3am interview with Jan Westerhoff

Another 3AM Magazine interview related to Indian philosophy: with Jan Westerhoff at Oxford University. (Note that according to Richard Marshall, you can expect several more such interviews in the coming months.) In this interview, Westerhoff talks about why he thinks Madhyamaka has been so influential, replies to common objections to its views on emptiness, whether we should think of them as anticipating Matrix-style thought experiments, and whether their logic should be construed as paraconsistent.

The interview concludes with some reflection on philosophical methodology; Westerhoff says

When ancient Indian thinkers composed commentaries on previous works their aim was often not just to spell out and explain the position of their authors, but to connect the philosophical concerns of the text commented on with the concerns of their contemporary audience. I think this is good model for our own engagements with ancient Indian philosophical texts. Of course it is essential to build our study of these texts on a firm philological foundation, including reliable editions, precise translations, and rich historical contextualizations. Yet in addition to these we need to be able to point out how the text’s concerns link up with our own philosophical questions, whether these are questions in metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, or some other field of philosophy. And given that our understanding of philosophy in the west in shaped by the Western philosophical tradition this means relating the positions of the ancient Indian thinkers to those of Western philosophers, not in order to set up a competition for priority, or to determine who has got it right, but use it as a possibility of making progress with answering the philosophical question at hand.

If we conceive of it in this way we can see how work on historical philosophical texts (whether they are from ancient India, from ancient Greece, or from other parts of the world) can be a genuinely creative enterprise that does not just try to present historical arguments as exhibits in the Museum of the History of Ideas, but uses ancient texts for actually doing philosophy.

Unlike Anand Vaidya’s recent interview, Westerhoff’s has not set off any further blog conversations that I’ve seen. However, we can hope that it will be read widely and be yet another resource for philosophers whose work is not primarily in Indian philosophy, but who are interested in expanding their teaching and or research.

About Malcolm Keating

Malcolm Keating is Assistant Professor of Philosophy in the Humanities Division at Yale-NUS College, Singapore.

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