26 Pages

Reason, Revelation and Idealism in Śartkara's Vedānta

Although comparative philosophy has come to be more widely practis.ed in recent years, it is still practised, by and large, in a state of methodological confusion. It is generally agreed that there is much to be gained in placing philosophical theories from different cultures side by side. We gain a new perspective on the theory we are familiar with from our own culture. We sometimes become aware of solutions or objections to solutions to problems which hitherto in our own tradition have not been posed. Even when the categories of the thought of one culture do not fit those of another culture and the considerations of their respective philosophies cannot be brought mutually to bear on each other, still one often realizes thereby more distinctly what one particular philosophical tradition is not getting at, what is beyond its scope, which helps us to understand better what it is getting at and ultimately helps us evaluate it. But it is unclear whether comparative philosophy can really deliver on these items. For the comparative philosopher is faced with extraordinary difficulties, due less to the multi-disciplinary competence required of him - one, clearly, has to be well-versed in two or more literatures - than the exacting demands placed on him by two separate sets of scholars with different presuppositions and methods that lay claim to his object of study. I am referring to the philosophers, on the one hand, and the linguists on the other. It has been the linguists who have opened up for us the classical literature of the Orient and pioneered the exploration of its meaning. Their concern has been primarily to edit critically the important texts, to establish their dates and place them in an historical context, to determine the meaning of individual concepts and terms by a sort of multiple cross-referencing between texts of the same period, to trace the origin and development of particular ideas over time, and so on. The linguist proceeds as an empiricist, gathering data from the texts themselves as the sole foundation of his conclusions. The philosopher, however, is almost exclusively concerned with the validity of the ideas of the texts in question. This often takes him beyond their literal meaning, to consider, for example, the implications of arguments, the abstract states of affairs he discerns behind the words which


they may adequately or inadequately express. Comparative philosophy has suffered from undue inflexibility on the part of both philologists and philosophers. The former have claimed, understandably, that the philosophical evaluation of Asian philosophy cannot begin until we have thoroughly understood it, i.e., determined its literal meaning - and that on the basis of texts reliably edited. The latter just as reasonably suggest that it is not worth the effort attempting to understand Asian philosophy if Asian philosophy does not hold out any promise of providing new and better insights into the nature of things, if, indeed, as sometimes seems to be the case, it is absurd! The philosopher might add that we have no right talking about having understood a philosophical text unless we have achieved a critical philosophical appreciation of the problems it treats in all their ramifications. Kipling's dictum that East is East and West is West, was disposed of a long time ago. The fact that immediately appears when one studies Indian philosophy - the branch of Asian philosophy I shall be concerned with here - is that it deals with many of the issues that have been dealt with in European philosophy: the problem of universals, problems of reference and meaning, the issue of the external world, the analysis of causation, the problem of personal identity, to mention just a few. But a version of Kipling's saying, substituting "philology" and "philosophy", may well be true.