Categories in Indian Philosophy Project

Project leaders

Project Director: Gavin Flood
Project Manager: Jessica Frazier

Project outline

This project explores the use of categories in Indian philosophy, including linguistic categories, aesthetic and emotional categories, universals and logical categories, metaphysical and ontological categories, and other possible processes of categorisation across different philosophical schools and diverse concepts. The goal is to shed a clear light on the modes of reasoning in the Indian philosophical traditions, illuminating its relation to Western methods, and its unique contribution to philosophy across the globe.

One of the characteristic features of ancient and medieval philosophy both east and west has been its propensity to analyse existence into particular categories and make fine distinctions in different philosophical areas. This conference would focus on the way this process has operated in the Indian philosophical context. For example, in Buddhism the Abhidharma developed sophisticated categories for the analysis of mind, Samkhya for the analysis of experience, Nyaya Vaisheshika developed ontological categories, in Saiva philosophy we have elaborate cosmological categories, and in early modern Vaishnavism we have the development of aesthetic categories applied in a religious context. We might even call this process of categorisation a philosophical style of thinking. The aim of this project is to address this question of categorisation and to raise questions about what precisely is entailed by categorisation, why it developed to such a high degree in the Indian context, and to raise philosophical questions about the relevance and success of such philosophical endeavour. The project therefore has a descriptive dimension – The exposition of categorisation in Indian philosophical traditions – and an evaluative or philosophical dimension – the critical inquiry into categories and their relevance to contemporary philosophy.

While there will be research on particular systems of classification, we hope that the project will generate discussion across diverse philosophical traditions in order to discuss categorisation as a feature of Sanskritic philosophy in the classical and medieval periods. We also envisage a comparative dimension in which parallel processes are considered from other philosophical traditions.

Project outputs