In light of these recent posts about places for pursuing graduate training in Indian philosophy, I would like to invite a different (but related) sort of discussion: specifically, about the future of Indian philosophy, given recent debates about progress in philosophy.
Do specialists in Indian philosophy think there are any or even enough resources in the Indian philosophical tradition for advancing debates in metaphysics and epistemology about, say, things like causation, perception, concept acquisition, and the nature of self-knowledge, given the irreversible changes wrought by naturalism? Is progress in Indian philosophy going to be confined exclusively to the illumination of ancient (or even early modern) views for contemporary audiences?
Let me offer some thoughts on this issue that might (hopefully) get the discussion going. Philosophers from Dharmottara to Gaṅgeśa to Raghunātha have debated at length such central epistemic notions as ‘defect’ (doṣa) and ‘excellence’ (guṇa) while pondering the issue of whether cognition is intrinsically or extrinsically ascertained. They noted that veridical cognitions could not be based solely on beliefs one held intrinsically because they recognized the potential fallibility of belief. That is why from Gaṅgeśa onwards, the tendency is to place the burden of epistemic responsibility not on the belief itself (and how it is held), but on its sources: that is, on belief formation itself. If I know exactly how it is that I come to perceive a face in the mirror, say, on account of my understanding the properties of light and surface reflectance, then I can no longer believe there is a face in the mirror, however mysterious these properties turn out to be. So, if epistemic reliability is a factor of descriptive accuracy, then one can no longer hold the view that there are such things are brute common sense facts.
There is a long lineage of Indian philosophers seeking naturalistically respectable accounts of belief formation. But (and here is the crucial point) one can go only so far in describing the epistemic properties of belief formation without the benefit of cognitive science, neuroscience, biology, neurobiology, and the like. Ditto for pondering the nature of what there is à la Vaiśeṣika, Abhidharma, and the rest without the benefit of modern physics.
Is there anything at the cutting edge of Indian metaphysics and epistemology that can help advance the debate about progress in philosophy, where such debate is not merely about achieving clarity and understanding, or even enlightenment (in the common sense of that term) in articulating specific philosophical views, but about knowledge?
Descartes occupies a turning point in Western philosophy because he shows an awareness of the dangers of being so drawn into one’s own study of the past to the point of forgetting the reasons one got into it in the first place. If modernity ever arrived in India prior to the colonial period, it must have done so differently, perhaps as “thinking with the texts and beyond them” (as Ganeri has recently suggested in his The Lost Age of Reason). This possible early arrival is, however, yet to be fully assessed. Regardless, a whole generation of 20th c. Indian-born philosophers, from Daya Krishna to Matilal and Mohanty have expressed ambivalence about how best to do Indian philosophy in a modern key (notwithstanding the challenges of writing it in a language, English, shaped by a completely different philosophical culture). Ideally, it should be read such that one neither imports too many alien concepts into it, nor writes it merely as a chapter in the history of something like ‘global’ philosophy. Now that there are respectable ways of doing Indian philosophy outside of Indology, how should the question of progress be framed? Can it be framed?
Can these (for the most part classical) texts point far enough beyond them to occasion some kind of philosophical progress given that scientific naturalism is here to stay?
Least there is any confusion, let me just add that my question (a multi-part one, I admit) is not about whether such progress should entail that some version of (Cārvāka-like) physicalism (or any comparable metaphysical theory) is true, but about whether theories of knowledge (and reality) originating in the Indian philosophical tradition can be extended to accommodate the vast bodies of empirical knowledge we now have.