G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

Shel Silverstein : “Talked my head off Worked my tail off Cried my eyes out Walked my feet off Sang my heart out So you see, There’s really not much left of me.” ~

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

विलास सारंग: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Sunday, August 25, 2013

R D Karve, Skepticism Not Included...जो शंकाच घेत नाही त्याला ज्ञान कसे मिळणार?

This post is dedicated to the memory of Narendra Dabholkar (नरेंद्र दाभोकर), a rationalist,  who died on August 20 2013. I did not agree with most of his arguments in support of rationalism but I would have liked if he read this post and then if we could argue about it!
Today August 25 2013 is 237th Death Anniversary of David Hume and Year 2013 is 60th Death Anniversary Year of R D Karve (र. धों. कर्वे)

समर्थ  रामदास:

"तंटे  जाहले  सर्वत्र , जो तो बुद्धीच  सांगतो ."
David Hume in 'An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding':

"The command of the mind over itself is limited, as well as its command over the body; and these limits are not known by reason, or any acquaintance with the nature of cause and effect; but only by experience and observation, as in all other natural events and in the operation of external objects. Our authority over our sentiments and passions is much weaker than that over our ideas; and even the latter authority is circumscribed within very narrow boundaries."

Giacomo Leopardi:

“No one understands the human heart at all who does not understand how vast is its capacity for illusions, even when these are contrary to its interests, or how often it loves the very thing that is obviously harmful to it...Religion (far more favoured and approved by nature than by reason) is all we have to shore up the wretched and tottering edifice of present-day human life.” 

र. धों. कर्वे:

"...तेव्हा केवळ संततिनियमनाच्या प्रचारावर न थांबता एकंदर बुद्धिप्रामाण्याची विचारसरणी लोकांपुढे मांडावी, या हेतूने १९२७ च्या जुलैमध्ये हे  (समाजस्वास्थ्य) मासिक सुरू केले."

('मनोहर', जानेवारी 1946)

[R D Karve:

"...So instead of stopping at just spreading of message of family planning, this (Samaj Swasthya) magazine was started in July 1927 to present the philosophy of rationalism / intellectualism in front of the people."

('Manohar', January 1946)]

John Gray:

"An intrepid partisan of reason, Freud devoted his life to exploring reason’s limits. He was ready to accept that psychoanalysis could never be the science he had once wanted it to be. At the same time he came to accept that science might be superior to other modes of thinking only in limited ways. The myth-making impulse, which functions as the bogeyman of infantile rationalism, could not be eradicated from the human mind or from science."

"(Immanuel) Kant wrote that David Hume aroused him from dogmatic slumber. He was certainly shaken by the great eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher’s profound scepticism. Traditional metaphysicians claimed to demonstrate the existence of God, the freedom of the will and the immortality of the soul. In Hume’s view, we cannot even know that the external world really exists. Indeed we do not even know that we ourselves exist, since all we find when we look within is a bundle of sensations. Hume concluded that, knowing nothing, we must follow the ancient Greek Sceptics, and rely on nature and habit to guide our lives."

Sigmund Freud in a letter to Albert Einstein:  
“Does not every natural science lead ultimately to this—a sort of mythology? Is it otherwise today with your physical sciences?”
R D Karve has appeared on this blog a few times before, for instance here in January 2008 and here in July 2007. In those posts, I have covered Karve's visionary qualities and some of his virtues. 

This post addresses  his serious limitations as a thinker.

On July 14 2013, Marathi daily Loksatta's (लोकसत्ता) Sunday supplement celebrated birth anniversary of  R D Karve's (1882-1953)  Marathi periodical 'Samaj Swasthya' (समाजस्वास्थ्य) launched in 1927.
It contained an essay by Karve's brother B D Karve (भा धों कर्वे) dated November 1953. The title of the essay is "लैंगिक बुद्धिवादाचे प्रणेते" ("Proponent of Sexual Rationalism"). (I presume the Marathi expression  "लैंगिक बुद्धिवाद" meant "sexual rationalism").

cover of 'बुद्धीप्रामाण्यवाद' (Buddhipramanyavad) by R D Karve, Editor: Anant Deshmukh (अनंत देशमुख). To learn about the other books in the series, and if you read Marathi, visit here.

Image and quotes courtesy: Cover Artist and Padmagandha Prakhashan (पद्मगंधा प्रकाशन)

Wikipedia defines rationalism as:

"...rationalism is defined as a methodology or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive." Rationalists believe reality has an intrinsically logical structure. Because of this, rationalists argue that certain truths exist and that the intellect can directly grasp these truths..."

"the criterion of the truth is not sensory"?...This is rich, especially if it comes from someone who is an advocate of sexual freedom.

(R D Karve page on Wikipedia:   "Literary critic M V Dhond (म वा धोंड) has written three essays on Karve. In the third essay, he analyses why Karve was not as successful in his mission as much as Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes, his counterparts in United States and UK respectively: Karve’s mission was not restricted to that of Sanger and Stopes namely happy family life, emancipation of women, control of population. Karve wanted women to have as much sexual freedom and sensual pleasure as men...")

Returning to Mr. B D Karve's said essay:

"आजच्या बुद्धिवादाचे पहिले पुरस्कर्ते म्हणून आज जशी आगरकरांची समाजाला आठवण होते, तशीच कदाचित ५० वर्षांनंतर लैंगिक बुद्धिवादाच्या त्यावेळच्या कल्पनांचे प्रणेते म्हणून र. धों. कर्वे यांची आठवण समाज काढील."

(The way society today remembers Agarkar as first proponent of rationalism, similarly, 50 years later, society may recall R D Karve as  an advocate of the then ideas on sexual rationalism.)

David Hume says:

"It is universally acknowledged that there is a great uniformity among the actions of men, in all nations and ages, and that human nature remains still the same in its principles and operations. The same motives always produce the same actions: The same events follow from the same causes. Ambition, avarice, self-love, vanity, friendship, generosity, public spirit: these passions, mixed in various degrees, and distributed through society, have been, from the beginning of the world, and still are, the source of all the actions and enterprises, which have ever been observed among mankind. Would you know the sentiments, inclinations, and course of life of the Greeks and Romans? Study well the temper and actions of the French and English: You cannot be much mistaken in transferring to the former most of the observations which you have made with regard to the latter. Mankind are so much the same, in all times and places, that history informs us of nothing new or strange in this particular...

...Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.."

If indeed reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, how can someone like R D Karve, who understands this very well, say otherwise? 

Artist: Bruce Eric Kaplan, The New Yorker

As mentioned on this blog earlier this year, G G Agarkar (गो ग आगरकर) was an ardent follower of J S Mill, who has been hailed as 'The Saint of Rationalism' by  William Gladstone, a British Prime Minister four separate times between 1868-1894.

Agarkar's rationalism surely originated in his Guru's ideas. Did Karve's sexual rationalism too originate in Mill's and Agarkar's thoughts? It most probably did. He wanted to best Agarkar in reason. 

"...परंतु कित्येक बुद्धिवादी म्हणवणारे लोक असे समजतात की, आगरकर म्हणजे बुद्धिवादाची कमाल मर्यादा झाली, त्यांच्यापुढे जाणे शक्य नाही. आमच्या मते, ते शक्य आहे आणि आम्ही तसा प्रयत्न केला आहे..."

("...Many self-styled rationalists think that Agarkar is the highest boundary of rationalism, you can't go ahead of him. We think it is possible and we have made such an attempt...")

Mill's influence on Maharashtra's intellectuals was deep and widespread.  Here is a quote, that now sounds very funny, demonstrating sayer's faith in Mill's utilitarianism.

प्रो. वामनराव जोशी:  "ज्याने समाजाचे कल्याण होत नाही, जे नीतीला पोषक नाही असे सत्यच आम्हाला नको."

(Prof. Vamanrao Joshi: "We just do not want the truth that does not do welfare of the society and the one that does not nourish morality.")

A moot point: Who will define welfare and morality?  

Another passionate rationalist. a contemporary of R D Karve and the one who influenced him  was Bertrand Russel. (1872-1970). (for instance, Karve agreed with Russel's thoughts on socialism.)

John Gray writes:

"In his celebrated memoir, My Early Beliefs, Maynard Keynes wrote of Russell that he believed two 'ludicrously incompatible beliefs: on the one hand he believed that all the problems of the world stemmed from conducting human affairs in a most irrational way; on the other hand that the solution was simple,

since all we had to do was to behave rationally’. It is an acute observation, but I do not think it gets to the bottom of what is wrong with Russell’s rationalism. The difficulty is not that he overestimated the degree to which human beings can be reasonable. It is that on his own account reason is powerless. In his letter commenting on Russell’s book on China, (Joseph) Conrad wrote: ‘I have never been able to find in any man’s book or any man’s talk anything convincing enough to stand up for a moment against my deep-seated sense of fatality governing this man-inhabited world.’ Russell’s passionate admiration for Conrad may have had a number of sources. One of them was surely his suspicion that Conrad’s sceptical fatalism was a truer account of human life than his own troubled belief in reason and science. As reformer, he believed reason could save the world. As a sceptical follower of Hume he knew reason could never be more than the slave of the passions. Sceptical Essays was written as a defence of rational doubt. Today we can read it as a confession of faith, the testament of a crusading rationalist who doubted the power of reason"

Did Karve have such doubts about his own faith in reason? Didn't he too know that skeptical fatalism was a truer account of human life than his own belief in reason and science? Didn't he- a student of sexology- know very well that reason was the slave of the passions?
This is how Karve explains the objectives of the magazine in January 1946:

"...''व्यक्तीच्या व समाजाच्या शारीरिक व मानसिक आरोग्याची व त्यासंबंधी उपायांची चर्चा करणे हा या मासिकाचा उद्देश आहे.'' पण तरीदेखील या मासिकाबद्दल गैरसमज पसरलेला  आहे. ते कामविषयक बाबींनाच वाहिलेले आहे, अशा कल्पनेने कित्येक लोक वर्गणी भरतात आणि ती कल्पना चुकीची ठरल्यामुळे नंतर बंद करतात. कित्येक तर अशी तक्रार करतात, की ''कामशास्त्र हा तुमचा विषय आहे. इतर विषयांत तुम्ही लुडबुड का करता?'' पण वर दिलेला उद्देश पाहता समाजाच्या सुखाचा ज्यात संबंध येतो, असा कोणताही विषय वज्र्य समजता येत नाही हे उघड आहे. आणि प्रथमपासूनच हे धोरण ठेवलेले आहे. अगदी पहिल्या वर्षांचे अंक चाळले तरी त्यात सर्वच लेख कामविषयक नाहीत.तथापि या मासिकाने कामविषयक लेखांस प्राधान्य दिलेले आहे, हे नाकबूल करता येणार नाही. हे प्राधान्य देण्याचे कारण एक तर शेकडा नव्वद लोकांना हा विषय वैयक्तिकदृष्टय़ा महत्त्वाचा वाटतो; मग ते तसे कबूल करोत वा न करोत..."

("...The objective of the magazine is to discuss and remedy the health of mind and body of the person and the society." But still misunderstanding about the magazine is spread. People pay the subscription thinking it is full of sex-related material and then they discontinue once that idea is proven wrong. Many complain that, "Sexology is your subject. Why do you interfere in other subjects?" But as stated above, it is obvious that any subject that has to do with wellness of the society is not to be considered untouchable. And it has been the policy since the beginning. Even if one thumbs through the first year issues of the magazine (it is apparent that) all articles are not related to only sex. However, the magazine has given priority to the sex-related articles cannot be denied. This is so because for the 90% of the people it is a personally important subject; whether they admit it or not...")

Could he have stuck to only sexology, sports and appreciation of arts like music, literature, cinema, drama? Was the reader who wrote, "Sexology is your subject. Why do you interfere in other subjects?" ("कामशास्त्र हा तुमचा विषय आहे. इतर विषयांत तुम्ही लुडबुड का करता?") correct?

In a recent post I said:

 "While criticizing  B G Tilak (बाळ गंगाधर टिळक) for quoting John Stuart Mill in 'Gitarahasya' (गीतारहस्य), Mr. Ashok Shahane (अशोक शहाणे) writes in 'Napeksha' (नपेक्षा), 2005: 

"....मिल आणि (हर्बर्ट) स्पेन्सर ह्यांचा त्यांनी विचारसादृश्य असणारे म्हणून तळटिपांतून उल्लेख केला. ही त्या काळच्या बुद्धीच्या दारिद्र्याची ठळक निशाणी म्हणून सांगता येईल. 

मिल आणि स्पेन्सर ह्यांची पुस्तके 'क्रमिक' स्वरुपाची आहेत, ही गोष्ट ध्यानात घेतली म्हणजे त्या काळच्या महाराष्ट्रातल्या वैचारिक नेतृत्वाची कल्पना येईल..."

("...Footnotes mentioned  Mill's and (Herbert) Spencer's thoughts were similar (to Bhagavad Gita's?). This can be described as the bold sign of poverty of intellect of those times.
If one comprehends the fact that Mill's and Spencer's books were sort of 'text' books, one realizes about the nature of the then thought-leadership of Maharashtra... ")

Did Mill push some of Maharashtra's thinkers into what Kant calls 'dogmatic slumber' of reason and rationalism? Has David Hume been largely ignored by most of the prominent Marathi speaking people? Shahane does not mention him in his book either. (Read a related post Why, why no David Hume, Vinda?

To expand this point to pan-India, I checked Ramachandra  Guha's 'Makers of Modern India',  2010  if  it refers to David Hume. 

The book "profiles nineteen Indians whose ideas had a defining impact on the formation and evolution of our Republic, and presents rare and compelling excerpts from their writings and speeches. These men and women were not only influential political activists – they also wrote with eloquence, authority and deliberation as they reflected on what Guha describes in his illuminating Prologue as 'the most contentious times in the most interesting country in the world.' Their writings take us from the subcontinent's first engagement with modernity in the nineteenth century, through the successive phases of the freedom movement, on through the decades after Independence..."

There is just one reference, without his first name, in a footnote, towards the end of the book.  On the other hand, J S Mill has five of them, scattered across the book: pages 52, 99, 322, 452, 514!

I wish to conclude discussion on Milli's influence on most of Maharashtra's rationalists by quoting from Frank Prochaska's article "Mills and Emerson: Sense and Nonsense" in 'History Today' dated September 2013:

"We may turn to Walter Bagehot, a contemporary journalist and political economist, for a final word on the cast of mind that informed Mill’s comment on the Essays. Bagehot admired his fellow Liberal’s intellect but said he belonged to the ‘unspiritual order of great thinkers’. As he put it Mill could exhaust a subject like Aristotle or Bentham, but his great characteristic was that the light of his intellect was exactly what Bacon called ‘dry light ... unsteeped in the humours of the affections’..."

Y D Phadke (य  दि फडके) says in his biography of Karve,  'R. Dhon. Karve', 1981 ('र.धों. कर्वे') :

 "Raghunathrao, the one who asked: how will he get the knowledge, if he does not doubt, should have made constant attempt to verify how far the assumptions of 18th and 19th century rationalists were correct."

("जो शंकाच घेत नाही त्याला ज्ञान कसे मिळणार असा प्रश्न विचारणाऱ्या रघुनाथरावांनी  अठराव्या व एकोणिसाव्या शतकातील बुद्धिवाद्यांची गृहीतकृत्ये कितपत बरोब आहेत  हे पडताळून पाहण्याचा सारखा प्रयत्न करायला हवा होता .")

Did R D Karve study Hume or Conrad? Had he been influenced by them, would it have changed the direction of his movement and thoughts?

Karve used to dismiss aesthetics, psychoanalysis as  pseudo-sciences, religion as 'stupidity in its entirety' ('सगळाच  बावळटपणा'), historical research having no utility ('इतिहास संशोधनाचा कोणालाही उपयोग नसल्यामुळे त्याला फारशी किंमत देत येत नाही')...He refused to call social sciences as 'sciences'...He only trusted 'exact' sciences like mathematics, physics, chemistry...

                                                           Cluttered by Calculus?

cover of Phadke's book, courtesy: H Vi Mote Prakashan (ह वि मोटे प्रकाशन)

Did he ever develop any doubts about some of his views? Did it ever dawn on him that "scientific inquiry depends on a belief in causation that cannot survive rational analysis. In short, science depends on faith."?

 I wonder what Karve would make of following assertion by John Horgan:
“...‘That mathematics reduces in principle to formal proofs is a shaky idea’ peculiar to this century,  (William Paul ) Thurston asserts. ‘In practice, mathematicians prove theorems in a social context,’ he says. ‘It is a socially conditioned body of knowledge and techniques.’ The logician Kurt Godel demonstrated more than 60 years ago through his incompleteness theorem that ‘it is impossible to codify mathematics,’ Thurston notes. Any set of axioms yields statements that are self-evidently true but cannot be demonstrated with those axioms. Bertrand Russell pointed out even earlier that set theory, which is the basis of much of mathematics, is rife with logical contradictions related to the problem of self-reference… ‘Set theory is based on polite lies, things we agree on even though we know they’re not true,’ Thurston says. ‘In some ways, the foundation of mathematics has an air of unreality.’...”

"If Hawking were really serious about answering the ‘ultimate questions of life’ he should have realised long ago that mathematics and geometry are not the right tools for the task."

While paying tributes to the late Mr. Dabholkar, a few compared him to Agarkar and Karve.  I don't know how fair that comparison is but I feel Maharashtra has some times been ill served by a brand of rationalism that is shrill and often leaves no space for any doubt. 

p.s. on September 3 2013:
Today I referred to my copy of Sadanand More's (सदानंद मोरे) two volume book- on the history of Maharashtra in 19th/20th century- "Lokmanya Te Mahatma", 2007  (लोकमान्य ते महात्मा). It has Mr. J S Mill on the following pages : 32, 34, 35,46, 87, 88, 104, 193, 219, 221, 411, 413, 867, total  of 13 and David Hume, unlike Alan Hume,  on zero pages.