Articles / Philosophy / A talk on Zilberman’s Ideas on Philosophy as an object of science




A talk by A. Piatigorsky. March 22, 1988


Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Chairman, I think we … have already had too much of a good thing and, well, I will try, I will try to be as short as possible because its too late. I would like to concentrate on one point in David’s thinking, … namely … the object of philosophy and philosophy as an object. But prior to that, I would like without any critique simply to comment on the use of two terms, very amply used today by various speakers. It is ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’

So, would you please be condescending to my own idiosyncrasies and prejudices. But I would like to warn you beforehand that all that ‘rubbish’ with ‘Western’ culture, ‘Eastern’ culture, t Soviet’ culture, ‘American’ culture, ‘Indian.’ culture, ‘Jewish’ culture — has nothing to do with any philosophical thinking. It is as philosophically senseless as opposition of ‘reactionary’ to ‘progressive’, or of ‘good’ to ‘bad’, or of ‘human happiness’ to ‘human unhappiness’. All those things may eventually become particular objects of philosophical thinking, but as such they have nothing to do with any real philosophy. I simply do not believe in their existence. Or, if I do, then I’m not even a bad philosopher (which I am) but not a philosopher at all. So, let me make two comments.

First comment. Culture. For heaven’s sake, don’t forget that culture is an element, highly artificial element, of our own self-consciousness, having nothing to do with India. We impose on India our category of culture, and immediately invent the ‘fact’ (in single quotes’ ‘) that it was there in India. It was not. It is our descriptive category. I think we do not philosophize in terms without [ ] when we say, ‘well, you know, let us compare essential features of Indian culture with ours’ . We, methodologically, totally fallaciously, forget that Indian ‘culture’ (in single quotes’ ‘) never had that term in use, or anything close to our use of that term. Or that term as an historical reference, I might say, that something approximating our idea of ‘culture’ appeared in Indian texts in the 18th century, only approximately. So, our application of term ‘culture’ or even of, in such a non-sensical shape as ‘Indian culture is better than ours’, is a [ ] [of cultural imperialism]. It is neither ‘better’ nor ‘worse’. It is not a culture. Culture is a term of our own self-description. And that i~ why we cannot apply it to any Indian reality prior to the beginning of colonial period. It is our own cultural imperialism which generated a lot of nonsenses, like ‘Third World’, ‘Second World’, ‘First World’, or anything (whatever].

All is a sheer [anti-]philosophical idiocy in its concrete and [unreconstituted] form. But let us still return to the idea of ‘culture’. idea, but our own idea. Not their When we use in our own philosophical discourse the term and notion of ‘culture’, we produce not one but a whole series of objectifications. And we may say that these objectifications would be something in a funny way — and I agree with M. Vitkin almost completely on that score — that those objectifications would be a kind of ‘meta-philosophy’ in a most elementary way. For instance, when we say, ‘well, you know, Hegel … his Phenomenology of Idea, you know, … don’t forget Hegel was after Kant, yes? He started working at the beginning of the 19th century. He was typical representative of German speculative thought, of German philosophy, of German culture.’ Saying all that, we objectify some conditions of his and totally external to his philosophizing. That is, what we are speaking of is not a ‘philosophy’. It is a ‘meta-philosophy’. What I have said now, not to speak of its ‘inner’, of course, ‘non-sensicality’, is a meta-philosophy.

What I’ve said now, it is not a philosophical mistake. It is a typical ‘meta-philosophical’ banality. Because, if we try to apply the same criteria to ancient Indian philosophical school, all that would be seen as non-existent. Because practically it never mattered what kind of conditions coincided with the beginning of Buddha’s philosophizing, or Vasubandu’s. You may say, ‘oh, come on man, what are you speaking about. Definitely everybody knows that Samkara was after Buddha, and before Gangesha, or before British invasion, or British-French rivalry in southern India,’ etc, etc, etc. But the problem is that was totally irrelevant to what Samkara said, — while speaking what I spoke, well, three minutes ago about Hegel, it was irrelevant — because it is our way of thinking about Hegel. And it was not Indian way of speaking and thinking about Samkara.

Am I clear enough, or not? So we should not be cultural or philosophical imperialists, and {we should} allow them while studying their philosophy to philosophize in their own way. Our most Humanist approach, brilliantly exhibited today by David AlIen, is a sheer example of an absolute cultural imperialism. They do not need to be taken like that. It is our totally condescending humanist idiocy. Nothing more, nothing less. Now, the second term, which is far more important. It is the term tradition without which no understanding of Zilberman’ sapproach to six classical systems in Indian philosophy is possible.

The term ‘tradition’ has two totally different and very often divorced from one another, aspects: ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’. When I say, well, ‘it was a mighty tradition of European science’ or of ‘European journalism’ or ‘European [ ]’ or ‘book printing’ I may mean that those who might unite within one tradition have, well, have had no idea that I am doing namely that. I use the term ‘tradition’ in an entirely objective way. I may say, ‘well, remember … we’re thinking more or less like [Lobachevsky]. I know absolutely nothing about [ ] Lobachesky, God forgive me that. And … one of the persons present here. But they mayor may not have known one another. So, my use of the term ‘tradition’ is absolutely arbitrary and at the same time it is entirely object-based. I may say, ‘Marx and Hegel are very much alike in their fundamental methodological approach to human activity or human thinking or anything.’ And Marx really was aware of himself as, in a way, a successor of Hegel.

So in this case my objective treatment of the term ‘tradition’ coincides with Marx’s subjective awareness of his continuation of a certain line. But very often it is not the case. Very often we unite three or four or five people, scholars or philosophers or musicians, or I do not know, bakers … at one tradition of which they themselves have or had no idea. In India all that is — or, sorry, was (now, in this respect India … happily has become as banal as we are, quite happily, too). But in a classical India with its six systems of so-called Hindu philosophy ‘tradition’ existed in its absolute subjectivity. It was no monkey-business, each philosopher YilleW exactly who his teacher was, and his teacher, and his teacher, and his teacher. I personally talked to two persons who subjectively, in their own individual memory, could trace … one could trace his ‘tradition’ with all possible [sedimentations] for something like seven hundred years. And the other, supposedly half-legendarily, but it doesn’t matter, for around two thousand years. That is, tradition to them was, in a way, an absolute condition — a conditio sine gua non — of their philosophizing.

You simply cannot philosophize outside tradition, or, let us put it in a little different way, ‘if you philosophize you are thereby inside a tradition, not a tradition ‘in general’, but an absolutely particular and absolutely personified tradition. Now, forgive me for that lengthy introduction [ ] and come to the first point of my very short presentation of Zilberman’s idea of what is object of philosophy, speaking of, mainly, the six systems of Indian philosophy, and partly Buddhism and Jainism. Point number one. If I am in David Zilberman’s position that is what I am doing now — I indeed, I can say, that the object of my philosophizing is not ‘a’ or ‘the’ truth. It is not ‘human happiness’ or even ‘human suffering’. It is not the beginning or the end of the things. The object of my philosophy is Q philosophy, or the philosophy, by definition, and pa~ excellence. So, let us, well, start, for instance, with Buddhism … with a classical case of the early historical Buddhism. It is an object of my philosophizing, together with David Zilberman, now and here.

And now, let us ask the first question: Iwhat then is g, or, the object of philosophy of Buddhism, which is the object of my philosophizing now?’ And David Zilberman answers with an [absolute [ ]] — namely, the object of Buddhist philosophy which is at this very time the object of my philosophy, or, repeating Vitkin, Imetaphilosophy , — is what? The Buddhist text. IThere is no philosophy without a primary text. It is impossible. If it is possible, then, we are doing something else.’ You may say, Iwell, but … it is ridiculous. I may become a philosopher outside, dealing with the text.’ ‘Well,’ I say, ‘you may. But then you are not an Indian philosopher. You are a Greek philosopher, with some reservations. You are a German philosopher. You are a socialist philosopher. Or you are capitalist philosopher. Or you are any other philosopher, but you cannot be an Indian philosopher without that very text. Text which is [laid] as the very beginning and is the very source of a given tradition. If you are not doing that you are not a philosopher in an Indian sense, in the way quite analogous to which our application to our term ‘culture’ is senseless with respect to that which can be called ‘Indian’ culture.

Because, it never was a term their own culture thought of. Likewise, our application of the term ‘philosophy’ in the sense of its object has never [been that]. Which is why by ancient Indian [ ] we have to chose between historical reality and our absolutely imperialist philosophical attitude. Because imperialism may be dictated by damn good intentions, but we will go to hell all the same. So, let us return to that primary text. I am a philosopher. At the beginning of my biography, it is not thinking about the problems. Never forget that our philosophical attitude implies and presupposes that what we start with is a problem — namely, how to become happier, or how to help unhappy ones. Its not very rich philosophical problem though. In my opinion it has nothing to do with any philosophy. But [to let us suppose]. Or, how to survive, which, of course, David [– speaking to David AlIen], from an Indian point of view is ridiculous, because there is no need to survive. No need at all. Neither to be happy, nor to survive. From our point of view they should survive. From the point of view of Samkara it is totally ridiculous. Survive or not, it is totally irrelevant. And so we have become irrelevant with respect to Indian philosophy with our own philosophical approach.

But anyway, let us return to that primary text. It is not about problems. It is about serious postulations which cannot be problems. They are what they are. You cannot say, they are wrong. Because if you say that you are not within that tradition. You have to leave it, and go somewhere else, and seek for a new guru and new tradition thereby, yes? But, … to say that those posulations contained in a primary text are right is as senseless as to say that they are wrong. You have not asked whether they are right or wrong. What you are asked to do with them is to learn from heart the sacred text if you are able to do that, and according to ancient Indian tradition each and every knitwit of both sexes was able to do at least that. — And secondly, if you are even a little cleverer or more industrious you were supposed to start commenting on those, without any evaluative judgment.

Its very alien to our culture. Because even adhering to the Hegelian tradition, or, as it was brilliantly demonstrated by M. Vitkin and L. Veronina here, we think quite devoted or devout Marxists — we [ ] some points where Marx still, you know, he was wrong, he lacked one dimension or another. Well … well … he was a great man, it was a great philosophy, but still, you know, that still did not exist — neither in a negative, nor in a positive sense. In the ancient Indian philosophy, simply it did not exist. You may say it was strange, it was a strange philosophy. Yes. It was. But only from their point of view we ourselves are even stranger. So, … that ‘primary object’ of each and every philosophizing in the classical India, was a primary text. Sutra, or mulasutra, or muladarshana, — a very rich terminology, yes? And then, we have a very difficult problem. Not their problem, but our problem. I would like to stress that point all the same. It is difficult to us; it does not mean that it was difficult to them. To them it was ‘natural’. And that, third problem, from our point of view was: — whether or not the content of that primary -text was from our point view ‘philosophical’. And very often it was not. The primary text — what primary text was about, it might be, well, ‘God Shiva’, or ‘the nature of suffering’, (quite philosophical topic).

‘God Shiva’ from our point of view, and details of his marriage have nothing to do with philosophy. Or, about the quality of sounds, or strengths of colors. We may say that, using our vocabulary, the content of a primary philosophical (in single quotes’ ‘) ‘text’ — called usually sutra — mayor may not have anything to do with what we call philosophy. Philosophy starts not with that primary traditional philosophical text. And it was brilliantly shown by David in that book [The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought]: ‘philosophy’ as an activity starts with our commentation. Practically, again, from our point of view it is totally irrelevant — what we are to go on to continue commenting on. It doesn’t matter. It may be practically everything in the universe.

And then we are coming across even more strange thing. Now, it is a commonplace to say that Indian philosophy or Indian ‘culture’, in single quotes, in our views was totally alien to what we call ‘history’. I think it is true, however banal it might sound. But to say that is not enough. The main thing about that non-historicity or an-historicity was their relation, the mode, the modus, the attitude, of their thinking about the text. Because each and every primary text was regarded as practically beginningless. You cannot say, well, tit was created in the 6th century B.C.,’ or, rather, you may say that, but it means nothing. For instance, according to the traditional Buddhist chronology Buddha was indeed living somewhere between the middle of the 6th and, say, the middle, somewhere in the region, in the middle of the 5th century B.C.. Okay.

But, from the very content of Buddhavarsana, that is, ‘what Buddha himself said,’ directly [follows] that Buddha refers to some other Buddhas who were saying approximately the same. That is, we have a kind of recurrence of repetition of text. Two millions years ago. You might say ‘its a mythology, or legend.’ But its not our business. We are not interested in what we may say, we should be interested in what they actually said. So, that non-historicity starts with an absolute datelessness of text. Not because it was not dated by neglect, but because it was not meant to be dated. If you start dating thing, — always when … ‘if I’m not mistaken Hegel lived after Kant.’ Any Indian philosopher like Samkara would say, ‘well, … but does it really matter? In what way, if any, did it affect his philosophy? What does it mean: the lived after Kant’? It, philosophically, it means nothing, to them I mean. To us, it means a lot. Because we are not culturally different.

But as David Zilberman showed it perfectly well, we are different in terms of ‘moduses’ ‘modalities’ and ‘modifications’ of our objective thinking where the object is philosophy. Now, the fourth point. David concentrated his attention on the problem of thow were they commenting’?’ That, on that primary text. And of course, to what extent we have a kind of ‘unilinear’ development of commentatorial philosophical thought. Its a very difficult problem. Because, amazingly enough, because of that absolute text orientation you are allowed to comment on a given text. Practically as you like. That is, the idea of heresy and of dogmatic incorrectitude, fallacy, or mistake, was totally alien to ancient Indian thinking. Why? Because that very primary text you are supposed to start with remains as a kind of eternal guarantee that you are within your own tradition. And if you are within your own tradition you are allowed by that very tradition to do what you want within that tradition. That is why the idea of ‘revisionism’, for instance, or ‘reformation’ was totally alien to Indian philosophy.

As far as you ascribe yourself to that tradition, to that mulatext, to that primary attitude of commentation on that very text, you are absolutely free. More than that: you are free to comment on the texts of any other Indian tradition. But, there i5 one, very important point. That commentation included as its most essential element of contents, some introduction of some additional elements which were not present in the primary text. I will give you one very simple example. And we discussed that example with David several times around 1969 or 1970. That example is very simple. The famous text, most famous text, Yogasutra, starts with a famous line. Everybody knows it, or at least is supposed to know and understand it. “Yoga is stopping of the turbulances of consciousness. Full stop.

Practically it is the essence of the content of the first sutra. Of the first sutra of the first [__ J of the Yogasutra. The first commentator — the author of that mahabhyasha (that is a long commentary, a long explanatory commentary) writes: (‘writes’ I use that term in a conventional sense, of course it was an ‘oral commentary’, from (a] start –) ‘writes’: “It is because the three gunas — the three tendencies of phenomenal, material world — are the qualities of those turbulations [turbulances] of consciousness, and unless they are neutralized. stopped or annulled our consciousness, our citta, continues to be turbulant, and because of its turbulance no real knowledge is possible. And because of that impossibility of any real knowledge no gaining of the quiet state of final liberation — moksha — is possible. That is, unless it is done. unless the three gunas (the three dynamic material tendencies of the phenomenal world) are stopped, we remain within the tenets, imprisoned within the tenets, within the framework of that phenomenal [unit],” My God.

Look how many notions are there in that first paragraph. ‘Yoga’, term number one. ‘Consciousness’, term number two. ‘Turbulance’, term number three. ‘Stopping’, term number four. In the commentary on that passage we have seventeen notions. That is, practically the terminology of the primary text and that of the first, say, commentary, they are numerically [incommensurable]. In fact, as David Zilberman repeated not once, ‘practically each and every primary text in Indian philosophical tradition is a formal ‘pre-text’ to go on philosophizing’. I stress the word ‘go on’, because philosophizing within a given tradition is regarded as beginningless — because a given tradition is regarded as beginningless — because a text at the basis of a given tradition is regarded as beginningless. So, the whole problem of time of the beginning remain totally irrelevant.

Finally, the last point. I do not want to exhaust you. The final point is this. Very difficult. And, it is a point which was discussed not once by me and by some other people with David, and probably it is the most difficult point in the whole process of appropriation of Indian philosophy by us. It is the idea of Iperson’. We are not able to imagine the degree of our stultification because of, of all of us, because of the persons. We cannot live five minutes without mentioning the person. We .. we are saying cMarxism’, CHegelianism’, cHusserlianism’, you know, and when we say that we associate not traditionally but psychologically, attitudinally, our selves with a given man.

The very fact that Marx said something is relevant and interesting, not only because it was said by Marx but because it was said by a person with a first and second name, living in a certain epoch and in a certain place. The idea of text in our apperception is increasingly connected not only with the person, but with a person absolutely biographically located. In India it was … different. Practically, what kind of Buddha — cBuddha’ is not proper name as you probably know. ‘Buddha’ is an epitaph. cSamkara’ was not a proper name. It was his third name acquired in his absolute asceticism when he became sunnyasin. Practically speaking of the [ ] founders of the six philosophical systems we do not know their real names. We know only their ascetical names, and, according those very systems a real ascetic has no family, no village, no town, no birth, no death. We are dealing with C symbols ,. Our own approach to modern and any other philosophy is totally cpersonalogical’. To us Marx is not a symbol. To us Marx is a person who fullfilled the work which no other person could fulfill. Its extremely important because our own spectrum of history, our own epiphenomenological picture of history, is practically filled up with Gods each of which is a, not only a ‘person’, but a cperson’ with his or her time, space, location, and biography.

So, when we say ‘it began after Galileo’, we mean namely that. It is not an abstract idea. It really was such a man like Einstein who was, who revolutionized the modern physics. When we, together with David, when we are proceeding from one of the six systems of the classical Indian philosophy to another, practically the role played by their founding fathers is nil. It did not matter who was the first. It does not matter who is the last. What matters is the movement within the space of texts and with space of their commentation filled up with ideas. Thank you very much for your attention, and forgive me my ( ] …

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