Wittgensteinian Philosophy and Advaita Vedanta (A Survey of the Parallels)

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Wittgensteinian Philosophy and Advaita Vedanta (A Survey of the Parallels)
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The philosophy of Wittgenstein and the Advaita Vedanta philosophy are two philosophical traditions far apart in time and cultural space yet they possess striking similarities. This painstaking research carried out with a rare thoroughness by an erudite scholar, Ravindra K. S. Choudhary, shows that there are illuminating parallels between them even recognizing their legitimate differences.

The work argues that though Advaita Vedanta did not exert a direct influence over Wittgenstein, the philosopher owes much to Schopenhauer who was a great admirer of the Upanisads, Examining a variety of Wittgenstein's works earlier as well as later and the basic texts of Vedanta, the Upanisads, the Brahmasutra and the Bhagavad-Gita, along with Sankara's interpretations of them, it delves into their similarities vis-à-vis the question of reality, the realm of value and some central issues of ethics and religion. It observes that, for instance, Wittgenstein's notion of the mystical (das Mystische) is similar to the Advaitic view of Brahman. For both, the matters of value have a higher or transcendental level as distant from the world of facts. Wittgenstein's idea of a good or happy life is very close to the Vedantic ideals of jivanmukti as well. The work goes on to show that the Vedantic parallels of Wittgenstein's philosophy persists in distinctive ways from the Tractatus to his last writings. The volume reveals a fresh approach in the field of comparative philosophy.

The volume will benefit all those concerned with the discipline of philosophy, Indian Western.

About the Author

Dr. Ravindra Kumar Choudhary a scholar who won top positing in both his degrees- B. A. (Hons) from Ranchi University and M.A. from BHU Varanasi -has specialized in comparative philosophy and applied areas. He has published numerous research papers and articles. He has availed of the UGC-IUC Associateship of IIAS and the Residential Fellowship of ICPR. Currently, Lecturer and Head in the Department of Philosophy at the RSP (PG) college, Jharia Dhanbad, Jharkhand (India), he is working at present on a UGC-sponsored research project and supervising many doctoral researchers.


I Express, first of all, my thanks to God Almighty. This work is, by His grace, the fulfillment of a longstanding desire to explore the parallels between Wittgensteinian philosophy and Advaita Vedanta. As the differences between the two philosophic traditions, needless to say, are well known, I have been more interested in the similarities. Such similarities between the two, I believe, are not simply superficial ones, but illuminating parallels. So this is a topic that should have attracted far more attention from comparativists than it has.

The subject of this survey is thus somewhat new. To my knowledge, this is perhaps the first attempt to present a book-length study of the parallels between Wittgensteinian philosophy and Advaita Vedanta. However, the present work does not pretend to be a forerunner in this area. A few Wittgensteinians and some contemporary expounders of Advaita Vedanta have spoken of the similarities between the two in passing. They often connect aspects of Wittgenstein's philosophy with Advaita Vedanta or vice verse. We come across sporadic comments upon such similarities.

I have thus attempted to explore a potential area of comparative philosophy where only sporadic views and versions could have been developed so far. The present survey seeks also to enrich its subject of exploration. With some new perspectives through the act of comparison. My work, however is limited as well as open-ended. I believe that all such comparisons are worthwhile only if the important differences between the two philosophies along with their traditional settings are kept in strict view. This is really a prerequisite for any comparative venture. I also hope that my work will stimulate further investigations into other aspects of this largely unexplored area.

My first encounter with Wittgenstein's work was as a postgraduate student of philosophy at Banaras Hindu University (BHU). I have had also the opportunity there to study certain cardinal texts of Advaita Vedanta. I am deeply indebted my teachers of BHU at whose feet I got the insight philosophies. illuminating affinities between these two great philosophies Dr. R.R. Pandeya, the then Head of the Department and later VC of Gorakhpur University was one of such teachers. I am no less grateful to the other teachers of the Department who were so gracious to me: Dr. B.N. Singh, Dr. D.A. Gangadher Dr. U.C. Dubey, Dr. S.V. Kumar, Dr. A.K. Rai, Dr. D.B. Choubey, Dr. K.P. Mishra, Dr. Mehta and Shri A. Kumar.

After entering into the service of lectureship, I took up the project afresh. Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla selected my research proposal for the prospective doctoral work on A Survey of the Parallels between Wittgensteinian philosophy and Advaita Vedanta for the Award of UGC Inter-University Centre' s Associateship in 2000, which led me right to the registration for PhD. This book is a rewritten version of my recently completed doctoral thesis on the above topic done under the supervision of Dr. R. S. Ambasta, ex-Head, Department of philosophy, Vinoba Bhava University (VBU), Hazaribag. I wish to place on record my support. I am grateful also to the external examiners who accomplished the evaluation and appreciation of the work.

Thanks a lot to Dr. N.K. Ambasta and Dr. Aparna Mukherjee, the present and the previous Heads of Philosophy Department of VBU, who have helped to sustain the work to completion well within the time-frame. My grateful thanks also go to the Dean, Dr Rajani Sharma. I would also like to express special thanks to my friends of student days at St. Columa's collage, Hazaribag and to my teachers Dr. N.K. Sinhu and Dr. Rajesh Kumar. To my PhD. Student, Om Prakash, Sanjay and Rajesh, I am thankful for their co-operation in the preparation of the Index.

The bulk of writing was done on the carrels of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS) library at Shimla in three long spells during 2001-04. I am gratefully thankful to the Institute and its Director, Professor Bhuvan Chandel, for providing me with a beautiful setting highly conducive to scholarly habits. Without the initial opportunity for study and discussion afforded by that experience this work would not have been possible.

In the attempt to develop it, I enjoyed the opportunity of presenting three papers on related themes at the Inter-University Centre in IIAS, Shimla as the Course Works during my three spells of the Associateship. I learned a lot from discussing my material with the esteemed Fellows and co-Associates in the seminars at the Institute. Dr. H.S. Gill of JNU Delhi, Dr. L.P. Singh of Magadh University, and Dr. Kisor K.Chakrabarti of Duke University, USA who were in position as Fellows of the Institute were kind enough to chair my seminars. Their comments and suggestions were of inestimable value to me. I have also been profited greatly by discussions with other Fellows: Dr. G.C. Nayak, Dr. P.K. Roy, Dr. P.K. Mukhopadhayay, Dr. B. Kar, Dr Nirbhai Singh and Dr. Dudhnath Singh. I am thankful to Dr. Chandana Chakrabarti of Elan University, USA for her affectionate encouragement and also to Dr. E.C.G. Sudarshan of University of Texas for showing interest during their visits. I have been benefited by the suggestions of my friends and fellow Associate Dr. K.C. Pandey of Gorakhpur University who shares my interest in Wittgenstein.

I am also beholden to Indian Council of philosophical Research (ICPR) for awarding me the Residential Fellowship for preparing a book on my doctoral research work. As a Resident Fellow, I utilized the rich library and participated in the seminars at the Academic Centre of the Council in Lucknow during 2004.

I am indebted also to University Grants Commission for awarding the research grant on an core part of this work. Thus IIAS. ICPR and UGC have been the leading sources of encouragement and support for writing this book.

I am deeply grateful to the authorities of VBU, Hazaribag particularly the three consecutive Vice-Chancellors -Professor N. K. Chatterjee, Dr. B. Ekka and Dr. M. P. Singh -for allowing me time away from teaching duties to pursue research, which made possible the availing of the Associateship and the Fellowship. My sincere thanks go to the Principal, RSP (PG) College, Jharia and also to the colleagues, staff and students for their co-operation and encouragement. It was due to their close co-operation that I could carry out this work simultaneously with my gruelling assignment as the co-ordinator of the College for assessment and accreditation by NAAc for the first time in VBU.


Why is there a Need for this Survey?

"WITIGENSTEIN'S philosophy and Advaita Vedanta ... isn't that a cocktail comparison?" Such might be the fairly typical reaction to my present venture. To put this possible criticism more seriously, it may well be asked whether two philosophies as unlike as Wittgensteinian and Advaitic can be compared. It seems to me too a truism that a comparative study can be interesting only when the comparanda (the objects of comparison) have a considerable degree of underlying similarities. But many are of the view that Wittgenstein's philosophy is simply out of line with Advaita Vedanta. The paradigm of school-based studies of philosophical ideas that has been prevailing in the corridors of academia also brings only their differences into focus. All this creates an initial impression that the paralleling of Wittgenstein's thoughts with Advaita Vedanta is not a viable venture at all, or it may be, at its best, a far-fetched one.

As opposed to the above-mentioned impression my thesis is: Despite a lot of mostly well-known differences, there is a good deal of similarities between Wittgensteinian philosophy and Advaita Vedanta. Further, these are not just passing similarities but illuminating parallels. They can shed new lights on Wittgensteinian philosophy as well as on Advaita Vedanta. They are thus also capable of bringing the two into a philosophically fruitful comparison.

There is therefore a need for a book in which the parallels between Wittgensteinian philosophy and Advaita Vedanta are surveyed in a planned way. But, what should we say about the differences? There are naturally undeniable differences between the two philosophic traditions. Yet, it is always pertinent to ask, what is the use of the significant similarities, which are still waiting to be explored? Such an endeavour is not simply a matter of curiosity or intellectual adventure but of greater concern for our comparative sensibility. In this connection, the differences can be tacitly conceived as the challenging occasion for carrying the comparative venture forward. Consequently, the comparanda come about as mutually enriching.

The Aim of the Survey

It is clear from the above that this survey is a venture of comparative philosophy, which aims to highlight the similarities between Wittgensteinian philosophy and Advaita Vedanta. As already stated, such a task has hitherto not been undertaken so seriously as it deserves. The present study undertakes to do this in a modest fashion by drawing attention to some of the significant similarities between the two great philosophies of different times and traditions.

This survey is, however, not intended anyway to undermine the differences between Wittgensteinian philosophy and Advaita Vedanta. I am also quite convinced that any serious venture of comparative study is not expected to gloss over such differences. Yet, I shall not try to deal with the differences in any detail, assuming that they are well known. As the subtitle also states, the similarities between the two philosophies are after all set to receive the focal attention throughout the work. Thus our main aim in course of the survey is to discover parallel philosophic meanderings of Wittgenstein and Advaita Vedanta.

One may be further interested to know: Was Wittgenstein influenced by Advaita Vedanta? So far we know, Wittgenstein never read any Vedantic literature. We have no evidence of direct influence of Advaita Vedanta on Wittgenstein. But it is not at all bothersome for our present concern. As G.H. von Wright has rightly observed:

One can look for similarities which need have nothing to do with "influence" but which may nevertheless illuminate the objects of comparison.' Thus the point is that Wittgenstein's philosophy has some important similarities with Advaita Vedanta, which should not escape our attention.

However, our interest in the genesis of such similarities may persist. How do such similarities after all come in? The similarities that Wittgenstein's philosophy has with Advaita Vedanta cannot be merely coincidental. Though Advaita Vedanta did not directly influence Wittgenstein, we can establish certain indirect links. The present survey aims also to establish such linkage as far as possible. Some Western scholars too have recognized "Eastern connections" of Wittgenstein's philosophy. We will also look into this side of his thoughts in course of the survey.

An Outline of the Linkage

An outline of the linkage between Wittgensteinian philosophy and Advaita Vedanta may be interesting here. It is now well established that early Wittgenstein owes much to Schopenhauer, who was a great admirer of the Upanisads, Schopenhauer, according to Bryan Magee, "is the only major Western philosopher to draw significant parallels between Western and Eastern thoughts."! Schopenhauer has made great use of the principal concepts of Advaita Vedanta, e.g. Maya, Brahma [Brahman] and the like with unchanged wordings in his philosophy. He famously declared the Upanisads as the solace of his life and death. It shows how deeply Vedanta philosophy influenced him. This intluence was bound to permeate down to Wittgenstein to some extent. As an Indian Wittgensteinian has also observed, "Wittgenstein's philosophical vision has been influenced by Vedanta thanks to his close affinity with Schopenhauer."


  Preface vii
  Abbreviations xvii
  Chronology of Wittgenstein's Life xix
  Transliteration chart xxi
1 Introduction 1
  why is there a need for this Survey? 1
  The aim of the survey 2
  An outline of the Linkage 3
  Method and Approach 6
  The General Plan of the work 8
  A note on the Social and interdisciplinary Relevance of the work 10
2 Meeting the Major Challenges 15
  Anticipating Major Challenges 15
  Wittgenstein's "two Philosophies"  
  Set Patterns of Studies 19
  Contextualism and Translation 25
  Identity and difference 33
3 Analytic philosophy and Advaita Vedanta An Overview of select studies 37
  Advaita after Analysis 37
  G.N. Mathrani's Application of Philosophical 38
  Analysis to the Issues of Advaita Vedanta  
  G. Misra's interpretation of Advaita as analysis 41
  G.C. Nayak's "Reappraisal" of Sankara as an Analytic Thinker 44
  K. Satchidananda Murty's use of Wittgensteinian 48
  Ideas in Explicating overarching Issues of Advaita  
  R. Balasubramanian's Interpretation of 53
  Advaita in Terms of Wittgensteinian Ideas  
  R.C. Pradhan's Efforts to Promote the Pursuits of the 56
  Parallels between Wittgenstein and Advaita Vedanta  
  S. Panneerselvam's Attempt to show "some Parallels 60
  between Wittgenstein and Sankara"  
  A Note on the Reception of Wittgenstein's Ideas by his 62
  Contemporary Expounders of Advaita  
  the west is changing its General conception of Indian Philosophy, Especially that of Advaita Vedanta 65
4 the West of Reality: Early Wittgensteinian and Advaita Responses 69
  What is Reality? 69
  Early Wittgenstein's Attitude to Metaphysics 71
  The "From of Reality" in the Tractatus 77
  An Allusion to the Transcendental Dimension of Reality 80
  "Facticity" and "Transcendence": The Metaphysical Matrix manifested in the Tractatus 84
  Wittgenstein "Metaphysical Self" and the Atman of Advaita Vedanta Compared 88
  "Saksin" (Witness) as an Advaitic Parallel of Wittgenstein's "Metaphysical Self" 91
  "Sub specie Aeternitatis" : Wittgenstein's weltanschauung and its Affinities with the world-view of Advaita Vedanta 96
  A Note on the Spinozistic roots of "Sub Specie aeternitatis" 100
5 Reality Revisited: Later Wittgenstein Vis-a-vis Advaita Vedanta on the Question of Reality 105
  Later Wittgenstein's attitude to Metaphysics 105
  The problem that have "the Character of Depth" the Idea of the "Limit" 117
  "An Attitude Towards a soul": the Status of self in Wittgenstein's late philosophy -A transcendental Reading 121
  Advaita View of the mystical: private or public? 126
  The Ineffability of mystical Experience and Wittgenstein's private Language Argument 130
6 Wittgenstein and Advaita Vedanta on Ethics: some Issues of common concerns 135
  "the point of the Book is Ethical One" 135
  Wittgenstein's and Advaita Vedanta on the Matters of Value in General 137
  the Metaphysical Matrix of Value 140
  Value "Ethics is Transcendental" 142
  "the two ways of viewing the world in Wittgensteinian philosophy and Advaita Vedanta 147
  Wittgenstein's Idea of the "Good" or "happy life" and the Vedantic Ideal of Jivanmukti 150
  Wittgenstein and Niskama-Karma 154
  Wittgenstein's later Views on Ethics 157
  Some Development in Wittgenstein's view of Ethics 161
  can Gandhian Advaitic vision Counterbalance 162
  Wittgenstein's Disillusionment with the Modern  
  western Civillization  
7 Wittgenstein and Advaita Vedanta on Religion: the realm of Illuminating Affinities 169
  Wittgenstein's "problem of Science" and "Problem of Life" Vis-a-vis Upanisadic "para-vidya" and "Apara-Vidya 169
  Wittgenstein's "mystical" and Vedantic "Brahman" 175
  Wittgenstein's Mysticism and Vedanta Vedanta 192
  the Echoes of Wittgenstein' Earlier Mysticism in later Thoughts 197
  Religion as a "Suit Generis" From of Discourse 201
  "seeing" a "seeing-as" 205
  The "Frog" and the "Fly"-Two Parallel Prospect 212
8 Some concluding Remarks 217
  Some Ramification, Potentials and Prospects 224
  Select Bibliography 229
  Name Index 243
  Subject Index 251

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