शुक्रवार, 9 अक्तूबर 2009


(Understanding the nature of Reality, Knowledge and Value)

It is often felt that teaching a course in ‘Introductory Philosophy’ is far more difficult than teaching a course on a specific philosophical area at a relatively higher level. The ‘introductory’ nature of Philosophy is not elementary in nature. Indeed, there is not ‘elementary’ philosophy with which one can begin as a way of introducing the student to Philosophy. Philosophy is, by nature, intrinsically ‘deep’ right from the beginning. The pool of philosophy is deep all over, with no shallow banks. Any enduring academic experience of teaching Philosophy surely testifies to this claim.

If a teacher has to introduce Philosophy as a specific discipline in an under-graduate class, how would he or she go about doing that? Are there basic chapters of a typical text to start with, in the way there are in other disciplines like Physics and Economics and Biology? Even if certain basic chapters are touched upon, how basic are the contents of those topics or concepts? It seems that the so-called ‘basics’ of Philosophy are far too dense in meaning to help the student make a smooth and easy entry into the subject.

It is almost pointless to begin the discourse with the etymological meaning of ‘Philosophy’, e.g. ‘Love of Wisdom’. After all, the term ‘wisdom’ itself is not too clear or free from ambiguity. Besides, wisdom is not what the teacher is going to teach in a professional academic discourse of Philosophy. The teacher would therefore do well to think of a more ‘practical’ and ‘relevant’ way of accompanying the student in the journey
of Philosophy.

Perhaps the best strategy is to begin with the illustration of the central samples of philosophical discussion that have traditionally been the occupation of philosophers. Here the move would require making use of the traditional classification of Philosophy into three broad categories of discourse: Metaphysics or the Theory of Reality; Epistemology or the Theory of Knowledge; Axiology or Value Theory. The introductory discourse of Philosophy ought to take up the principal concerns of these three sectors.

The two-week long WINTER SCHOOL IN PHILOSOPHY is conceived as an interactive
workshop for young philosophy teachers and doctoral students, who will be instructed by a team of experts on how to deliver effectively introductory lectures in the classroom. Attention is to be drawn specially towards the role of being a teacher of philosophy inculcating philosophical knowledge to beginners in Philosophy. But the teacher himself or herself needs to be sufficiently clear about the way one ought to unfold the conceptual story of Philosophy. That unfolding is to follow the principal issues and arguments available in the discussions of metaphysics, epistemology and axiology.

Metaphysical issues relate to the question of being, whether it is the “Being of God, the World, or the Self”. There are traditional “Arguments for the existence of God: Especially the Ontological Argument”, arguments of “Realism or Idealism about the existence of the World”, and both “Substance-essentialist and Anti-substantivist arguments regarding the existence of the Self”. Furthermore, there are subsidiary metaphysical questions concerning “Mind-Body Dualism”, “Causality, Determinism and freedom of the Will”, and about “Universals and Particulars”.

Epistemological issues that prominently figure in discussion include the “Platonic Definition of Knowledge and the Gettier Problem”, “Perceptual Knowledge”, “A Priori Knowledge”, “Internalist and Externalist theories of Epistemic Justification”, and the general “Problem of Skepticism”.

Axiological questions basically concern Ethics and Aesthetics. Some major issues include “Morality and Egoism/Altruism”, “Moral relativism/Absolutism”, Moral Theories like “Eudaimonism, Utilitarianism and Deontology”, “Virtue Ethics”, and the rise of “Applied Ethics”. Aesthetic problems related to questions about the “Ontology of Art”, “Aesthetic Detachment”, theories of “Artistic Representation/Expression/Form”, and the “Value of Art in Human Culture”.

The Winter School will consist of discussions on a chosen set of topics that relate to these three branches of Philosophy. It is presumed that a basic understanding of Philosophy as an intellectual discourse is an understanding of the principal problem of metaphysics, epistemology and value theory. This understanding is supposed to be uniform and wellintegrated, so that a teacher of Philosophy is capable of rendering that understanding in a format which conduces to a systematic and coherent grasp of the subject.

Emphasis will be laid on thematic discussion and understanding of Philosophy rather than a historical understanding. Reference to history of philosophy would be subservient to thematic relevance. The Indian/Western division of Philosophy would be circumvented by an attempt to tackle a given problem from different angles.

It is most important to realize that the young mind of the student is quite likely to be puzzled by the kind of questions that arise in Philosophy. That is because of the unique peculiarity of the discourse. The teacher must therefore be able to explain why at all such peculiar problems arise, and how they inevitably arise given human rational inquisitiveness. The Winter School will take special care to alert the participants to the utmost need of grasping the rationale of philosophical questions.

It is expected that the two weeks of rigorous philosophical training and interactive exercise of reflection will create enough confidence in the mind of the young teacher/scholar of Philosophy. Towards the final stage of the School, some particular sessions will be exclusively devoted to the demonstration of teaching by the participants.

This exercise will be accompanied by regular written assignments on relevant issues. It is hoped that the result of this exercise in the Winter School will eventually be a rough working paper that synoptically describes a fairly standard programme of ‘A Classroom Introduction to philosophy’. The urgency of such an outcome cannot be denied at least for one reason. Philosophy is certainly unlike other academic discourses because of its peculiar nature. The ‘justification’ of Philosophy is often demanded in view of its apparently ‘impractical’ and abstract character. A young philosopher therefore must be well-versed in the arguments that lend justification to the philosophical enterprise. And the ‘arguments for justification’ must be amenable to their grasp at the introductory level.

It is known that the patterns of courses/papers taught in different Universities are not always the same, and not all Universities have Semester-system method of teaching. But the Winter School programme is catered to a generality of pattern that would be compatible with these variations. In other words, a participant duly trained in the course of these two weeks can be reasonably expected to play a better role in inculcating philosophical ideas in any pattern in which he or she is supposed to adjust to in his or her home-institution. On the whole, the Winter School programme is supposed to have a tutorial flavour. In this respect, it is supposed to be rather different from the usual Refresher Courses in Philosophy. The level of interaction is supposed to be much greater, and constant attention is to be maintained towards improving the analytical teaching potential of the participant.

From the Circular of:
Winter School in Philosophy (December 30, 2008 – January 10, 2009)
Organized by Department of Humanities and Social Sciences Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati in association with Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla

Friday, October 9, 2009

Relevance of Philosophy in Social Sciences and Humanities

Become a part of the book Philosophy, Education and Indian Value System(CPPIS 2011) Contact:


One thing that appears not to have been done in the country in recent times is to take a serious look at where the teaching, study and research in philosophy are actually heading. Such stock-taking is absolutely vital because philosophy itself has always been a very core area in the history and culture of our country. But, for all practical purposes, philosophy appears to have become just like any other routine academic discipline in the country since its teachers appear to have lost the vision of its special place and role in the general scheme of things. This is an extremely unfortunate development. It is sad that philosophy needs to be rescued from some of those very persons whose duty it happens to be to nourish and promote it. Philosophy should never become a tool for self-promotion and if it is being so used anywhere, every attempt must be made to stop it. We must also note that if such misuse is taking place at all, it is only because regular stock-taking by the community of philosophers in the country has stopped taking place long ago.

Philosophy teachers in our country seem to be perfectly satisfied in carrying on their teaching just like any other academic teaching the students if they like such teaching, doing some reading and preparing academic papers and attending academic seminars like all others in other fields. They are not playing any pro-active role. They have not been examining their own actions and roles critically. One of the chief purposes of this National Seminar is to focus on this serious shortcoming which has come to threaten the very survival of philosophy in our country where there was a time when philosophy was at the pinnacle of serious study and research.

While completely granting the academic character of philosophy, we should remind ourselves that in our country philosophy was always used as a tool for self-transformation and for the making of total and complete human beings. Philosophy was almost never pursued just for its own sake. This role of philosophy has become gradually lost on us probably under the inescapable and wide-spread spell of the colonizing West whose philosophy has for a very long time been fiercely autonomous and with no defined human purpose as its chief goal. In fact, the very notions of self-transformation and self-discovery have today come to be regarded as old-fashioned and have been relegated to the blind and ineffective sphere of religion. It is completely forgotten that self-examination necessarily involves self-criticism and self-assessment which are invaluable in themselves irrespective of whether they are rooted in any philosophical need or religious regimen. Having lost the benefit of self-criticism, some of our teachers of philosophy have gradually ceased to uphold any value even in public and private life and have thus ceased to lead a life of value. Such teachers are no more an asset to philosophy because no person not leading a life of value can value philosophy. They can only hypocritically claim to value it and live for it when they are actually living on it.

This sort of development must be arrested and systematically reversed in the interest of protecting and promoting philosophy. When some philosophy teachers themselves do not value philosophy, it is futile to expect the members of the general public to value it. That is how, it seems, philosophy is fast losing public esteem which it had gloriously enjoyed in the classical past. Nobody can dispute the idea of philosophy as a discipline valuable in itself even if s/he disputes it as a valuable tool for self-realization. Therefore it is high time that all of us in the field of philosophy pay serious attention to its study and teaching, to proper research in it. We are uniquely fortunate in the Government of India itself recognizing the importance of philosophy and we should try to make the best use of the assistance of the Government.

The Indian Council of Philosophical Research has already being doing whatever it can to promote the study of, and research in, philosophy all over India for the past several years. The present National Seminar is to bring together all like-minded individuals in order to take stock of all that has been done well and also of all that has gone wrong in teaching and research in philosophy. The attempt is to arrive at a generally acceptable diagnosis and also a general plan of attacking the maladies. Specific issues concerning the teaching of philosophy in India and also the shortcomings in philosophical research need to be clearly identified and addressed. This document is only tentative and indicative of the enormous task lying ahead and therefore the participants are welcome to add new dimensions and issues relating to the main theme of the National Seminar. The chief aim is to take into confidence one another and proceed as a united group with the generally accepted common goal of improving the quality of teaching and research in philosophy in the interest of philosophy itself and in the interest of all those engaged in the teaching and research in philosophy in India. It is hoped that this most urgent issue of revitalizing philosophical studies in India is as dear to your heart as it is to ours and that you will therefore join us in seriously trying to do what best we can for the future of philosophy in India since this future seems to be under serious threat from within the community as well as without.

NATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON THE STATE OF TEACHING, STUDY AND RESEARCH IN PHILOSOPHY IN INDIA in Mumbai between 23rd to 25th October 2009. From the Notice of the ICPR New Delhi, October, 2009.