Contextualism in the Study of Indian Intellectual Cultures

Journal of Indian Philosophy 36 (5-6):551-562 (2008)
When J. L. Austin introduced two “shining new tools to crack the crib of reality”—the theory of performative utterances and the doctrine of infelicities—he could not have imagined that he was also about to inaugurate a shining new industry in the philosophy of the social sciences. But with its evident concern for the features to which “all acts are heir which have the general character of ritual or ceremonial,” Austin’s theory soon became indispensable in the analysis of ritual, linguistic and every kind of social action. While Indianists such as Frits Staal, Bimal Matilal and David Seyfort Ruegg have made good use of the work of Austin and his “ordinary language” school, it is Quentin Skinner who has attempted to turn Austin’s insights into a general “theory and method” for the study of intellectual cultures. The question I want to address in this paper has to do with the applicability of Skinnerian techniques to the study of literary and intellectual Sanskrit culture in premodern India. If not all of Skinner’s methods transfer to the new context, identification of the points at which they breakdown helps to clarify the distinctive contours of Indian intellectual history, and suggests appropriate methodological innovation
Keywords Quentin Skinner  Contextualism  Śāstra  Intertextual Speech-act  Definition  B. K. Matilal  Prolepsis
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DOI 10.1007/s10781-008-9039-7
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