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Third Lecture in Ashoka History Spring Seminar 2023

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We are often told that old ideas won’t do; that we need new ideas and new thinking. But what does it mean for an idea to be new or to engage in new thinking? This talk explores these questions historically. In early modern India, in disciplines ranging from grammar to poetics, almost everyone was calling their ideas new. One disciple where newness was very frequently invoked was the philosophical discipline of nyaya-sastra (logic-epistemology). During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, philosophers in this discipline used the term ‘new’ in relation to themselves and philosophical arguments. Yet, they never discussed what this term meant. 

In this talk, I argue that the term ‘new’ was important for nyaya philosophers in early modern India because it carried both intellectual and emotional meanings. In order to show how intellectual and emotional meanings were part of this term, I discuss novel conclusions held by nyaya philosophers and the circulation of nyaya manuscripts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I argue that, ultimately, the merging of intellectual and emotional meanings of the term ‘new’ enabled nyaya philosophers to not only think together but also feel together in the production of philosophical knowledge. And, on the basis of this knowledge produced by thinking and feeling together, nyaya philosophers forged a philosophical community in early modern India that valued newness.


Samuel Wright is Research Fellow at Leibniz Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) and Visiting Professor at Ahmedabad University. He holds a PhD from the University of Chicago. His research focuses on connections between philosophy and history in early modern South Asia, particularly in eastern India; time and temporality; and, increasingly, the philosophical study of the climate crisis. He is the author of A Time of Novelty: logic, emotion, and intellectual life in early modern India, 1500-1700 CE (Oxford University Press).

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