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Mainstream, VOL L, No 1, December 24, 2011 (Annual 2011)

Dr Radhakrishnan’s Contribution to Contemporary Thought

Tuesday 27 December 2011, by Vinod Anand


Dr S. Radhakrishanan has a place of eminence amongst the most important thinkers of the contemporary world of philosophy and creative ideas. A man of very rare intellectual endowments, his fame rests securely on his creative interpreter of the comprehensive religious and philosophical traditions of India and of the West. What distinguishes him here is the distinctiveness and depth of interpretive power and his clear, resonant style of exposition, which together form a very important aspect of his thought and vision.

Dr. Radhakrishanan made an impact in the West not because of his great erudition, but because of the logical force of his expositions of the philosophical and religious traditions of India and the richer understanding he has brought to bear on the philosophical issues and problems of great relevance to modern thought. His communications on the ancient philosophical texts, the principal Upanishads, the Dhammapada and the Gita, are quite unsurpassed in the filed of comparative religion and philosophy. These commentaries offer original insights into the philosophical and religious traditions, investing the scholastic works with significance far beyond their expository character. However, the originality and distinctiveness of his perceptions as a thinker have to be placed in a historical as well as philosophical context.

In his writings, Dr. Radhakrishanan has beautifully explored the whole gamut of man’s spiritual experience with an amazing sense of consciousness used to describe the wholeness of it as forming the core of religion or of spirituality. What is significant is the he has not stopped short of analysing and evaluating this experience from a rational angle and demonstrating its validity in terms of history. This also brings out in depth the conviction which is central to the philosophical outlook. There is another important idea that the creativity of the spirit is an essential condition of higher knowledge, whether it belongs to the analytical field of Science or to the imaginative realm of the Arts. The principle which organises these insights into a wholeness of experience is actually the creative and the interpretative power of the mind.

THUS the comprehensive and objective approach of Dr Radhakrishnan has to be distinguished from the traditionalist approach to Indian philosophy. In this approach, the speculative and mystical components are often extolled as the truly idealist elements and accorded a certain preference. In this context, one can also keep in mind the preoccupation with idealism and subjectivity of Indian thought shown by the German philosophers and thinkers of the 19th century. Their approach was characteristic inasmuch as it was rational but was deeply influenced by the temper of German romanticism. This approach is basically romantic, but in trying to stress the timeless nature of Indian thought, it dilutes the fundamental concept of Indian philosophy which can be rationally appraised and interpreted. In sharp contrast, the emphasis in Dr Radhakrishnan’s reinterpretation falls on a deeper appreciation of Indian thought in terms of historicity. It shows that his approach is in tune with that of the other great thinkers and humanists of the 19th century Indian renaissance. This also brings into focus the historical link between Indian thought and the interacting ideas and concepts of the Western tradition.

As we have already noted, the ideas of self, creative consciousness and creativity in the religious tradition have been reinterpreted with greater logical vigour and sensitivity in Dr Radhakrishanan than in any other thinker. This has also been observed by the Western scholars and critics of Radhakrishanan’s philosophy. He has carved out a new philosophical path which affirms the autonomy of the human spirit, the inter-relationship between freedom and the creative dimensions of human life. He has shown how deeply his thoughts mark a point of departure from the traditional conceptual frame-work of Monism in Indian philosophy. Signi-ficantly, the change in emphasis leads to a comprehensive rather than a purely philoso-phical approach since the latter grasps reality in an abstract form.

He has made another important point: the truth-seeing power of the mind is derived through the intuitive process. He describes intuition as synthetic or creative insight. The intuitive process of knowledge is the source of what is of the highest value, whether it be in religion, arts, literature of music. Radhakrishnan does not depend merely on ancient texts but uses modern Western concepts in defining intuition. In his understanding, the intuitive process is not a process of mystical meditation or abstract thought. It is integral knowing—an inclusive process which does not exclude empirical sense-data but goes beyond it.

DR RADHAKRISHANAN’S thoughts have unquestio-nably brought out deep cognitive significance of the intuitional process and relevance in modern thought, both in India and the West. His contributions are really superb. There is no parallel to what he has written. In essence, the materialist and the behaviourist approach of the psychoanalyst is hardly able to discover that dynamic principle which is at work at the very heart of the creative experience organising its wholeness and complexity as an insight into the higher reality or truth.

The author was earlier placed at the National University of Lesotho, Southern Africa, as a Professor of Economics. Prior to that he was a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla, and even earlier he was a Professor and Head of Economics at the University of North West in Mmabatho, Republic of South Africa, and the University of Allahabad in India.

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