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S. Radhakrishnan: ‘Saving the Appearances’ in East-West Academy

  • Purushottama BilimoriaEmail author


Sir Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, clearly one of the early modern doyens of Indian Philosophy, remained much enamored of Western thought—of which he took the ancient to classical tradition as his model—and he spent a good part of his speculative life attempting to reconfigure Indian thought to fit the vesture, maybe the toga, of his Greek heroes, namely Plato and Plotinus, and to an extent of Hegelianism that came across via F. H. Bradley: Occidental in form, and Indian in content. (Incidentally, an adage or motto that was also used to ground modernism in Indian art.) It was as if this ‘fusion’ or ‘harmonization’ was easy of making without compromising what since Max Müller has come to be called ‘Indian Philosophy’ (a trope coined to mimic the dominant movement of Western or Occidental Philosophy). The paper intends to demonstrate this worrisome yet compelling motif by advancing an analysis of certain representative texts and arguments from Radhakrishnan’s prolific writing on Indian Philosophy and East-West Thinking; particularly as these relate to the question of the ‘appearances’ (māyā/avidyā), their alignment with Platonic ‘shadows,’ while finding their redemption in the realism propelled by modern empirical science (that was taken to be coterminous with scientific realism). The paper traces the justification for Radhakrishnan’s variegated moves to ‘save the appearances’ through his strained reading of the Upaniṣadic texts and under-standing of Śaṅkara’s nondualism, leading to the argument that although the world is brought about by māyā, it is not an illusion or nonexistent, or unhinged from the Absolute, but rather naïvely real. There may have been a supplementary political motivation as well inspired by the burgeoning nationalist spirit, after Gandhi, and the need for India to become culturally and morally strong in its own terms (svadeshi svarāj).


Radhakrishnan Twentieth century Indian philosophy Plato Neoplatonism Upaniṣads Śaṅkara Appearances Māyā Avidyā Brahman Idealism Realism 



I am grateful to the anonymous reviewer for Sophia whose constructive comments have helped improve the current reworking over the earlier (rather defective) version; and of course, more literature has come to light since then on Radhakrishnan, philosophy in colonial India, imperial idealism, and the ‘Scientific Temper.’ I also thank my colleague and co-editor of Sophia, Mr Patrick Hutchings Esquire, with whom I have had hearty conversations about Hegel, Neoplatonism, and Radhakrishnan; indeed, Mr Hutchings during a visit to (then dry) India a good while back happened to be a guest at the abode of the then President, who personally saw to it that Mr Hutchings, no tea-tootler himself, got served the best vodka from Moscow—by none other than Dr Radhakrishnan himself: “Thank you, Shri President Sahib; you must have known this Irishman was thirsty!”


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Historical and Philosophical StudiesUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Dharma StudiesGraduate Theological Union and UC: BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA

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