Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Decolonisation and the Entangled Histories of Science and Philosophy in India*

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Decolonisation and the Entangled Histories of Science and Philosophy in India*

Article excerpt

Abstract: One of the central challenges confronting post-colonial India in its march towards decolonisation was the intellectual challenge posed by the idea of modernity. This is reflected in the work of historians of science and philosophers attempting to understand what the past of 'Indian science' or 'Indian philosophy' meant in relation to the identity of the modern Indian nation state in the making. This essay argues that in this interrogation there were common themes that were entangled in the enterprise of historians of science and philosophers. Beyond the question of the identity of Indian philosophy or Indian science was the attempt to locate the place of reason and science, and in the spirit of modernisation theory to trace the causes of their ascent or decline at the centre of Indian culture over historical time. The paper examines the entanglement of these two discourses and situates them during the decades of decolonisation.

Keywords: comparative method, Indian philosophy, institutionalisation of science, modern India, philosophical reasoning.

This paper seeks to investigate the nature of entanglement between the academic concerns of historians of science and the discipline of Indian philosophy since the commencement of the decade of decolonisation. The exploration is prefaced by a lengthy discussion about the modern scientific community in India. The problem to be discussed is the encounter, and possibly its nature, between the modernity of science and the engagement with philosophical reasoning in the 'Indian' traditions. The sociologist Niklas Luhmann perceptively pointed out that science unfurled as a frame of thinking and acting that had never to establish its modernity, unlike other fields of human culture and experience or more so even 'modern society' (Luhmann 2002: 61). But stretching the Luhmannian point a little further it could be argued that the disciplinary differentiation and speciation that characterizes the changing frontiers of knowledge in the West, has cast a cordon sanitaire that demarcates the discussion between the philosophical conceptions of knowledge and that of science (Rosenberg 1998).

Consequently, one of the outcomes of this rear guard action of philosophy that is traced back to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is the institutionalisation of a discipline referred to as the philosophy of science as the final realization of the Cartesian project. Thus while philosophy of science is enveloped within the disciplinary folds of philosophy, it distinguished itself from other sub-disciplines of philosophy inasmuch as it approached its subject-matter or object domain in terms of a dichotomous separation of fact and value, and the other Cartesian dichotomies. However, since the 1970s the emergence of the sociology of knowledge has since made deep inroads in contesting this dichotomy, but the heated battle continues, as attempts are made towards reconciliation between what appear just now as irreconcilable positions (Ziman 2000; Longino 2002).

The institutionalisation of science in modern India in the twentieth century is apparently marked by a paucity of philosophical reflection on the nature of the foundations of science within the scientific community, some notable exceptions within the scientific community not withstanding. 1 This is not an accusation nor does it suggest that there is no awareness of the philosophical foundations of the science being practised (Raina 2003). By and large within the Indian scientific community, over the last century or so, the conception of science as a cultural universal has prevailed, that in the first two decades of the twentieth century found expression in a triumphalist scientism. In fact, it is rather surprising that leading physicists like Meghnad N. Saha and Satyendra N. Bose who were closely networked with the quantum theory/quantum mechanics generation of scientists-philosophers, moulded in the German ideal of the kulturträger, did not participate or take an explicit view on the foundations of quantum mechanics. …

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