Anand Vaidya is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy at San Jose State University, and one of this site’s bloggers. His work is in epistemology, philosophy of mind, and critical thinking–all of which he engages in a manner that is broadly comparative. His most recent publication, co-authored with Purushottama Billimoria and Jaysankar Shaw, is “Absence: An Indo-Analytic Inquiry,” in Sophia, but you can see a long list of his publications on his website here.
1. What are you working on right now, and what do you hope to achieve by it?
At present I am working on a series of articles and a book on cross-cultural critical thinking. The core idea is to defend the view that critical thinking must be taught by using both western and non-western sources. We need an introductory level critical thinking book that uses sources from as many places as possible, if we are going to say that critical thinking is a fundamental way of engaging each other in the human condition. I am doing this project because I want to change how critical thinking is taught because I feel we don’t teach students early on that non-western cultures also contributed to the form of engagement called critical thinking, and they had interesting, different, and novel ideas to say about it. I think it is pretty bad at this stage of human history that we teach and sell the value of critical thinking by referring to only western sources, such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc… I think we ought to be teaching students about critical thinking by using sources from Arabic, African, Buddhist, Chinese, Hindu, Latin American, and all other kinds of sources.
2. How did you come to study Indian philosophy, and how is it related to your current position?
I am the director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy at San Jose State University. I don’t have this position because I have some special training in Sanskrit or Indian philosophy. I have this position because I am committed to the cause of philosophy without borders and comparative methodology as a valuable methodology alongside experimental, analytical, and phenomenological methods. I always knew I wanted to study Indian philosophy. But the philosophy education system I came up in, in the US, pretty much did not allow the serious study of it in a philosophy program. I turned to the proper study of Indian philosophy late in my career after I had finished working on projects I was interested in that did not relate to Indian philosophy, such as the epistemology of possibility and necessity. The two people that have influenced me the most and brought me into Indian philosophy are Purushottama Bilimoria and Jaysankar Shaw. Aside from them I have a bad habit of reading a lot.
3. What advice would you give to students wishing to pursue the study of Indian philosophy?
My advice to students that want to study Indian philosophy is to simply start reading primary and secondary sources while also pursuing other areas of inquiry. Indian philosophy in my mind is best pursued alongside other disciplines, like cognitive science, logic, mathematics, chemistry, physics, western philosophy, linguistics, etc. I am a proponent of hybrid philosophy where one is always mixing different things together. One should learn Sanskrit and Logic (many different kinds). These areas help. It is also useful to study an instrument or play a sport or do yoga, to make sure your study of Indian philosophy is balanced in another area.
4. What have your major intellectual influences been, philosophical or otherwise?
My major intellectual influences are almost all western philosophers, since I turned to Indian philosophy late in my career. However, in Indian philosophy my major influences are all 20th century scholars of the field, such as B.K. Matilal, D. Krishna, J. Mohanty, P. Bilimoria, J. Shaw, A. Chakrabarti, M. Chadha, and J. Ganeri.
5. What do you think you’ll do next?
My next major project is to return to working on epistemology and philosophy of mind from an Indo-Analytic perspective. I have a series of papers I want to tie together on intuition, perception, inference, and consciousness that brings together ideas from Analytic philosophy and Indian philosophy (not that those two terms should be opposed in all senses).
6. Where do you think the field should go next, in terms of priorities and projects?
I am not certain there is one direction the whole field should go in next. But I would like to see more work done on experimental philosophy in relation to comparative philosophy. I think the unification of these two fields could do a lot of positive good for changing philosophy, just as Indian philosophy and embodied cognitive science has done a lot of good.
7. Finally, a question (originally asked on the 3AM Interview Series): What books do you recommend to help our readers be taken further into your philosophical world?
At present I am reading Comparative Philosophy without Borders by A. Chakrabarti and R. Weber. I think this book captures a lot of where my mind is going, what I think will be exciting in philosophy in the near future.