The University of Kashmir doesn’t have a Department dedicated to the study of philosophy and this has been a contributing factor in our disengagement with the philosophical traditions of our own and their progression
A few days ago, Kashmir University’s Centre of Central Asian Studies (CCAS) in collaboration with Indian Council of Philosophical Research New Delhi organised a seminar on ‘Kashmiri Philosophers and the Indian Knowledge System’ and the irony is not lost to any keen observer that the University of Kashmir doesn’t have a Department of Philosophy.
Kashmir has historically been the cradle of wisdom, learning and scholarship housing such philosophers as Vasugupta, Utpala, Abhinavgupta and dozens others, who casted the light of their wisdom upon the world around. Kashmir’s transition to Islam only furthered this process of intellectual chiming which culminated in the works of exegetes, poets and thinkers like Yaqoob Sarfi, H. Nowsheri, M.A.Badhakhshi and others.
This continuity of intellectual tradition testifies that there has never been a point in our history when our land was intellectually barren or sterile. Kashmir continued to be the philosophical capital of the neighbouring countries inspiring such luminaries as Sankara to make a pilgrimage to this place in the quest of knowledge and spiritual contentment. Kashmir may not have to its credit, the scientific discoveries or technological advancements but it certainly has the honour of producing and housing literary and philosophical icons throughout ages. The ground for philosophy was so fertile that Kashmir has its own schools of Gnosis like Kashmiri Shaivisim and Rishism. These facts have been restated so that we can understand the tragedy of what it means not to have the Department of Philosophy at our highest seat of learning – The University of Kashmir.
Philosophy has earned the reputation of being too abstruse, far removed from masses and unconcerned towards the lives of people in its mundane and pragmatic dimensions. This understanding is misconstrued and rests upon the distorted image of the subject. Philosophy is in fact the repository and treasure-trove of theoretical frameworks which underlie and define our engagement with our culture, fellow humans and our own selves. This understanding reclaims the department of philosophy as a space of cultural preservation and reconstruction bringing it closer to the pragmatic and practical dimensions of human life. In a paradigm like this, the absence of the Department of Philosophy at the highest seat of learning reflects the indifference and heedlessness we as a nation tend to have towards our culture, the legacy of tradition and our lackadaisical attitude in preserving the same. The rich and complex philosophical and literary tradition we had inherited from the glorious past is slipping from our hands and in absence of institutions and departments, individual efforts are going to make marginal differences.
Not having the Department of Philosophy has had its consequences like the bigger and paradigmatic ones as recounted above and more immediate and localised effects which are aired now and then. One of the salient and prominent effects of this has been the discouraging effect on students who want to pursue their higher studies in the subject of philosophy. Not having the Department of Philosophy, either steers them to places outside the valley or they give up the idea of pursuing higher education in the subject altogether. This is not only tragic but shameful too for a society which boasts of its philosophical past to see its children giving up the subject for the want of the department. Students have been raising their voice time and again and have been repeatedly requesting the authorities to initiate the process for establishing the department, but their voice seems not being paid attention to.
The importance of philosophy and its prominence as an academic discipline is well known. Plato said that, “an unexamined life isn’t worth living”, philosophy is the examination of life. It is a meta-science which defines, describes, corrects and elaborates upon the concepts used by other sciences. Philosophy is indispensable for our ability to understand other disciplines. Many important questions about a discipline, such as the nature of its concepts and its relation to other disciplines, are philosophical in nature. Philosophy of science, for example, is needed to supplement the understanding of the natural and social sciences that derives from scientific work itself. Philosophy of literature and philosophy of history are of similar value in understanding the humanities, and philosophy of art (aesthetics) is important in understanding both the visual and the performing arts. Philosophy is, moreover, essential in assessing the various standards of evidence used by other disciplines. Since all fields of knowledge employ reasoning and must set standards of evidence, logic and epistemology have a general bearing on all these fields. In absence of this ground work, little progress is possible in other fields of intellectual and academic order, which depend so much on the concepts and frameworks served by philosophy. It has both the role as an active academic discipline which sifts truth from falsehood and has simultaneously the role of pointer in our lives, pointing us in the right direction whether we are confronted with an ethical dilemma or a problem of epistemological order. Even those who hurl criticisms of various orders against philosophy do philosophize one way or the other, thereby validating the necessity of philosophical outlook and the necessity of philosophy as an academic discipline.
It remains to be seen how long the authorities will postpone this seminal and indispensable necessity of setting up the department of philosophy. This is decisive for our intellectual engagement with the wisdom traditions of the world and more importantly the tradition we all have bequeathed in Kashmir.
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