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Philosophy in Modern India

Vijendra Singh

By A. Raghurama Raju
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 152, Rs. 495.00


In the early twentieth century, K.C. Bhattacharyya underlining the cultural enslavement of India proposed that it is in philosophy, if anywhere, that the soul of India could be discovered. For him philosophy is not merely any other subject, but constitutes the foundation of Indian civilization. It is in the light of this stated expectation and the distinct relationship between philosophy and India, that the book takes into account the state of contemporary Indian philosophy. Indeed, it critically examines the writings of key Indian philosophers with the purpose of seeking clarity regarding the challenges looming ahead. Identifying the major shortcomings in the writings of modern Indian philosophers, the book argues that despite the historically privileged status and role, philosophy in modern India has failed to make a mark and to live up to the stated expectation. One central reason the book identifies is, ‘Philosophers in India, while preoccupied with their ancestors and outsiders, did not in the first place recognize the possibilities made available by their predecessors’ (p. 119). It avers that in its enthusiasm with the West and classical Indian philosophy, contemporary Indian philosophy ignored the immediate predecessors such as Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Gandhi and others; an ignorance that has proved detrimental for reinvigorating philosophy.   Divided into three parts, the book addresses the engagement and assessment of Indian philosophers with the West, classical Indian philosophy and Buddhism. Incisively describing the works of chosen scholars, each part is constituted by the identification and criticism of the underlying problems, indicating the lessons to be learnt. The description is detailed and worth reading, and the critical assessment is meticulous. The first part, scrutinizing the critique of K.C. Bhattacharyya and Akeel Bilgrami of western philosophy, argues that despite the novelty of their criticisms, they tread the same path of providing Indian solutions to western problems. Bhattacharyya offers an Advaitic answer to the unknowability of the Kantian self, whereas, Bilgrami, highlighting the absence of the idea of exemplar in western moral philosophy, suggests learning lessons from Gandhi. Raghuramaraju points out twofold problems in their shared approach. One, the binary it creates between East and West, where the West is projected as a part of the problem, while the solution is offered from the East. Two, ignoring the answers already available within the western tradition, traversing in space, the solution is provided from distant philosophical schools. For example, Bilgrami, neglects the presence of exemplars like Socrates ...

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