Indian Philosophical Tradition and Sanskrit

Excerpted from Justin E. H. Smith's Why I'm Studying Sanskrit on Befrois:

"The core thought, which I believe I was able to convey, was that India provides the best, and perhaps the only, full-fledged instance of an independent philosophical tradition that covers all of the fundamental questions addressed in the European philosophical tradition. Arabic-language philosophy cannot provide a comparison case, since in fact it is a continuation and development of the same tradition with which Europeans identify; and Chinese philosophy cannot provide as useful a comparison case, since for the most part it is concerned with ethics, statecraft, political philosophy, and rather less with the metaphysics and epistemology that have, arguably, underpinned the Western philosophical tradition (I am waiting for this point to be refuted). For this reason, any serious attempt at understanding the nature of philosophical inquiry through cross-cultural comparison will be one that considers the similarities and differences between the Indian and Western approaches to philosophical questions.


Sanskrit is important, and the corpus of scientific, philosophical, sacral, and poetic texts produced in this language is surely one of the richest, probably the richest, contributions to global textual culture ever. Millions of these texts remain unstudied. Western philosophy, to the extent that it refuses to take an interest in these texts, will remain, as I’ve said before (paraphrasing Nietzsche), nothing more than a catalogue of its own prejudices. As far as I’m concerned the case for studying Sanskrit makes itself, and there is no need at all to invoke higher spiritual incentives in order to justify one’s interest."