1. Begin at the End: Introduction to Indian Philosophy

Posted on 19 September 2015

In this introduction to the series, Peter Adamson and Jonardon Ganeri propose that Indian philosophy was primarily a way of life and search for the highest good. 

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Further Reading

• J. Ganeri, “Introduction” to C. Carlisle and J. Ganeri (eds), Philosophy as Therapeia (Cambridge: 2010).
• J. Ganeri, “Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from the Buddha to Tagore,” in M. Chase, S. Clark and M. McGhee (eds.), Philosophy as a Way of Life: Ancients and Moderns (Oxford: 2013).
• P. Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault (Oxford: 1995).
• A. Kuzminski, “Pyrrhonism and Madhyamaka,” Philosophy East and West 27 (2007), 482–511.

NB: For reading suggestions on Indian philosophy in general see the page for the whole series of podcasts.

Comments

yousef damra 20 September 2015

For how long will you cover Indian philosophy, in terms of both episodes and time,if possible.
Thanks

This will be made a bit clearer in episode 2 but for starters we're promising to cover the first 1000 years or so of Indian thought. We might come back and do more later. But that will be (I'm guessing) between 40-50 episodes; since they appear every other week, alternating with European philosophy, that means episodes will be appearing for the next 2 years or so.

Namjoong Kim 20 September 2015

Hi Peter

We need to celebrate this. By deciding to cover Indian philosophy, you just made this podcast a true history of *world* philosophy, as opposed to just the history of western philosophy.

Now, the natural question is, "When will you do Chinese philosophy?" You just decided to devote a considerable amount of time and efforts to Indian philosophy, and I see no good reason for you not to deal with other philosophical traditions in Asia.

Of course, having covered the Western philosophical tradition up to the medial age, you will have to wrap up what you have done so far. Perhaps, the best path will be to cover Indian philosphy in 2016, and then to cover some modern European philosophy in 2017, and then to cover Chinese+Far East Asian philosphies in 2018. (Just a suggestion.) I can't wait to listen to the future episodes of this podcast in coming years. This is like the Arabian nights for philosophers! Thank you for a great podcast.

Best regards,

Namjoong Kim

Thanks, glad you are enthusiastic about this! My hope is definitely to do China too but at the moment it looks like African philosophy will come first. After that, I guess the choice would be between doing more Indian philosophy with Jonardon (and taking the story up to the 20th century) or doing China, assuming I can find a co-author for Chinese thought. At least I am not going to run out of things to learn and tell you about...

Bear in mind by the way that I am not ceasing to cover European philosophy; the medieval (and then Byzantine, Renaissance, Early Modern...) episodes will appear in alternating weeks. This is partially because it is easier for me to do it that way for various practical reasons, and partially because a big chunk of the audience expressed a desire for me to keep moving along with European thought rather than grinding to a halt to do India. So I hope that this way everyone will be happy.

Raphael Gilliam 23 September 2015

In reply to by Peter Adamson

For Africa, what kinds of things/regions are you going to cover (as far as pre-colonial Africa is concerned)?  Apart from Ethiopian philosophy like Zera Yaqob, is there a lot of widely available written philosophy?  Are you including Egyptian philosophy?  While you did cover it post-Alexander Egypt (Plotinus, Origen, Philo, Clement, Desert Fathers/Mothers), ancient Egypt did have interesting philosophy (e.g. The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant).

Would you have a co-author for Africa?

Peter Adamson 23 September 2015

In reply to by Raphael Gilliam

Yes, I have a prospective co-author for Africa (that's why I am putting it first, before China). I will probably talk more about this in the Q+A that is coming up on episode 250 but to make a long story short, you are right that there is a lack of textual tradition for Africa; we would plan to cover ancient Egyptian thought though, and touch on the question of whether Roman era philosophy should be counted as part of African thought. And then there is the vexed issue of whether traditional African religious beliefs can be considered from a philosophical point of view; we'll also talk about this. In short a lot of the project will involve discussing what kind of material there is and in what sense it has been (and should be) considered philosophical. By the way this project would also look at philosophy in the African diaspora so it is much more extensive than it may sound at first (hence we are going to call it "Africana" rather than "African" philosophy, probably). But as I say, more on this in episode 250!

mehmet 24 September 2015

In reply to by Peter Adamson

My humble opinion is, egyptian thought is much more a part and parcel of pre-greek middle eastern thought, rather than african thought. Actually, do we have some solid knowledge on the state of philosophical speculation in sub-saharan africa before western exploration?

I have read a book by Henri Frankfort with the title "Kingship and the Gods". There, part of the effort of the author was spent on proving an african background to the ancient egyptian philosophical/religious concepts. For example, he tried to connect the pharaonic traditions of egypt with kingly traditions of of east african tribes like Jukun and Dinka. But I do not think such theories are met with approval by scholarly community.

May I suggest an alternative? The complex of ancient near eastern traditions are extremely rich in terms of philosophical speculation. There are four sub-traditions within this complex: (1) Egypt (2) Mesopotamia (3) Canaan/Israel (4) Iran and the zoroastrian tradition..  There is also very good secondary/modern literature investigating these traditions from a philosophical point of view: For example, Jan Assmann's books on ancient egypt.

These traditions are very rich from a "storytelling" perspective. Besides, three great religions sprung from within them, and they influenced ancient greeks to some degree.. For example, Robin Lane Fox wrote a book and shoot a documentary about the hittite background of many ancient greek myths. Note: Hittite traditions are quite separate from the four "greats" listed above.

 

Thanks for this well-informed and thought-provoking comment. Obviously there is a big issue here about the extent to which any of the material you're talking about can be considered "philosophical" and that is also a pressing issue for much of the African tradition. Though in principle I think what you are suggesting could be a good idea, practically speaking I don't want to derail the project of tackling African philosophy as a unified story, starting in Ancient Egypt and going all the way to the present. But after consulting with my prospective co-author we're thinking it would make sense to touch on the other cultures you mention as a background and comparison point for the Egyptian material (where, by the way, I am more confident that there is more or less clearly "philosophical" material to be found). So, we won't ignore this entirely but I don't think I want to try to mount a dozen+ episode series on ancient civilizations!

Points taken, but I have two objections, just for the sake of clarity:

1) If Egyptian civilization contains "philosophical material", mesopotamian civilisation contains even more of the same. In modern scholarship Mesopotamia (very unfortunately) plays the second fiddle to Egypt, but it was more brilliant compared to egypt in terms of philosophy, science etc.. In this respect, let me refer to a book that hit the shelves very recently: "Philosophy before the Greeks: The Pursuit of Truth in Ancient Babylonia" by van mieroop.
I do not know enough about zoroastrian and canaanite/jewish traditions to say whether they contain any strictly philosophical material, but one is the mother of all dualistic traditions, the other is the mother of all "great" religions. Nobody can doubt that they are intellectually immensely important. And I suspect that their myths are just a veiled telling of deep philosophical concepts..

2) I do not think their telling require dozen+ episode series. Just one will do. These are not fast-changing, wildly-branching traditions like ancient greek thought.. They remain static for millenia, and revolutionary periods like Amarna are rare. Hence 20-25 episodes for egypt and the same for mesopotamia wil amply suffice. If, for the sake of giving justice to "without any gaps", canaanite/israelite and zoroastrian traditions will also be covered, 10 episodes each will be sufficient.
One emerging area of research is the influence of egyptian and babylonian traditions on ancient greek thought, which is well summarized by the book "the orientalizing revolution" by Walter Burkert". May be 2-3 episodes coud be devoted to this area, which will serve as a connection to your "classical" episode series. So, in total, around 70 episodes, which is as long as "later antiquity" or "islamic world". In other word, just one episode series.

Yes, I agree that what you're saying makes sense: instead of treating Egypt as the first part of a podcast series on Africa, one could treat it as part of a series on ancient civilizations (apart from Greece and Rome). To me, that would be legitimate though with all of this material one is pushing the boundaries of what counts as "philosophy" - I mean, the fact that you have an intellectual tradition or an important religious tradition doesn't mean that you have something that the historian of philosophy needs to worry about. As you know I do tend to have a very broad understanding of what philosophy is, though.

Anyway I think what we can practically speaking undertake to do is gesture towards those other civilizations as a point of comparison, while raising this very question of whether the material found there, or in Egypt, is "philosophical" or perhaps rather, in what sense.  Which isn't to say that the project you're proposing would be a bad idea, I just don't think it's one I will wind up adopting - I would rather do Africa and hopefully then China. As usual it is a contest between my desire to be complete and what seems practically feasible/desireable.

As another perspective, I think your previously stated "project of tackling African philosophy as a unified story, starting in Ancient Egypt and going all the way to the present" is an excellent-sounding project, as that story is very rarely told. If I understand, would the way you'd be treating Egypt be similar to how you treated Greece in "Islamic World" (i.e. comparisons of Islamic philosophers to their "Greek heritage")?

Peter Adamson 7 October 2015

In reply to by Raphael Gilliam

Well, not exactly. The idea would be more to look at certain texts from ancient Egypt and take them seriously in their own right as philosophical works, e.g. ethical treatises or the Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor. Whether there is also something to say about the transmission or survival of ideas from Egypt in later African history is a further issue which we'd address but it wouldn't be the focus, I think.

Tarun G 26 August 2022

In reply to by Peter Adamson

After Zhuangzi is covered, would a bonus episode on Fernando Pessoa be a good fit with HOPWAG's focus areas? An interview with (or bonus episode co-authored by) Jonardon Ganeri? Prof. Ganeri's recent books put Pessoa's heteronyms in dialogue with Avicenna's flying man, Upanishads and Vedanta, Buddhist philosophy of mind/self, and Zhuangzi's butterfly dream thought experiment. I think it'd be fun to have an 'advanced' episode that has earlier HOPWAG episodes as prerequisites—a nod to how much ground this podcast has covered for over a decade. But Thirukkural standalone episode is one I still think is important to HOPWAG India narrative, though.

But on Classical Chinese philosophy: I'd love to see the series follow the India format, of two intro episodes. First intro makes the case for why it's as philosophical as, say, Plato or Kant, and the second intro shows the social conditions CCP emerged and flourished in. First intro shows why CCP is 'philosophy', not just "wisdom books of the East" or "self-help" or even just "advice". Second describes the key themes in CCP, and shifts in foci over time—like ep. 2 of India.

Finally, I can't help but point out the obvious question of intercultural contacts with South Asia. Does Chinese Buddhist philosophy fall under your focus area for this series, or just the Confucian, Tao, and other "Zi" schools? Were there any contacts in the first millennium CE between India and China that have philosophical relevance? I don't know the answers, but I'm curious if this could be touched upon in the final episodes—like the Indian influences on Europe episode.

 

padmanabhan 22 September 2015

Good effort.. Looking for more .. Thank you

H.V.VISWESWARAN 24 September 2015

sir, It is nice to have such series on Indian Philosophy. While appreciating your endeavour, I plead the case of the Tamil classic, THIRUKKURAL. It is the real basis of Indian philosophical thinking. Please add this topic also in your discussion.   

www.philosophyofkural.blogspot.in

Thanking you,

with regards

HV.VISWESWARAN

Thanks for the suggestion - Jonardon and I hadn't planned an episode on it but we agree it is an important text with relevance for the philosophical tradition, so we will think about how we might fit it in.

Matt 24 September 2015

Hi, excited to listen. Do you plan on making this series available on Stitcher as well?

Peter Adamson 25 September 2015

In reply to by Matt

Thanks, glad you are enthusiastic! I don't know anything about Stitcher but you're the second person to ask, so I will look into it.

Stephan Schulz 27 September 2015

This is very welcome (though I'm also looking forward to the enlightenment philosophers, to say nothing of Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Rawls - or even Rand ;-). One thing: I managed to subscribe to the new podcast via the RSS feed, but I could not find it in the iTunes store. Personally, I have found nearly all the podcast series I listen to via the store, so I suspect you will miss a big part of the audience if you don't get it listed there.

X1972 28 September 2015

Could you post the transcript of the episodes? You refer to many books and authors and I'd love to check the internet to learn more about them (as I always do with the Western/Islamic episodes). Unfortunately, and due to my lack of knowledge of the Indian tradition, it is really hard for me to catch on the names and their spelling.

Thanks a lot for an outstanding effort.

Peter Adamson 28 September 2015

In reply to by X1972

Hi there - thanks for your interest in the series. I address the transcripts question under FAQ (link at bottom of the page). I know the names are tricky in these episodes - boy do I know they are tricky - but soon we'll put up a timeline for the Indian tradition along with the other timelines (link at top of page), which will give you a list of the names at least and that may help.

Chris Backes 3 October 2015

When you speak of Indian Philosophy as a way of life, I think of Pierre Hadot's Philosophy as a Way of Life (which after I wrote this, but before publishing the comment, I see that you cited). Do you think that this adds anything to MacIntyre's criticism of modern ethics in After Virtue, since it shows that there would be relative uniformity in purpose of philosophy (or ethics in particular) that arose independently in various contexts? Perhaps to put it a bit differently, do you think that the conception of ethics as teleological is found in Indian philosophy, and secondly that this might further MacIntyre's claims about the history of ethics?

Thanks for this interesting comment. Obviously MacIntyre (whom I actually got to know a little bit when I was at Notre Dame!) was mostly inspired by Aristotle and ancient Greek ethics and I don't recall him trying to appeal to the cross-cultural appearance of the "way of life" based approach. But I agree it could help his case. One thing to note though is that MacIntyre and other virtue ethicists tend to want to have the Aristotelian ethics without the Aristotelian metaphysics and anthropology. In the Indian sphere the same challenge would arise: the "way of life" approach to ethics also went hand-in-hand with ideas about human nature, the self (or lack thereof) and the connection between human and cosmos. In fact it might be even more difficult to recuperate ancient Indian ethics without taking on board these other features, even moreso than Aristotle (who in fact in the Ethics makes little or no explicit attempt to connect his ethical teaching to his physics, zoology etc).

Chris Backes 6 October 2015

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Thanks for your comments. And I have a suggestion for a pun for you, which I cannot yet recall hearing in the podcast: "I like my history of philosophy like a dentist likes his teeth: without any gaps."

Peter Adamson 7 October 2015

In reply to by Chris Backes

Actually I did do that joke already! Check out the start of episode 175.

Michael 8 October 2015

In reply to by Peter Adamson

I'm curious about your point on virtue ethics without the metaphysics and anthropology. I thought that MacIntyre's whole criticism of modern ethics was that, having got rid of the Aristotelian metaphysics and anthropology that provided a rational ground for the ethics, modern ethics didn't have enough to put in its place to replace it. And in much of After Virtue and Whose Justice Which Rationality, it seems like he's quite sympathetic to the "function" argument, as he argues against the is-ought divide by means of the claim that is-statements about human beings are also by that very fact ought-statements since human beings are constituted in such a way that they have a characteristic function. Now perhaps some of the details of Aristotle's anthropology can go, but broadly this seems like an application of such Aristotelian theses as final and formal causality and human nature as directed toward some good. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I read MacIntyre as saying that some sort of Aristotelian apparatus of metaphysics and anthropology is necessary to evade some sort of nihilism or emotivism that masks nihilism - hence the evocative choice we are offered between Nietzsche or Aristotle.

Peter Adamson 9 October 2015

In reply to by Michael

Well, perhaps I should now admit it's been about 20 years since I read these books. But my recollection is that in After Virtue he (maybe even explicitly) says that we have to dispense with Aristotelian biology/metaphysics and not ground ethics in that, hence he instead tries to ground it in characteristic features of human life that are still functional but not metaphysical, like shared community. So, I think he tries to hold on to the framework without the underlying worldview (which he takes to be superceded by modern science). My point therefore was that Indian "way of life" ethics is at least as much underpinned by metaphysical concerns as Aristotle, hence it wouldn't be straightforward to adapt the ideas of these texts either - which is not to say one couldn't or shouldn't try, just that it might be a difficult undertaking.

Pamela 4 October 2015

Peter and Jonardon:

I am a former philosophy student looking to obtain a Masters in Comparative Philosophy, focusing on Ancient Indian and Greek traditions. I thank you for at last covering the much understudied subject that is Indian philosophy. Ive meet many professional philosophers who dismiss that the Indians can 'philosophize' the way that Westerns could. I beg to differ and would love to hear more about comparisons between the two traditions. Again thank y'all for covering this topic!

Peter Adamson 4 October 2015

In reply to by Pamela

Thanks - and of course we couldn't agree more! We won't do a lot of comparison with the Western tradition, as we said in this episode, but later on there will be episodes about how Indian thought has influenced European thought at various periods.

Jaime Valles 5 October 2015

It sounds an interesting series and a brave undertaking! What makes this a history of Indian philosophy as opposed to a history of Indian religion? Where to you see the dividing line, if at all? The Philosophy of religion is an interesting academic area in its own right but where are you looking to strike the balance?

That's a good question and of course one that comes up a lot with the European material too (not least in the medieval episodes I've been doing recently). We actually address this in upcoming episodes on the Upanisads but the basic answer is that (a) we try to convey enough about the religious background and context to let you appreciate the philosophical ideas, but (b) we do focus on the philosophically interesting themes, so for instance we don't go into the details of Vedic ritual but do talk about implications of the ritual for philosophy of language and epistemology. On the other hand as you'll know if you're a longtime listener I'm pretty broad-minded about what counts as "philosophy" and some people find that themes I cover are really "religious." My feeling on this is more or less: if it might be philosophy, we cover it.

Emma 8 October 2015

About a year ago I wanted to begin learning about philosophy in India and had a difficult time finding much to read on the subject. Though I did find a few works, most of which are in your suggested reading list, one thing I never found a good deal of was the philosophical works and commentaries themselves, translated into English. Navigating the world of translations is difficult even for western writings, but I found it practically impossible for Indian texts. So I was wondering if in addition to the reading suggestion list, you could add a list of translated primary texts, perhaps as they become relevant to the podcast, so I can know what currently exists in English and who published it?

That's right: we put collections of translated texts on the top India page but we will also suggest translations of individual works as we go along, as I do with the European episodes where possible (on the page for each episode). Glad that you are interested in looking at the texts, they are really amazing and well worth seeking out!

Fly on the wall 13 October 2015

You mention in this introductory lecture Avicenna as a non-Western philosopher and you also mention in the comment section plans for an African philosophy series, which got me thinking... I hope you don't subscribe to the idea that philosophy can in any meaningful way be divided by geography? To the extent that geography happens to coincide with the spread of philosophical ideas (which it often did in earlier times), that's fine, but one can't force geography onto ideas.

Avicenna and Medieval Islamic philosophy definitely do qualify historically as Western philosophy in terms of ideas, the "West" here being roughly equivalent to the Western part of Eurasia rather than any modern geopolitical notion of what West is, but because and only because they shared common philosophical ideas with their Christian contemporaries and not because they shared common geography.

As for geography, we may think of the "West" today as stretching all the way to Washington and beyond but in the Medieval era Muslim scholars were operating geographically as far West as any Christian scholar (e.g. Averroes). As for modern Muslim philosophy, it seems to have abandoned its Aristotelian roots so with or without any of these subsequent geographical changes, it probably doesn't make sense to call it Western philosophy anymore but that is of course also subject to change in the future depending on how philosophy develops in the Muslim world. But the bottom line is that it's all about the ideas and not about the geography.

Yes, you're putting your finger on a tricky issue. Actually the envisioned series on Africa would not be strictly geographically defined because it would include the African diaspora. Or in the case of India we could look at texts from neighboring regions (Tibet, Sri Lanka) and not just what you might think of narrowly as India. I think that geography can be useful though, since what we are really talking about is cultures, philosophy being a cultural phenomenon that is passed on within (though also across) different communities and language groups - and geography tends to track that, albeit imperfectly. This is why I used the phrase "Islamic world" which is quasi- geographical: it names a region, but the region actually expanded and contracted constantly across the centuries. So what I was trying to convey there was something like the culture(s) that existed in places under Islamic rule, which of course included members of other religions. I think something similar could be said for Africa: we are really interested in telling a story about cultural continuity which is why it would make sense to discuss the diaspora. But Africa may also raise special issues which we'll need to address in the opening episodes.

Not that I know of. I have toyed with the idea that I could do Native American philosophy someday... if I could find a co-author. But I think it is pretty far down the list to be honest, after India, Africa and China. So many traditions, so little time!

Matthew 22 January 2016

Really great stuff. I am excited to listen to this podcast. Thank you!

Jim Mooney 21 February 2016

Notify me when you've covered all of philosophy and put it in a big zip file so I can download it - maybe around 2025 ;')

Peter Adamson 23 February 2016

In reply to by Jim Mooney

It's a sobering thought that such a zip file could probably be downloaded in a couple of minutes. Pity it takes longer than that to prepare.

Anyway we'll let you know!

Brian 20 May 2016

Hi Peter,  was kundalini mentioned in any of your episodes?   If so, can you please indicate the episode for my convenience?    =]

Peter Adamson 20 May 2016

In reply to by Brian

Do you mean, like in Yoga? If so there will be episodes on Yoga later in the Indian series, I am not sure if this concept will be addressed though.

Matthew Hi;; 5 July 2016

I am just curious as to whether or not you are going to adress Chinese and East Asian philosophy, as in Daoism and Confucianism and Chinese Legalism, etc. 

Yes, I hope so. The plan is to keep going throguh India for a while, then African philosophy; but then ideally I would like to move on to China (all the while in alternating weeks covering European philosophy). It depends though whether I find a collaborator who can help me with the Chinese tradition, I don't feel I can tackle that on my own. But I would love to do it and am planning or at least very much hoping to do so.

Hande Sena 18 December 2017

As an indology student, i want to thank you so much for this.

So helpful!

Lars 25 January 2018

I have just discovered this goldmine. Thank you.

Michael J Wehr 21 May 2018

Sorry the 62 topics over whelmed me at first,  the Introduction answered my original question very well!  I apologize, I should have started there before my questions.   I very much appreciated the Dorothy, Wizard of OZ, reference at the end.

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