Many of the great philosophers like, say Bertrand Russell and here in India Dr.S.Radhakrishnan have written much and created vast readership. I have read them in great, extensive ways. Russell is yes, quite brilliant, he wrote so clearly that won him vast readership, even today he is selling well. Karl Poppar says, in his autobiography, that Russell could write pages and pages of such clear English without almost changing a word! Such was his writing skills.
So too I would say of our own Radhakrishnan. He could write very chaste and readable English with apt quotations from unexpected quarters, novelists and such then currently favourite writers and thus impress the readers. Equally, he was a great orator. So, he won his day,so to say! Indians easily fall for even empty rhetoric! But then I often ask:how much of Radhakrishnan will last? Now, after so much of my life lived in the way I had lived, that is, without office or the publicity that comes with it,what I think of Radhakrishnan’s thoughts? I have to say, rather candidly, Practically nothing he thought as his original thinking!
Prof. J.N. Mohanty
An eminent Indian philosopher, Prof.J.N.Mohanty says “he is bored to death”to read Radhakrishnan! Prof.Mohanty should know! His beautiful little autobiography of just 130 pages (Between two worlds:East and West,OUP, is a precious little gem! It is endlessly illuminating and insightful. It would pay a rich dividend for intellect and I would strongly recommend for any connosieur of intellectual tastes. Mohanty had occupied the same high positions in teaching philosophy as Radhakrishnan,in Kolkatta and Oxford, besides doing original research in Germany under such eminent original thinkers like Edmund Husserl, perhaps the greatest German philosopher who revived the modern German philosophy.
Why such harsh criticism? Simply because Radhakrishnan wrote and spoke much on religion.His concept or conceptualisation of philosophy was not made clear. All the time he assumed that we all know what is Indian philosophy is. So too he assumed we would all accept the conceptualisation of religion as he understood and expounded. Never in any one place in his vast corpus of writing he says what he personally believed in, in God or Religion, as he understood.I had just now had gone through his first, detailed exposition of Religion (in his Kamala lectures in Kolkatta and later published as”Religion and Society”. The need for religion has 50 pages of which nearly 20 pages are given to dialectical materialism of Marx.
The next chapter, the inspiration of religion and the new world order takes another 50 pages of which much is taken for granted when he talks of religion and his view of history is more bookish, if we can say so. Any way, since the time he wrote or spoke in 1942,the world itself had changed beyond recognition and also the revolutions in our knowledge are unprecedented. One of my convictions I had developed as I grew in years is that I would like to know how an author or a philosopher or a person lived actually his life and only then I would judge an opinion about the worth of his own writings or what he conveys as his own beliefs and convictions.
Thus, I would dismiss much of Radhakrishnan’s views on religion, society, women, marriage. As I was reading through Radhakrishnan’s “Region and Society” I could see that he was engaged to prove himself. So this book shows a confident Radhakrishnan at his dogmatic best! Yes, he takes many assumptions as not wanting any defence. One such was his assertion of religion in our life. Today, there would be howl of protests if one were to seek like that! I was truly amazed by the mastery of the subject he was talking about. As I can see he was at his very creative best in his career at this time.
Religion was the topic!
The topic was not so easy at any time and in fact very tough and to come to terms with definitions and expositions at every stage of the argument is itself a herculean task. That he turned the lectures into a cogent argument and make for a case for “the need for religion” as he saw fit was a monumental achievement. The first chapter is all about the integration of the transcendence and the empirical, the universal and the individual.etc. The trademark of Radhakrishnan’s unique capabilities as a thinker and interpreter of diverse issues into a convincing philosophical belief process.
Everything he says be it religion or the way he understands the world then, in the background of Hitler who was yet to be defeated seemed sounding right for the listeners.. The Communists firmly in power in Russia and more specifically for Indians the British war machine was in full control and India it is truly brave on the part of an academic philosopher to advance a thesis on religion and argue for a spiritual revival! It was indeed a brave effort and as I see it a brave achievement as well.
The result was a wholesome book that even now makes for a refreshing reading. Though every one of his definitions is now out of date! Our times present a totally changed world and the very thoughts of the international citizens have undergone radical changes. Changes beyond the imagination of an earlier generation. Current developments in our knowledge, in the sciences as well in humanities, have been in advanced levels. With our awareness of genetics, the DNA and related fields and also our awareness of the world’s peoples increased understanding of the many social and political issues, as well as the modern man’s many deeper concerns from the rise of religious fundamentalism everywhere, international terrorism of various categories, we can’t talk of religion in a way that Dr.Radhakrishnan spoke in an earlier generation. Bluntly put, we have to reject the very thesis of Radhakrishnan. He was talking at a time when there were revolutionary changes in international philosophy and given his penchant for rhetoric as well as for Sanskrit knowledge and his appropriate quotations to knit his arguments in chaste English, he won the day.
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