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Greek Thoughts, Indian Roots?

12 NOVEMBER 2009 274 VIEWS 10 COMMENTS A few weeks ago, I came across Sanjeev Sabhlok s article on how (and why) the idea s of liberty so celebrated in the western world today may actually have had thei r origins in India. Sanjeev has lucidly argued for the case and there is really nothing much I can a dd except to say that this aspect is certainly worthy of further research and wi ll help us shape the pieces defining the extraordinary civilisation and culture that flourished milleniums ago in this ancient land. Below, excerpts from Sanjeev s article on (how) Greek thought, the harbinger of wo rld liberty has its direct source in INDIA (emphasis mine). *** Excerpts Begin (Caution: Long Post) *** When, upon reading A Critical History of Greek Philosophy by W.T. Stace (MacMilla n,1965) I came across his rather niggardly view on Indian philosophy, arguing th at Indian thought doesn t arise from pure thought and that it is poetic rather than s cientific (p.15), I decided to investigate further. I have now found a recent Ame rican PhD dissertation (2000) that uses the most recent sources to firmly demons trate that it was INDIAN scepticism that traveled to Greece through Persia and b rought out the temperament of questioning that finally led to Socrates. Does it matter to me whether humanity has benefited in the areas of mathematics ( number system) and philosophy more from India than from, say, Greece? I m not part icularly fussed where the source is, India or Greece. These ideas belong to all of us. Humanity. No country owns them, at least not today. What I do want, thoug h, is accurate attribution of sources. It won t do to attribute the first seeds of rational thought in the world to Greece when these ideas arose in India, and we re transmitted by Indians to the Greeks. Extract from The Untold Story about Greek Rational Thought: Buddhist and Other I ndian Rationalist Influences on Sophist Rhetoric by BASNAGODA RAHULA (thanks to Sa njeev for doing the painful conversion from pdf to text and formatting it back a gain): General Signs of Indian Influence on Protagoras and Gorgias Three factors may justify the possibility that the unusual resemblance of Indian rationalist thoughts to Greek sophist thinking was caused by a connection betwe en the two societies. First, Protagoras, the alleged father of Greek sophistry, was given Persian education, an easy route to the access of Indian wisdom. Durin g Xerxes invasion of Greece, Protagoras father, an extremely rich person in Abdera , entertained Xerxes and received the emperor s permission to educate Protagoras u nder Magi .Based on the traditional practice of the pupil s visiting the master, one may conclude that Protagoras later went to Susa and studied under Magi. This vi sit would have been more profitable for Protagoras since he would hardly miss In dian wisdom those days in the central part of the Persian empire. On the other h and, wherever Protagoras was educated, knowledge coming from Persia could have i ncluded Indian thinking since Darius had already accommodated, as the next chapt er will elucidate, Indian wisdom in the Persian empire. Second, Protagoras was the pupil of Democritus who was presumably benefited by a multitude of Indian concepts, including Buddhist concepts as his major source of influence. Protagoras closeness in his epistemological studies to the Indian coun terparts will be discussed later, but here it should be briefly stated that Demo critus possible Indian influence could hardly leave no marks on his pupil Protago ras.

Third, Gorgias was the student of Empedocles, whose philosophical theories refle ct his possible familiarity with Indian idealistic and rationalistic views.

The major aspects of sophist rational thought and their similarity with the Indi an counterpart will be discussed in separate sections, but it seems apt to highl ight here a unique flavor in argumentation entertained by Protagoras-the flavor for arguing for or/and against any topic-as a possible Indian derivation. Perhap s this hypothesis appears to be an overstatement since argument on probabilities is said to be of Greek origin. Nevertheless, a careful examination of the pract ices in Indian debating during the sixth century B.C.E. and comparison of those practices with Protagoras attitude towards argumentation justify the possibility of this hypothesis. Interestingly, there was a group of Indian debaters namely Vitandavadins who roa med among all sorts of thinkers and challenged other views. He [a Vitandavadin] h ad no views of his own but merely indulged in eristic for the purpose of securin g victory in argument (Jayatilleke 217). Even though the word Vitandavadin did no t occur in the Sutta Pitaka, one finds numerous examples that during the sixth c entury B.C.E. these debaters frequented debating halls, parks, and other meeting places, challenging all sorts of views of other traditions, without maintaining any particular philosophy or theory of their own: There are recluses and Brahmins who are clever, subtle, experienced in controver sy, hair-splitters, who go about breaking to pieces by their intelligence [panna gatena] the speculations of others. Were I to pronounce this to be good, or that to be evil, these men might join issue with me, call upon me for my reasons, an d point out my errors. These remarks suggest that those recluses and Brahmins were not those who held any particular view or theory but those who were indulged in debating rarely for th e sake of defeating the opponents and establishing rhetorical power. Whatever co ncept or theory one held, those debaters opposed one s position using their intell igence and verbal skill. This practice is farther confirmed by the sentence, Some recluse or Brahmin is addicted to logic and reasoning. . Saccaka, who earned the description of one who indulged in debate, a learned cont roversialist, who was held in high esteem by the common people was, undoubtedly, one of them. The Majjima Nikaya has preserved a very important sentence that ref lects his theoretical practice and skill: If I attacked a lifeless pillar with my language, it [the pillar] would totter, tremble, quake; how much more a human being! Saccaka was more a demonstration of his verbal power than a theorist. Here, he h as presented no theory, but simply boasts about his invincible rhetorical power. Whoever he argued with, he defeated the opponent s theory without insisting on a p articular view of his own but only using his verbal skill (eristic) and argument ation (antilogic) that would suit to the occasion. The Samyutta Nikaya has provided an eye-witness s account of these recluses and Bra hmins in action (Jayatilleke 221). Kundaliya, a visitor to the Buddha s monastery, told the Buddha that he (Kundaliya) would visit parks and frequent assemblies as a regular habit because he had found interest in seeing some recluses and Brahm ins having being engaged in debates. The purpose of those debates was only to em phasize their own argumentation (itivadapa mokkhanisamsam) and to disparage that

of others. All this evidence indicates that debating for the mere sake of reflec ting the opposition had become a prevalent practice, as well as a crowd-gatherin g entertainment, during the time of the Buddha. The topics reportedly argued abo ut by those controversialists speak a volume of this peculiar practice of debati ng. Most of the topics were in pairs, representing the thesis and the antithesis of the same subject. The following is the first list of such topics given in Pa li texts. The fact that they were originally in pairs is confirmed by the remark s attested to one particular pair of topics: The universe is eternal/The universe is not eternal. The universe is finite/The universe is not finite. The soul is identical with the body/The soul is different from the body. The enlightened person exists after death/The enlightened person does not exist after death. An enlightened person does and does not exist after death/An enlightened person neither exists nor does not exist after death. A more expanded list of thirty-one topics, all in pairs and each pair dealing wi th the opposite of the same subject as given above, is found in the Lankavatara Sutra. It is obvious that this development of questions in pairs echoes the practice of debating, in which the mere skill in argumentation was emphasized. Debaters such as Saccaka, whose primary interest was displaying dialectical skill and defeatin g their opponents, regardless of the nature of the arguments used (Jayatilleke 21 9), would probably argue one day in favor of the infiniteness of the universe an d the other day against it, depending on the position of his opponents. Even tho ugh some debaters actually held some theories of their own, rhetorical skill was the main weapon that they employed to attack the opposition and defend their ow n views. The important point here is that in India there was a predominant and w idespread debating practice in which both the proponents and opponents vehementl y debated on the thesis and the antithesis of the same topic, adducing equally p owerful arguments. In Greece Protagoras was the first rhetor to introduce this kind of argumentatio n. Laertius said that Protagoras was the first to say that on every issue there a re two arguments opposed to each other. Clement repeated the same statement, sayi ng that Greeks said, Every argument has an opposite argument, following Protagoras . Seneca wrote, Protagoras says that one can argue equally well on either side of any question, including the question itself whether both sides of any question c an be argued. Not only did Protagoras introduce this eristic argument as remarked b y Hesychius, but he also demonstrated the truth of his theory, arguing by the meth od of questioning, a practice he originated. Protagoras also wrote down and prepar ed disputations on notable subjects. Thus it is evident that Protagoras held his two-logoi theory as one of his major concepts, having introduced it, practiced i t, and written treatises on it. This theory of argumentation seems strikingly similar to the popular Indian conc ept of arguing for and against the same topic. Just as the topics used by Indian debaters consisted of the direct affirmation and the direct negation of the sam e statement, Protagoras topics also consisted of pairs of two extreme opposites. Similarly, the field from which these questions were drawn seems to be exactly t he same for both Protagoras and the Indian debaters. Protagoras, when once the existence of two logoi in opposition to each other was d iscovered as inherent in all reality whenever one tries to consider it abstractl y, translated this properly of the metaphysical world into contradictory pairs o f opposites, making of it a precept for argument; that is to say, he must have d emolished by dialectical arguments and with a certain systematic severity all th e principle concepts created by Reason, beginning from the problem of God in ord er to pass on to the others. (Untersteiner 35)

Notably, Protagoras contradictory pairs of opposites, as Untersteiner has stated ab ove, did not originate in traditional Greek rhetoric; rather, it originated in m etaphysics, the field from which the Indian debaters also selected their topics. There is the possibility that Protagoras learned this practice from Democritus, who could have been very much exposed to the Indian way of debating while he wa s in India. One should also wonder why Protagoras was not exposed to the same th eory of argumentation while he was receiving his Persian education. A controversial situation might arise from this disclosure since the argument ab out probabilities has long been accepted as an essential, inherent characteristi c in traditional Greek rhetoric. It should be repeated, however, that the origin of systematic persuasion in Sicily was a little over two decades old when Prota goras came to Athens, and whatever arguments on probabilities that might have ex isted in Sicily before Protagoras began his rational persuasion in Athens was pr obably in legal discourses. Contradictory references to the existence of argumen t about probabilities in Sicily would make this second assumption even more doub tful. Plato, referring to the example of a weakling s assault on a strong man, ind icated that Tisias argued about probabilities in legal discourses. However, Aris totle cited the same example to suggest that Corax, not Tisias, argued on probab ilities in legal speeches. In contrast to both, Cicero, relying on another Arist otelian source that is now lost, remarked that Corax and Tisias prepared only a handbook for the civilians to regain their (civilians ) lost property from the fal len tyrants. Another alleged reference is that Corax developed a tripartite scheme of oratory to help the citizens speak in the assembly (Kennedy, Art of Persuasio n in Greece 59). However, no argument about probabilities was ever mentioned in this scheme of oratory that was invented at least a decade after the origin of j udiciary discourses. If whatever persuasion on probabilities ever achieved any i mportance in Sicily before Protagoras entered upon rational argumentation in Ath ens, that would probably be only in legal speeches. As noted in the introduction, when Gorgias and Tisias visited Athens about three decades after Corax and Tisias prepared the earliest handbook on legal discours es, Protagoras had already enkindled an interest in debates, eristic, and antilo gic, using his two-logoi theory. He introduced the method of attacking any thesis , conducted debates, and earned the nickname master of wrangling. His two books The Ar t of Debating and Contradictory Arguments in Two Books may further authenticate hi s intention and interest in this field. This rhetorical situation, which apparen tly had no roots in Greek culture, connects, both in appearance and content, onl y to the debating habits practiced by the Indian debaters during the late sixth century and the early fifth century B.C.E. The difference between Protagoras and Sicilian Gorgias may be marked by the latt er s overemphasis on the invincible power of language, ft is apparent that Gorgias had developed this attitude towards language before he visited Athens in 427 B. C.E, as an ambassador to Leontini since his sensational speech in Athens against the impending attack on Leontini by Syracuse bears witness to his confidence in the power of language and his demonstration of that power, Encomium on Helen fart her clarifies his attitude towards language, Speech is a powerful lord, which affe cts the mentality of all sort of people, Words are like magic and drags that caus e unbelievable changes in individuals, While Protagoras maintained that antilogic and eristic would empower the opposing argument, Gorgias mainly held that the p ower of the language itself might determine the skill in persuasion. One may observe a close similarity between Gorgias emphasis on the power of words and the Indian debater Saccaka s assertion of the same, Saccaka, as quoted above, maintained the invincible power of words, giving his own exaggerated skill of f rightening a lifeless pillar with his words. Based on the awareness of the highl y competitive debating background during this time, it may be assumed that there were a host of Saccakas in India, maintaining the same power of words with some

variations. This widespread emphasis on the power of language might invite one to investigate a possible Indian influence on Gorgias, who also asserted the sam e power of words. Overemphasis of language as a tool to beat the opposition in I ndia and to convince the opposition in Sicily was determined by the demands in e ach society, but the invincible, almost magical power of words might have origin ated from the same source. One important clue available to suggest a transmission of this concept to Gorgia s is the possibility that Gorgias teacher Empedocles had known about the debating practices of Saccaka and of similar Indian debaters. The discussion in the prev ious chapter revealed that at least two contemporaries of the Buddha-Ajita and K acchayana had held the theory of elements exactly in the same form as Empedocles held it, providing strong support for Empedocles possible borrowing of that theor y from the Indian sources. Both Ajita and Kacchayana were themselves debaters, b ut the vital point is that they both were engaged in debates with Saccaka Saccaka is made to say that when he joined them [the six famous debaters includi ng Ajita and Kacchayana] in debates, they evaded in one way or other, shifted th e topic of discussion, and showed signs of irritation, anger, and displeasure. T hese are among the recognized occasions for censure, and their mention here implie s that Saccaka was victorious in these debates. (Jayatilleke 219) So the probable assumption should be that, if Ajita s and Kacchayana s theories of e lements reached Empedocles exactly in the same form, the Greek thinker should al so have heard about the debating power and practices of Saccaka, the more famous figure than the two theorists of elements. The rest is understandable. Even tho ugh one may not hear Gorgias say anything about Empedocles, it is probable that Gorgias came to know about the invincible power of words from Empedocles. This a ssumption will be farther justified in the next section of the present chapters when Gorgias theory of knowledge is evaluated in the light of Indian skepticism. The lives of the other sophist thinkers except of Critias are surprisingly obscu re; little is known other than the reports that several of them were the pupils of either Protagoras or Gorgias. Nothing is known about Thrasymachus other than that he came from Chalcedon in Bithynia and lived in the second half of the fift h century B.C.E. Hippias was a contemporary of Socrates, but his life is unknown except Suidas report that Hippias learned from virtually unknown Hegesidamus. Ant iphon the Sophist was mixed up with two other Antiphons, and, despite having a c ertain collection of his writings, his early life remains unknown. Despite the unavailability of biographical details about these sophist thinkers, strong similarities exist between their thinking and Indian thought. Particular ly, the common Indian theory of knowledge and the Buddhist theories of sociology and ethics bear an undeniable resemblance with the thoughts of Prodicus, Antiph on, and Critias. Perhaps, Protagoras and Gorgias inquiry into epistemology paved t he way for the rest of the sophists to continue with the same investigation. All sophist thinkers generally maintained a close relationship with other sophists. Several of Platonic dialogues have shown that sophists gathered together and he ld conversations together. It is possible that the younger sophist thinkers lear ned from more honorable Protagoras and Gorgias, whose teachers were the possible borrowers from Indian sources. *** End of Excerpt ***