Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Bimal Krishna Matilal: A Review of Two of His Last Works

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Bimal Krishna Matilal: A Review of Two of His Last Works

Article excerpt

B. K. Matilal, one of the world's leading scholars of Indian philosophy, died in Oxford, England of cancer on June 8, 1991. Born in West Bengal on June 1, 1935 and educated at the University of Calcutta and at Harvard, where he earned his Ph.D.in 1965, Bimal-as he was known, simply, to his many friends and colleagues-took his first major teaching post at the University of Toronto, where he spent 11 years, with one-year appointments at the University of Pennsylvania and at the School of Oriental and African Studies, in London, before accepting the Spalding Professorship of Eastern Religions and Ethics at the University of Oxford, and a Fellowship of All Souls College.

Bimal was an authority on classical Indian epistemology, but expanded his interests considerably while at Oxford. I recall meeting with him there a number of years ago and, upon learning of his writing on mysticism and ethics, asked if he had undergone some intense religious experience or perhaps had attained enlightenment. He laughed and allowed that he had long-standing interests in these areas and that he understood his obligations as Spalding Professor to develop those interests as well as to continue to pursue his studies in epistemology and logic.

Bimal was a tireless scholar and a devoted teacher. His students would often remark how available he was to them and, while being very demanding, was, like a traditional guru, extremely sensitive to their individual needs, capacities and talents.

Bimal was a gifted Sanskritist, as well as a brilliant analytic thinker. In 1962 he was given the Sanskrit title Tarkatirtha or "Master of Argument" and in 1990 he was awarded the Padmabhusan by the government of India, which is an honor roughly equivalent to British knighthood. Among his most important scholarly works are: Epistemology, Logic and Grammar in Indian Philosophy (1971); The Navya-Nyaya Doctrine of Negation (1968); Logical and Ethical Issues of Religious Belief (1982); Central Philosophy of Jainism (1981); and Perception (1986). He founded the Journal of Indian Philosophy in 1971 which, under his continued editorship, was dedicated to publishing technical work in Indian thought that would, he believed, be of interest to Western philosophers as well as to students of Indian thought.

At the time of his death, Bimal was working on numerous projects. Although he was diagnosed to have cancer in 1988 and was periodically incapacitated by it, he displayed extraordinary courage and dedication to his work and family. He insisted on participating in many international conferences, notably the Sixth East-West Philosopher's Conference held in Honolulu in the summer of 1989, and the Twenty-Third Congress of Orientalists, held in Toronto in 1990; while enduring considerable pain, he insisted that no special attention was to be afforded him.

Bimal was a highly serious scholar and a joyful person, always ready to appreciate good humor wherever he found it. The world of scholarship has suffered a great loss with his death; those of us who knew him personally will grieve for the personal loss, as well, of a truly admirable and well-loved friend. I dedicate these reviews of his last published works to his memory.

The two works under review clearly testify to the range and depth of B. K. Matilal's interests and accomplishments. The Word and the World exhibits his wide knowledge of the "philosophy of language" in classical India and in the modern West, its subtitle "India's Contribution to the Study of Language" setting forth concisely and accurately the import of the work. "Although philosophy of language has a very long and rich tradition in classical India," Matilal notes, " . . . a comprehensive survey of the literature from a modern point of view is still lacking" (p. vii). The Word and the World rectifies this situation.

The work is divided into two parts: the first presents a broad survey of the manner in which certain central issues in the philosophy of language (e. …

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