Feedback requested for book idea

Friends, Anand Vaidya asked me for feedback on a book proposal for readings in Indian philosophy. I told him that perhaps the blog members could give their two cents and he said that would be a good idea. So, what do you think about a proposal like the following (everything is provisional, of course)?


Title: Arguments from classical Indian Philosophy

1. Knowledge

2. Self

3. Agency

4. Perception

6. Inference

7. Testimony

8. Absence

Anand notes that  “this would require good excerpts from the various schools organized in a very tight manner. But still something really basic where we have short selections and exchanges that students can read. And something non-comprehensive. I don’t think they want a massive reader.”

So, what he wants to know is (i) is there a need for such a volume, targeting an undergraduate-level readership? (ii), any big-picture suggestions for this sort of project? (iii) who may be inspired to work with him on it?

Please post reflections on (i) and (ii) below. For (iii), you can write him directly at


About Matthew Dasti

Matthew R. Dasti is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Bridgewater State University.

13 thoughts on “Feedback requested for book idea

  1. (i) I think there’s definitely a need for such a volume. I’ve taken over the undergrad courses on Indian philosophy at UBC and it’s proven to be a real challenge to put together philosophical readings that work well at this level of instruction. (ii) A chapter on ethical issues and arguments seems needed. Also, I’m not sure what the scope of the term “Classical” is supposed to be. I worry that volumes with this designation may reinforce an image of Indian philosophy as past and finished, instead of as a presently active tradition. Maybe there could be useful and relevant selections from colonial and postcolonial authors on these topics too. Or maybe a companion volume with colonial/post-colonial and contemporary writings.

  2. My reaction is somehow opposite to that of Evan: Since I am afraid that any reader on Classical Indian Arguments is doomed to be fail because of avyapti, I would rather focus on a sub-part of it. Looking at your provisional TOC, one might think of a reader on Classical Indian Epistemology (which surely covers 1 and 4–8, with the exception of 5:-) and could cover also 2–3 since they are often shaped as problems regarding the nature of the pramatr and the nature of the cognitive act respectively.
    As for (i), I agree that it is always very difficult to find materials which can be useful for an audience of philosophers with no knowledge of Sanskrit. Any attempt in this direction is extremely valuable.

    • I think that any reader will suffer from this defect, as this seems to be in the nature of readers. So I suppose the question is what can effectively be covered in a useful way for undergraduates within the compass of a reader. I don’t have strong views on that question, though it seems to me that (1)-(4) and (6) are inseparable, philosophically and hence also pedagogically.

  3. Hi Evan and Elisa and Matthew,

    Thanks for posting up the idea Matthew, and thanks Evan and Elisa for your stimulating comments. Let me clear up some stuff and try to bring the discussion forward:

    1. Looking around at the book forum at the APA this spring I noticed that there are no solid readers on Indian Philosophy that cover arguments about a variety of topics, and that are arranged topically or debate wise, as opposed to standard historical progression. Perhaps there is some reader out there, and I just don’t know about it. If so, please let me know. As a note of interest, I did find many on Chinese philosophy. This led me ask around about whether a reader might be needed. I got positive responses from a number of presses. This was the motivation for asking Matthew to post.

    2. The list I put out as a TOC is simply a list with things off of the top of my head aimed to get the ball rolling on generating a real list. The topics I picked have a lot to do with stuff I am familiar with. But by no means would I want to restrict it to that. Ethics, Metaphysics, Aesthetics… All seem relevant. I am only familiar with stuff in epistemology and metaphysics that would work well. Moreover, my goal is to consult with others to see what would work. So, please suggest topics, particular debates, and specific philosophers.

    3. The title could be something like: Arguments in Indian Philosophy: Classical, Colonial, and Contemporary. Hopefully this would take care of Evan’s worry. But titles can be worked out along the way. I am not particularly good with catchy titles.

    4. I am not at all phased by the Sanskrit worry. But perhaps I am simply ignorant and there is some pressing worry that makes it the case that Plato can be taught without teaching Greek or having Greek passages in a reader, but one cannot teach translated passages from the Nyāya Sutras, for example, without having Sanskrit. In addition, I don’t see why some words cannot simply be left in Sanskrit, with transliterations or English phrasing or definitions (which are commonly accepted) in a section in the front of the book. Furthermore, the book could be set up like Edelglass and Garfield’s Buddhist Philosophy Reader, with introductory material at the beginning of each section. This usually helps for undergraduates.

    5. Readers, in my experience both putting them together and marketing them always fail on some front. They are either (i) not comprehensive to some persons satisfaction, (ii) agenda-biased to some persons preference, (iii) leave some important person out to another person’s dissatisfaction. The main thing is that they fail or succeed relative to a specific goal or set of goals. The goal here, from my perspective, is simple (i) there are interesting arguments in Indian philosophy, (ii) philosophy students ought to learn them, and (iii) although the coverage won’t be comprehensive it sure can be engaging. I can’t imagine that there aren’t good excerpts that can do the job on a variety of topics. But again, perhaps I am missing something.

    6. Finally, it might be that from a political point of view one should not create such a book, because in the long run it does too much negative damage to the image of Indian philosophy. If that is a consequence that I am not considering in enough detail, please fill in those details.

    Again, hoping for more comments and discussion to get this going. So, as to see how it can or can’t be done or why it should or should not be done. I am simply advocating for more Indian philosophy to be taught in philosophy departments, at present it looks to me like an undergraduate reader can help solve this problem. Maybe I am not the one to make the reader, but I thought starting the discussion would be good.


  4. As a non-expert but ardent amateur I think this is a _very worthwhile if not urgent_ project that addresses a void in the pedagogical literature. I second the suggestion regarding arguments in other areas, especially Indian “aesthetics,” which happens to be an area that intrigues me and, I think, deserves (not surprisingly) more attention in “comparative” philosophy of art and aesthetics. I do look forward to the fruits of your efforts in this endeavor.

  5. Pingback: A reader on “Indian Philosophy”? | elisa freschi

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  7. I think this is an excellent idea. In addition to the classical sources, you might consider an original essay for each section (from various contributors) helping with the terminology and context, especially for western audience, and drawing connections, where possible, with western philosophy. This would make the volume more useful for courses not especially devoted to Indian philosophy.

  8. Velin, I’m glad you brought up Cārvāka/ Lokāyata, which Amartya Sen was kind enough to remind us about in his book, The Argumentative Indian…(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). In some respects, we might take our cue here from Jalāl-ud-dīn Muhammad Akbar (1542-1605), a remarkable ruler of the Mughal Empire on the Indian subcontinent from 1556-1605.* Sen writes of the great Mughal’s

    “sponsorship and support for dialogues between adherents of different faiths, nearly two thousand years [after the Buddhist ruler Aśoka’s championing of same]. Akbar’s overarching thesis that ‘the pursuit of reason’ rather than ‘reliance on tradition’ is the way to address difficult problems of social harmony included a robust celebration of reasoned dialogues. [….] Akbar not only made unequivocal pronouncements on the priority of tolerance, but also laid the formal foundations of a secular legal structure and of religious neutrality of the state, which included the duty to ensure that ‘no man should be interfered with on account of religion, and anyone is allowed to go over to a religion that pleases him.’ [….] While the historical background of Indian secularism can be traced to the trend of thinking that had begun to take root well before Akbar, the politics of secularism received a tremendous boost from Akbar’s championing of pluralist ideals, along with his insistence that the state should be completely impartial between different religions.”

    In particular, Sen notes that when “Akbar held his multi-religious dialogic encounters in Agra, the Cārvāka school of atheism was well represented among the alternative positions that were selected for presentation (as Akbar’s adviser and chronicler Abul Fazl noted). In philosophical discourses throughout Indian history, atheists and sceptics make frequent appearances….”

    * I introduce him here:

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