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02/21/2017

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Mohan Matthen

Thank you for the interesting post, and for the link to the Silver Jubilee volume, which was most interesting to peruse.

I had a rather different reaction than yours to two of the messages you quote. Personally, I find it embarrassing, and even annoying, when people address comments to me about Indians that they find complimentary, but I find stereotyping. I think I would have responded rather brusquely to Leon Roth's "India has always implied for the world at large the inward light of the spirit," or to Paul Weiss's "Indian philosophers have such a magnificent sense of what is important." I'm still seething over their patronizing blather.

I found far more moving simple, yet clearly deeply felt, messages such as this one from W. D. Ross: "I have a very close link with India, in that my father was Principal of the Maharajah's College in Trivandrum, now the University of Trivandrum. Hence it is with interest and real emotion that I send my greetings." What a gent!

Finally, I was very amused in "Oh Dad!" kind of way by Nehru's message. Nehru was a man of great intellect and humanity. He was also, more than occasionally, an extremely imperious sort of guy. And this was what he expressed here: "Really, I have nothing to say to you. What have you ever done for the world?"

Joel Katzav

Thanks for your thanks. You are, however, mistaken about my reaction to the messages. I did not offer them as compliments and do not generally think of them, or otherwise react to them, as such. I was just using the messages to make points about support offered by Western editors like Weiss, and about shared interests and goals among some Western philosophers and some modern Indian philosophers, points that are backed up by looking at what the editors did in their lives and journals. The messages from Murphy and Burtt express support in a relatively factual way, and Burt and Murphy offered concrete support to back the messages up. C. A. Moore’s glorification of Indian philosophy does make me uneasy (in much the same way as similar glorification of analytic philosophy does) but his close work with Indian philosophers and his editorship of Philosophy East and West was supportive and suggests quite a bit of sincerity regarding shared goals. Weiss did mean some of what he says as he publishes work by Indian philosophers in 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, etc. This stands even though it is true that his message effaces the disagreements about philosophy that were present among Indian philosophers at the time. Nehru does say he has no message to give, but he also expresses a shared goal with many of the members of the Congress. Roth does express a stereotype about India but he also expresses views about the role of philosophy. If stereotyping is going on here, it is not me who is doing it.

You are, nevertheless, correct that there are among the messages relatively personal ones. These are interesting in their own right, partly because some of them relate to earlier ties within the British Empire, including ties between Indian academia and British idealism (see, e.g., the letter from John Mackenzie). In case I am misunderstood again, however, I would not want to claim that these letters are straightforwardly positive. Letters from British colonists, or their children, about the colonial past will struggle to be that, even when all they express are fond memories and perhaps because that is all they express; not unrelated, saying that someone is a real gent is not, in my view, a compliment in this context.

Mohan Matthen

Many of my reactions have to do with my personal history and I neither expect you to share them nor to give them any credence. I've lived most of my life in North America. A lot of people (though very few nowadays) exoticize me by attributing to me the ancient wisdom of my forebears or, more generally, making assumptions about my views or my background. Recently, I was in a University committee meeting when somebody greeted me with a Namaste. No doubt well meant, but what was he thinking? That's the kind of attitude I read into Weiss and Roth. (C. A. Moore is a different kind of case; the East-West Centre at Hawaii was very important, wasn't it?)

Anyway, I certainly knew and encountered a lot of white people with a colonial history when I was young. Some were patronizing, but the vast majority simply wanted to reach out and share a human moment with somebody that they identified as sharing something in their past. That's how I interpreted W. D. Ross. He had a simple human emotion that he shared. He was a tremendous scholar and influential philosopher, but he didn't speak about that. The fact that the emotion came out of a colonial past doesn't bother me at all. (Trivandrum is my family's home city, by the way, and I was particularly interested that Ross's father had served there.)

As for Nehru, again I could be wrong, but I think I know a little bit about him in a personal way. I read suppressed irritation in his message, and was intrigued by why. I think he respected Radhakrishnan, but was not on warm terms with him. Radhakrishnan's son wrote biographies of both and it should be easy enough to find out. Anyway, I was intrigued by what might have lain behind the message. Not that we'll ever know, I imagine.

Joel Katzav

I don’t disagree with you about possible irritation in Nehru’s message, though I am hesitant to read too much into this given the length of the message. I also think we should hesitate to attribute to Weiss and Roth the attitude of the person you mention from the university committee. Not only are the messages quite brief, but their language is not that different from that of some of the messages from Indian authors in the jubilee volume. It also seems that those at the Congress were encouraged (not just by the message) to submit work to the Review of Metaphysics. Of course, some have complained about first-generation Indian philosophers that they themselves were pandering to, and had to pander to, Western stereotypes. I think that the work of these philosophers and an understanding of the philosophical context in which they were writing suggests otherwise.

As for Charles Moore, I do think he played an important role, especially in his editorship of Philosophy East and West. One can see this partly by noting the relatively small number of philosophy journals available in America in the early 1950s, a time when publishing in journals was already very important, as well as by noting that the journal provided a needed outlet for diverse constituencies with substantial support among philosophers, including for those who supported pluralism about philosophical approaches.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.

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