, political administration and government. Kauṭilya explains the meaning of ānvīkṣikī: “Distinguishing with proper reasons, between good and evil in the Vedic religion, between profit and loss in the domain of wealth-generation, and between right policy and wrong policy in political administration, and determining the comparative validity and invalidity of all these disciplines in special circumstances, ānvīkṣikī renders help to people, keeps their minds steady in woe and weal, and produces adroitness of understanding, speech and action.” To emphasize the point that ānvīkṣikī is not a body of knowledge but a method of studying the proper aims and methods of knowledge as such, he adds that it “has always been considered as lamp for all branches of study, the means for all activities, the support for all religious and social duties.” Kauṭilya gives a list of the different types known to him—sāṃkhya, yoga, and lokāyata—which refer to different methods for approaching a critical investigation: a method of listing and enumeration, a method (p. 10) of dividing and reconnecting, and a method of empirical experimentation. Two other methods don’t get a mention here, yet their names—nyāya and mīmāṃsā—also in the first instance refer to techniques of reasoning: a method of observation-with-deduction and a method of textual hermeneutics. The subequently-to-emerge intellectual structures were thus originally not so much given bodies of doctrine as the codification of particular ways of thinking and methods of inquiring, distinctive approaches to what it is to experience the curiosity that makes us human.

Apart from the various methods of critical investigation there is a kind of thinking that consists in perspicuous ordering, staying on the surface, rendering evident. The distinction is between, on the one hand, the sequential reasoning of a critical investigation, and, on the other, using insightful ordering and sparseness to put a phenomenon on display. There is a parallel in the Indian mathematicians’ discussion of a kind of mathematical proof that they say aims at rendering a mathematical result transparent rather than reaching it as the conclusion in a series of deductive steps. So Bhāskara II’s diagrammatic proof of a theorem he knew from the Śulba-sūtra is meant not to deduce the theorem but to display it. A diagram as such is simply a diagram: it does not itself do anything. What does the proving is the viewer’s moving triangles around in imagination to form two squares: the proof is enacted by the viewer. Thinking likewise occurs at the interface between text and reader, in the reader’s acquisition of a clear perspective in the topology of concepts through their imaginative engagement with a text. One finds this method at work in those who compose compact texts that aim more at conceptual cartography than at structural construction. In this style of enquiry the idea of omission plays an important role, for thinkers who use principles of reason in this way are careful to omit anything that can cloud the reader’s capacity to form a picture—a large part of philosophical skill is knowing what to ignore. Seeing interrelatedness is thus as creative a philosophical act as drawing consequences: one is a matter of evidence, the other of what is evident. Derived from a verb meaning “to see,” the Sanskrit term darśana can mean “seeing the point” in something like that sense; it can also mean a “manner of seeing” or doctrinal outlook, and so was it used in the Buddhist doxography of Cāttaṉār in Tamil, in the Jaina doxography of Haribhadra, and still later in the Hindu doxography of Ceṇṇibhaṭṭa. A clear map of the conceptual terrain is a powerful tool, enabling both creative thought and aesthetic empathy, and philosophy based on this mode of reasoning has not lost sight of its ties to deepened ways of living. As Krishnachandra Bhattacharyya most eloquently put it, “a true philosophical system is not to be looked upon as a soulless jointing of hypotheses; it is a living fabric … It is not to be regarded as the special property of academic philosophy-mongers, to be hacked up by them into technical views, but is to be regarded as a form of life and is to be treated as theme of literature of infinite interest to humanity.”5 This is a more immersive, experiential, aesthetic conception of the rational life, and one with which several of the philosophers whose work is reviewed in this volume, though of course not all, would have agreed.

Let me then venture to provide a suitably encompassing definition of the kind we are interested in, the genus of intellectual practice and skill whose species include darśana, philosophy (in its various calques), and ānvīkṣikī (in all its varieties). An intellectual (p. 11) practice belongs to this kind just in case it is the use of distinctively human capacities to find orientation in the space of reasons, which is to say, to move from saṃśaya or perplexity to nirṇaya or clarity, where that orientation can come either in the form of a reasons compass, which enables the activity of sequentially engaging one’s powers of deductive maneuvering and capacities for projective extrapolation, or else in the form of a concept map, which engages the imagination and enables one to make a survey of the terrain, locating oneself within it. This is a methodological pluralism in which there are many different procedures for interrogating reality or epistemic stances, and no prospect of reducing them all down to one.

Each one of the chapters in this volume provides compelling evidence that in the global exercise of these human intellectual skills, India, throughout its history, has been a hugely sophisticated and important presence, host to an astonishing range of exceptionally creative minds engaged in an extraordinary diversity of the most astute philosophical exploration conceivable.


(1.) “By bringing us to see strengths and weakness of several positions and points of view, Vācaspati enriches his reader’s sense of where the truth lies. We are able not only to see from the other’s perspective but to incorporate it, or part of it, into our own view,” Stephen Phillips, “Seeing From the Other’s Point of View: Countering the Schismatic Interpretation of Vācaspati Miśra,” APA Newsletter 14.2 (2015): 4–8; “Vijñānabhikṣu claimed that, properly understood, Sāṃkhya, Yoga, Vedānta and Nyāya were in essence different aspects of a single, well-coordinated philosophical outlook and their well-documented disagreements were just a misunderstanding,” Andrew Nicholson, Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 4; “Appayya …, a virtuoso textualist, the master of all disciplines, slave of none,” Christopher Minkowski, “Appayya’s Vedānta and Nīlakaṇṭha’s Vedāntakataka,” Journal of Indian Philosophy 44 (2014) 95–114, 113.

(2.) The doxographic Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy contains several valuable surveys of systematic general doctrine.

(3.) “Dignāga, whose profound influence had permeated Indian thought a century before Hsüan-tsang’s visit, radically reoriented Buddhist thinking. For instance, he shifted the notion of pramāṇa (criteria for valid knowledge) from scripture and reason—which are accepted in Vasubandhu’s writings as well as Ch’eng wei-shih lun—to perception and inference (i.e., rejecting ‘scripture’ as an independent valid pramāṇa).” Dan Lusthaus, Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogācāra Buddhism and the Ch’eng wei-shih lun (London: Routledge, 2002), 363.

(4.) Dignāga “initiated a sudden, widespread and radical transformation in the reading, citational, and discursive practices of Sanskrit philosophers, a transformation perhaps even more dramatic in its effects than Dignāga’s specifically philosophical contributions … [He] makes the systematic investigation of and response to the texts of rival philosophical traditions a basic organizing principle of his own work.” Lawrence McCrea, “The Transformations of Mīmāṃsā in the Larger Context of Indian Philosophical Discourse,” in Periodization and Historiography of Indian Philosophy, ed. Eli Franco (Vienna: De Nobili Research Library, 2013), 129–130. Franco, in his introduction to the volume, periodizes Indian philosophical history in a manner compatible with the one provided here: the period up to Dignāga; the period from Dignāga upto and including Udayana; and the period from Gaṅgeśa.

(5.) Bhattacharyya, Krishna Chandra. Introduction to Studies in Vedāntism (1907), reprinted in his Studies in Philosophy, ed. Gopinath Bhattacharyya (Calcutta: Progressive Publishers, 1958), pp. 1–6, p. 6.