Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Tukaram and J.E. Abbott

Extraordinary chat with Tony George, SJ, yesterday. He is preparing a paper for a Tukaram symposium at Pune University. He has come up with a wonderfully creative approach.

The background is the usual attitude of Hindus. They feel that people like J.E. Abbott, the one who opened Tukaram to the West, are only subserving their Christian missionary goals. They feel Tukaram opens the way to introducing the gospel in India.

Tony takes a different approach. He begins from Cassirer's idea of 'soul-making.' All great literature is involved in soul-making. Tony's thesis is that the reading of Tukaram contributes to soul-making in the Christian. Abbott, for example, is a Protestant; he does not have much to do or say about the feminine aspects of the Christian mystery, because, being a Protestant, he has no place for Mary. Tukaram, instead, speaks of God as mauli, mother. The Protestant Abbott reading Tukaram is led, therefore, to fill a gap in his own religious experience. The paternal and masculine aspect of God is complemented by the maternal and feminine aspect from Tuka. So soul-making continues.

The Hindu, on the other hand, might find in the West and in Christianity a better appreciation of the social aspects. It is strange, Tony pointed out, that Tuka, despite calling God mauli, despised women. He thanks God for not giving him the body of a woman, for example. Here is something that Hinduism might learn from Jesus, who manifests a deep and extraordinary respect for women...

Wonderfully fresh and creative approach, one that I found very respectful, and yet talking about what two traditions might learn from one another.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Ambedkar and De Nobili, De Britto, and Beschi

Ambedkar mentions Robert de Nobili, John de Britto, Joseph Beschi, and others in "The Condition of the Convert," Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, ed. Vasant Moon (Bombay: Education Department, Govt. of Maharashtra, 1989) 5:456-460. He gives a long quotation from J.N. Ogilvie, "Apostles of India." He is critical of the methods used by these Jesuits to accommodate Christianity to Hinduism, especially to the caste system.
[T]he Christian Missionaries althought they have been eager to convert persons to Christianity have never put up a determined fight to uproot paganism from the Convert. Indeed they have tolerated it.
The retention by the Converts to Christianity of Paganism is primarily the legacy of the Jesuit Missions which were the earliest to enter the field in modern times. The attitude of the Catholic mission towards paganism has come down from the outlook and the ways and means adopted by the Madura Mission.... (456)
There follows the long, 3 page quotation from Ogilvie.

Ambedkar acknowledges that European customs and ways were disliked by the Hindus and Muslims alike, and this constituted a great obstacle. Still:

But it was quite shameful and sinful for these Jesuit Missionaries in their zeal for conversion to have gone to the length they did namely, not to mind what the convert thought and did and how he lived so long as he was ready to be baptized, acknowledge Jesus as his saviour and call himself a Christian. (460)

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Sayana and Anandagiri

In "Langage et Connaissance de l'Absolu chez Samkara" De Smet casually mentions Sayana's and Anandagiri's sub-commentaries on the Taitt. Up., without giving any further references. I have been able to find the following details:

Tika of Anandagiri on Shankaracharya's Bhashya on the Taittiriya Upanishad

Upanishad-bhashya-sangraha, Mahesanusandhana Samsthanam, Mt. Abu, 1979-1986. Sankara's bhAshyas on the kaTha, mANDUkya, taittirIya, chAndogya and bRhadAraNyaka upanishad, with Anandagiri's TIkAs and other sub-commentaries. See http://www.advaita-vedanta.org/avhp/biblio.html

Sayanacharya's Bhasya (part of commentary on the entire Taittiriya Aranyaka)

Taittiriya Aranyaka, with Sayana Bhashya . Anandashram, Pune 1926. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aranyaka

A. Mahadeva Sastri. Taittiriya Upanishad: with the commentaries of Sankaracharya, Suresvaracharya, and Sayana (Vidyaranya), pp. 80 (free download at: http://www.archive.org/download/taittiriyaupanis00sankiala/taittiriyaupanis00sankiala.pdf)

Hume and common standards of taste

We have been reading Hume on beauty and art these days in the Aesthetics course. Once again, I am struck by how different Hume is, from what we usually make him out to be. I had gone to Hume fully expecting him to support the 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' thing, skeptic and relativist that he was. But I found a Hume who, while admitting the subjectivity of the aesthetic judgment in the sense that 'beauty' is not exactly a property of things, still goes on to defend a sophisticated theory of how there can and are common standards of taste. No one in his right mind, he points out, will simply equate the great Milton with a middling other poet.

Hume certainly has not the sophisticated distinction that Lonergan makes between experiential and explanatory conjugates, but what he says above seems to fit well, at least at first sight, into this kind of thing. Or perhaps we might distinguish between 'beauty' as an experiential conjugate, and the aesthetic judgment as, precisely, a judgment, and therefore capable of being true or false.

Hume, at any rate, goes on to point out that the judgment of taste is conditioned by a series of factors: delicacy of taste, practice at discrimination, comparison; serenity; etc. And while it might in practice be difficult to agree about who exactly is a man of good judgment, it is, at least in theory, quite sensible to point out the qualities in a man of good judgment, and to say that such men of good judgment or taste can be relied on in making good aesthetic judgments.

Hume does admit that (1) personal factors and (2) cultural factors are difficult to assimilate into the above theory. Cooper feels that on these points Hume needs to be questioned. Standards of taste, he seems to suggest, and men of good judgment, are culture bound. Such standards and such men function well within a particular culture and age, but not across cultures and ages.

It might be interesting to transpose all this into a Lonergan context. From what I understand, Lonergan does not quite enter into questions of aesthetic judgment.

Then of course there is Gadamer with his treatment of art as a way to truth, a playful way to truth, in a manner not unlike the functioning of phronesis or common sense.

Friday, 15 January 2010

A new language for systematic theology

I think I must definitely get back to doing some research on Lonergan - and to something I have been toying with ever since my doctoral dissertation: Lonergan's long struggle to discover / find a new language for systematic theology. The part to be researched is the journey from Insight to Method - ground that I covered in some way in Hermeneutics and Method, but there is much more, a wealth of material that I think we have much to learn from.

So: flag the area, divide it, work out a series of articles, work them eventually into a book...

The final outcome is 'clear', of course: Lonergan's Method in Theology. But research into the background from which this arose is always illuminating. And much of that background lies in unpublished scribbles and notes... now available online, thanks to the archives being put up by Robert Doran, but still to be researched, made available, brought to light.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Aristotle on feelings

Aristotle seems to have a different take on feelings from Plato.

He has the famous definition of tragedy as effecting a catharsis of the two emotions of pity and fear. (Poetics ch. 6, 1449b)

Cooper comments: Good art [note the adjective 'good'] can benefit both understanding and emotions - or better, in doing either of these, it does both. I.e. if it benefits one, it benefits the other. to benefit one is to benefit the other. The reason Aristotle can say this is that he rejects Plato's Manichean divide between reason and the passions. (Recall the higher and lower parts of the mind.) Far from the latter being always a distraction to reason, it will often be irrational not to feel, say, shame or anger. Mature understanding and mature emotional sensitivity are inseparable elements of the good life. And art can contribute to both. (Cooper 29-30)

In contrast to Plato for whom art itself is bad, we find Aristotle here speaking of good art (implying, presumably, that there is also bad art).

Poetics ch. 13, in fact, talks about what should not be shown in poetry: virtuous men passing from good to bad fortune, since this does not arouse fear or pity, but only outrage; bad men passing from bad to good fortune: this is neither tragic nor does it satisfy human feeling, nor does it arouse pity and fear; nor a wicked man passing from good to bad fortune: this would satisfy human feeling, but not arouse pity or fear. So there is one alternative left: the man who is not pre-eminent in moral virtue, who passes to bad fortune not through vice or wickedness, but because of some piece of ignorance, and who is of high repute and great good fortune.

Poetry, history and philosophy

In contrast to Plato, who spoke of the ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry, Aristotle makes poetry closer to philosophy than to history. Where history deals with the particular and contingent, poetry deals with the probable or necessary - and so it approaches philosophy which, according to Aristotle, deals with the necessary.
The essential difference [between history and poetry] is that one tells us what happened and the other the sort of thing that would happen. That is why poetry is at once more like philosophy and more worth while than history. (Poetics ch. 9, 1451a - 1451b)
What is interesting is that Gadamer thought it fit to look to art as a way of conceptualizing the approach to truth in the human sciences - including, I suppose, history.

But keep in mind also Lonergan's distinction between human studies and human sciences. History would be part of the former, while sociology part of the latter.


Aristotle's remarks on amplitude are fascinating (Poetics ch. 7, 1450b - 1451a).

He is obviously dealing with art and beauty. "It is not enough for beauty that a thing, whether an animal or anything else composed of parts, should have those parts well ordered; since beauty consists in amplitude as well as in order, the thing must also have amplitude".

And not just any amplitude, he goes on. Too small a creature cannot be beautiful, "since our view loses all distinctness". Neither is an enormously ample one beautiful, since our view of it is not simultaneous, so that we lose a sense of its unity and wholeness. The ideal seems to be 'the ampler the better, provided it remains clear as a whole.'

I am thinking of Michelangelo's David: it is huge, much larger than I had expected, and breadth-taking.

And Monet's Nympheas: you can't take it all in at one glance, simply because it is painted all over an oval shaped room; but it does have its own beauty!

Aristotle on art and truth

Aristotle takes pains to link art to truth. Thus he notes that mimesis is innate to human beings, that we take our first steps in learning through it, and that we take pleasure in instances of mimesis because we enjoy getting to understand something. (Poetics 1443b)

Art and truth

It is only when one recalls Plato's repudiation of art, one of the grounds being that it is doubly removed from the real and the true, that one begins to appreciate the significance of Gadamer's turn to art in order to discover there an approach to truth.

But then Gadamer, Plato scholar though he was, is relying here on Aristotle's phronesis, and Aristotle was, according to David Cooper, the first philosopher on record to appreciate the distinctive functions of art, and its value and claim to truth.

The commentarial tradition of Advaita

Editing De Smet's articles, I am learning so much. The commentators of Sankara, for example. Francis X. Clooney (Theology after Vedanta, Albany: SUNY Press, 1993, 17-18) provides the following list, which is useful even if not exhaustive:

Vacapati Misra (mid 9th C) - Bhamati.
Amalananda (13th C) - Vedantakalpataru (commentary on the Bhamati)
Appaya Diksita (16th C) - Kalpataruparimala (commentary on the Vedantakalpataru)
Anandagiri (13th C) - Nyayanirnaya (commentary on Sankara's Brahma Sutra Bhasya)
Govindananda (end 16th C) - Bhasyaratnaprabha (commentary on Sankara's B.S.Bh., drawing on the Nyayanirnaya)
Prakasatman (13th C) - (Sarirakanyayasamgraha) (a synthesis of issues at stake in the more ample commentaries)
Advaitananda (17th C) - (Brahmavidyabharana) (a direct commentary on Sankara's B.S.Bh.)

In addition, there is:
Dharmaraja Adhvarindra (16th C?) - Vedanta Paribhasa.

The two major schools seem to be:
Vacaspati Misra's Bhamati school
Prakasatman's Vivarana school.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Maritain and Indian Philosophy

I had known from Joaquim D'Souza that Maritain had taken a great interest in Indian philosophy, to the extent of encouraging Oliver Lacombe to specialize in Sanskrit and Indian Philosophy and come out with great books such as L'Absolu selon le Vedanta.

But I learnt something more yesterday: that Maritain had himself translated Georges Dandoy's An Essay in the Doctrine of the Unreality of the World in the Advaita (Calcutta, 1919). See L'ontologie du Vedanta, tr. J. Maritain (Paris, 1932).