by Balaganpathi Devarakonda.

Is there a Philosophical Community in India? Is there a curious skeptical question that needs further probing considering the attribution of crisis to the modern/contemporary Indian Philosophy in the present times?[1] 

There is a skeptic tone about the existence of a philosophical community and there is a curiosity in the minds of the scholars a) to find, if there is one such community and b) to know what constitutes it, if it is existent. 

It is very easy to give a one-word answer of either in a yes or no to this skeptical interrogation. I am calling it interrogation because the question challenges and invites each of the members of philosophical academic as well as the other non-academic contributors and stakeholders of philosophical deliberations to either ascertain or reject the skepticism about the existence of a philosophical community. 

Context

Such an interrogation has to be taken seriously, if not earlier, at least now. The context which demands serious scrutiny in the present is its state of affairs in the academic world of India. Though I don’t attribute any glorious times to Indian philosophy as Anglophone academia in the pre as well as the post-Independence times, we have to admit that the strength of philosophy departments in India is weakening alarmingly in the recent past, especially since the initiation of globalization and liberalization of education that began in India in the 1990s.

The number of departments, number of researchers, teachers, and students have been diminishing drastically. Most of the philosophy departments in the Southern part of India – especially those in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Telangana, and Karnataka – are on the verge of closing down. New recruitments of the faculty have stopped, and the superannuation of the existing faculty is eagerly awaited. It is a sad plight to find that some of the vibrant departments with a glorious past such as Madras University, Mysore University, Andhra University, Sree Venkateswara University are now continuing with no bright prospectus.  The number of students in most of these departments is not going beyond the single digit. 

Problem

As such, there is a criticism about the authenticity, credibility, and innovation in the philosophizing in contemporary India.[2] This criticism is supported by the view that there is only repetition of the classical or imitation of the West – but no significant path-breaking contribution that came up in the recent past in India. Some scholars have identified the reason to be a lack of debates or dialogues among the various stakeholders of philosophy.[3] This pathetic state of affairs provides the context that necessitates the question of the philosophical community of India. 

Often the blame is put on Governments and educational institutions for not filling up the faculty positions and encouraging philosophical activity – forget about creating new departments and faculty positions. 

But I feel the problem doesn’t really lie with the institutions and institutionalization. The problem is larger than that of recruitment policies and introduction of philosophy at college and school levels – which are often cited to be the solutions for nurturing philosophical discourse and community in India. Creating new faculty positions, filling up the existing ones, and introducing philosophy at various lower levels of education will only address the issue at a peripheral level – without touching and impacting it at a deeper level. 

Two concerns of the Question

Let us go back to our initial question once again to dig deeper. The question has a narrow as well as a broader concern. It is often mistakenly identified with the narrow concern and addressed only at that level which results, unfortunately, in not resolving the problem but sometimes even worsening the state of affairs. 

On the one hand, the question concerns the philosophical community that comprises teachers, students, and researchers who are affiliated to various institutions of educational training. The philosophical community here refers to the “striving for the development of the academic philosophy as a community” with a feeling of togetherness. The term ‘community’ here stresses the value of togetherness. Togetherness may sometimes be a concern for intellectual furtherance. Unless this is nurtured without exhaustively orienting oneself to the selfish motives and concerns of the individual and ideological kind, there is no possibility of intellectual furtherance. The concern here is to develop a feeling of belongingness among the existing stakeholders – by keeping the individual and group differences aside – coming together to the furtherance of philosophical thinking. It is also to nurture traditional philosophical thinking by coming together and shedding all the individual prejudices for the sake of the common goal of philosophical development. 

This I consider being the narrow approach that limits itself to the academic community. It exhausts its stakeholders to students, teachers, and researchers of academic institutions – mostly Anglophone academia. By limiting itself to this Anglophone academia, it is not able to create an interface with the non-academic world comprising of social, political, cultural, economic, etc. spheres of life. The weakness of this approach is to think that by creating new faculty positions along with filling up the existing and encouraging students would resolve the present empirical status of philosophy in India. 

On the other hand, one has to approach the issue of the philosophical community from a broader perspective which would help us not only in resolving the empirical predicament but also helps us in establishing the philosophy-community relationship along with nurturing the philosophical thinking at the community level.  A mere increase in employment opportunities without strengthening philosophical thinking among the stakeholders will add more impotentiality to the existing status. 

Paradigm Shift towards Community Philosophizing

What is required now is a paradigm shift. It is not a philosophical community that we should look to develop, rather it is community philosophizing that is to be nurtured and propagated. The community around us with varied interests, ideas, and lived experiences often fails to articulate its conceptions, ambitions, and goals in a channelized way. Philosophers should address these concerns and help the community in articulating its ambitions and goals in a proper way – not to blindly accept – but to debate and further the understanding. The academia should look around at the community and participate in its ambitions without alienating itself. Community is to be taught and encouraged to philosophize its everyday life happenings, feelings, perceptions, and conceptions. 

I am at this juncture reminded of Richard Rorty (1999,34)[4] who argued for ‘self-creation on communal scale’ to be the primary concern of philosophy during contemporary times. Re-inventing and re-invigorating oneself to the needs of immediate community concerns and responding to social ambitions makes philosophy tied to the community. One of the ways of self-creation pointed out by Rorty is ‘to stop worrying about whether what one believes is well-grounded and start worrying about whether one has been imaginative enough to think up interesting alternatives to one’s present beliefs.’ Much on the same line, contemporary Anglophone academia is more concerned about whether what they were made to believe to be their philosophy is well-grounded, which limited their scope narrowly to academic circles. Now it is time they should get concerned about being imaginative in inventing alternatives to their present beliefs about what is philosophy and what is Indian philosophy as they are now understood. 

Community philosophizing is neither something new and innovative nor is it an alien concept to India. It was very much a part of the thinking in classical India. Various parts of the community used to participate in the philosophical thinking in the early times of philosophical development in India either in the form of accepting or rejecting the established notions and conceptions of reality, life and lived experiences. Even within the acceptance, there is always a possibility of deviation, difference, and correction from within the same tradition as it is also the case with rejection. There were movements such as Sramanic that tried to bring nonparticipating communities into community philosophizing. I don’t here intend to make a sweeping generalization about the prevalence of community philosophizing across all the sections of the community without any bias, but only to show the existence of community philosophizing which caused the development of a philosophical activity that enriched and widened Indian philosophy. I do not also intend to romanticize the classical community philosophizing by ignoring the struggles, hardships, and neglect of certain communities in participating in the philosophical activity. But what I intend to stress is their negotiations, submissions, and ruptures which strengthened and enriched the philosophical activity in India.  I don’t here intend to write an elegy on the community philosophizing in classical times. What I intend here by providing a glimpse of community philosophizing in classical India– is to take inputs from the past to invigorate the philosophical activity in the present. 

The present community is more scienticized, technicized, and politicized in its thought, word, deed, and planning. It is often stated that the present community in India as well as elsewhere in the world is more practical and less philosophical. This view somehow conceives a polarity between practicality and philosophizing which is completely misplaced. One should not forget that the practical outlook of life also can be philosophized. Individuals and the communities are to be encouraged to look for the more basic elements (tattva) in their approach, whether it is practical or ideal, subjective, or objective, absolute, or relative. If one starts understanding that his approach or viewpoint is rooted in some basic convictions which he may or may not accept at the moment, he/she would be philosophizing his/her convictions. Every conviction will have a logical and epistemological framework that is to be brought to the notice of the individual to realize the validity of the approach. These would help them in realizing their standpoints. Puranas, epics, and traditional performances used to do this to the community. Now the present so-called stakeholder of the philosophical community is failing in engaging the community in philosophizing. 

This does not mean that the community doesn’t require philosophizing or there is no quest for philosophical inquiry in the community. Community is as open to science, technology, and politics as it is to philosophy depending on the age, status, and profession of the individuals. People of a particular age may be fascinated by science or technology and people of a different age group may like to immerse themselves into politics or philosophical thinking. Unlike scientific thinking, which is the privilege of only educated few, philosophical thinking like technological usage, has the ability to be universal beyond institutionalized education. 

I am not advocating any watertight compartments between and within age, status, and profession with regard to philosophizing. Philosophizing is ubiquitous. It is an inherent capacity of every human being. One realizes this potentiality under certain favorable conditions. A person may find such favorable conditions at a younger age or at a later stage of life depending on the place, time, and brought up.

It is the responsibility of the philosophical fraternity within the academic as well as outside academia to engage with the community. India, fortunately, unlike other countries, has a strong philosophical fraternity outside Anglophone academia which has a rich traditional heritage in the form of Sanskrit and other vernacular scholars along with curious heterodox interlocutors strengthening the social concerns. The heterogeneous philosophical fraternity has to realize its primary concern to be community philosophizing and should make attempts to contribute to that. 

When I say philosophical fraternity should engage with the community – I don’t mean the engagement in terms of social, political, and cultural, etc. as it is often stated/assumed. This kind of view would lead to bifurcations in terms of social philosophy, political philosophy, etc. in terms of academic pigeon whole models. For me, the community is to be taken in a holistic form, together with all bifurcations. It is an integrated universal which includes various specified and unspecified aspects of human life. My stress on the universal is not to erase the particularities, but to keep space for the unknown particularities as well. 

To sum up, such a paradigm shift towards community philosophizing would enlighten the community about the importance of philosophizing in human life which would further encourage the parents, grandparents to move towards philosophical thinking and encourage younger generations to opt and cultivate it. If a person realizes the power of philosophizing, he/she can never stay away from it and encourage any other mode of thinking to it. In philosophizing, there is no discrimination between rich and poor; educated and uneducated; oppressor and oppressed; affluent and downtrodden. Anyone and everyone can participate.

In such an enlightened community philosophical thinking and activity will invariably flourish. Once community awakens its desire for philosophical thinking i.e., once its inner urge to philosophize is awakened – instruments and institutional forms of philosophical activity will invariably be strengthened and developed further. This would result in not just the enrichment of academic fraternity, but also in advocating new streams of thought, new approaches to R/reality, innovating methodologies that fit the demands of time.  

What I intend to state here is that philosophizing is not a sole prerogative of academia alone. What is required is the democratization of philosophizing. This is to be nurtured – nurtured by the academic – because of its enlightened self-interest. The enlightened self-interest is its survival and flourishment. 


[1] It was raised in a national seminar on “Reconstructing Indian Philosophical Framework” organized by Department of Philosophy, Goa University on 26th – 28th January 2017. 

[2] Nalini Bhushan and Jay Garfield discuss this aspect in a more detailed manner in their work Indian Philosophy in English: from Renaissance to Independence (OUP,2011).

[3] A Raghuramaraju in his works Debates in Indian philosophy: Classical, colonial and contemporary (OUP, 2007), Enduring Colonialism: Modern Presences and Classical Absences in Indian Philosophy (OUP,2011) and Philosophy and India: Ancestors, Outsiders and Predecessors (OUP, 2013) by mapping the Modern and Contemporary Indian Philosophy addressed the issues of the absence of debates, texts etc. by locating the reasons.

[4] Richard Rorty in his work Philosophy and Social Hope (Penguin books, 1999)       

Categories: Wander

2 Comments

Gargi Jain · September 29, 2020 at

Prof Bala happy to read your post. Appreciable attempt

Manish Sharma · September 29, 2020 at

Hello Sir,

It is really good article which not only aptly highlights contemporary problem that philosophy is facing in India but also provides a way forward.

I think to create a culture of community philosophising, we should first change the working style of academic Philosophy as well, the way we study philosophy and communicate among ourselves.

In present circumstances, we hardly learn philosophising. I think, we should first begin this culture at academic level by organising appropriate workshops (instead of seminars) and active participative regular groups.

If there are already such groups, at least, I’m not aware of them. As I have been trying to become part and create such groups but not found optimistic results so far.

Another point is language as English language has superior status in philosophy as you mentioned ‘Anglophone academia’.
However, to philosophisize effectively mother tongue is very important. I will be glad if you also share your views on this issue as well.

Thanks!

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