Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Sorabji on Gandhi & the Stoics

Prof. Richard Sorabji's very readable book on Gandhi & the Stoics is now available in hardback and should soon be downloadable for Kindle.

The question for me, in considering Gandhi from the viewpoint of Greek philosophy, is to what extent his praxis (which Sorabji insists was purely philosophical) operated within Pyrrhonian epoche- a skepticism re. current claims made by Science, Technology and various 'expert' crafts such as that of the Diplomat or Statesman which, nevertheless, in some non trivial manner, also produced a more than mortal serenity or ataraxia- as opposed to a type of Stoic apatheia- which conferred extraordinary powers in terms not only of discovering the Truth but also bringing about seemingly very difficult Social or Political outcomes- for e.g. eliminating the grounds and possibility of class or race or creedal conflict, in a manner mysterious and suggestive of a sort of communal theosis by which different shards or splinters of the Logos are reunited and made whole. In connection with that last, I may mention, Prof. Sorabji's offers a novel interpretation of Gandhi's reception of the Jain anekaantavada epistemology which may interest Divinity students.

I have commented elsewhere on the tenability of Sorabji's central premise- viz that Gandhi was primarily a Philosopher, not a Politician and Social Worker- but I still think it worthwhile to dwell, in this context, on the disjunction between the Ciceronian Stoic, for whom individuated Duty was defined in relation to the Timocratic Cursus Honorum, and the Hellenic slave whose compass of action was much more circumscribed. It is the latter of which the Hegelian dialectic of the gaze might be predicated whereas of the former, in connection with Liberty, what after all can be said- other than that it is at best a pastoral, at worst a patristic, diminuendo addendum to the glorious gloaming of Iron Age Thymos?

Libertas is a Goddess most honored when
Her altar is demolished so an exile return
& Cicero to thy fons et origo Men
Red tho' Tiber roil & darkly burn.

It scarcely needs mentioning that Gandhi's generation turned their backs on both the Hegelian struggle for Recognition as well as the Ciceronian Cursus Honorum. Yet the Ashram or the Jail Cell were, by the very pietas of the chicane sign-boarding them Liberty's temples, rendered altars to, not Stoic Philosophy but Cynical Politics.

My own intuition, for what it's worth, is that the Indians had a 'field theory' (if as Emerson said, Boscovich discovered that things never touch, then perhaps that Jesuit learnt it from the Vimalakirti, just as Leibniz is supposed to have got his Relationist Monadology out of the Avatamsakasutra) or, at least, a discrete maths tradition, and, as such, were free from sorites type mereological problems which, after Euclid, bedeviled the Greeks.
 If this is indeed the case, though the instrumental value of Prof.Sorabji's book is diminished, it may yet serve a purpose as illustrating a certain mind-set which, to us now, appears as archaic as that of Thales and Anaximander and, I increasingly feel, all the better for it.

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