The volumes of the Project on the History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization aim at discovering the main aspects of India’s heritage and present them in an interrelated way. In spite of their unitary look, these volumes recognize the difference between the areas of material civilization and those of ideational culture. The project is not being executed by a single group of thinkers and writers who are methodologically uniform or ideologically identical in their commitments. The Project is marked by what may be called ‘methodological pluralism’. In spite of its primarily historical character, this project, both in its conceptualization and execution, has been shaped by scholars drawn from different disciplines. It is the first time that an endeavour of such unique and comprehensive character has been undertaken to study critically a major world civilization.
Materialism and Immaterialism with their implications for the nature of reality have been two contending world views that have dominated metaphysics since the dawn of civilization. In the 20th century Rabindranath Tagore, a quintessential philosopher-poet and Albert Einstein, a quintessential philosopher-scientist, had a long conversation on this very issue. The debate remains unresolved to this day, and this volume is an effort to bring under a single title its varying vistas both in India and the West, across the centuries, against the backdrop of the Tagore-Einstein conversation. The histories of this debate in India and the West have their own twists and turns and their own flavours, epistemology dominating over ontology in India and ontology over epistemology in the West. Nevertheless, there are many common concerns which have been addressed with characteristic differences in India and the West, and these differences may be brought to bear new insights into the problems. Modem science has brought with it new knowledge of the universe, and its philosophical implications are being studied across the globe. However, these studies have so far been dominated by the West. The time has come when many of the outstanding issues need to be reexamined from the Indian point of view. It is with this in mad that the volume has been designed to bridge the gap between the East and the West and between Philosophers and Scientists. In keeping with the general approach of PHISPC volumes, the articles in this volume are non-technical but rigorous expositions,, and should be accessible to a wide class of readers.
D.P. Chattopadhyaya, M.A., LL.B., Ph D. (Cake, London School of Economics), D. Lift. (Horizons studied, researched on Law, philosophy and histo1y ax1 at various Universities in India, Asia, Europe axis USA force. 1954 to 1994. Founder-Chairman of the Indian Cciuxi1 Philosophical Research (1981—1990) arid President-an-Chairman of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study. So (1984—1991), Chattopadhyaya is currently the Project Dreary of the multidisciplinary ninety-six volume Project of Misery of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization [PHISPC] and Chairman of the Centre for Studies Civilizations [CSC]. Among his 37 publications, authored 19 and edited or co-edited 18, are Individuals and Societies (1967); Individuals and Worlds (1976); Sri Aurobindo and Karl Marx (1988); Anthropology and Historiography of Science (199O Induction, Probability and Skepticism (1991); Sociology Ideology and Utopia (1997); Societies, Cultures and Ideologies (2000); Interdisciplinary Studies in Science, Society, Value and Civilization Dialogue (2002); Philosophy of Science, Phenotnenology and Other Essays (2003); Philosophical Consciousness and Scientific Knowledge: Conceptual Linkages and Civilization Background (2004.); Self Society and
Science: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives (2004); Religion, Philosophy and Science (2006); Aesthetic Theories; and Forms in Indian Tradition (2008) and Love, Life and Death (2010). He has also held high public offices, namely, of Union cabinet minister and state governor. He is a Life Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a Member of the International Institute of Philosophy, Paris. He was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1998 and Padmavibhushan in 2009 by the Government of India.
Partha Ghose is currently Senior Scientist Platinum Jubilee Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, India (NASI),
Centre for Astroparticle Physics, Bose Institute, Kolkata.
Educated in Calcutta and London, he was Professor and
Academic Programme Coordinator, S. N. Bose National Centre
for Basic Sciences, Kolkata (1989-99); Science Officer, British
Council, Kolkata (1975-89) and Adhyapaka in Physics, VisvaBharati, Santiniketan (1968-75). He has many publications in
international journals, and is the author of Testing Quantum
Mechanics on New Ground, Cambridge University Press, UK,
1999. He is a Member of the Academic Advisory Committee,
School of Education Technology, Jadavpur University;
Advisory Board, Kolkata International Foundation for Arts
Literature and Culture; Management Committee and Scientific
Advisory Board, ITC Sangeet Research Academy, Kolkata;
Governing Body, Centre for Natural Sciences and Philosophy.
Kolkata, and Trustee and Honorary Professor, Centre for
Philosophy and Foundations of Science, New Delhi. Honours:
Fellow, National Academy of Sciences, India (1999) and West
Bengal Academy of Science & Technology (1988), winner of
Indira Gandhi Prize for Popularization of Science, indian
National Science Academy (2000) and winner of the National
Award for Best Science and Technology Coverage in the Mass
Media (1986-1990), National Council for Science &
Technology Communications, Department of Science &
Technology, Government of India (1992).
Materialism, like Idealism, is a widely used term in philosophical discourse, particularly in the context of theory of knowledge. If the term Materialism is understood as the primacy of matter, or matter-in-motion, Immaterialism has often been taken to be its opposite term. In this admirably edited Volume of the Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture [Phsipc], different aspects of both Materialism and Immaterialism have been discussed in depth and details. Kindred terms like Realism and Idealism also figure in this comprehensive discourse.
Some contributors to this Volume have tried to show the inadequacy of two-valued logic. The conditions under which a theory or a proposition can be validly claimed to be true or false is hardly conclusive, i.e., more or less indeterminate. This very important point — relative indeterminacy, has been discussed both in ancient philosophy of the East and the West in different systems of Indian thought. For example, in the writings of the Jam thinkers and Quantum Physics of Modem Time, these two views have been raised and discussed at length. Also mention may be made here, among others, of J.B.S. Haldane, P.C. Mahalanobis, and D.S. Kothari.
The logicians and theorists of knowledge have highlighted this issue and related points in different forms. The perceptive and informed readers of this Volume are sure to find several points related, directly or tangentially, to this comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach. I am sure that the readers of this Volume will find it interesting, instructive and stimulating.
It is understandable that man, shaped by Nature, would like to know Nature. The human ways of knowing Nature are evidently diverse, theoretical and practical, scientific and technological, and artistic and spiritual. This diversity has, on scrutiny, been found to be neither exhaustive nor exclusive. The complexity of physical nature, life- world and, particularly, human mind is so enormous that it is futile to follow a single method for comprehending all the aspects of the world in which we are situated.
One need not feel bewildered by the variety and complexity of the worldly phenomena. After all, both from traditional wisdom and our daily experience, we know that our own nature is not quite alien to the structure of the world. Positively speaking, the elements and forces that are out there in the world are also present in our body-mind complex, enabling us to adjust ourselves to our environment. Not only the natural conditions but also the social conditions of life have instructive similarities between them. This is not to underrate in any way the difference between the human ways of life all over the world. It is partly due to the variation in climatic conditions and partly due to the distinctness of production-related tradition, history and culture.
Three broad approaches are discernible in the works on historiography of civilization, comprising science and technology, art and architecture, social sciences and institutions. Firstly, some writers are primarily interested in discovering the general laws which govern all civilizations spread over different continents. They tend to underplay what they call the noisy local events of the external world and peculiarities of different languages, literatures and histories. Their accent is on the unity of Nature, the unity of science and the unity of mankind. The second groups of writers, unlike the generalist or transcendentalist ones, attach primary importance to the distinctiveness of every culture. To these writers, human freedom and creativity are extremely important and basic in character. Social institutions and the cultural articulations of human consciousness, they argue, are bound to be expressive of the concerned people’s consciousness. By implication they tend to reject concepts like archetypal consciousness, universal mind and providential history. There is a third group of writers who offer a composite picture of civilizations, drawing elements both from their local and common characteristics. Every culture has its local roots and peculiarities. At the same time, it is pointed out that due to demographic migration and immigration over the centuries, an element of compositeness emerges almost in every culture. When, due to a natural calamity or political exigencies people move from one part of the world to another, they carry with them, among other things, their language, cultural inheritance and their ways of living.
In the light of the above facts, it is not at all surprising that comparative anthropologists and philologists are intrigued by the striking similarity between different language families and the rites, rituals and myths of different peoples. Speculative philosophers of history, heavily relying on the findings of epigraphy, ethnography, archaeology and theology, it-v to show in very general terms that the particulars and universals of culture are essential’ or ‘secretly’ interrelated. The spiritual aspects of culture like dance and music, beliefs pertaining to life, death and duties, on analysis, are found to be mediated by the material forms of life like weather forecasting, food production, urbanization and invention of script. The transition from the oral culture to the written one was made possible because of the mastery of symbols and rules of measurement. Speech precedes grammar, poetry prosody. All these show how the ‘matters’ and ‘forms’ of life are so subtly interwoven.
The Phisc publications on History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization, in spite of their unitary look, do recognize the differences between the areas of material civilization and those of ideational culture. It is not a work of a single author. Nor is it being executed by a group of thinkers and writers who are methodologically uniform or ideologically identical in their commitments. In conceiving the Project we have interacted with, and been influenced by, the writings and views of many Indian and non-Indian thinkers.
The attempted unity of this Project lies in its aim and inspiration. We have, in India, many scholarly works written by Indians on different aspects of our civilization and culture. Right from the pre-Christian era to our own time, India has drawn the attention of various countries of Asia, Europe and Africa. Some of these writings are objective and informative and many others are based on insufficient information and hearsay, and therefore are not quite reliable, but they have their own value. Quality and view-points keep on changing not only because of the adequacy and inadequacy of evidence but also, and perhaps more so, because of the bias and prejudice, and religious and political conviction of the writers.
Besides, it is to be remembered that history, like Nature, is not an open book to be read alike by all. The past is mainly enclosed and only partially disclosed. History is, therefore, partly objective or ‘real’ and largely a matter of construction. This is one of the reasons why some historians themselves think that it is a form of literature or art. However, it does not mean that historical construction is ‘anarchic’ and arbitrary. Certainly, imagination plays an important role in it. But its character is basically dependent upon the questions which the historian raises and wants to understand or answer in terms of the ideas and actions of human beings in the past ages. In a way, history, somewhat like the natural sciences, is engaged in answering questions and in exploring relationships of cause and effect between events and developments across time. While in the natural sciences, the scientist poses questions about nature in the form of hypotheses, expecting to elicit authoritative answers to such questions, the historian studies the past, partly for the sake of understanding it for its own sake and partly also for the light which the past throws upon the present, and the possibilities which it opens up for mounding the future. But the difference between the two approaches must not be lost sight of. The scientist is primarily interested in discovering laws and framing theories, in terms of which, different events and processes can be connected and anticipated. Him interest in the conditions or circumstances attending the concerned events is secondary. Therefore, scientific laws turn out to be basically abstract and easily expressible in terms of mathematical language. In contrast, the historian’s main interest centers round the specific events, human ideas and actions, not general laws. So, the historian, unlike the scientist, is obliged to pay primary attention to the circumstances of the events he wants to study.
Consequently, history, like most other humanistic disciplines, is concrete and particularistic. This is not to deny the obvious truth that historical event and processes consisting of human ideas and actions show some trend or other and weave some pattern or other. If these trends and patterns were not there at all in history, the study of history as a branch of knowledge would not have been profitable or instructive. But one must recognize that historical trends and patterns, unlike scientific laws and theories, are not general or purported to be universal in their scope.
The aim of this Project is to discover the main aspects of Indian culture and present them in an interrelated way. Since our culture has influenced, and has been influenced by, the neighboring cultures of West Asia, Central Asia, East Asia and South-East Asia, attempts have been made here to trace and study these influences in their mutuality. It is well known that during the last three centuries, European presence in India, both political and cultural, has been very widespread. In many volumes of the Project considerable attention has been paid to Europe and through Europe to other parts of the world. For the purpose of a comprehensive cultural study of India, the existing political boundaries of the South Asia of today are more of a hindrance than help. Cultures, like languages, often transcend the bounds of changing political territories.
If the inconstant political geography is not a reliable help to the understanding of the layered structure and spread of culture, a somewhat comparable problem is encountered in the area of historical per iodization. Per iodization or segmenting time is a very tricky affair. When exactly one period ends and another begins is not precisely ascertainable. The periods of history designated as ancient, medieval and modern are purely conventional and merely heuristic in character. The varying scopes of history, local, national and continental or universal, somewhat like the periods of history, are unavoidably fuzzy and shifting. Amidst all these difficulties, the volume-wise details have been planned and worked out by the editors in consultation with the Project Director and the General Editor. I believe that the editors of different volumes have also profited from the reactions and suggestions of the contributors of individual chapters in planning the volumes.
Another aspect of Indian history which the volume-editors and contributors of the Project have carefully dealt with is the distinction and relation between civilization and culture. The material conditions which substantially shaped Indian civilization have been discussed in detail. From agriculture and industry to metallurgy and technology, from physics and chemical practices to the life sciences and different systems of medicines all the branches of knowledge and skill which directly affect human life form the heart of this Project. Since the periods covered by the Phispc are extensive prehistory, proto-history, early history, medieval history and modern history of India we do not claim to have gone into all the relevant material conditions of human life. We had to be selective. Therefore, one should not be surprised if one finds that only some material aspects of Indian civilization have received our pointed attention, while the rest have been dealt with in principle or only alluded to.
One of the main aims of the Project has been to spell out the first principles of the philosophy of different schools, both pro-Vedic and anti-Vedic. The basic ideas of Buddhism, Jainism and Islam have been given their due importance. The special position accorded to philosophy is to be understood partly in terms of its proclaimed unifying character and partly to be explained in terms of the fact that different philosophical systems represent alternative world-views, cultural perspectives, their conflict and mutual assimilation.
Most of the volume-editors and at their instance the concerned contributors have followed a middle path between the extremes of narratives and theoretic. The underlying idea has been this: if in the process of working out a comprehensive Project like this every contributor attempts to narrate all those interesting things that he has in the back of his mind, the enterprise is likely to prove unmanageable. If, on the other hand, particular details are consciously forced into a fixed mould or pre-supposed theoretical structure, the details lose their particularity and interesting character. Therefore, depending on the nature of the problem of discourse, most of the writers have tried to reconcile in their presentation, the specificity of narratives and the generality of theoretical orientation. This is a conscious editorial decision. Because, in the absence of a theory, however inarticulate it may be, the factual details tend to fall apart. Spiritual network or theoretical orientation makes historical details not only meaningful but also interesting and enjoyable.
Another editorial decision which deserves spelling out is the necessity or avoid ability of duplication of the same theme in different volumes or even in the same volume. Certainly, this Project is not an assortment of several volumes. Nor is any volume intended to be a miscellany. This Project has been designed with a definite end in view and has a structure of its own. The character of the structure has admittedly been influenced by the variety of the themes accommodated within it. Again it must be understood that the complexity of structure is rooted in the aimed integrality of the Project itself.
Materialism is metaphysics with a monist ontology that holds that the only thing that can be said to exist or be real is insentient matter, and objects are grasped and seen as they really are in themselves, independent of us or our minds. It is in most cases associated with the methodological doctrine of reductionism according to which statements or descriptions about one class of entities or phenomena are translatable into equivalent statements or descriptions of another class of statements, usually considered to be at a more fundamental level. For example, just as empirical laws and explanations in the special sciences like chemistry, biology and the earth sciences arc believed to be translatable in terms of equivalent statements in basic physics, so also must more abstract phenomena such as consciousness (cit), the mind and ideas in minds be reducible to matter. This translatability claim is actually still only a programmed and remains unsubstantiated. Nevertheless, materialists pursue the programmed seriously and consciousness, the mind and ideas continue to be regarded by them either as emergent phenomena at a sufficiently complex level of organization of matter or as epiphenomena.
Idealism usually refers to philosophies that hold that reality is mind-dependent. It has come to represent a wide variety of positions. Most forms of theism are types of idealism. It is also metaphysics, but not necessarily with a monist ontology, that holds that the whole of reality, or an indispensable part of it, consists of ideas or thought or consciousness—abstractions and laws are more fundamental in reality than sensory things and whatever exists is known through the mind. Immaterialism was a form of idealism with a monist ontology propounded in the eighteenth century by Bishop George Berkeley who held that there were no material objects, only minds and ideas in those minds. He summarized his theory with the motto: ease est. percept (to be is to be perceived). Yet, he was an empiricist who accepted only experience and sensations as real. Thus, the term immaterialism united theism and empiricism. However, this form of idealism later came to be known as subjective idealism. There are in general two kinds of idealism, metaphysical idealism and epistemological idealism. Metaphysical idealism is monist in ontology and asserts that reality is “idea-I” and the world is either merely an appearance or not as real as the mind which creates it. Epistemological idealism is a weaker statement which asserts that we cannot know objects as they truly are but, as objects of our experience, they are conditioned by the mind or process of knowing. Epistemological idealists could be ontological materialists admitting the substantial existence of matter; they would only deny that matter could be known without the mediation of mind. Dualist and pluralist ontologism have been advanced since the earliest days both in India and Europe, the most well-known being Sathkhya, Davits and Viitãdvaita Vedanta, Christian dualism, Cartesian dualism, Leibniz an pluralism, etc. As we will see later, Kant and Hussar were transcendental idealists who defined “transcendental” as “that which constitutes experience but is not itself given in experience”, like the eye which sees but cannot itself be seen, but Hegel was an absolute idealist who grounded everything in the mind both epistemologically and ontologically. In contemporary usage immaterialism has come to represent the antithesis of materialism—it covers all forms of philosophy, with and without monist ontology, that challenge materialism and is not restricted to idealism.
In the absence of unambiguous characterizations of what constitute matter and mind, there has been an unending controversy between the votaries of materialism and immaterialism through the ages both in India and Europe. This has led to ever evolving sophistications within the two doctrines, culminating in modem analytical philosophy in the West in response to the discoveries in mathematics and modem science regarding space and time, matter and energy.
Being concerned with the nature of reality, the metaphysical dispute between materialism and immaterialism has long been inextricably linked with the wider metaphysical dispute between realism and anti-realism. Realism is a metaphysical doctrine that posits reality to individual objects independent of the human mind. There are many varieties of realism. Extreme realism posits the objective existence of universals that are related to but independent of thoughts and individual objects in the world. Examples of such universals are whiteness, pot ness, justice, etc. For example, two white pots share the universal property of whiteness. Plato’s Forms are classic representations of extreme realism. He argued that for every object in the world there exists a more perfect Form or idea (ideas) in some other realm that is neither the mind nor the phenomenal world. Communalism, on the other hand, denies the existence of universals and abstract ideas outside the mind. It recognizes the existence of only individuals and asserts that the universals and abstract ideas do not differ essentially from sensations produced by these individuals of which they are only transformations. Two pots may produce the sensation of whiteness in us, but there is no such thing as whiteness apart from the pots. Nationalism does not necessarily deny entities like numbers, propositions, possible worlds, etc., but it asserts that they are mere names (hence nationalism). Unlike Plato, Aristotle located universals in the mind but also posited a real basis for them in particular objects (this man, that horse, etc.). This version of realism is called moderate realism. It explains how science, which deals with abstract notions, can be valid for the real world. There is another option for maintaining universals in the mind, called conceptualism, which is skeptical about their foundations in the outside world. There are many other forms of realism like scientific realism (the common-sense view that subject to their provisional and approximate character, the secure findings of scientists can be accepted at face value), direct realism (the view that the senses provide us with direct awareness of the external world), indirect realism and representational (the view that we are directly aware only of our internal representations of the external world), epistemological realism (it opposes epistemological idealism and is related to the correspondence theory of truth), structuralism in science (interrelationships between fundamental elements upon which higher structures are built), critical realism (the view that there exists an objectively knowable and mind-independent social reality) and pan- relational realism (a type of realism that holds that every real thing is intrinsically related to every other real thing, as for example in Leibniz’s philosophy and Jaina philosophy).
Anti-realism is simply the antithesis of realism, i.e. it denies realism without necessarily making any alternative commitment such as idealism. It is closely related to intuitionism in mathematics and was formulated by Michael Dimmitt.
The essential point of the dispute between realism and its opponents is very well encapsulated in the conversation that took place between Rabindranath Tagore and Albert Einstein in the latter’s summer house in Kaput near Berlin on 14th July, 1930. In this dialogue (Tagore, R. 1931) Einstein first summarizes the dispute in the following words: “There are two different conceptions about the nature of the Universe: (1) the world as a unity dependent on humanity; (2) the world as a reality independent of the human factor.” He then went on to explain the realist position by saying: “The problem begins whether Truth is independent of our consciousness. . . . Our natural point of view in regard to the existence of truth apart from humanity cannot be explained or proved, but it is a belief which nobody can lack—no primitive beings even. We attribute to Truth a superhuman objectivity, it is indispensable to us, this reality which is independent of our existence and our experience and our mind—though we cannot say what it means.”
Tagore counters this by saying: “Truth, which is one with the Universal Being, must essentially be human; otherwise whatever we individuals realize as true can never be called truth, at least the truth which is described as scientific and which can be reached through the process of logic, in other words, by an organ of thoughts which is human.
The nature of truth which we are discussing is an appearance, that is to say, what appears to be true to the human mind and therefore is human, and may be called Maya or illusion.
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