January 15, 2013

Intercultural understanding vis-à-vis Small-circle care

International Conference on Atisha and Cultural Renaissance  Venue: 11, Man Singh Road, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi-110011. Date: 16th to 18th January, 2013 - ‘Atisa Dipankar Srijnana and Cultural Renaissance’ Atisha is the last outstanding Indian scholar who went abroad for the cause, in the 11th century. HomeSilver Jubilee Celebration

J.N. Mohanty is Professor of Philosophy, Temple University, Philadelphia and Woodruff Professor of Philosophy and Asian Studies, Emory University, Georgia. Book Description Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (January 4, 2001)
In Self and Other, J. N. Mohanty addresses contemporary questions of post-modernism without abandoning his fundamental stand on phenomenological method. The essays in this volume reveal a shift from an over-emphasis on identity in classical metaphysical thinking to an emphasis on differences without falling into the fogginess of post-modernism.

Writing the Self  [Paperback] Peter Heehs (Author) Book Description Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic Publication Date: April 11, 2013
The self has a history. In the West, the idea of the soul entered Christianity with the Church Fathers, notably Augustine. During the Renaissance the idea of the individual attained preeminence, as in the works of Montaigne. In the seventeenth century, philosophers such as Descartes formulated notions of selfhood that did not require a divine foundation; in the next century, Hume grew skeptical of the self's very existence. Ideas of the self have changed markedly since the Romantic period and most scholars today regard it as at best a mental construct. First-person genres such as diaries and memoirs have provided an outlet for self-expression. Protestant diaries replaced the Catholic confessional, but secular diaries such as Pepys's may reveal yet more about the self. After Richardson, novels competed with diaries and memoirs as vehicles of self-expression, though memoirs survived and continue to thrive, while the diary has found a new incarnation in the personal blog. Writing the Self narrates the intertwined histories of the self and of self-expression through first-person literature. About the Author
Peter Heehs is an independent scholar based in India. He has written or edited nine books and published more than fifty articles. Articles in Professional Journals and Books
2011. “The Kabbalah, the Philosophie Cosmique, and the Integral Yoga: A Study in Cross-Cultural Influence”. Aries 11:2 (September): 219-247 (Pdf file available here).
2010. “Introduction”. In P. Vir Gupta, C. Mueller, and C. Samil, Golconde: The Introduction of Modernism in IndiaBangalore: Inform.
2009. “Revolutionary Terrorism in British Bengal”. In E. Boehmer and S. Morton, eds., Terror and the Postcolonial. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
2008. “Sri Aurobindo and Hinduism”. Published online in AntiMatters 2.2 (April).
2007. “Nationalism”. In S. Mittal and G. Thursby, eds., Studying Hinduism: Concepts and Methods. New York: Routledge.
2006. “Introduction: Appropriation as a Marketing Strategy”, written as guest editor of Postcolonial Studies 9 (June): 113–19.
2006. “The Uses of Sri Aurobindo: Mascot, Whipping-Boy or What?”. Postcolonial Studies 9 (June): 151–64.
2006. “Yoga/Yogi”. Keywords in South Asian StudiesPublished online by Centre of South Asian Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, London.
2004. “Ghose, Aurobindo.” In The New Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2003. “ ‘The Centre of the Religious Life of the World’: Spiritual Universalism and Cultural Nationalism in the Work of Sri Aurobindo.” In Antony Copley, ed., Hinduism, Public and Private: Reform, Hindutva, Gender, Sampraday. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
2003. “Shades of Orientalism: Paradoxes and Problems in Indian Historiography”. History and Theory, vol. 42, no. 2: 169–95. Reprinted in Gwilym Beckerlegge, ed., Colonialism, Modernity and Religious Identities. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 239-74.
1994. “Myth, History and Theory.” History and Theory, vol. 33, no. 1, 1–19. Reprinted in Robert Segal, ed., Myth (New York: Routledge, 2007).

Another habit of European scholars that got Aurobindo’s hackles up was their tendency to trace Indian achievements back to European, usually Greek, predecessors. Where Greek influence was evident, as in the Gandharan school of sculpture, he condemned the work as inferior to “pure” Indian styles. Europe’s literary criteria too were not applicable to India. Albrecht Weber’s idea that the original Mahabharata consisted only of the battle chapters was a case of “arguing from Homer.” It was, he insisted, “not from European scholars that we must expect a solution of the Mahabharata problem,” since “they have no qualifications for the task except a power of indefatigable research and collocation. . . . It [p.178>] is from Hindu [i.e. Indian] scholarship renovated & instructed by contact with European that the attempt must come.”[34]
Chakrabarty’s project is one of the most sophisticated attempts to arrive at an Indian, or let us say a not-exclusively-European way of looking at Indian history, but he builds on foundations that were laid a hundred years ago. Many of his predecessors exhibit great subtlety of thought and are not hobbled, like him, by an excessive reliance on (European) figures like Heidegger and Marx who, taken at [p.192>] face value, seem to offer little support to his thesis. I examine briefly one branch of this lineage, the nationalists of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Bengal.
Any survey of this style must begin with Bankim Chandra Chatterji, who, suggestively in his novels and explicitly in his essays, challenged the right of Europeans to dictate the terms of the colonial encounter… Chatterji, Tagore, Pal and Aurobindo were all modern in outlook and education, but they all used religious concepts in their writings… Writers like Chatterji, Tagore and Aurobindo laid stress on India’s distinctiveness because it seemed threatened by absorption into a universalized Europe. But they were also internationalists who knew and respected Europe and worked for intercultural understanding.[110] Their defenders and detractors lay stress on their essentialism, but they themselves went beyond it, contesting the validity of Eurocentrism without promoting an equally imperfect Indocentrism.

One of the more deeply engrained assumptions of Western liberalism is that we humans can indefinitely increase our capacity to care for others, that we can, with the right effort and dedication, extend our care to wider and wider circles until we envelop the whole species within our ethical regard. It is an inspiring thought. But I’m rather doubtful… 
Two of the leading liberal social theorists, Jeremy Rifkin and Peter Singer, think we can overcome factional bias and eventually become one giant tribe. They have different prescriptions for arriving at ethical utopia. Singer, who is perhaps the world’s best known utilitarian philosopher, argues in his book “The Expanding Circle” that the relative neocortical sophistication of humans allows us to rationally broaden our ethical duty beyond the “tribe” — to an equal and impartial concern for all human beings…
One of the architects of utilitarian ethics, and a forerunner of Singer’s logic, was William Godwin (1756-1836), who formulated a famous thought experiment… Godwin argues that the utilitarian principle (the greatest good for the greatest number) requires you to save the archbishop rather than your mother. He asks, “What magic is there in the pronoun ‘my’ that should justify us in overturning the decisions of impartial truth?”[2] Singer has famously pushed the logic further, arguing that we should do everything within our power to help strangers meet their basic needs, even if it severely compromises our kin’s happiness…
Jeremy Rifkin voices a popular view in his recent book “The Empathic Civilization” that we can feel care and empathy for the whole human species if we just try hard enough.  This view has the advantage over Singer’s metric view, in that it locates moral conviction in the heart rather than the rational head. But it fails for another reason. I submit that care or empathy is a very limited resource. But it is Rifkin’s quixotic view that empathy is an almost limitless reserve. He sketches a progressive, ever widening evolution of empathy…
The world of Singer’s utilitarianism and Rifkin’s one-tribism is a world of bare minimums, with care spread thinly to cover per capita needs. But in favoritism (like a love relation) people can get way more than they deserve. It’s an abundance of affection and benefits. In a real circle of favorites, one needs to accept help gracefully. We must accept, without cynicism, the fact that some of our family and friends give to us for our own sake (our own flourishing) and not for their eventual selfish gain. However animalistic were the evolutionary origins of giving (and however vigorous the furtive selfish genes), the human heart, neocortex and culture have all united to eventually create true altruism. Gratitude is a necessary response in a sincere circle of favorites. Finally, my case for small-circle care dovetails nicely with the commonly agreed upon crucial ingredient in human happiness, namely, strong social bonds…
These are not digital Facebook friends nor are they needy faraway strangers, but robust proximate relationships that you can count on one or two hands — and these bonds are created and sustained by the very finite resource of emotional care that I’ve outlined. As Graham Greene reminds us, “one can’t love humanity, one can only love people.” Stephen T. Asma is a fellow of the Research Group in Mind, Science and Culture at Columbia College Chicago, and author of, most recently, “Against Fairness.FOOTNOTES [1] See Robert Nozick’s Philosophical Explanations (Harvard University Press, 1981). [2] See William Godwin’s 1798 Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Morals and Happiness, Vol. I (Toronto University Press, 1946) NYTimes.com

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