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Desnitskaya E. Nonagonistic Discourse in the Early History of Indian Philosophical Debates: From Brahmodyas to the Mahābhāṣya // Framing Intellectual and Lived Spaces in Early South Asia Sources and Boundaries / Ed. by L. den Boer and E. A. Cecil. Berlin; Boston: Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2020. P. 145—171.


One of the main problems in the contemporary study of premodern Indian culture is the search for the appropriate conceptual means of interpretation. In the case of textual studies, this problem may appear less acute since, in many instances, traditional modes of interpretation are provided by the commentaries. Still, it would certainly be naive, from a gnoseological perspective, to deny conceptual means and modes of interpretation merely on account of their absence in the commentaries. In the following passage, W. Halbfass underlines the inevitable difficulties a modern scholar confronts in studying an ancient culture:

[. . .] Understanding cannot amount to slipping into somebody else’s skin, as it were, and to comprehend or experience the foreign, the other simply in its own identity, or by coinciding with it. Understanding ancient Indian thought cannot mean “becoming like the ancient Indians,” thinking and seeing the world exactly like them. We are not capable of such “objectivity,” and if we were, we would obviously not be “like the Indians.” The goal of a radical “philosophical εποχη,” an unqualified abstention from one’s own background and presuppositions, is unrealistic and undesirable. We cannot and need not “disregard” ourselves in the process of understanding.

While recognizing the utility of emic (“insider”) concepts within Indian culture, etic (“outsider”) concepts can be introduced for the sake of the comprehensiveness of inquiry. Etic concepts are needed especially when we study those aspects of Indian culture that were not categorized “from within,” i.e. by the innate means of self-reflection elaborated in Indian culture. To undertake historiographical work and philosophical analysis, scholars can productively make use of conceptual tools from the contemporary humanities…

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