[This is an invited guest post by Joel Katzav--ES.]
My post today has two primary aims. First, I aim to explain how the institutional setup of modern Indian (academic) philosophy during (roughly) the period 1925-1970 allowed it to thrive despite adverse academic circumstances in India at the time. Second, I aim to show how ties with key speculative American philosophers facilitated the publication of modern Indian philosophy in Western journals. The picture that emerges supports my earlier observations (here and here) about modern Indian philosophy, observations according to which the takeover of Mind, the Philosophical Review (PR) and the Journal of Philosophy (JoP) by analytic philosophers led to the exclusion of work by modern Indian philosophers from these journals much as it led (see here) to the exclusion from these journals of Western speculative philosophy, that is, roughly, Western “philosophy that tends to focus on the provision of substantial, broad claims about the natures of the universe and humanity” (Katzav and Vaesen).
The Indian Philosophical Congress (the Congress) was founded in 1925, when it had its first annual meeting at the University of Calcutta. Basant Kumar Lal’s 1975 ‘The Indian Philosophical Congress: a short history, 1925-1975’ (not available online) is a valuable source of information about the Congress. So too is A. R. Wadia’s ‘The Indian Philosophical Congress, 1925-1950: A Retrospect’, which is part of a volume published in 1950 to celebrate the silver jubilee of the Congress (see here). The following two paragraphs are largely based on these two sources.
The group photo of those attending the 1925 meeting of the Congress has 62 individuals in it and is, perhaps, indicative of the size of the Congress at the time (the picture can be found on p. 4 here). The following decades saw meetings at which more than 100 individuals attended. Proceedings of the Congress were published yearly until 1940; after that, limited financial resources meant that proceedings were no longer published regularly, though selected papers that were presented at the Congress were published in the Indian journal the Philosophical Quarterly, a journal which was published from 1926 through until 1966. The first president of the Congress was the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. After the philosopher primarily responsible for founding the Congress – the soon to be Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford and future president of India – S. Radhakrishnan, made it clear that he would not be the Congress’s first president, it was decided to settle on a non-academic for the job; apparently, no professor wanted it.
The founding of the Congress meant, as Lal explains (pp. 58-59), that modern Indian philosophers came together as a community of philosophers for the first time, were given an opportunity to keep up with the latest research and given an incentive to do research, even though they were at universities where teaching conditions strongly discouraged research. At the end of one series of sessions at the Congress, philosophers would return home and start thinking about their next contribution to the Congress; contributions were to be submitted to the Congress prior to presentation.
In addition to the support the Congress provided to modern Indian philosophers, they had some support from Western, speculative philosophers. Material that appears towards the end of the jubilee volume of the Congress in a section entitled ‘Messages’ provides insight into this support. This section includes messages sent from all over the world to the Congress, including from Great Britain and America. The first message, by R. Prasad, then the president of India, encourages Indian philosophers to spread Ghandi’s philosophy. J. Nehru, then the prime minister of India, laments the limited role philosophy plays in solving the world’s problems and hopes that philosophers will bring their philosophy into contact with ‘the vital problems which overwhelm us’. After a relatively long list of messages, we also find messages from some of the most prominent, and still widely remembered today, analytic and positivist, Western philosophers of the time, including, among others, messages from G. E. Moore, A. J. Ayer, G. Ryle, R. Carnap, B. Russell and C. D. Broad. These philosophers briefly and politely congratulate the Congress on the jubilee and offer their excuses for not attending the congress. The absence of any real message of support from a prominent analytic philosopher fits well with the absence of any work by modern Indian philosophers in PR or JoP after analytic philosophy comes to dominate these journals. The list of messages includes, however, less distant messages from a number of other philosophers who were prominent at the time, but are now relatively forgotten. These philosophers were speculative philosophers and include C. A. Moore, P. Weiss, A. E. Murphy and E. A. Burtt, among others.
Murphy, who was then running the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell, wrote representing the American Philosophical Association. He notes that this association was sending two representatives to the jubilee in 1950, the speculative philosophers F. S. C. Northrop (Yale) and G. P. Conger (Minnesota), and expresses his hope for more frequent contact between Indian and Western philosophy, and for a future where philosophizing is no longer done from the perspective of this or that tradition but is, instead, done from ‘a world perspective’ (p. 279). E. A. Burtt, then a colleague of Murphy’s at Cornell, reiterates the information Murphy provides, but adds a personal note, stating that he hopes to visit India again (he had visited there in 1946) in the near future. Further, Murphy and Burtt were editors of the Philosophical Review (PR) in the 1940s; Murphy only from the mid-1940s, but Burtt since 1936. Their messages to the Congress, and Burtt’s visits (there were later visits) to India, make it no surprise that work by members of the Congress found itself into the pages of PR in the 1930s and 1940s, prior to its takeover by analytic philosophers. Indeed, it is no surprise that PR invites congress members to contribute to a special 1948 edition of the journal, one focused on the ties between Eastern and Western philosophy.
A. Moore, who contributes a paper to the jubilee volume, expresses the desire for the revitalization of Indian philosophy, for better understanding between Western philosophy and Indian philosophy and for a form of philosophy that is speculative and practical. He presented a paper at the Congress in 1947, at which time he let the Congress know of the first East-West philosophers’ conference in Honolulu planned for 1949. Due to this visit, it was possible for members of the Congress to attend the conference in Honolulu as well as later East-West conferences. In addition, C. A. Moore founds, in 1951, Philosophy East and West. It will be no surprise that this journal regularly published modern Indian philosophy.
Weiss’s message (p. 276) to the Congress is as follows:
Greetings from the Review of Metaphysics. Our good wishes to you on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of the Indian Philosophical Congress. Indian philosophers have such a magnificent sense of what is important, and such an appetite for metaphysics that we find ourselves related to you with an immediacy and good will which is in no way affected by our geographical distance. We trust this will prove to be but the first of a long series of major distinguished celebrations of the Indian Philosophical Congress, and that we here, in ever increasing numbers, shall have the pleasure of joining you in them.
Weiss founds the Review of Metaphysics in 1947 (as Vaesen and I argued here, possibly in response to the imminent takeover of PR by analytic philosophers). Again, it is no surprise that the Review of Metaphysics is a place where modern Indian philosophy finds a home.
The content of the jubilee volume also brings out an important reason why certain non-analytic Western editors were, and analytic Western ones were not, sympathetic to modern Indian philosophy. The editors in question, as well as many at the Congress, signal a shared central aim of speculative Western philosophy (an approach that includes, and has as a heritage, Absolute idealism and pragmatism) and much of modern Indian philosophy, an aim we have seen even Nehru reiterates, namely that of developing speculative philosophy that is tied to practice. Here is a message emphasising this shared aim from Leon Roth of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Roth’s message is suggestive of who the opposition is:
A philosophical congress in India has a lofty function to serve. Like any other philosophical congress it has a duty to analyse current values and to interpret them with the help of the best of modern thought. But it is a question whether analysis and interpretation are enough even elsewhere: they are certainly not enough for India. India has always implied for the world at large the inward light of the spirit; and this light is the more needed today because of the dark mists of scientific barbarism which seem to be closing in upon the world from all sides. Your Congress could aid in the salvation of humanity by shedding on it some of the light of your truth. In this high task you have our heartiest good wishes.