Thursday, 31 December 2009

Ambedkar and Maritain

From Augustine Arulraj I learn that Ambedkar draws - at least a bit - on Jacques Maritain. Augustine has managed to supply one quotation from Ambedkar's works; the extent of the influence remains to be seen.

Also, it may be interesting to see which side Maritain, a Thomist philosopher opts for: the hierarchical, organic society or the atomistic, equalitarian society. As a Thomist, he should probably opt for the former. But as a major thinker about democracy, I wonder.

Going back to Ambedkar, Augustine tells me, of course, that, even if Ambedkar began with Dewey and Maritain, he ends with the Buddhist concept of human being. Of course, the pragmatism of Dewey probably vibes well with the pragmatism of the Buddha.

Note of 5 Jan 2010: It looks like this is a false alarm. Ambedkar does quote Maritain, but just once, in Vol. 3 of his collected writings, p. 90. The quote is from Maritain's essay, "The Concept of Human Person."

Note of 25 Jan 2010: Ambedkar took his quotation from Maritain from Freedom: Its Meaning by Ruth Nanda Kishen. There is probably no such person as Ruth Nanda Kishen, but there is an American Philosopher called Ruth Nanda Anshen, and here are some details from the latter: J. Maritain, "The Conquest of Freedom," in Freedom: Its Meaning, ed. Ruth Nanda Anshen (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co, 1940; London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1942)631-49, as cited in B. Ambedkar, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, ed. Vasant Moon (Bombay: Education Department, Govt. of Maharashtra, 1987) 3:95. Maritain's article is also available in The Social and Political Philosophy of Jacques Maritain: Selected Readings, ed. Joseph W. Evans and Leo R. Ward (??: ??, 1955) ??; this is a translation from the revised and corrected text published in J. Maritain, Principes d'une politique humaniste (New York: ??, 1944) 13-42.

There does not seem to be any essay called "The Concept of Human Person" in the Anshen collection. See Books in the Jacques Maritain Center at Notre Dame. Books with Chapters / Sections by the Maritains, at as of 25 Jan 2010.

Hierarchical and equalitarian societies

From De Smet I learned the difference between the organicity of the Christian concept of person, and the atomism of rationalist individualism. The former seems to be the mark of all organically related, hierarchical societies. The latter seems to be, instead, the presupposition or the foundation of modern (and technological) democracies.

This insight is not exclusive to De Smet. He himself draws on Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, for example. (See De Smet, Brahman and Person, 2010 69.)

Strange that I had to come across the very same reference - and insight - in Edward Rutherfurd's historical novel, Sarum.

And then again in Richard Howard's ongoing series of articles in Divyadaan on Gandhi. The difference between Gandhi and Nehru - one of the differences - is that between an organic, hierarchical, pre-modern society and an atomistic, modern society.

But there is food for thought here. For the hierarchical societies are prone to structural injustices, such as the caste system, while the equalitarian societies attempt at least to do away with such. Logically, in fact, Gandhi defended the varna system, while Ambedkar attacked this system and the hierarchical society to which it belonged, opting for modern democracy.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Caputo, foremost American postmodern

James Marsh, in a review of John Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics: Repetition, Deconstruction, and the Hermeneutic Project (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), in International Philosophical Quarterly 28 (1988) 459:
This is an important book.... With this book, Caputo takes his place firmly as the foremost American, continental post-modernist, continuing a line of inquiry extending from Nietzsche and Kierkegaard on up through [the] late Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault.
I am surprised that - probably way back in the late 1980s or early 1990s - I had come across this quotation mentioning postmodernism, Derrida, Foucault, and Caputo.... But it takes time for a stray word to begin making an impact.

Body as dialogue

Body is dialog, even before a single word has been spoken, community even before any kind of agreement has been reahed, and even he who does not wish to speak, speaks through his gestures and his very silence.
J.B. Metz, "Caro Cardo Salutis," Hochland 55 (1962) 105, cited in J. Donceel, Philosophical Anthropology 460.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Bergson's final wish

I had forgotten this:
My reflections... have led me closer and closer to Catholicism, in which I see the complete fulfilment of Judaism. I would have become a convert had I not seen in preparation for years the formidable wave of anti-Semitism which is to break upon the world. I wanted to remain among those who tomorrow will be persecuted. But I hope that a Catholic priest will consent, if the Cardinal Archbishop of Parish authorizes it, to come to say prayers at my funeral. (From the will of Henri Bergson.)
This was done.

Tomlin, The Great Philosophers: The Western World (London: Sheffinton & Son) 273.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

The five intellectual virtues

The five intellectual virtues according to Aristotle:

1. techne: knowing how to do something
2. episteme: knowing that something is the case
3. phronesis: this has an unmistakable social dimension, and can mean anything from 'practical wisdom' to 'human understanding' to 'moral discernment' to 'knowing how to prosper' to 'political acumen' to 'savoir faire', etc.
4. sophia: knowledge of cause and effect
5. nous: typically divine, informs the others, and is a final cause of the others. It is the activity of the divine side of our nature.

Cf. Eric von der Luft, Hegel Society of America, Book Review of Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, tr. Terence Irwin (Indianopolis: Hackett, 1985). Modern Schoolman 66 (1988) 79-80.

Nehru and Gandhi on economics

I have begun editing the first issue of the Divyadaan Journal for 2010, and yesterday I was working on Howard and Swanger's chapter 2, which is on Jawarharlal Nehru's peculiar relationship to Gandhi. I find myself amazed at the way Howard and Swanger are interpreting Gandhi: here is an interpretation that rings true, and that I for one have never seen.

Howard points out that Nehru never really understood Gandhi. Nehru was a Fabian socialist; he was a 'modern'; Gandhi was pre-modern. Gandhi believed in dharma, in an organic society, and his ideas make sense only within this kind of a world view. Gandhi considered modern technological society as adharma; and he was, says Howard, profoundly right. His views and his analyses are being slowly confirmed by many thinkers today.

There is, of course, the ticklish issue of Gandhi's upholding of the varnadharma, the caste system in its varna essentials at least. Howard deals with this in his chapter 1 (published in DJPE 20/3 of 2009), and he has an interesting take on it, making Gandhi intelligible if not completely defensible.

But the ideological divide between Nehru and Gandhi is interesting, it is sharp, and it had enormous consequences. We are reaping the consequences of Nehruvian socialism. True, everyone is looking at India these days, and marvelling at our progress; even Pope Benedict XVI alludes obliquely to this when he speaks of countries that have managed to pull themselves out of poverty. But not Howard: Howard maintains a healthy skeptical distance from such facile praise of India's progress. He is, in that sense, profoundly Gandhian. For Gandhi - echoed in this by Paul VI in Populorum Progressio - there is no development that is not moral.

Where is Howard heading? I am not sure. But I am surely waiting eagerly for the forthcoming chapters of his book, Gandhi and the Future, which we are serializing in Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Functional specialization and the Preventive System

A confrere wants to do a critical study of the Preventive System, and consulted me about it.

I put down some random thoughts.

1. There is need of a thorough hermeneutic of recovery / reception / love (see the 4 articles of Fred Lawrence in DJPE 19A-B) before engaging in a hermeneutic of suspicion. This means that one needs to engage in research, interpretation, history in a thorough way before engaging in dialectic.

2. History: Be aware of the history of effects of the Preventive System - the fact that there has been, explicitly and performatively, a re-reading of the Preventive System over the years. Major moments of this re-reading can be found, of course, in the revisions of the Constitutions, the Letters of the Rector Major, productions of the various Departments (Youth Pastoral, etc.) and in scholarly studies; but also in lives of prominent Salesians.

3. Dialectic. Anticipate that the history of effects will show not only progress but also decline. Traditions can be authentic, but they can also become unauthentic. The same words might continue being used, but their meanings might have deteriorated. Then reason, religion, loving kindness are bandied about like magic incantations, but their original meaning is lost.

That probably needs to be thoroughly revised... My main point is that dialectic is not something one engages in immediately. There is much to be done before arriving at that point.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Anantanand Rambachan on De Smet

Franco Pinto has been kind enough to procure for me a copy of Anantanand Rambachan's book Accomplishing the Accomplished: The Vedas as a Source of Valid Knowledge in Sankara. I found that title recommended by De Smet, and looking up the bibliography, right enough, there was Rambachan citing at least 4 of De Smet's works, including his doctoral dissertation. One more item for De Smet's secondary bibliography, and one more step in tracing out De Smet's underground influence, and the reception of his work....

Rambachan acknowledges De Smet's recognition of the Vedas as a valid pramana for Sankara, but feels that De Smet does not go far enough. "It comes as an anticlimax to find in him the selfsame unacknowledged and unresolved contradiction between an initial emphasis on the unmitigated authority of sruti and their reliance for verification on an experience." (9)

De Smet is mentioned only in the introductory outlining of the status quaestionis, and then briefly in the conclusion. So this cannot really be counted as a thorough study of De Smet. Besides, there are only 4 items in the bibliography - though this includes the doctoral dissertation.

An interesting point for study and clarification in De Smet. First: what really is his position on sruti and anubhava? Second, what was Sankara's position on the same?

Note that the study of K. Satchidananda Murty, Revelation and Reason in Advaita (1974) is cited by Rambachan in his bibliography. This is another item cited with approval by De Smet.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The tree of life

The late Fr Jean de Marneffe, SJ, who taught us contemporary western philosophy at JDV, I think, used to talk about Dilthey, Nietzsche and one other as "Philosophers of Life." Something I never did quite understand.

Now it becomes luminously clear, especially when I read Fred Lawrence's account of Jean Greisch's option between 'the tree of knowledge' and the 'tree of life'. Hermeneutic phenomenology, in contrast to Husserlian phenomenology, chose the tree of life over the tree of knowledge. It recognized that pure perception is something derivative; normal everyday perception is thoroughly soaked in meaning, constituted by meaning. It is linguistic. Implicitly and performatively, all our thoughts, words and actions are either discovering or missing the insight into the right way to live, is the way Fred puts it.Thanks Fred!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The theorem of the supernatural

One of the things I need to get clear about in Lonergan is what he calls the theorem of the supernatural. The other day, during Nelson's homily, I thought I got a little window onto this theorem. Nelson was quoting St Paul: "What is it that we have not received?" It reminded me of Lonergan speaking about the problem faced by early Christian reflection on grace: how to distinguish grace from the fact that everything is received, everything is gift? The answer is probably a difference in proportion: nature and supernature, what is proportionate to human nature and what is not proportionate to it, what is simply beyond it. A distinction, therefore, between two orders. Not that there is or was a state of pure nature; but that we need this kind of distinction if we are to handle reflection on the Christian revelation.