Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Prophet Muhammad: a basic bibliography

My latest (100th) bibliography is on The Prophet Muhammad.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Islam & Jurisprudence (or, ‘Islamic Law’): A Basic Bibliography

I have completed my latest bibliography, on Islam and Jurisprudence, available here. The introduction: 

This compilation, like most of my bibliographies, has two constraints: books, in English. I trust the inference will not be made that this implies the best works are only in English, as it merely reflects the limits of my knowledge and research. “Jurisprudence” in this case can refer to Islamic philosophy and/or theory of law, as well as historical and existing legal systems in those countries in which Islam is (i) a state-sanctioned religion, (ii) predominant as a religious orientation in the society, (iii) or has a significant impact on the country’s legal system in one way or another. I have used the phrase “Islam and Jurisprudence” for the title to reflect the fact that it is a perilous endeavor to conclusively identify, except perhaps philosophically or theologically (and even then, there are inherent problems), Islamic law as such (i.e., in any kind of absolutist or ‘pure’ sense) in legal systems on the ground, as we say, even if we rightly derive warrant for this appellation from both emic and etic reasons. This list does not aspire to be exhaustive, although I hope it is at least representative of the depth and breadth of the available literature. I welcome suggestions for titles I may have inadvertently missed.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Reason and the “pre-logical”

I think the following are distinct but interrelated concepts: that which is (i) rational, (ii) a-rational (or non-rational), (iii) irrational, and (iv) supra- or para-rational. However, typically we think only of rationality and its converse, irrationality. In examining religious doctrine and religious experience— and perhaps other religious phenomena—for example, we may find occasions when it helps to describe and distinguish that which we are examining not merely according to whether or not it can be characterized as rational or irrational but probably and more precisely as non-rational and/or supra-rational (the latter involving transcendence but necessarily the negation of ‘rationality’ or that which is rational). Among (at least some) philosophers, there appears to be a tendency to think that which is not rational is thereby (even if only by default) irrational, ignoring the two other possibilities cited above. Incidentally, my motivation for making this point appears to overlap a bit with the apparent reasons that prompted the late A.C. Graham to have a collection of articles posthumously published under the title, Unreason within Reason: Essays on the Outskirts of Rationality (Open Court, 1992) [the subtitle was not Graham’s, as David Lynn Hall explains in the Foreword].

In particular, Graham’s use of the notion of the pre-logical captures some of what is meant by the “non-rational” and the “para-rational.”  One should not think of the prefix in pre-logical as meaning or implying something that is historically and philosophically inferior to that which comes after it, namely, the logical. According to Graham, we should consider that thinking which is pre-logical in the sense that it functions, say, as a presupposition, an axiomatic assumption, a tentative presumption, or even as an intuitive or axiological foundation (one that is, however, fallible and revisable), in other words, that “which reasons depends if it is to have anything but its own malfunctions to test,” thereby viewing reason itself “from a wider perspective.” 

In a summary of John Dewey’s thought in this regard, Hilary Putnam writes: “we can only start from where we are, where we are includes both our sufferings and enjoyments (our valuings) and our evaluations, the latter coming from both our community and ourselves.” In other words, reason or rationality itself  arises within the context of our overarching ideals of human flourishing and fulfillment. While “the rational” is rightly focused, philosophically speaking, on inference, demonstration and argument, or that which in principle is amenable to same, the non-rational and the para-rationalGraham’s pre-logical—concerns itself with the evocative, the valuational, the emotional (while emotions have a cognitive dimension and can be judged in their expression as either rational or irrational, in themselves they are neither rational nor irrational), or what Nicholas Rescher terms “inexplicable facts” or “unexplained explainers” (or, more broadly, the existential) on or from which all reasoning takes place. Inductive reasoning, fact/value entanglement, questions of value and interpretation, questions of consciousness (or personal awareness), intentionality, rhetoric, aesthetic experience, among other things, compel us to cross our conceptual, linguistic (or discourse) and pragmatic boundaries between the non-rational, the rational (and irrational), and the supra-rational, thus, in the best instances, cross-fertilizing and enriching these respective conceptions ... and, in turn, the boundaries between reason or philosophy and psychology. Our brief sketch of this circumscription or simply more modest picture of rationality or reason in no way serves to diminish its necessity or significance for philosophy or its role in our daily lives.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Work & Blogging Update

[Apart from posting this for reasons intrinsic to the material, I want to let readers know (although we never hear from you, I trust there’s still some out there) that my blogging will be a bit light for a spell while I’m doing this research and catching up on some tasks at the home front.]

The research I am doing on Lokāyata/Cārvāka philosophical views (for an introductory presentation of same) and the preparation for a guest post at the Indian Philosophy blog on “Indian/Indic darśana(s) and hedonistic egoism” substantially and thankfully overlaps, although I am also quickly discovering the extent of my ignorance. One thing I have learned to date comes by way of the late philosopher B.K. Matilal (the link does not list all of his writings), who has pointed out the varied treatments of ethical virtues and ideas in Indian epic literature (e.g., the Mahābhārata, which of course contains the Bhagavad Gītā, and the Rāmāyana), in particular to the sundry meanings of dharma and the role of dharma in moral conflicts, some of which amount to moral dilemmas. Philosophical discussions of ethics or moral philosophy as such is virtually absent from the Indic darśana-s or philosophical schools (there are notable exceptions on occasion and especially in Mahāyāna Buddhism), be they orthodox or āstika (i.e., Vedic/śruti in inspiration if not justification) or heterodox (nāstika),* despite their ability to treat topics in logic, metaphysics, epistemology, and language with—comparatively speaking—considerable philosophical sophistication and insight. The epics falls under the heading of smti (memory; that which is remembered; worthy to be remembered) texts, or non-śruti (‘revelatory’) religious literature, which also includes the Dharmaśāstra-s (e.g., the Manusmti) and the Purāna-s (e.g., the Viṣṇu Purāna and the Śiva Purāna). Matilal urges us to examine these sources, as well as Indic literature generally for discussions of ethical ideas and principles or moral philosophy.

I am entertaining some possible reasons as to why ethics or moral philosophy was not systematically addressed in the philosophical schools, some of which I suspect are related to the fact that many people in contemporary society do not, of course (and for better and worse), learn their ethics or about moral philosophy from philosophers. Rather, as Colin McGinn writes in Ethics, Evil, and Fiction (1997), “literature is where moral thinking lives and breathes on every page:”

“Stories can sharpen and clarify moral questions, encouraging a dialectic between the reader’s own experience and the trials of the character he or she is reading about. A tremendous amount of moral thinking and feeling is done when reading novels (or watching plays and films, or reading poetry and short stories). In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that for most people this is the primary way in which they acquire ethical attributes, especially in contemporary culture.”

Or, in the words of Martha Nussbaum, “the terms of the novelist’s art are alert winged creatures, perceiving where the blunt terms of ordinary speech or of abstract theoretical discourse are blind, acute where they are obtuse, winged where they are dull and heavy.” The political scientist, Nobel laureate, and pioneer in the field of the psychology of judgment and decision making, as well as the computational modeling of human reasoning, Herbert A. Simon, put it rather more awkwardly this way: “most human beings are able to attend to issues longer, to think harder about them, to receive deeper impressions that last longer, if information is presented in a context of emotion—a sort of hot dressing—then if it is presented wholly without affect.”

A corollary obligation would seem to follow: novelists (or playwrights, poets…) have to get it right. In other words, if we look to the arts for our lessons in morality or ethics, it presumes or assumes we have some prior ability (or at least the critics are in possession of such) to discriminate morally knowledgeable, insightful, or significant literature from that which is unavailing, ethically speaking (as a product of family upbringing and early socialization and education). In brief, readers must have, minimally, a conscience, in combination with some level of ethical individuation and moral development and awareness that sets the stage for further moral understanding and growth such that these non-philosophical sources can indeed serve as “alert winged creatures.” This does not render the work of philosophers on ethics and moral philosophy irrelevant or redundant, let alone unnecessary; it only means we might recognize philosophy does not have, nor will it ever likely have, at least for most of us, pride of place when it comes to education in moral philosophy and virtuous living (that may seem obvious in many circles, but I think professional philosophers, for the most part, are reluctant to acknowledge this). 

* The six orthodox (āstika) schools of Indic philosophy: (Navya-)Nyāya, Vaiśeika, Sākhya, Yoga, Pūrva Mīmāsā, and Vedānta. The schools are often grouped in pairs, thus: Nyāya and Vaiśeika (Logic and Atomism); (Classical) Yoga and Sākhya (Yoga and Discrimination or Distinctionism); Pūrva Mīmāsā and Uttara Mīmāsā or Vedānta (Prior Exegesis [of the Veda] and Later Exegesis or End of the Veda-s Metaphysics). The so-called nāstika schools (sometimes referred to as the śramaa tradition) include Ājīvika, Jainism, Buddhism, and Lokāyata/Cārvāka. (There are more than a few sub-schools in several of the above as well.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

“Go, and sin no more.”

[Comments on this hypothetical or thought experiment are welcome. I am particularly interested in learning how a Christian might explain the following as deeply mistaken based on reasons generated from within her Christian worldview.]

I am a sinful human being (since ‘the Fall’), in other words, more prone by nature to sin than to goodness. Jesus, the human incarnation of God, died a horrible if not humiliating death on “the Cross” for my sins. In other words, I alone could not seek and attain forgiveness for my sins, at least since Anselm (c.1033-1109), who argued in theological terms that humanity owed God a ransom of “satisfaction” for sin, a debt, however, that was unpayable owing to our lowly status (notice the feudal analogy or metaphor). Hence the significance of the Crucifixion: the Incarnation of God through Jesus Christ—innocent of sin and equal to God, so to speak—allows the Son to offer himself (a sacrifice, through suffering) to the Father on humanity’s behalf. In other words, Christ’s Passion, his sacrifice on the cross, was to make amends for our sins.

Anselm’s formulation meshes well with the Gospel understanding of sin as a kind of debt that is relieved or forgiven with the expiatory sacrifice of Christ’s death, meaning we need no longer be enslaved by the power of sin. The Catholic Church adopted this doctrine in the 16th century, and the Reformation only reinforced its spiritual and moral psychology for those who broke from the Church: “O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood/to every believer the promise of God/The vilest offender who truly believes/That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.” Anselm’s interpretation is sometimes called the penal (or juridical) theory, as Christ has borne the penalty for sin instead of us. Because our sin is an infinite offence against God, it requires a correspondingly infinite satisfaction that only God can make (and did, through Christ).* This is not too different from “sacrificial” and “satisfaction” theories that claim Christ is the sinless offering who makes a universal expiation of the stain of sin, but under this conception Christ is not a substitute for us but more like a delegate or representative of humanity.

Given my proclivity for sin, or vice, or moral lapses, and so forth, I will invariably sin. But that’s OK, at least insofar as I know Jesus died for my sins; at any rate, I can ask for forgiveness and (might? can? will?) receive it. This is ripe for a perverse moral psychology: I know I will likely sin; I then in fact succumb to temptation (that knowledge alone makes it more likely!); I can live with my sin(s) and inevitable sinning, as it were, for I have been forgiven (ex ante) generally by Jesus—by way of substitutionary atonement—and, in any case, I can seek God’s forgiveness ex post facto, and be assured that it will be granted provided my faith and beliefs are sincere (and I happen to be particularly adept at convincing myself that is the case), including being truly remorseful, and thus reassuring myself that I will go and sin no more (or at least struggle to be good or deserve God’s unconditional love).

And yet, knowing what a miserable creature I am, that is, one who is constitutionally liable to sin, I know, at least in the back of my mind, that should the sinful occasion arise yet again, I am free, indeed quite likely, to repeat this mental and behavioral pattern of moral psychological evasion or rationalization if not religious absolution: after all, I am both forgiven in advance, and likely to be forgiven after the deed. What better reason to have for being a Christian! 

* Anselm’s substitutionary atonement theory was theologically contested by a notion of exemplary atonement, the essence of which goes back to the French theologian Peter Abelard (1079-1142): “The purpose and cause of the incarnation was that God might illuminate the world by his wisdom and stir it to the love of himself.” This theory has been deemed “subjective” in comparison with the aforementioned “objective” theories. What is central to the exemplary theory is the extent to which God’s love is revealed through Christ, most poignantly in Christ’s acceptance of a brutal and unjust death. It is this—God’s unconditional love for us as embodied in the life and death of Jesus—which should move us to repentance. A corporate rather than individualist interpretation of atonement appears in the late 20th century with Liberation Theology that took hold in Central and South America. In this case, atonement is effected as reconciliation which, in turn, must be demonstrated as a living fact, at both the individual and collective levels. Alas, the exemplary theory has never been anything near as popular as Anselm’s formulation in Western Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant.

In a future post, I hope to discuss the ideological function of “substitutionary” and “satisfaction” theories of atonement, which “was both influenced by, and influenced penal thinking. It represented a construal of the crucifixion … which reinforced retributive thinking, according to which sin or crime have to be punished, and cannot properly be dealt with in any other way” (Timothy Gorringe, in his 1996 book, God’s Just Vengeance: Crime, Violence, and the Rhetoric of Salvation). I suspect those intellectual elites familiar with substitutionary and satisfaction atonement doctrines sensed their potential for moral psychological abuse and thus, it seems, an attempt was made to break the (actual or possible) mental and behavioral pattern of moral psychological evasion or rationalization if not religious absolution mentioned above with the incorporation of satisfaction doctrine into the criminal justice system’s doctrinal legal justification of (retributive) punishment.

Friday, October 12, 2018

A Sundry Syllabus for Individual Flourishing & General Emancipation In a (would-be) Democratic Society

A couple of times a year I post notice of the unannotated bibliographies available (along with other published and unpublished writings) at my Academia page. This is the latest list, which thus includes additions since the last posting. These lists vary widely in length. The two principle constraints are books, in English (although a few lists have articles as well).

The compilations are found here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

The cat is on the mat.

In Western philosophy, there are lots of “cats on mats” (e.g., ‘The cat is on the mat’). It does have a nice ring to it, unlike, say, “The dog is on the couch” or “The hamster is in the cage” or “The rat is at my bare feet.” I thought it worth mentioning after seeing this well-worn declarative sentence yet again in a work by Nicholas Rescher in which he discusses the epistemic significance and warrant of the notion of presumption (about which I hope to post anon). One of my favorite passages invoking this stock philosophical locution comes from Hilary Putnam’s Reason, Truth, and History (Cambridge University Press, 1981):

“[F]act, (or truth) and rationality are interdependent notions. A fact is something that it is rational to believe, or, more precisely, the notion of a fact (or a true statement) is an idealization of the notion of a statement that it is rational to believe. [….] [B]eing rational involves having criteria of relevance as well as criteria of rational acceptability, and…all of our values are involved in our criteria of relevance. The decision that a picture of the world is true (or true by our present lights, or “as true as anything is”) and answers the relevant questions (as well as we are able to answer them) rests on and reveals our total system of value commitments. A being with no values would have no facts either. The way in which criteria of relevance involves values, at least indirectly, may be seen by examining the simplest statement. Take the sentence ‘The cat is on the mat.’ If someone actually makes this judgment in a particular context, then he employs conceptual resources—the notions ‘cat,’ ‘on,’ and ‘mat’—which are provided by a particular culture, and whose presence and ubiquity reveal something about the interests and values of that culture, and of almost every culture. We have the category ‘cat’ because we regard the division of the world into animals and non-animals as significant, and we are further interested in what species a given animal belongs to. It is relevant that there is a cat on the mat and not just a thing. We have the category ‘mat’ because we regard the division of inanimate things into artifacts and non-artifacts as significant, and we are further interested in the purpose and nature a particular artifact has. It is relevant that it is a mat that the cat is on and just something. We have the category ‘on’ because we are interested in spatial relations. Notice what we have: we took the most banal statement imaginable, ‘the cat is on the mat,’ and we found that the presuppositions which make this statement a relevant one in certain contexts include the significance of the categories animate/inanimate, purpose, and space. To a mind with no disposition to regard these as relevant categories, ‘the cat is on the mat’ would be as irrational as ‘the number of hexagonal objects in this room is 76’ would be, uttered in the middle of a tête-à-tête between young lovers. Not only do very general facts about our value system show themselves in our categories (artifacts, species name, term for a spatial relation) but, our more specific values (for example, sensitivity and compassion), also show up in the use we make of specific classificatory words (‘considerate,’ ‘selfish’). To repeat, our criteria of relevance rest on and reveal our whole system of values.” — Hilary Putnam

Friday, October 05, 2018

Judge Kavanaugh and the Question of Moral Responsibility (or evasion)

(The remarks that follow assume one has read Neil H. Buchanan’s piece, ‘The Kavanaugh Travesty: A Roiling Brew of Alcohol and Entitled Self-Righteousness,’ that I linked to on Facebook yesterday.)

I find it more than plausible that Kavanaugh fancies himself as deserving of the privileges and feelings of superiority that are often part and parcel of being a member of the entitled meritocracy in this country, although I suspect he subscribes to the principle of noblesse oblige by way of easing his conscience, hence the frequency of first-person references (as a possessive pronoun) to a “lifetime of public service,” the “coaching of young girls” and so forth. In addition, we might plausibly if not reasonably infer that he believes his feelings of contempt, anger (if not rage), and defiance (for example) are justified because the accusations of sexual assault and accounts of his drunken behavior have spilled over onto and thus sullied the images of sanctimonious purity with which he and his supporters have painted his roles as a “son, husband and dad.” That portrait, in conjunction with the “good name” his legal career has—in both his mind and the minds of his supporters—etched in stone, serve as sacred artifacts or insignia of his meritocratic entitlement. Still, one wonders how a person of his intelligence and “fine breeding” as it were, can live in good conscience with an abundance of evasions and lies that typically add up to denial and self-deception.

I’ll hazard a guess: the (often perverse) moral psychology intrinsic to substitutionary atonement doctrine in Catholicism which, I believe, is intimately tied to the Church’s teachings and practices of sacramental confession requiring “disclosure of sins (the ‘confession’), contrition (sorrow of the soul for the sins committed), and satisfaction (‘penance,’ i.e. doing something to make amends for the sins),” are at least a necessary condition to a possible if not plausible psychological explanation. Assuming Kavanaugh is a “good Catholic,” the moral psychology of substitutionary atonement in conjunction with the act of confession permits him to view his past behavior in a far more forgiving and excusing light than the rest of us (at least those of us who do not believe in substitutionary atonement or practice sacramental confession) and again, in his mind at least, thus serves to rationalize or pardon his expressions of anger and defiance at those believed responsible for soiling the sacred signs associated with his “good name” (as well as the conspicuous lapse in the kind of judicial temperament one associates with a candidate for the Supreme Court). One result of putting things in this psychological and theological framework is that it suggests or implies the possibility that Kavanaugh does not see himself as truly evading moral responsibility, for such responsibility as is relevant was assumed and faced in the theological precincts and moral psychological context of his Catholic faith.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The comparatively early (in global terms) appearance of sophisticated Nyāya logic, epistemology, and empiricism in Indian/Indic philosophy

Apologia: As part of my research on Lokāyata/Cārvāka philosophical views, for which there is a comparative paucity of textual evidence (several possible and plausible reasons have been proffered for this state of affairs), and thus the knowledge of which is often gleaned from the descriptions and arguments of other—and opposing—philosophical schools in India, I am reading Kisor Kumar Chakrabarti’s “erudite” (Jay Garfield) exploration of aspects of Nyāya logic and epistemology in his book, Classical Indian Philosophy of Induction: The Nyāya Viewpoint (Lexington Books, 2010).

“While Aristotle, the Stoics and the Epicureans made great contributions to the study of induction, there is no firm evidence to show that in the Western tradition [of philosophy] the problem of induction was explicitly recognized and elaborately discussed as a serious problem before Hume. But clearly the Indian logicians have done that long before that time. Again, in the Western tradition (notwithstanding the good work done by Whewell, Herschel and Mille earlier in the nineteenth century) it was left to [Charles Sanders] Peirce in the late nineteenth century to bring out the value of the method of hypothesis (calling it abduction and distinguishing it from deduction and induction). Even after that philosophers in this century took time to warm up to the idea as can be gathered from the relative lack of any substantial discussion of this method in the first decades of the twentieth century. The same is true of the link between causation and counterfactual conditionals. Although some traces are found in Hume, no detailed and systematic study of them is found in any Western writing before the twentieth century. The same, further, applies to the principle of economy. While the principle is very old and sometimes called … Occam’s razor, no Western philosopher has systematically and explicitly studied different kinds of economy before the twentieth century. Similarly, a systematic study of inference to the best explanation is emerging only in some recent publications. As an epistemological theory Nyāya empiricism, though older, appears to be more developed than the modern European empiricism of Locke, Berkeley and Hume. The powerful defense of causality, the careful analysis of circularity, the sophisticated arguments from counter-factual conditionals and belief-behavior conflict appear to give Nyāya empiricism the decisive edge.” — Kisor Kumar Chakrabarti, Classical Indian Philosophy of Induction: The Nyāya Viewpoint (Lexington Books, 2010): 67-68.
Suggested Reading (basic and largely secondary material in English):
  • Chakrabarti, Kisor Kumar. Logic of Gotama [Akapāda Gautama]. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1978.
  • Chakrabarti, Kisor Kumar. Classical Indian Philosophy of Mind: The Nyāya Dualist Tradition. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1999.
  • Chakrabarti, Kisor Kumar. Classical Indian Philosophy of Induction: The Nyāya Viewpoint. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2010.
  • Ganeri, Jonardon. The Self: Naturalism, Consciousness, and the First-Person Stance. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • Gangeśa (Stephen H. Phillips and N.S. Ramanuja Tatacharya, trans. and philosophical     commentary) Epistemology of Perception—Gangeśa’s Tattvacintāmai: Jewel of Reflection on the Truth (about Epistemology), The Perception chapter (pratyaksa-khanda). New York: American Institute of Buddhist Studies (with Columbia University’s Center for Buddhist Studies and Tibet House US), 2004.
  • Krishna, Daya. The Nyāyasūtras: A New Commentary on an Old Text. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 2004.
  • Krishna, Daya, ed. Discussion and Debate in Indian Philosophy: Vedānta, Mīmāsā and Nyāya. New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 2004.
  • Matilal, B.K. [Bimal Krishna] The Navya-Nyāya Doctrine of Negation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968.
  • Matilal, B.K. Perception: An Essay on Classical Indian Theories of Knowledge. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1986.
  • Matilal, B.K. (Jonardon Ganeri and Heeraman Tiwari, eds.) The Character of Logic in India. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1998.
  • Phillips, Stephen H. Classical Indian Metaphysics: Refutations of Realism and the Emergence ofNew Logic.” Chicago, IL: Open Court Publishing Co., 1996/Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1997.
  • Phillips, Stephen H. Epistemology in Classical India: The Knowledge Sources of the Nyāya School. New York: Routledge, 2012.
  • Potter, Karl H., ed. Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, vol. 2. Nyāya-Vaiśeika up to Gageśa. Delhi: Motilal Barnarsidass, 1977.
  • Potter, Karl H. and Sabijiban Bhattacharya, eds. Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, vol. 6. Indian Philosophical Analysis: Nyāya-Vaiśeika from Gageśa to Raghunātha Śiromai. Delhi: Motilal Barnasidass, 1993.
  • Ram-Prasad, Chakravarthi. “Nyāya: Suffering, Detachment and Peace,” in Ram-Prasad’s Knowledge and Liberation in Classical Indian Thought. New York: Palgrave, 2001: 57-108.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Indian/Indic darśana(s) and hedonistic egoism

There’s a provocative yet plausible argument to be made, and Pradeep P. Gokhale has made it (in his 2015 book, Lokāyata/Cārvāka: A Philosophical Inquiry), that orthodox and heterodox Indic philosophical systems or schools* (save, perhaps, Mahāyāna Buddhism) can be aptly characterized in the main (thus in the form of a generalization) as minor variations on the ethical theme of “hedonistic egoism.” Of course I am not claiming that altruism or ethical views and practices beyond hedonistic egoism don’t exist in Indian philosophy (or here or there in canonical sacred texts). Rather, the philosophical systems, qua systems, can be ethically characterized this way insofar as the paramount value or emphasis is on moka/mukti “liberation” (from pain, suffering) or, as in the case of Mīmāsā, heaven (and enjoyment of life therein) and the consequent mental and/or spiritual states such liberation is said to bring: (eternal) peace, pure happiness, the highest bliss, unadulterated and enduring pleasure, what have you. As one of my professors from university, Raghavan Iyer, has written, “In the course of time moksha became in India a largely negative notion of escape [or withdrawal from the world, as it were], a rejection of this irredeemable world, an intoxicating flight from reality” (one of the indirect or unintended consequences of Mughal rule and especially British colonialism is that they combined to compel Indians to recover and renew their appreciation of the conditions of worldly life and the value of social, cultural and political self-determination).
Not surprisingly, there are various philosophical conceptions of hedonistic egoism so in a forthcoming guest post at the Indian Philosophy blog I will attempt to clarify what those are (as part of this endeavor I will use, in part, notions of psychological hedonism and egoism as Freud appears to have understood and used them). I believe it’s possible to ethically reconfigure or reconstruct these philosophical systems (as Gandhi did in his inimitable way, for example, with a stress on karma yoga and a more or less universalized conception of dharma as lokasangraha, as well as his understanding of moka as absolute ‘truth,’ in effect giving ‘traditional values a new meaning and a fresh relevance to politics and to society’) so as to change this fundamental ethical orientation.
Much of this discussion hinges on how one understands the ideal-typical normative categories enshrined in the puruārtha(s). Religiously motivated philosophical opponents of Cārvāka/Lokāyata (which is predominantly empiricist, sceptical, materialist, rationalist, and thus secular) have often characterized the latter’s ethical views along the lines of hedonism or egoism or hedonistic egoism (or even as amoral or immoral) although, as Gokhale has argued, the “this-worldly” hedonistic egoism of Cārvāka/Lokāyata is more realistic and in some respects (at least potentially) more profoundly ethical than that found in the regnant religio-philosophical worldviews on the Indian sub-continent.
* The six orthodox (āstika) schools of Indic philosophy: Navya-Nyāya, Vaiśeika, Sākhya, Yoga, Pūrva Mīmāsā, and Vedānta. The schools are often grouped in pairs, thus: Nyāya and Vaiśeika (Logic and Atomism); (Classical) Yoga and Sākhya (Yoga and Discrimination or Distinctionism); Pūrva Mīmāsā and Uttara Mīmāsā or Vedānta (Prior Exegesis [of the Veda] and Later Exegesis or End of the Vedas Metaphysics). There are sub-schools within several of these main philosophical systems. The heterodox (nāstika) schools are Jainism, Buddhism and Cārvāka/Lokāyata (this last is the only one of the darśana(s) that is not religious).
Should you not be familiar with these philosophical traditions, a nice introduction is provided in a series of podcasts available here (on that same page you will also find a short list of recommended reading as well as a couple of links to sites with material on Indian philosophy).
Relevant bibliographies:

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Edward W. Said (1 November 1935 – 25 September 2003)

Edward Said “was one of the leading literary critics of the last quarter of the 20th century. As professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, New York, he was widely regarded as the outstanding representative of the post-structuralist left in America. Above all, he was the most articulate and visible advocate of the Palestinian cause in the United States, where it earned him many enemies.

The broadness of Said’s approach to literature and his other great love, classical music, eludes easy categorisation. His most influential book, Orientalism (1978), is credited with helping to change the direction of several disciplines by exposing an unholy alliance between the enlightenment and colonialism.” — Malise Ruthven

*           *           *

Edward (Wadie) Said (1 November 1935 25 September 2003) was a professor of literature at Columbia University, a public intellectual, and a founder of the academic field of postcolonial studies. A Palestinian American born in Mandatory Palestine, he was a citizen of the United States by way of his father, a U.S. Army veteran.

Educated in the Western canon, at British and American schools, Said applied his education and bi-cultural perspective to illuminating the gaps of cultural and political understanding between the Western world and the Eastern world, especially about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict in the Middle East; his principal influences were Antonio Gramsci, Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, Michel Foucault, and Theodor Adorno.

As a cultural critic, Said is known for the book Orientalism (1978), a critique of the cultural representations that are the bases of Orientalism—how the Western world perceives the Orient. Said’s model of textual analysis transformed the academic discourse of researchers in literary theory, literary criticism, and Middle-Eastern studies—how academics examine, describe, and define the cultures being studied. As a foundational text, Orientalism was controversial among scholars of Oriental Studies, philosophy, and literature.

As a public intellectual, Said was a controversial member of the Palestinian National Council, because he publicly criticized Israel and the Arab countries, especially the political and cultural policies of Muslim régimes who acted against the national interests of their peoples. Said advocated the establishment of a Palestinian state to ensure equal political and human rights for the Palestinians in Israel, including the right of return to the homeland. He defined his oppositional relation with the status quo as the remit of the public intellectual who has ‘to sift, to judge, to criticize, to choose, so that choice and agency return to the individual man and woman.’

In 1999, with his friend Daniel Barenboim, Said co-founded the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra, based in Seville, which comprises young Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab musicians. Besides being an academic, Said was also an accomplished pianist, and, with Barenboim, co-authored the book Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society (2002), a compilation of their conversations about music. Said died of leukemia on 25 September 2003.”

An Edward Said bibliography is here.

*           *           *

Re-thinking the Orientalism thesis: a few comments

I suspect insinuations or charges of “Orientalism” (in a pejorative sense, as something ‘essentialist, racialist, patronizing and ideologically motivated’) today come too easily for most of us (yes, there are times when it’s perfectly appropriate, i.e., hits the target). And the late (and great) Edward Said’s seminal and widely venerated book (1978) on same is in large measure responsible for this state of affairs, the remaining portion of responsibility lying in the hands of his readers. I’m inclined to believe that several early, highly critical (some would say ‘hostile’) reviews of Said’s book, as well as Robert Irwin’s later study, Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents (Overlook Press, 2006; outside the U.S. the book was titled, For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and their Enemies), are more or less on the mark (Irwin focuses on Said’s book in one chapter: ‘An Enquiry into the Nature of a Certain Twentieth-Century Polemic’). Saying this should not at all detract from the well-deserved respect for—if not admiration of—Said’s considerable virtues as a literary critic, an intellectual keenly sensitive to issues of intellectual obligation and responsibility, and a “tireless campaigner for Palestinian rights” (Irwin). Please don’t infer from these comments sympathetic to critics of Said’s “Orientalism thesis” that I align myself with the views, say, of a Martin Kramer or (the Zionist ideologue) Bernard Lewis. In addition to Irwin, please see Daniel Martin Varisco’s indispensable if not exhaustive analysis, Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid (University of Washington Press, 2007).

More recently (last year) I read a critique (in ‘solidarity’*) of Said’s Orientalism that should be must reading for anyone convinced of the book’s brilliance (there’s brilliance there, but it’s rather episodic), namely, the chapter, “Orientalism and After: Ambivalence and Metropolitan Location in the Work of Edward Said,” by Aijaz Ahmad from his Marxist-inspired In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (Verso, 1992). I had previously read other parts of the book (the introductory material and the respective chapters on Jameson and Rushdie), so while I’m not surprised by the quality of the analysis, it is far better than I imagined it would—or even could—be! There is any number of compelling reasons to read Ahmad’s book in toto, but should you be understandably enchanted by Said’s Orientalism, I suggest you find the time to read Ahmad.

Finally, I’d like to give notice to one of my favorite Orientalists, Maxime Rodinson (1915-2004). Rodinson—like the late Samir Amin—has been correctly lauded as an “independent Marxist,” as well as a (pre-Saidian) “French Orientalist.” In the words of Gilbert Achcar,

“Maxime Rodinson was the last survivor of an exceptional group of French Orientalists—in the pre-Saidian non-pejorative meaning of this term, i.e. scholars of Islam and the Arab world—who lived through most of the twentieth century and rose to fame in the 1960s, a decade that saw the emergence of an impressive contingent of French thinkers whose names loom large in the social sciences of our time. The group of brilliant Orientalists to which Rodinson belonged, and which included other luminaries such as Jacque Berque and Claude Cahen, reclaimed the field of Arab and Islamic studies with impeccable erudition, scientific rigour, and a critical solidarity with the peoples they studies that made their writings largely free from the deficiencies of the colonial ‘Orientalism’ of yesteryear and their own time.” 

* “Suppression of criticism,” writes Ahmad, “is not the best way of expressing solidarity,” and yet one should make plain the motivation for such solidarity,

“For Edward Said is not only a cultural critic, he is also a Palestinian. Much that is splendid in his work is connected with the fact that he has tried to do honour to that origin; and he has done so against all odds, to the full extent of his capacity, by stepping outside the boundaries of his academic discipline and original intellectual formation, under no compulsion of profession or fame, in pursuit of personal gain—in fact, a frightening risk to himself. … [I]t is worth remarking that his eloquent and irrepressible partisanship with his national cause has earned him assassination threats, from quarters which are known to have assassinated a great many other patriotic Palestinians. Said has decided to live with such risks, and much honour—a very rare kind of honour—attaches to that decision.”

Hence Ahmad’s heartfelt expression of solidarity in conjunction with his “many disagreements” with Said “on substantive issues.”
References & Further Reading:
  • Ahmad, Aijaz. In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (London: Verso, 1992).
  • Anderson, Kevin B. Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2nd ed., 2016).
  • Bilgrami, Akeel. “Reflections on Edward Said,” the final three chapters from Bilgrami’s book, Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).
  • Chibber, Vivek. Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital (London: Verso, 2013).
  • Irwin, Robert. Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents (Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 2006).
  • Macfie, Alexander Lyon, ed. Orientalism: A Reader (Washington Square, NY: New York University Press, 2000).
  • Rodinson, Maxime. The Arabs (London: Croom Helm, 1981).
  • Rodinson, Maxime. Cult, Ghetto, and State: The Persistence of the Jewish Question (London: Saqi Books, 1991).
  • Rodinson, Maxime. Europe and the Mystique of Islam (London: I.B. Tauris & Co., 1988).
  • Rodinson, Maxime. Islam and Capitalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1973).
  • Rodinson, Maxime. Israel and the Arabs (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, revised ed., 1982).
  • Rodinson, Maxime. Israel: A Colonial-Settler State? (New York: Anchor Foundation/Pathfinder, 1973).
  • Rodinson, Maxime. Marxism and the Muslim World (London: Zed Books, 2015) (1979).
  • Rodinson, Maxime. Muhammad (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980). [I realize this biography is controversial for obvious reasons, nonetheless, it remains a sympathetic portrait from an avowed Marxist.]
  • Said, Edward W. Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978).
  • Varisco, Daniel Martin. Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2007).

Monday, September 24, 2018

The President’s arrested emotional and moral development

At Dorf on Law this morning, Michael Dorf writes:
“Last week, while in North Carolina surveying some of the damage caused by Florence, the president came across a property on which a yacht had washed ashore during the storm. According to the NY Times story:
‘Is this your boat?’ Mr. Trump asked the homeowner.  When the man shook his head and said ‘No,’ the president turned with a grin and replied, ‘At least you got a nice boat out of the deal.’ Then, the real-estate-tycoon-turned-president added: ‘They don’t know whose boat that is. What’s the law? Maybe it becomes theirs.’”
As part of his discussion, Professor Dorf rightly observes that “[T]his is further evidence that Trump’s moral development was arrested when he was in grade school, where the principle finders-keepers-losers-weepers has currency.”
Hence my comment:
In the currency of Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development (after Piaget), Trump’s moral (and psychological) development is thus arrested at the “pre-conventional” level of moral reasoning (Kohlberg noted that this could be found among some adults; it is also a level that happens to be immune from Carol Gilligan’s critique), although I would hesitate to use the adjective “moral” in both cases, for it strikes me as “pre-moral” as well with regard to interpersonal communication and behavior (or folk psychological narrative). Psychologically speaking, whether we attribute this arrested moral (and emotional?) development to “narcissism in extremis” or simply pathological narcissism (‘narcissistic personality disorder’), it is associated with a cluster of well-attested behavioral manifestations and symptoms (this is not an exhaustive list): condescension and arrogance, self-aggrandizement, egregious exaggeration and habitual lying, bullying, envy, paranoia, fragile self-esteem, absence of compassion, a tendency to “dehumanize” others, racism, misogyny, “what’s in it for me” or “tit-for-tat” (or ‘you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours’) reasoning (in foreign policy terms, ‘us-v.-them’). (Incidentally, Gerald Gaus has argued, soundly and persuasively by my lights, the widely held view that iterated game theory [tit-for-tat] and evolutionary psychology [kin altruism] provide sufficient evidence for the proposition that purely instrumental reasoning is capable of securing large-scale social cooperation is profoundly mistaken.) Some psychiatrists have described Trump’s behavior in terms of “unbridled, or extreme present hedonism,” which is descriptively rich and fairly transparent in meaning.
What has increasingly interested me is what all of this says about those who continue to enthusiastically and uncritically support Trump (be they citizens or politicians), whatever class or social strata they come from. We have, it seems, a more or less authoritarian social psychological dynamic in which ideological messianism is entrenched or facilitated by the cultural “triumph of spectacle” (Chris Hedges). A cluster of apparently mutually reinforcing and deplorable beliefs and attitudes are held by individuals who are unusually (that is to say, more than the rest of us) prone or disposed to self-deception, denial, and wishful or fantasized thinking while being attracted to an authoritarian, plutocratic, and kleptocratic “daddy” who happens to suffer from narcissistic megalomania. A paranoid “politics of fear” is the (or one) result, although I confess to being afraid for rather different reasons (and this fear is not only personal).