Dr Meera Baindur currently is Faculty member at Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities, Manipal University. She has a doctoral degree from Manipal University in the interdisciplinary area of environmental philosophy which she completed through the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. Earlier, she stayed with village communities in the Himalayas for a few years, working directly on environment and sustainability issues. During this time she also pursued traditional studies in Indian philosophy and yoga.
Her research interests include environmental philosophy and environmental humanities, conceptualisation of nature in Indian thought, ecological and environmental ethics. Her recent publications include papers related to the idea of place. She has authored a book on the same titled “Nature in Indian Philosophy and Culture,” published by Springer International. She has taught and lectured on traditional Indian philosophy, Philosophy of religion, Hinduism, mythology and narratives. Her recent work centres on religions and ecological practice, rituals and cultural geography.
India hasn’t been able to produce any prominent philosopher in recent years as we have stopped debating. The public debates have become a matter of media attention and sensationalism says Dr Meera Baindur, Faculty member at Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities, Manipal University in her interaction with Nitish Raj of The Policy Times
Q. Why the course of humanities have shown a dip in recent years in comparison to the various professional course?
Answer: I think there are three reasons for that. The first and foremost is the financial support given to the humanities and social sciences. In terms of education cost today, it is assumed that educating a humanities student costs less than a science student as it does not comprise use of lab, expensive machines is a myth. A good humanities education it needs a well-equipped library, with subscription to the best journals and books. A humanities student needs a certain kind of intellectually stimulating place to think which our policy-makers who allot these funds don’t deem necessary. Secondly , we are forced in most UGC regulated to teach the syllabus which has been taught for over 20 years. Instead of understanding humanities as teacher driven pedagogy, having online classes or PowerPoint is seen as innovation. On one had no new ideas are being generated, so researchers are not published, and then this is seen as way to further curb funds or bring in more regulation which creates a vicious cycle. There is also a lack of awareness among the general public regarding humanities.
Q. Philosophy has been seen always as a bunch of intellectual conversations which seems impossible for common masses to decipher. How much philosophy is applicable in the life of common masses?
Answer: It is very much applicable in the life of the common masses. The problem is that people think that philosophy can be understood without a proper study. The problem is not that they can’t understand philosophy the problem is that they think that they can understand. The philosophers are supposed to speak something about that which is so close to your heart that you are supposed to understand everything clearly about it. The same is not true when a scientist speaks. People are not so worried about understanding everything she says without training. Even if philosophers do try and converse to make people understand, a lot of people don’t want to make the mental effort actually to try and understand philosophy. The problem is that without reading any text or author they tend to think that they can understand the whole of philosophy by learning. A few words like ethics or metaphysics. The biggest problem is that we do not teach even some basic philosophy in schools.
Q. How much the philosophy seems to change our thought-process at the time when we have been poisoned to negative thoughts?
Answer: Philosophy changes the basic structure of thinking. It is perhaps the only subject that actually makes you think deeper about other subjects and that’s why a Ph.D is called a Ph.D because the ultimate thinking on any subject happens at the philosophical level. The problem is that not all the philosophies are about positive thinking, that’s a self development/ psychology related idea. There is nothing like positive nad negative philosophy. Philosophy is basically deep thought and critical thinking. One could say that thinking is actually dangerous because when you think deeply about things and understand them, may be it brings sadness to your life. Knowing will make you uncomfortable. Philosophy is a cognitive therapy.
Q. A country which has been the pioneer of philosophy in yesteryears hasn’t shown any prominent philosopher in recent years. What are the possible reasons?
Answer: I think that one of the reasons is that we have stopped debating in public. There are philosophers but they prefer to be in their own institutional circles and avoid the public intellectual life. Romila Thapar suggests that it’s a condition of the present times.In the recent years a lot of voices been silenced and so many intellectuals have hidden themselves away in academics The public debates have became a matter of media attention and sensationalism. The number of real thoughtful debates have reduced further and further. Many of the philosophers from India have moved out and joined foreign universities. The local philosophers are trying to work on western philosophy under severe constraints of not having access to many texts and discussions. They are always going to be treated second class by publishers and world philosophy forums. I am not saying everyone is incapable of great work, I am saying that a lot of this work will simply not be recognised as great. Besides many older generation philosophers and teachers are not allowing the younger generations to be bold and put out their ideas. They have been acting as an intellectual gatekeepers instead of mentoring and creating a culture of philosophy.
Q. How much doesthe particular philosophy of an individual affects the decision-making process?
Answer: Most of decisions are done through an unconscious social conditioning. Thinking somewhat blocks your actions.
Q. People tend to confuse ideology and philosophy when referring to their view. What exactly is the difference?
Answer: After experiencing and reading something you subscribe to an ideology which is a series of connected beliefs and arguments which reflect a particular position of. a group or individual. Philosophy is the way you think about different perspectives of the world and any other subject. You may be doing philosophy and you can come to believe an ideology or take a position. Many times when you are subscribing to an ideology you don’t know even know that you are in its grip.
Q. How does a particular philosophy of an individual sitting in power affects the common masses?
Answer: Belief systems and views about the world affects people’s actions. The Plato actually talks about this in his work on politics. He has suggested that there be philosophers kings. Actually the ideology and beliefs of the person sitting in power affects the people more than just philosophy. A philosophical king or queen would have critical thinking that would help them make ethical decision and the lack of it would lead to chaos.
Q. What would be your advice to students who want to opt a career in philosophy?
Answer: My first advice would be that if you are passionate about philosophy then don’t ever stop learning. There is always a chance to Philosophy some or other time in your life. Students interested in philosophy must be interested in thinking. They need to pay attention to their cognitive abilities. It also requires whole-heartedness. It’s more important to ask right questions rather than getting the right answers. So the would be philosophers must be ready to question even the most fundamental of their assumptions. And read and join a good course to study it academically.