Ajai R. Singh MD

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A peep into man's histority (Concluded)


History's Challenge to Philosophy


In tracing the course of philosophy as a cognitive enterprise of man, we are faced with two challenges. One is the recurrence of themes which seized phi­losophers of yore, albeit in a modified form. The perennial controversies of Rationalism v. Empiricism, Realism v. Idealism, Transcendentalism v. Positi­vism recur with astonishing regularity in the pattern of human thought down the ages. One could trace its germination probably to the genesis of enquiry itself, if one had the endurance to delve that deep. From this the obvious con-


clusion drawn is philosophical problems are either atemporal, asocial, or in any case unrelated to human conditions of the moment; and therefore ponti-fications or arm-chair generalizations that are really vacuous flights of fantasy, unrealistic if not altogether bogus or scandalous. This is often the criticism of the non-philosopher. To obviate this, some philosophers concern themselves with laying down specific parameters, and limit both the expanse and the goals of their philosophizing in this terrain. They thus achieve a homo­geneity and framework better able to withstand the critic's onslaught. This is necessary if not commendable at the personal level, as well as to preserve and further the growth of the different schools of philosophy. But if this rule is extrapolated to become comprehensive, that is, if it seeks to encompass the branch as such, it only amounts to strait-jacketing something that must always burst these frontiers. In fact, this rule would be remembered more by the times it is flouted than by the times it is followed. In so doing, it creates endless controversies, needless slanging encounters and anaemic mushroomings. What is more important it saps at the energies of thought. Sucked thus into a vortex of 'analysis' it becomes more an euphemism for fault-finding and narcissistic self-satisfaction than for genuine discourse.


Let us think of our earlier example here. If we have a mansion to preserve, it is absolutely necessary to lay down its boundary wall. For it serves to demar­cate it from the rest, as well as prevent forays of nefarious influences from outside. So far so good. But every mansion builder also knows that it is necessary to provide outlets, which need also serve as inlets, so that the boun­dary wall itself is not barraged by impatient entry, or exit, seekers. This essentially means we understand that philosophy cannot but keep itself open to most influences from outside, as much as utilize its methods to influence them in turn. Any accent otherwise will only amount to throttling its own neck, and therefore suicide. It may in fact not take this extreme step, but will always entail such diminution of energies as saps its dynamism and renders its activities that of a lethargic, indolent hypochondriac. For a hypochon­driac is constantly preoccupied with the real or imagined deficiencies of his body due to which he is unable to actualize potentialities masked from his consciousness by such preoccupation. Moreover, in this mansion, the boun­dary wall is a functional unit meant to serve the mansion, not the other way round. It is the mansion which is of prime importance. If concentration of energies on the boundary makes us neglect the affairs of the mansion itself, it must alert the keepers and inhibitors of such an estate to search within themselves and subject their priorities and perspectives to critical scrutiny.

To agree, therefore, that certain thought patterns are historically repetitive is not to deny their historical significance at all. If history has one dimension, that of time, it has the other as well, that of man. And as long as man remains one of the concerns of our search, the time at which what was said or done by him becomes an essential aspect of philosophical enquiry. That this may


assert the essential repetitiveness of his thinking predilections itself becomes an important philosophical, and historical, finding.

Secondly, man is not just a product of his history. He is also its producer. As such, he is constantly conscious not only of his individuation but also of his role as a cog in a giant wheel. "Man as the product and the producer of history is to be understood in his social relations with other men. Whatever man produces bears the imprint of his historical being. What prompts man to know is not purely his private matter. His cognitive modification is rooted in some needs, some of which are more personalised in nature and some others more socialised in nature. In fact, man's cognitive enterprises are problem oriented. Every act of cognition, rightly scrutinized, is found to be an attempt to solve some or the other problem. The aids, material and conceptual, needed to solve problems are in most cases borrowed, i.e., social, and not privately invented" (Chattopadhyaya 1987; 8).

Such then is the aid of history to philosophy. For here is the broadest expanse of man's enterprise available for man himself to interpret in its various myriads. And if man is inherently characterized by his consciousness, this is best reflected in his activities. What is man's historicity but that which is realized in his actions? (Barlingay 1983; 235). The human personality itself is not an inert unity, just as the world with man situated in it is not a static totality: "Both are dialectically shot through and through by history, by change, i.e., the flux character of reality" (Chattopadhyaya, 1986; 166). Thus all enterprises of man become the legitimate ground for critical scrutiny of the philosopher. He must attempt to unravel the conceptual undercurrents as well as the over-lap in the patternings of man's actions as they are traced down the centuries of his existence. And if to record particular events which have place in time is the job of the historian, to unravel the form this record assumes is the job of the philosopher (Barlingay 1983; 229), or the historian-philosopher. Again, the lessons of the past are germane to his existence today, as well as tomorrow. Though we do grant the traditionalist, or determinist, that the past must need repeat itself or influence man's future in ways not in his cont­rol, we need grant it only partial truth claim. Equally true is the enterprise of man as both an individual and social being who must understand his past, that part of it which is unchanging and that amenable to modification, and attempt to modify the present and future in its light. That he may fail in doing so is possible, that he will succeed only partially if at all is equally true. But that he need stop doing so because he will never be able to stem the deterministic pro­pulsion of an inexorable future is not entirely true. In fact, whether the future is inexorable or changeable, man cannot absolve himself of playing his role in either case: that of a believer in its modifiability and/or a believer in its essential impermeability to man's influence. It is this role playing that he can never excuse himself from, which he must pursue with single minded devotion to that which honestly grips his sensibilities, accepting all the while that what grips him is not necessarily the only way to actualize potentialities, for there


can be better or more suitable methods available to others who seek them. He may do this by remembering that man must be fair both to his own ex­periences, influenced primarily by his own time and place and, at the same time, to others' experiences influenced primarily by the concerned people's times and places, and both histority and futurity are contemporaneously operative within man (Chattopadhyaya 1984; 133-34).


In all these meanderings man cannot also forget that history is the life breath of both his social consciousness and his individual one. To neglect its lessons may arguably suit enterprises of the moment, but it suits neither our social humanness nor its social articulation. For, "History, rightly understood, means social action of human beings and their consequences, intended as well as unintended. To say that philosophers are engaged only in interpreting history is to highlight their passive consumer's role. What is expected of them is to play an active producer's role, recreating history for mankind and demo­lishing the one that is against mankind" (Chattopadhyaya 1987; 10), Of course we must appreciate the difficulties involved therein. For they are as much of thrust as of inclinations: the thrust of our philosophizing today lays bare the lack of inclination to forward this to any major degree in the main corpus of the philosophic community. This, in spite of all their professed aims and pompously aired views. What is needed in such views is the ability to back them up with action, with lives lived in such fashion, and a fervour that lights others on the way almost automatically. For this, philosophy itself has to be lived, as much as history has been by those who created it. When this happens, the lessons of philosophy will be taught to the students of history; and the guardians of history will repay the debt they owe to philosophical insight down the ages. If philosophical reflections on history have to bring out the hidden meanings of historical events, it is equally important however they do not transgress their own limits. This they can do by remembering that their interpretations are not "super imposed on the details of history. On the con­trary, the latter should be allowed to provide character and content to the former" (Chattopadhyaya 1987; 10). To actualize this philosophy must keep an open attitude of give and take with all branches of human interest, whether the sciences, the arts or others with other labels. To achieve this, a position worth consideration is:


Philosophy as pure reflection on Being or what is there or as attempted self-realization hardly yields anything live or concrete. However, I do not deny that because of excessive or obsessive cultural determination it may provide some of us emotional satisfaction of no mean consequence, but in terms of knowledge which has truth-claim and which either grows or decays we are hardly benefited. Unless philosophy is kept engaged in a critical dia­logue with specialized sciences or at least with their history, philosophy is likely to fly high on the wings of speculation irrespective of the things and beings, ups and downs, visible underneath. Speculative or transcendental flight of philosophy should not be construed as a creative freedom from its


critical engagement with and commitment to what is earthy and human (Chattopadhyaya 1987; 10-11).

Indeed. For, as we have argued elsewhere, the mind allowed to wander free in pursuit of creative freedom may chance upon a spring of nectar but has more chances of being lost in a maze (Singh and Singh 1988a; 196). The intelle­ct needs some framework to work in, it needs a freedom that is restrained as well; and to lay down limitations does not necessarily mean to limit endeav­ours. And transcendental or analytical concerns, again, cannot be bereft of their commitment to constructiveness, for our concern in genuine creative philosophizing is not necessarily with new but with new constructive ideas. Any accent otherwise results either in pedantry or in chaos, for just as obses­sion with the old is stilling, that with the new can be equally anarchical (Singh and Singh 1988b; 372).

To obviate both, philosophy must concern itself more carefully with perusing the details of man's history to delineate the details of processes that work within it, and those that are amenable/unamenable to his intervention. One such process we have attempted in Section II when we traced the use and misuse of man's search for freedom and self-determination, for freedom from the restraints of dogma and authority which cramps his creative and indi­vidualistic pursuits, and how such endeavours result in self-indulgence, recklessness, anarchy and the existential despair and identity crisis of un­harnessed individuation. The difficulties that such breaking loose involves and the problems that it poses for man's search for identity become all the more pressing as personal actualization and growth are the concerns that haunt man's creative predilections more ominously today than at other times. Ominously, because today he has both the ability and the inclination to con­vert these predilections into catastrophes. For it requires just an urge to convert some despot's mad itch to press some panic button somewhere to convert the seething mass of humanity into a nuclear rubble of corpses. The challenge today to man's histority is to provide the means to stem this head-long foray into devastation, to unseat man from the nuclear stock-pile that in his narcissistic alter-ego ready to ignite in front of his blind-folded eyes, to offer him alternative hedonistic pursuits that satiate his narcissism, and provide a sublimatory channelization to his recklessly driving thanatos; and a self-love that only spells anarchy, greed and parochialism which has erected more barricades and bunkers than nature accorded as healthy for man's safety.

It is to the lessons of man's history, then, that the philosopher must direct his critical eye, there apply the critical analytic apparatus he has honed to perfection in his hypochondriacal preoccupations—and we must be thankful to his hypochondriasis at least on this score, for he has experted the use of this instrument thereby—here seek to study man's Being as well as his No­thingness. And then salvage his Being from his Nothingness, and find therein his own deliverance. And liberation. Keeping aside for the time being the endless arguments about whether there is a life hereafter or a moksa or not.


There is something to be liberated by man in this very life before he thinks of the next. If nothing else, therein lies his deliverance from his inanities and his inequities, if not from the cycle of birth and rebirth, his karma, or his pre­occupation with or rejection of moksa.

This something lies at hand-shaking distance. Our history comes back to us in guises. True. But we must avoid the blind fold. Or disguising that which is best seen uncovered.

Notes and References

1.          S.S.Barlingay (1983): 'History, Historical Being and Historiography'. In Beliefs, Reasons and Reflections, Pune: I.P.O. Publications, 215-35,

2.    D.P. Chattopadhyaya (1984): 'Remarks on Historiography of Science: Historism and Structuralism" JICPR, Vol. I, No. 2, 105-35.

3.          D.P. Chattopadhyaya (1986): 'Unity of the Physical World and Human Freedom',
JICPR, Vol. IV, No. 1, 139-68.

4.    D.P. Chattopadhyaya (1987): 'Science, History and Philosophy', Presidential Address, (General Session), Indian Philosophical Congress, Srinagar, 1987.

5.          D.P. Chattopadhyaya (1988):'Study of Science and Polity: Scientific and Philos-­
ophical', JICPR, Vol. V, No. 2, 97-126.

6.          Daya Krishna (1984): 'Indian Philosophy and Moksa: revisiting an old controversy',
JICPR, Vol. II, No. 1, 49-67.

7.          G.R. Potter (ed.) (1981): The New Cambridge Modern History, Vol. I, The Renaissance 1493-1520, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 8.      Karl H. Potter (1985): 'Are All Indian Philosophers Indian Philosophers?', JICPR,
Vol. II, No. 2, 145-49.

9.             Radhakrishnan (1983): Indian Philosophy, Vol. I, George Allen and Unwin, 11th
Impression, Reprinted in India by Blackie and Sons 1985.

 10.          Bertrand Russell (1985): A History of Western Philosophy, Counterpoint, London:
Unwin Paperbacks.

11.          A.R. Singh and S.A. Singh (1988a): 'The Comparative and the Creative", IPQ, Vol. XV No. 2, 189-208.

12.          A.R. Singh and S.A. Singh (1988b); 'Appendix to "The Comparative and the Creative"', IPQ, Vol. XV, No. 3, 369-73.



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