Contemporary Indian philosophy and its fortunes and misfortunes in European and Angloamerican journals UPDATED!

A colleague alerted us to a series of posts by (or about) the philosophers and historian of philosophy Joel Katzav on various aspects of the intersection of politics and philosophy and its impact on the fortunes of (especially contemporary) Indian philosophy.

The first one (here) starts with a summary of Sharad Deshpande’s distinction between a first and a second generation of contemporary Indian philosophers and notes that —contrary to what one might think— contemporary Indian philosophers managed to publish on the prominent European and Anglo-American philosophy journals much more often in the past (roughly upto WW2) than now (!).

The second article argues that this disappearance might be due to the fact that these journals (i.e., Mind, The Philosophical Review and The Journal of Philosophy) have been taken over by Analytic philosophers. The conclusion is worth quoting in full:

Thus, in addition to being characterized by its use of marginalization as a way of gaining advantage over other approaches to philosophy, 1950s and 1960s analytic philosophy was characterized by its persistent silence about how it went about its business.

The third article starts by reassessing the parallel absence of Indian philosophy and of all non-Analytic philosophy in the same journals. It then discusses the institutional ties through which Indian philosophy could nonetheless thrive in the 1950s to 1970s.

The fourth post is the only one not by but about Joel Katzav, and it is written by Mohan Matthen. It offers a counter-narrative about the absence of Indian philosophy from the top European and Anglo-American journals. Let me quote its main thesis:

Indians didn’t generally feel intellectually equal to white people, and they didn’t have the resources to compete. Some isolated figures had the confidence and courage to produce work that could be internationally published [EF: these are the ones who manages to publish on top journals prior to WW2]. But they and their successors did not have the connections to the mid-century ferment to enable them to continue to sneak into these venues.

Joel Katzav answers to Matthen in the comment section to the post (which contains, by the way, further interesting comments).

What do readers, especially those more well-versed in contemporary Indian philosophy, think?

UPDATE: I could fix two inaccuracies thanks to Joel Katzav.

About elisa freschi

My long-term program is to make "Indian Philosophy" part of "Philosophy". You can follow me also on my personal blog: elisafreschi.com, on Academia, on Amazon, etc.

12 thoughts on “Contemporary Indian philosophy and its fortunes and misfortunes in European and Angloamerican journals UPDATED!

  1. Thank you for this, Elisa. And to Joerg Tuske, who alerted us to this fascinating exchange in the first place.

    I found this claim worthy of pause: “PR continued to be a journal that was open to Absolute Idealism until around about 1948, when analytic editors, including, among others, N. Malcolm, M. Black and G. Vlastos, took over the journal and turned it into a mouthpiece for mid-century analytic philosophy.”

    Small point: My own understanding of Vlastos is that he was one of the major figures (if not the major figure) who brought history of philosophy back into philosophy departments by showing that we can engage with Plato as philosophers, and not merely as antiquarians. I see him as a major player in the resuscitation of the history of philosophy, which paved the way for Matilal and the rest. It isn’t fair to him to lump him in with the analytic trend to denigrate history of philosophy, imho.

  2. Also relevant, Bhushan and Garfield’s monograph presenting their own work on modern Indian philosophers has just been released:
    https://global.oup.com/academic/product/minds-without-fear-9780190457594?cc=us&lang=en&

    Among other things, they reinforce the sense of cultural dislocation discussed by Matthen. Interestingly, they stress that it was also pronounced in India itself; insofar as they were Indians doing philosophy in a primarily English idiom, these thinkers were intellectually homeless.

  3. Matthew,

    Vlastos’ role in marginalizing non-analytic philosophers and promoting analytic philosophers is well documented (see here http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09608788.2016.1261794). Among other things, he was one of those who ensured that Indian philosophers engaging with the history of philosophy as philosophers (not as antiquarians) no longer published in The Philosophical Review in the 1950s. Many mid-twentieth century philosophers in India and many non-analytic, American philosophers from that period needed nobody to tell them to engage with the history of philosophy as philosophers (irrespective of what is true of some analytic philosophers of the time). None of this, of course, is to say that Vlastos helped to ‘denigrate history of philosophy’.

    As for the idea that modern Indian philosophers I’ve been talking about were generally intellectually homeless, this is not my impression. I would say that, e.g, Radhakrishnan and Raju, were at home in both Western philosophy and Indian philosophy. In any case, it is very clear that cultural dislocation, lack of confidence or lack of ties with the West do not explain the disappearance of modern Indian philosophy from journals such as The Philosophical Review. The disappearance of modern Indian philosophy from a journal repeatedly overlaps with the marginalization of non-analytic philosophy from the journal. In PR, for example, modern Indian philosophy disappears in about 1948, exactly when the journal becomes a mouthpiece for analytic philosophy. And philosophers from India do continue to publish in the West after each case of exclusion. Thus, after Raju and others cease to publish in The Philosophical Review, they continue to publish in The Journal of Philosophy, The Review of Metaphysics and other Western journals. For the most part, they continue to publish in journals that are not yet controlled by analytic philosophers and, in some cases, after journal editors explicitly encourage contributions from India.

    • Dear Joel,

      let me start by saying that I did not know anything about Vlastos’ influence on US and Analytic philosophy. I checked your 2017 article (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09608788.2016.1261794), which is well-documented and extremely interesting. Still, I am not sure where I should look for evidences of the fact that Vlastos had a specific role in marginalising non-Analytic philosophy. I see that he was connected to Analytic philosophers (p. 783) and the appendix shows his activity as author and editor of Philosophical Review. Still, I am missing a reason proving that he was an active agent and not someone who happened to be there while the shift towards Analytic philosophy happened. Again, it is not the case that I want to defend him (in fact, I don’t know his work), I am just curious.

      • Vlastos is one of the new editors at PR when it becomes a journal for analytic philosophy. Moreover, one of the notable things about PR after its transformation is that it is open to a species of work in the history of philosophy, namely the species of work that Vlastos became famous for (so-called ‘analytic history of philosophy’). So it seems very likely that he played an important role in determining the contents of the journal at the time and, in particular, in deciding whether, e.g., engagement with the history of Indian philosophy was found in the journal.

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