SAAP Annual Meeting 2015

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Society of Asian and Comparative Philosophy: Engagements Between American and Asian Traditions

Thursday, 5 March 2015
13:00 - 14:40

Directors Room A

Panel Session: Society of Asian and Comparative Philosophy
ENGAGEMENTS BETWEEN AMERICAN AND ASIAN TRADITIONS

Gail Presbey, University of Detroit Mercy, "Thoreau, the Bhagavad Gita and Gandhi"

As Henry David Thoreau said in his reflections on life in the United States (published 1854), the laying of the trans-Atlantic cable (only begun in 1854, completed in 1858) may not be the blessing it seems, because why must we know that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough? Wouldn’t it be better, Thoreau maintained, to concentrate on reading the Bhagavad-Gita? Thoreau devoted a whole chapter of his book to propounding a philosophy of reading much like what Isabel Hofmeyr calls Gandhi’s “slow reading.” But where did this train of ideas start? Historian and biographer Judith Brown has noted that people erroneously think that Thoreau influenced Gandhi, although it is clear that Gandhi did not read Thoreau until he was already in jail due to a civil disobedience action. While Gandhi drew upon Thoreau’s philosophy of reading and quoted him in Indian Opinion in 1911, Thoreau could not have been the original source of this philosophy of reading. Surely the idea of condensing great insight into short phrases which must then be taken to heart (or as Hofmeyr points out, quoting Gandhi’s use of metaphor, must be “’imprinted’ and ‘engraved on the [reader’s] heart’”) is part of a long tradition of spiritual reading in India. Thoreau said in 1849 regarding the Laws of Manu that its wisdom is so concise it “renders many words unnecessary” (Thoreau 1849, p. 159). Gandhi’s favorite, the Bhagavad-Gita (translated as “Divine Song”) is also a brief, eighteen chapter/ 700 verse work, written mostly in couplets, which Gandhi eventually carried on his person at all times. He read the Bhagavad-Gita in 1888-89 (in Sir Edward Arnold’s 1885 English translation) at the age of 20 while he was a second year law student in England. While Gandhi was embarrassed to admit that he had not read it earlier in India, he surely read it before he read Thoreau and Ruskin. So, what ideas of Thoreau's can be accurately said to have influenced Gandhi, and which ideas of theirs that seem similar have a common source in Hindu ancient texts? Since it sometimes said of Gandhi (for example, in a chapter by Joan Bondurant) that he was an innovator who drew upon Hindu tradition, how can it be that mainly independent of each other but relying on common texts and concepts of ancient India, that Gandhi and Thoreau both came to experiment with civil disobedience, and both saw the importance of refusing to participate in an unjust system? This presentation will venture and answer to that question.

Erik D. Baldwin, University of Notre Dame, “Dvaita-Vedanta and Plantingan Religious Epistemology”

Aspects of Plantingan Religious Epistemology are compelling and plausible to many theists, Christian and non-Christian alike. By Plantingan Religious Epistemology I mean Alvin Plantinga’s (1932 – ) proper function account of warrant together with his standard and extended Aquinas/Calvin models. Plantinga argues that these models show how it could be that both Theistic Belief and Christian Belief can be properly basic and warranted for Theists and Christians. Non-Christian Theists attracted to Plantingan Religious Epistemology must make certain modifications to the models. In this paper I develop a uniquely Dvaita-Vedantan extension of the standard model. First I explain the core elements of Plantingan Religious Epistemology. Then, I explain the philosophy of Madvacarya (1238-1317 CE) and modern interpreters of Madhva Vedanta, primarily Deepak Sarma (1969 – ), I argue that Dvaita-Vedantan affirms (at least implicitly) a proper function account of warrant and something rather like Plantinga’s standard model. I then articulate a uniquely Madhvan extension of the standard model.

Peimin Ni, Grand Valley State University, "Why Gongfu is Preferable to Pragmatism"

The paper begins with observations about some similarities between pragmatism and the gongfu approach, as illustrated by, e.g., Roger Ames’s interpretation and reappropriation of Confucianism. It argues, however, that “gongfu” is preferable to “pragmatism” for two main reasons. First, the term “pragmatism” is derived from the Greek word πρᾶγμα (pragma), which means deed or act, and is therefore more apt to direct attention to actions and their consequences than to the cultivation of the agent. “Gongfu,” on the other hand, helps us retain a critical awareness of the deciding importance of the agent with regard to actions and consequences. Second, “gongfu” is intrinsically related to art, a dimension of value that takes a stretch for pragmatism to incorporate. The paper concludes by indicating some significant implications of the differences between the two approaches.

Panel Chair, Peimin Ni, Grand Valley State University

 

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