© 2019 by Shyam Ranganathan

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RESEARCH

South Asian Philosophy

My Research in Philosophy began when I noticed (in an MA in South Asian Studies) that standard approaches to the study of South Asian Philosophy were substandard and departed from what one would expect in philosophy. In Philosophy we begin explicatively, by rendering clear theories and assumptions that contribute to philosophical controversies, but in the study of Indian philosophy, it was (and continues in many quarters) to be standard that commentators begin with their own beliefs about substantive matters as the frame for explaining South Asian contributions. The problem with this interpretive approach  is that it renders disagreement unintelligible. The direct effect of this is the bleaching and disappearance of Indian moral philosophy from the literature as Indian theories of ethics (dharma) depart from the intuitions of Indological interpreters. 

Analytic Philosophy, the Western Tradition

​I returned to a Philosophy PhD, on Moral Discourse translation (focusing largely on analytic metaethics and philosophy of language, but also drawing from Continental philosophy, Translation Studies and Linguistic Anthropology) and discovered that what Indological commentators on the Indian tradition are doing as a matter of common practice is an entailment of what prominent twentieth century Analytic and Continental philosophers recommend we have to do at the boundaries of our cultural competence: interpret. And this is a direct function of the assumed, and undefended, model of thought in the Western tradition, connecting the contemporary scene to its ancient Greek roots: the linguistic account of thought. Accordingly, thought is linguistic meaning. I call this tradition the West. Not only is this theory of thought a disaster as it confuses the culturally continent (politically selected world views) with the logically necessary (thought, the indispensable ingredient of reason), it creates problems for translation and entails interpretation.  I think it also gives rise to nasty political outcomes, including colonialism, imperialism, nationalism and the far-right, not to mention speciesism, anthropocentrism and communitarianism (outcomes that became apparent to me as I started to put together my knowledge of South Asia, and the Western tradition.) The other peculiar creation of this tradition is religion: all religion (it becomes apparent given these considerations) is whatever cannot be interpreted by the Western tradition. The rise of religious, ethno nationalisms and the far right are directly tied to the spread of the West, from what I can see (a process I call Westernization), and this comes in the wake of direct Western colonialism.  

Synthesis

​Coincidentally I found solutions to these problems in the ancient Indian school of philosophy: Yoga

​A lot of my work now has to do with methodology in research (in philosophy and beyond), and bringing to light not only the problems caused by confusing culture and thought, but solutions to moral, political and epistemic problems by switching to a disciplinary approach to thought and research.  Common bad practice (interpretation) is easy to criticize as it is patently irrational (violating basic standards of reason). The credible approach that I defend (explication) in contrast relies upon these basic standards of reason and can hence be proved (yes, proved!) pretty easily and without appeal to anyone's beliefs. But common practice is hard to give up because it is irrational. Folks who rely upon interpretation use it to make sense of the options and hence have difficulty appreciating alternatives (for this method renders disagreement unintelligible). The problem is ubiquitous, sadly widespread given the influence of the Western tradition, and requires a sustained opposition.  

I continue to write and publish on South Asian Philosophy. But my work dissolves the usual distinction between research in the history of philosophy and research on the problems of philosophy. That is a distinction that is made possible by interpretation and disappears when we start to think explicatively.