Cosmopolitan Philosophy: Western and Indian Philosophy in 20th century Oxford University

Dear All, this is a draft of a course summary. I will be teaching it with a Western philosopher in spring 2018. We want to focus on Indian and Western philosophy of mind and some basics in epistemology. We’ll also focus on Matilal and the Western philosophers with whom he engaged. Any thoughts would be appreciated!


Jonathan Edelmann and Robert D’Amico

Spring 2018

Today many scholars would agree that the discipline of philosophy has been practiced in many cultures. Thus, academics today write books on Indian philosophers, Chinese philosophers, Arabic philosophers and so on, along with books on Greek, German, American, and other European philosophers. But it was not always the case that scholars recognized the existence of philosophy in non-Western civilizations. While there were many that contributed to a more cosmopolitan understanding of philosophy, this course focuses on Bimal Krishna Matilal (1935–1991). In 1976 Matilal became Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford University and a Fellow of All Souls College. He took as one his intellectual aims that “India should not, indeed cannot, be left out of any general study of the history of logic and philosophy.”  We focus on this rare academic convergence of two different philosophical traditions roughly between 1960 and 1980. While India and Europe both have long and distinguished philosophical traditions, they are rarely studied comparatively or in conversation with one another. It is understandable that scholars tend to study either Western or India philosophy in insolation because the complexity and precision of each tradition requires a considerable amount of time to master. This team-taught course, however, allows us to draw upon our individual specializations, thereby building a conversation across disciplines. You will learn the various efforts to bring Western and Eastern philosophy together against the background of these deep questions about philosophy’s future. The readings and topics in the course are at times demanding. Although this course does not presuppose any background knowledge in either Western or Indian philosophy, we hope that students will rise to this challenge and be led by the course to think more clearly and critically about such diverse traditions and their place in a genuinely cosmopolitan society.

About Jonathan Edelmann

Assistant Professor of Hinduism University of Florida

4 Replies to “Cosmopolitan Philosophy: Western and Indian Philosophy in 20th century Oxford University”

    • I’ve got some general ideas, but I’m working out the details.

      I’m thinking to start with some of his general comments on Indian and Western philosophy in “Indian Philosophy: Is there a problem today?” and “On the concept of philosophy in India” and then some general comments on karma and self in Hinduism and Buddhism in “Transmigration and the Moral enigma of Karma.”

      For epistemology, he gives a great intro to some of the foundation issues in pramana theory in nyaya and bauddha in “Perception and Language” (reprinted in Epistemology, Logic and Grammar, edited by J.Ganeri).

      I am not sure yet, but we may cover his detailed analysis of skepticism in _Percpetion_.

  1. From Ayon Maharaj:

    Hi Jonathan,
    This looks like a really interesting and innovative course. There seems to be a bit of a mismatch between the general course title (“Western and Indian Philosophy in 20th C. Oxford U.”) and the course description, which focuses only on Matilal. If you want to focus exclusively on Matilal, I’d suggest adding his name to the course title. Alternatively, if you want to keep the course title as general as it is, it would make sense for you to address other important 20th c. Oxford philosophers specializing in Indian philosophy–most notably, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who was Spalding Professor from 1936-1952.

    Hope this helps, Ayon

    • Dear Ayon Maharaja,

      Course titles are of necessity a bit general, but the reason we’ll focus on Matilal is first that he wrote a lot and second that the philosopher with whom I am teaching (Robert D’Amico) has taught courses on the philosophers with whom Matilal engaged. This is for Western philosophy students and I feel like if we can give them a sense of what Matilal was doing and of the historical tradition that he wrote about, as well as a sense of Indian and European philosophers compare on specific issues like self and epistemology, that will be good.

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