The Religion & Culture Web Forum
Justification and Truth, Relativism and Pragmatism:
Reflections on Indian Philosophy and its Lessons for Religious Studies
Assistant Professor of the Philosophy of Religion
University of Chicago
This month’s web forum is adapted from the concluding chapter of Dan Arnold’s recent book, Buddhists, Brahmins, and Belief, winner of the 2006 American Academy of Religion’s Award for Excellence in Religion: Constructive-Reflective Studies. The first section of the essay is an overview of the book’s argument. The second half relates his study of Indian philosophy to contemporary debates over contradictory truth-claims and whether (and under what conditions) one is entitled to hold a particular belief:
…while the three trajectories of thought I engaged are commonly shaped by the world of first-millennium Sanskrit learning, each also reflects commitments that are specific to a particular ethical and axiological framework, and the arguments of these various traditions are therefore to be understood as logical developments of their framing commitments. Recognizing this does not, moreover, preclude our assessing the philosophical success of the arguments—which is to say, assessing the arguments in terms not only of their coherence with the traditional commitments they are meant to develop, but in terms of other things we know or believe. By doing so, I hoped to suggest, we may learn more not only about these Indic traditions of thought, but also about our own philosophical commitments as scholars.
A recurrent concern in the works of these three strands of Indian philosophy (and in my analysis thereof) was with the production of knowledge and belief; these various thinkers wrestled…with the question of how (or whether) the causal description of one’s forming a belief is relevant to the (normative, justificatory) question of whether the belief is one that anybody ought to hold.