Locating Philosophy in the Mahābhārata
James L. Fitzgerald
Published online: 12 August 2017
© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017
The nine papers presented here were contributions to a small conference on
“Philosophy in the Epic Mahābhārata” held at Brown University in April of 2010.
The purpose of the conference was to try to ﬁnd new ways to focus scholarly efforts
to come to terms with the vastness and complexity of “philosophy” in the epic.
“Philosophy” was understood broadly as serious intellectual expressions found in
the epic in the form of either the ideologies and themes that structure and animate
the epic as a whole or the many crafted tracts of theology and philosophy, sensu
that are either embedded within the epic’s narrative or contained in its large
saṃhitās [“anthologies (of worthy utterances)”] of instruction (anuśāsana). There is
& James L. Fitzgerald
Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
The conference enjoyed the generous support of the Dean of the Faculty, the Ofﬁce of Provost, the
Program in Early Cultures, and the Departments of Classics and Religious Studies of Brown University.
Other participants who presented papers were Ashok Aklujkar, Peter Scharf, and Fred Smith. Dr.
Elizabeth Cecil and Professor Amy Langenberg were participant observers.
There are of course many hotly contested characterizations of philosophy sensu stricto and I am not
proposing to enter those debates. As is clearly implied already, I am using the term philosophy as a term
of ‘family-resemblance,’ as a cross-cultural comparative ﬁlter to select and interrogate various texts,
themes, and arguments of the MBh that resemble some of the broad range of what has gone under the
name of “philosophy” in the history of the civilization that coined the term. When, within that broad set, I
distinguish “philosophy sensu stricto,” I am referring to texts that are, to start with, characterized by self-
consciously abstract formulations, rather than anthropomorphic ones (i.e., not mythic narratives) about
fundamental realities and a consciousness that one’s assertions require warrants, whether these are offered
explicitly or left implicit. Accepting the need to furnish warrants leads eventually to the critical
examination of types of argumentative discourse (logic, nyāyaśāstra) and of the types of warrants for
knowledge-claims (pramāṇas; epistemology, pramāṇaśāstra). As was pointed out by Malinar (2017b,
between notes 34 and 35 and in her concluding thoughts just before and after note 39), a number of epic
texts that are philosophical in this sense do exhibit one stage or other of the development of these
J Indian Philos (2017) 45:569–574