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Questioning Certitudes: Thoughts Across Cultures

Amiya P. Sen

By Chakravarthy Ram-Prasad
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2005, pp. 242, £16.99

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 10 October 2007

Of late, there has indeed been a discernible intellectual ques- tioning of certitudes and the present work, it is only fair to say, contributes quite splendidly to that project. Its first intention is to cast doubt upon commonly accepted constructs like ‘Eastern Philosophy’ for, arguably, there is no one such thing that would qualify as such. Some of us, I reckon, will find close parallelism between this and the raging debate on whether in fact, there is no one ‘Hinduism’, but several. By comparison, the category ‘West’/ ‘Western’ appears more defensible. In part, this may be attributed to the fact that by and large, philosophers in the West have shown greater awareness and sensitivity towards their pre-existing philosophical tradition. In other words, there has been within western philosophy, a more enlivening sense of the historical continuum—a better integrated understanding across space and time if not an absolute commonness of objectives. Allegedly, the relative poverty of intra-Eastern philosophical dialogues combined with the tendency to make the West an intellectual reference point, has negatively shaped even our present academic discourse. Evidently, there is now a marked preference for interrogating say Indo-European intellectual exchanges than that between India and China. Personally, I am of the view that historically, this also follows, whether rightly or wrongly, from the palpable tendency to somehow belittle the intellectual impact made by non-European/ pre-modern cultures. In the 19th century, Hindu intellectuals in particular were often heard to say that for them, it was British rule that first created a mental and moral revolution, not that of the Indo-Muslims. The fact remains however, that even Buddhism, that once gained the status of a truly pan-Asian religion, failed to get the Indians, the Chinese, Japanese or Koreans talking to each other meaningfully or over some length of time. I have no doubt that if only our author were to better employ historical modes of analysis, more persuasive explanations for this phenomenon might have been on offer. All the same, what he does succeed in establishing is a case for moving away from a model wherein the West, almost scandalously, inhabits the center-stage of comparative analysis. In the words of the author himself, this is a work that purposefully offers ‘an opportunity for the Indian philosopher to politely introduce himself to East Asian philosophical traditions’ (p. 9).   Structurally, this book is spread over seven chapters, broadly cover- ing the fields of ...

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