Author interview: Roy Perrett on Indian Philosophy
Written by: Roy W. Perrett
We talk to Roy Perrett, visiting Professor of Indian Philosophy at Ashoka University about his new book, An Introduction to Indian Philosophy.
- What were the greatest challenges you faced in writing the book?
The Indian philosophical tradition is enormously rich and diverse. So perhaps the greatest challenge that I faced every day while writing was trying to satisfy the twin emands on an introductory book that it be both accurate and accessible. These two desiderata, unfortunately, pull an author in rather different directions. Whether I succeeded in finding a middle path is for others to judge.
- How does An Introduction to Indian Philosophy fit with your wider academic interests and research?
I have always had wide philosophical interests and I have published work on a variety of topics in both Indian and Western philosophy – especially in moral and political philosophy, in metaphysics and philosophy of mind, in philosophy of religion, and in the philosophy of art. Accordingly, it always seemed to me perfectly natural that I should pursue the full range of my philosophical interests in a way that drew on more than one philosophical tradition. My future research plans continue this pattern.
- Your book concentrates on a wide range of Indian philosophical concerns, can you give us one or two examples of these.
Students typically begin with a distortedly narrow view of Indian philosophy as indistinguishable from Indian religion. My book’s detailed chapters on Indian epistemology, logic, philosophy of language, and metaphysics – as well as on ethics and philosophy of religion – serve to correct this misapprehension. By the end of the book students will have a more informed view of the very broad range of classical Indian contributions to philosophy.
The main Indian philosophical themes I concentrate on in the book are: value (Indian views about ethics), knowledge (Indian epistemological concerns), reasoning (Indian ‘logic’, broadly conceived), word (Indian philosophy of language), world (Indian metaphysics, particularly causation), self (Indian theories of the self), and ultimates (Indian philosophy of religion, especially the variety of conceptions of a maximally great being to be found in the India tradition).
- Can you tell us a little about how your book is structured and how this will be useful for students?
My introduction to classical Indian philosophy is for readers with at least some prior background in philosophy. It is structured thematically, with each chapter devoted to a topic discussed extensively by the Indian philosophers: value, knowledge, reasoning, word, world, self, and ultimates. Thus a reader wanting an overview of Indian philosophy should read the whole book, but a reader wanting instead only a sense of Indian contributions to a particular philosophical theme can just turn to the relevant chapter.
Similarly, the whole book can be used as the text for an introductory survey course on Indian philosophy; or particular chapters can be used either for more advanced courses on selected topics in Indian philosophy, or to provide an non-Western perspective in a general introductory philosophy course.
Each chapter presents, not just a summary of doctrines, but something of the technical details of the Indian arguments and an elaboration of their theoretical motivations.
- Your book includes translated Sanskrit texts, can you explain to us the process behind this and how they are used?
The primary function of the inclusion of the translated Sanskrit materials is, of course, to indicate some of the Indian sources I am alluding to when expounding various Indian philosophical debates. Reading these translated passages together with my brief expositions also serves to give the reader at least the beginnings of a feel for the nature of classical Indian philosophical genres and their argumentative styles. Finally, they provide an access point to existing translations (albeit sometimes imperfect ones) that at least permit the non-Sanskritist reader immediately to pursue further their newly awakened interest in Indian philosophy.
Since I am eager to persuade Western philosophers to take classical Indian philosophy much more seriously as philosophy than they currently usually do, I am also very eager to encourage my readers to read further in Indian philosophy immediately, rather than think that they have first to master Sanskrit. After all, while most contemporary students of Western philosophy will have at least some acquaintance with the thought of (say) Plato, Anselm, Descartes, Kant and Kierkegaard, very few of them will have read all of those philosophers in the original Greek, Latin, French, German and Danish. (To become a specialist in Indian philosophy, of course, will require that a student learn some Sanskrit.
- Describe your book in three words?
Clear, rigorous, interesting. [Or at least, I hope so!]
An Introduction to Indian Philosophy by Roy W. Perrett is out now.