Monday, February 20, 2023

Review of Reviews: February 2023


Although I still occasionally write a longer review, most of my book reviews have been shorter as of late. I'm not sure why. Maybe I'm just appreciating brevity these days, so on that note, on to the reviews of books I've read in the last month or so!

Monday, February 13, 2023

New Article: “Pramāṇavāda and the Crisis of Skepticism in the Modern Public Sphere” by Amy Donahue (Cross-posted from the Indian Philosophy Blog)

Depiction of a debate between Maṇḍana Miśra and Śaṅkara with judge Ubhaya Bhāratī


I haven't cross-posted anything from the Indian Philosophy Blog in a long time, so here you go! This is about a great article from my colleague Dr. Amy Donahue. There's also some information about an upcoming conference panel where she and I will be presenting with Dr. Arindam Chakrabarti. Check it out! 

PS: You can find the original post on the Indian Philosophy Blog here.

Readers of the Indian Philosophy Blog may be interested to learn about a new article in the latest issue of the Journal of World Philosophies: “Pramāṇavāda and the Crisis of Skepticism in the Modern Public Sphere” by Amy Donahue (Kennesaw State University). The journal is open-access, and you can download the article here.

Here’s the abstract:

There is widespread and warranted skepticism about the usefulness of inclusive and epistemically rigorous public debate in societies that are modeled on the Habermasian public sphere, and this skepticism challenges the democratic form of government worldwide. To address structural weaknesses of Habermasian public spheres, such as susceptibility to mass manipulation through “ready-to-think” messages and tendencies to privilege and subordinate perspectives arbitrarily, interdisciplinary scholars should attend to traditions of knowledge and public debate that are not rooted in western colonial/modern genealogies, such as the Sanskritic traditions of pramāṇavāda and vāda. Attention to vādapramāṇavāda, and other traditions like them can inspire new forms of social discussion, media, and digital humanities, which, in turn, can help to place trust in democracy on foundations that are more stable than mere (anxious) optimism.

I enjoyed reading the article, and I found it extremely thought-provoking. I hope readers of this blog will check it out. Also, be sure to look for the forthcoming online debate platform that Donahue mentions on p. 5! Maybe we’ll make an announcement on the blog when it’s ready. Or reach out to Dr. Donahue if you’re interested in collaborating.

Here are a few of my questions for further discussion:

  1. Since pramāṇavāda was an elite discourse in historical South Asian societies and it requires some educational training (as Donahue notes on p. 4 and p. 5), can it do the work Donahue asks it to do?
  2. Are jalpa and vitaṇḍā so bad? While most Naiyāyikas have denigrated them as illegitimate as Donahue notes (p. 6), a few have distinguished “tricky” and “honest” forms of vitaṇḍā (Matilal 1998, 3). And then there’s Śrī Harṣa’s debate at the beginning of the Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhādya with a Naiyāyika opponent about whether one must accept the means of knowledge (pramāṇas) in order to enter into a debate about the pramāṇas (he mentions that one understands the discourse of the Madhyamakas and Cārvākas, perhaps thinking of Nāgārjuna and Jayarāśi; I will have more to say about the Cārvākas in an upcoming conference presentation—see information below). Matilal has also argued that vitaṇḍā can make sense as resulting in a “commitmentless denial” similar to an “illocutionary negation” (Matilal 1998, 50-56). In terms of a modern public sphere, could vitaṇḍā be a useful tactic for, say, pointing out the inherent contradictions of various harmful dogmatisms? Or maybe the deepest benefit of the vāda-jalpa-vitaṇḍā framework is a bit of self-awareness about which form of debate one is using?
  3. Is vāda necessarily more prone to discrediting false beliefs than a Habermasian public sphere or the type of marketplace of ideas in John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty? (p. 11) My point is most definitely not that we have nothing to learn from Indian logic and debate. Far from it! But I wonder how effective vāda can be. After all, you don’t find much philosophical agreement in the classical Indian tradition, which is precisely why I find it so interesting!
  4. Is the archive (p. 12) essentially part of vāda, or is it a cultural artifact of the Indian and Tibetan tradition of commentaries? Was there something similar in Hellenistic, Roman, Islamic, and Byzantine traditions, which were also heavily commentarial?

My questions here are meant to be taken in the spirit of vāda to keep the conversation going. I hope others will read Donahue’s thought-provoking article and join this worthwhile conversation.

Also, if you will be attending the upcoming Central APA Conference in Denver, Colorado, USA on Feb. 22, 2023, you will have the chance to discuss these and other issues in person! 

Wed. Feb. 22, 2023, 1-4pm

2022 Invited Symposium: Vāda: Indian Logic and Public Debate 

Chair: Jarrod Brown (Berea College)


Amy Donahue (Kennesaw State University) “Vāda Project: A Non-Centric Method for Countering Disinformation”

Arindam Chakrabarti (University of Hawai’i at Manoa) “Does the Question Arise? Questioning the Meaning of Questions and the Definability of Doubt”

Ethan Mills (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga)  “Cārvāka Skepticism about Inference: Historical and Contemporary Examples” 

(More information about the conference here, including a draft program that includes several other panels on Indian philosophy.)

Works Cited

Donahue, Amy. 2022. “Pramāṇavāda and the Crisis of Skepticism in the Public Sphere.” Journal of World Philosophies 7 (Winter 2022): 1-14.

Matilal, Bimal Krishna.  1998.  The Character of Logic in India.  Edited by Jonardon Ganeri and Heeraman Tiwari.  Albany: SUNY Press.