(Image Credit: Subbu Publications)
The former Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University, Daniel H H Ingalls, is known to have referred to Mysore Hiriyanna as “the great scholar who never wrote a useless word.” An authority in the disciplines of aesthetics and Indian philosophy, Hiriyanna strove to lend clarity to the complex. Setting the standards for scholastic writing on the subjects of his choosing, this unassuming scholar left behind a legacy which has been the subject matter of and cause for persistent extoll. “The Mission of Philosophy”, is an anthology of seven deep but riveting essays ruminating on the quintessential objectives underlying the study of philosophy and an erudite attempt to reveal the intricate yet inevitable linkages between philosophy and other domains such as Science, Art and Metaphysics.
“The Nature and Scope of Philosophy” lays down the baton by deliberating the individuality of philosophy. In an era where it has become more an exception than a norm for various sciences to ‘branch’ away and detach themselves from philosophy, does the isolated discipline even have the right to lay down a marker of its own let alone claim a pedestal of individuality? In order to answer this almost existential question, Hiriyanna explores both the implicit and explicit linkages that philosophy shares with Science and religion.
My personal favourite in this bouquet of gems is the one titled “The Significance of Duty”. Admitting that this is a complex question, Hiriyanna in a display of extraordinary intellectual wizardry and exquisite dexterity, brings together Sankara’s Advaita philosophy, the precepts of Immanuel Kant and Western philosophy and the tenets of altruism to prise open the solution. Sankara, in his wonderful exposition of the Gita, informs his readers that the attendant peril of the performance of any duty is assuming a certain degree of trouble; in the event the performance of such a duty does not result in a desirable or beneficial outcome, every moral life would be reduced to a form of ‘meaningless drudgery.’ Kant also seems to subscribe to this philosophy, albeit in an indirect and cautious manner when he propounds that we must secure or at least seek to secure the happiness of others, while going about the execution of our duties.
“The Ideal of Life”, juxtaposes a judicious blending of morality (acting in a manner that abhors all inclination so that the very act itself is emblematic of selflessness) and art (aesthetic contemplation even if such a scrutiny is transient – for e.g. the blooming of a flower is aesthetic only till such time the flower does not wilt). While neither morality nor aesthetics can be deemed to be a standalone barometer for attaining any ideal in life, even if such an ideal is said to possess an imperfect construct, both morality and art when blended with philosophy points the seeker in the right direction and sets him on the correct path, the end of which represents the discovery of the ideal. “Thus with the aid of philosophic knowledge, art and morality lead to what they really aim at, but cannot by themselves reach. Each is driven by its failure to reach its goal to seek this aid; and when that is secured, they become metamorphosed in it. Or as we might otherwise put it, they are both combined in it at a higher power.”
This introspective book ends with a clarion call for the reader to re-examine the way in which he perceives the world. “The World As An Idea” argues that by thinking ourselves as mere ‘lookers on’ of the world that we inhabit, we are straitjacketed by our own ideas and are inhibited from leaping out of them or unshackling ourselves from the entrenched dogmas that become received wisdom. The concept of ‘self-consciousness’ is an indispensable need if we are to step out of the ‘limits’ and ‘limitations’ which we impose upon ourselves in conceiving the idea of the world.
“The Mission of Philosophy” is an excellent primer for the curious and the rustic alike in providing an essential nudge to undertake a foray in the arcane yet unavoidable jungle of philosophy. Only when one wades through thickets and navigates swamp, one finds the treasures hidden in plain sight.