Arudra’s focus in this paper, on which the talk is based, is on the question of indigeneity in political philosophy, and the associated claim that at least some of the concepts and theories of the Western philosophical tradition are inapplicable in the Indian context because they are not truly ‘Indian’.
Claims of this sort have been made across the political spectrum, by Gandhi and his followers, members of the Hindu right, and increasingly, by liberal political thinkers. One approach followed by liberal political philosophers is to turn to history, and look for specifically Indian traditions of concepts that are otherwise associated with the liberal West. To take one example, Rajeev Bhargava looks to Ashoka to find an Indian tradition of religious toleration.
He is interested in three questions. First, what are the specifically intellectual stakes in the possibility of showing that such traditions exist, regardless of questions about historical accuracy or anachronism, and regardless of the possibilities of political mobilisation, for example, in service of a Nehruvian “idea of India”?
Second, what is shown, normatively speaking, by the existence or non-existence of such traditions?
Third, what does it mean, philosophically, for a thinker or writer to belong to one tradition rather than another? What makes it the case, for instance, that Ashoka can get to be part of our tradition, while, say, John Stuart Mill cannot?
About the Speaker
Arudra Burra teaches philosophy in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT Delhi). His research interests are in moral, political, and legal philosophy on the one hand, and in Indian constitutional history on the other.