My interests, concerns, tastes and temperaments!
Freedoms of man, my critical core belief.
I can’t pretend to be other than what I am!
What am I? Who am I?
Such a question or questions can be posed as a plain simple self-questioning at a more pedestrian life. Or, such a question can be taken more seriously at a more philosophical level. The two levels interest me!
Yes, mere existence or to use a more heavy, philosophical-sounding “existential” questions, the way we live, the way we go about, the way we believe or do’ things’ the more material world of life and living interests me as much as the more sustained self-questioning that comes with a philosophical bent of mind. The subject of what interest me might range over wider areas of one’s life, one’s interests and one’s learning and much more challengingly what one had gone through life, the battles fought and lost and won! Yes, such thoughts and such experiences in this bad world only shape one’s outlook on life and world. I don’t see myself only in one dimension; there are many dimensions to my life and so many wider interests too!
I am acutely sensitive to what I believe, deeply on a wide range of topics and subjects: life, the very meaning and existence of life and living concerns my thoughts more often, lately. Of course most of these thoughts are personal and often I keep them to myself, I don’t discuss openly with others. May be such thoughts have to remain in the private domain. In this sense, you often realize how isolated you are, how lonely and how much you are separated from the mere existence of the ‘outer world’. It is the inner world of your own doubts and certainties, as they are, that keep most thinking individuals going!
Anyway, I find debating and questioning within me the many meanings I seek about certain deeply-held beliefs, faiths and reasons. Words and concepts that deeply interest me are too many and yet to give a shorter list here they are: truth, reason, God, Good, evil, right, wrong and such philosophical and ethical issues interest me as there can’t be any other deeper issues for a more serious-minded person. I consider the biggest question before me is what constitutes a good man, great man, a more endearing personality. I consider that a morally worthwhile life is one where the individual takes moral responsibility for one’s thoughts and actions.
Our thoughts and actions have consequences for others, for the world outside. So, what one has to think and believe and utter for the outside world must have this moral quality of assuming responsibility for one’s words and deeds. So too the search for truth, search for goodness and care for society, politics and family and friends and the larger public interest etc.
I am both a materialist as well as a spiritualist, but in all my intellectual outlook, reason and truth-seeking are interlinked. I put so much priority on this human faculty for reasoning and truth seeking. Problem solving through reasoned argument interests me more than through any other means like emotion, instinct, imagination and faith, though I don’t under-rate the influence of these emotion and faith-based instinctive human activities.
But then I am a student of history and therefore I base my approach on a historic basis and a historic context. There is the long history of man’s civilization, the evolution of secular culture and much of the material civilization; the Greek and Roman civilization have impacted much of my rather Western-oriented outlook. Thus, I am seeing Indian issues, Indian identity etc mostly in terms of the growth of modern, scientific knowledge through the Western historic processes. Thus, my tastes and temperaments are shaped by my Western education, my Oxford philosophy of Logical Positivism and I trace my philosophical thinking and beliefs from my Oxford tutorials in philosophy, the philosophers that were prescribed for me: Rene Descartes (1596-1650). His book, Discourse on the Method, was my first exposure to the philosophic text as such. Till then I was unaware of the importance of studying philosophy as a tool for sharpening of one’s own intellectual powers. Indian education till then was for me mere book-learning. Oxford taught me to think for myself, think sensibly and boldly and express one’s views also logically and more forcefully. Karl Poppar, Bertrand Russell, Lord Keynes, the many writers and journalists influenced my way of thinking and outlook on life.
Then, came A.J.Ayer’s “Language, Truth and Logic”(Ayer, 1910-89).Ayer was very much a presence at New College in the late Fifties and early Sixties. Ayer and his friends were great influences on my thinking and evolution. H.H.Price (1899-1984), just then retired from the professorial chair in 1959 as I joined New College, was living at the College at my time, a “shy and reclusive figure” but I was in friendly terms as he lived in the College rooms just above my own basement floor and he was teacher of Ayer and his generation.
Freedoms in the Western tradition
Isaiah Berlin (1909-1979) was another great influence. His view s made deep impact on Oxford philosophy at that time. I read all his books. He was very different; he didn’t see human life in any straight line.” The crooked timber of humanity” was his favorite phrase. It was taken from Immanuel Kant, I think. So, there was no unified whole meaning to the ends of life. This was very different from the Indian philosophical and religious traditions. I believe in a significant way, it is beneficial to the believer and to mankind to learn to take such an outlook on life.
So, too the Berlin beliefs on political freedoms. There are a range of negative freedoms; we have to oppose so many obstacles and obstructions. In India the conceptions of freedoms are yet to take deeper roots, in our philosophical and secular way of life. Our politics is so superficial, our ideological beliefs as good as none! The rise of the barbarians in democratic politics is one area I have to wage more battles!
So, I am an activist, politician and a fighter against so many oppressions and injustices. There are positive freedoms, what life has given us, what our polity, society and our own economic wealth prosperity have given us. In India, there are more negative freedoms than positive freedoms. Gilbert Ryle (1900-76), a philosophy professor (the author of “The Concept of Mind”) taught me and his insistence on meaning and clarity of each word and concept greatly affected my way of writing and expression. I have written more on A.J.Ayer elsewhere.
Karl Popper (1902-94), originally an Austrian philosopher built became prominent in British philosophy, though I haven’t met had greatly influenced me by his book” The Open Society and its Enemies” which I read as my bible. His insistence on” falsification” of theories, as opposed to Ayer’s “verification” principle in deciding the truth or otherwise of any discourse greatly shaped my own rather skeptical way of looking at truth-seeking projects. In India, we talk so glibly and so easily about such matters like spiritualism, truth etc, more so by all sorts of people, more pretenders and such characters would be mercilessly exposed in the West. But not so in the East. That puts me straight in the Western league, in the Western philosophical tradition. I want to acknowledge this so openly.
Argumentative Indian? Not, not yet!
That, in my opinion, only would help any further progress in Indian thought. Amartya Sen talks of an “argumentative” Indian. But I find more the “submissive” Indian everywhere! Indian mind basically is a slavish mind, submissive and unquestioning. That might be one cause for the rise of more superficial spiritualists and gurus of many variations. Timidity is the dominant Indian mind-set! A country with 1,000 year slavery! An education system of 300 years where we only learnt to submit, and keep our mouths shut as the aim of our education! The reach of reason is all-pervasive in modern knowledge. But how to put reason at the top of the Indian education and philosophy is one of my abiding concerns.
I confess I have my own views on many deeply important intellectual currents in India, have strong prides and prejudices! Indians’ inferiority complex, subservient mentality repels me! So, there is much work to do in India by way of energizing people and society to stand up and fight for their rights and causes. In my evolution, as an intellectual and a practical person, as a landowner, entrepreneur and much else I am guided by all the learning and experiences of my life so far lived. A whole range of words, concepts and values matter.
To put it rather more bluntly, materialism matters, money, wealth and what comes with that high standards of life and living, culture, good breeding, moral integrity, standing up to certain principles and living with well-defined principles are very rare and it is not given to everyone. Class matters, class outlook conditions our level of moral integrity. Politics matters and so there is nothing called political and intellectual and philosophical beliefs standing apart. An individual’s worth I would judge rather in more stringent terms!
In my concerns and heroes, I have what is called an eclectic choice. There are more European, more continental progressively in my writers and role models. Though I have my wider empathies spread all geographies, among the thinkers, poets and writers. History and historians, literary men, poets and artists from the European continent interest me Edward Gibbon is my hero and A.J.P.Taylor, my time Oxford historian, my favorite. Greek, Roman, Renaissance and European Enlightenment thought have given my outlook the distinction.
English etiquette and manners, French flair for artistic tastes and the American energy have impressed me. I had moved and worked with people and citizens from all these geographies and therefore I can’t but be grateful to those innumerable friends for what they gave me by way of friendship and hospitality.
Nearer home, I have of course a vast range of interests and projects. I strongly feel I should do in the remaining years of my life for giving fellow Indians strength to do much introspection to ponder over their historic failings, to emerge as a proud Indian and make an India that can stand up by undoing its historic failings.
Given time and opportunities I like to exchange knowledge about what is happening in the Western philosophy at a place like Oxford. This I miss in India. In India there is no scope for such intellectual exchanges. Also, there is no way living in India to interact with the best minds, in academic world as well as in politics and society. Art, I miss. In a city like Paris, I could quench my thirst for aesthetic satisfaction. Even in India, in a city like Kolkatta you can meet friends’ interests in such fields. But alas! In a city like Bangalore, you have all the time to think of money-making and very rarely you meet strong-willed personalities.
Time and space have their own constraints as well as opportunities. A good family, a contented life and a more positive environment are all we can hope for. What more one can dream about?
Philosopher’s lives are often not interesting, often most boring. The British philosophers, more so the modern ones, led either a very dry lifestyle, academic existence or some like Russell led hedonistic and controversial lives. On the Continent, in Germany and France, the philosophers were more” engaged” in the practical affairs. The French philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre propounded the philosophy of “Existentialism”, though it was started with Kirkegaard, as a reaction against abstract rationalism of Hegel.” Existing individual” mattered, the personal dimension of human life. Existentialism is a French coinage and it concerns about the context of our existence making sense. Thus, I take it as we have to decide our own existence and our own engagement with the actual world.
Thus, existentialism as a philosophy might go down well with the Indian outlook. Anyway, Sartre’s own career demonstrated how our beliefs, engagements, our hopes and despair, disappointments(as Sartre himself found out with the failure of Communism with which he associated himself all his life and hence existentialism ended and remains today as a means of our moral freedoms(the existential freedom) getting asserted. Fine, it makes enormous sense and we can all become existentialists, after all!