Tag Archives: Achin Vanaik

To Gain a View of the Elephant – India, History, Modernity, and Marx : Ravi Sinha

Guest Post by Ravi Sinha

(Marx Bicentennial lecture – Acharya Nagarjuna University, Guntur, March 16, 2018)

etaddhastidarshana iva jatyandhah

That is like people blind by birth viewing an elephant.

  • (Shankaracharya’s bhasya on Chandogya-Upanisad 18.1)[1]

 

It was six blind men of Indostan,

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

  • John Godfrey Saxe[2]

The ancient Indian parable of blind men and the elephant, popularized in modern times by John Godfrey Saxe’s nineteenth century poem, has often been deployed in philosophical discourses about the nature of reality and its relationship to sense perception. It has served as a useful metaphor in many an argument about empiricist epistemology, moral relativism, cultural plurality, even religious tolerance. No such usage is intended here. My purpose in starting out with the parable is mostly methodological – how does one put together a vision of the beast based on necessarily partial observations of it. Continue reading To Gain a View of the Elephant – India, History, Modernity, and Marx : Ravi Sinha