Amartya Sen, “The Argumentative Indian”: some impressions. 1. Obviously the author is scholarly and these essays of his are valuable, however in some. Editorial Reviews. From Publishers Weekly. As India's multicultural society confronts violent sectarianism at home and a range of destabilizing forces. themes pursued in this book, related to India's long argumentative tradition. India is an immensely diverse country with many distinct pursuits, vastly disparate.
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The argumentative Indian: writings on Indian history, culture and identity I by. Amartya Sen. labour the point that the focus on the argumentative tradition in this. India is a very diverse country with many distinct pursuits, vastly different convictions, widely divergent customs, and a veritable feast of viewpoints. India is a very diverse country with many distinct pursuits, vastly different convictions, widely divergent customs, and a veritable feast of viewpoints. The Argumentative Indian brings together an illuminating selection of writings from Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen.
Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy, and the Argumentative Indian: Dan Arnold. If we properly attend to the complexity of Indian intellectual history, Sen persuasively argues, we will see that what is most salient is the striking extent of challenge and contestation that have been influential throughout the course thereof. The reach of Indian heterodoxy is remarkably extensive and ubiquitous. Sen, Hinduism Baltimore:
This is not easily done. Most contemporary philosophers and intellectual historians in the west appear to know little about Asian or African cultures and do not seem troubled by their ignorance. The triumphalist histories of 19th-century Europe - which drew neat little lines from Antiquity to the Renaissance and Enlightenment - still shape western self-perceptions and assumptions of superiority.
The cold war mythology, in which the west featured, contrary to much evidence, as the defender of individual freedom against totalitarian evil, can delude even liberal intellectuals into seeing the Bush administration's wars as human-rights campaigns.
Sen does run the risk of sounding like a culturally defensive nationalist, arguing, behind a veneer of modesty, for the superiority of Indian civilisation, especially when he asserts that "a great many departures in science and mathematics occurred in India from the early centuries of the first millennium which altered the state of knowledge in the world", or that "some of the earliest open public deliberations in the world were hosted in India".
But Sen believes in an idea of India that, he writes, quoting Tagore, militates "against the intense consciousness of the separateness of one's people from others". What he is really trying to describe is an interconnected world rather than societies splendidly isolated from each other.
He questions whether western modernity would have been possible without Arab, Indian and Chinese contributions in mathematics and science.
He believes, and his essay on India and China displays this most vividly, that "it is through global movements of ideas, people, goods and technology that different regions of the world have tended, in general, to benefit from progress and development occurring in other regions". Sen often offers such views as an antidote to Samuel Huntington's crude but damagingly influential notion of self-enclosed and necessarily antagonistic civilisations defined by religion.
He is at his best examining over-used concepts such as democracy, which recently has appeared to consist almost entirely of elections, even when they are supervised, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, by occupation armies. Sen points out how public debate and discussion and decision-making as much as balloting lie at the core of democracy.
In places such as India, such democratic practices can assume a life-and-death significance. Recently celebrated as a success story of globalisation by Thomas Friedman, India has a terrible record in tackling hunger and undernutrition. Unlike Naipaulanother Nobel laureate and influential interpreter of IndiaSen doesn't see India's Muslim history largely as a wound.
Muslim rulers, despite a fiery and brutal entry, soon developedwith a few prominent exceptionsbasically tolerant attitudes.
There are nightmarish elements in the Muslim history of India, admits Sen, but "it also includes conversations and discussions, and extensive joint efforts in literature, music, painting, architecture, jurisprudence and a great many other creative activities. Sen contrasts his approach with that of James Millthe celebrated colonial historian who never visited India. Mill, quips Sen, "evidently didn't want to be biased by closeness to his subject matter".
So it seems fitting that Macaulaywho held that "a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia"would be the one to discern in Mill's history of India "the greatest historical work Sen frequently cites "Akbar's defence of a tolerant, pluralist society [and] his focus on the role of reasoning in choosing this approach.
Ditto for Ashoka, whose edicts on public conduct and morality may well strike the modern reader as patronizing. Yet, situating them in their historical contexts, Sen makes a persuasive case that these men were far more enlightened than their global contemporaries.
Sen is also impatient with "contemporary attacks on modernity especially on a 'modernity' that is seen as coming to India from the West ". The attackers consider modernity a European cultural phenomenondefined by peculiar notions like individualism, progress, secularism, and democracyand they question its universality or suitability for the non-Western world. While at home with concepts like "reason" and "heterodoxy", Sen considers the notion of modernity "befuddling" and "irrelevant as a pointer of merit or demerit in assessing contemporary priorities".
To those who see a problem with importing modernity in India including Ashis Nandy , he responds with characteristic precision: The point is that there is no escape from the necessity to scrutinize and assess ideas and proposals no matter whether they are seen as pro-modern or anti-modern.
For example, if we have to decide what policies to support in education, health care, or social security, the modernity or non-modernity of any proposal is neither here nor there.
The relevant question is how these policies would affect the lives of people To those protective of the Indian masses against the "corruptions" of the West Gandhi, for instance , Sen, like Tagore, "cannot bear to see the people eternally treated as a child.
The so-called 'post-colonial critique' can be significantly constructive when it is dialectically engagedand thus strongly interactiverather than defensively withdrawn and barriered. Acknowledging India's "terrible record of social asymmetry" with respect to gender, class, and caste, Sen inquires "whether the tradition of [argumentation] has been confined to an exclusive part of the Indian population", the male elite that is, which would severely undermine "the social relevance of the argumentative tradition.
But will these examples convince those who hold such identities? The contending words of Kancha Ilaiah loom large: "Nowhere in human history has one groupthe upper castes of Indiabeen able to oppress so many for so long.
When instituted from above, he notes, their success depends on a variety of local factors. He rightly points out the pivotal role of public reasoning for the success of democracy and claims that India's long argumentative tradition is strongly relevant to its own enduring democracy. He then adds: It is very important to avoid the twin pitfalls of 1 taking democracy as to be just a gift of the Western world that India simply accepted The point, rather, is that democracy is intimately connected with public discussion and interactive reasoning And to the extent that such a tradition can be drawn on, democracy becomes easier to institute and also to preserve.
Other conditions Sen considers important for the success of democracy include political equality and substantial social and economic equality.
Political equality came one midnight hour in Sen believes that India's argumentative tradition is a powerful ally for advancing the cause of equality in the other two spheres. But almost sixty years later, the actual results, concedes Sen, have been mixed at best, even disconcerting, given the rise of divisive identity politics based on narrow affiliations of caste and religion, rising economic disparity he finds the evidence on this conflicting , and the stubborn persistence of illiteracy, poverty, corruption, hunger and malnutrition, as well as caste, class, and gender based inequities.
He maintains though that "what is really needed is a more vigorous practice of democracy, rather than the absence of it. And while plausible, more evidence is needed for the primacy he assigns in its endurance to India's argumentative tradition.
Another plausible theory assigns this credit to the famed tolerance of Indianswhat Sen perceptively calls swikriti, or "'acceptance', in particular the acknowledgement that [others] are entitled to lead their own lives"but to the underside of this good tolerance, the side that has long encouraged too many Indians to accept rather passively perhaps too much in life.
This includes any inoffensive political system that came along such as democracy , and which eventually fell in line with Indian cultural waysa far cry from the textbook model for that system of governance. Sen also tackles globalization from his unique vantage point as an economist. Some fears about globalization, he says, make it sound like an animalanalogous to the big shark in Jawsthat gobbles up unsuspecting innocents in a dark and mysterious way Globalization is neither new, nor in general a folly.
Through persistent movement of goods, people, techniques and ideas, it has shaped the history of the world. India has been an integral part of the world in the most interactive sense.
The forces of ideological separatism may be strong in India at present, as they are elsewhere, but they militate not just against the global history of the world, but also against India's own heritage. He warns us against the temptation to see globalization as a "one-sided movement that simply reflects an asymmetry of power which needs to be resisted. Sen acknowledges that economic globalization poses risks to the vulnerable and the disadvantaged and his prescriptions appear close to the neo-liberal line: It's inescapable, so let's try to make it more humane and just.
Rodopi, , p. If we recognize that others might reasonably believe things we hold to be false, what basis could we have for thinking our own claims really true? Quinn and Kevin Meeker, eds. Insofar, for example, as one emphasizes certain features of experience such as that it constantly changes , it seems right to say with the Buddhists that there is nothing permanent; insofar, however, as other aspects of experience are in view such as that even change is only recognizable against some background , it seems right to affirm with many Brahmanical opponents of the Buddhists that there is something permanent.
Specifically, I want to suggest that one of the interesting Indian resources for thinking about the context-sensitivity of rationality — and for doing so without jettisoning the thought that we might nonetheless be entitled to think some claims really true — is just the doctrine that so exercised Jayanta: On such an account, points about the context-sensitivity of rationality can be understood as essentially concerning justification — and can thus be made consistent with the recognition that truth itself is not in 21 On the Jaina doctrines, see B.
The Proper Work of Reason Routledge, , pp. This approach gives us, I suggest, a way to understand how we can fallibly believe things that we are nevertheless entitled to think really true. What he refuses, however, is the claim that the cognition of pragmatic efficacy provides a fundamentally different kind of justification than the initial cognition.
Confidence, to the contrary, that pragmatic efficacy does provide something more — that it tells us, e. This rejoinder virtually amounts to the statement of a realist conception of truth: For present purposes, the main point is that insofar as any linguistic episode reflects or expresses something of the epistemic perspective of a particular language-user, the claim it makes is always subject to falsification based on considerations involving that limited epistemic perspective — based, e.
By thematizing the independence from one another of justification and truth, this epistemology gives us a way to appreciate that we might judge someone with whom we disagree to hold beliefs that are false, while yet recognizing that they might nevertheless be justified in believing as they do — while yet recognizing, that is, their basic rationality. On the kind of view I am suggesting, it is possible to be, in effect, a relativist about justification — to hold, that is, that what anyone is entitled to believe is apt to depend upon and vary with historical and other contexts — without also succumbing to relativism about truth.
This distinction is important; it makes it intelligible that we can credit our interlocutors even those with whom we disagree with rationality, while yet retaining our entitlement to think what we must think in cases where others believe things that contradict 26 See note 23, above. The acknowledgement of and respect for mutual rationality need not, then, preclude disagreement about what is true.
While there may be good reason to resist any view that comes down to such an appeal, I want to conclude by suggesting the depth of the problem — by suggesting, indeed, the extent to which such socio-political considerations may be unavoidable.
Integral to such conceptions is the idea of a strictly procedural framework for the adjudication of competing claims — a framework, that is, based only on putatively formal principles, such as are not mutually exclusive of any particular substantive commitments.
Such a framework is epitomized, of course, by the jurisprudential tradition centering on the first amendment to the U. Constitution, which is avowedly neutral with respect to any of the particular, contentful religious claims that might be brought under it — and there has been much ink spilled over whether that is a coherent idea.