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Conference Report: Thinking Inside the Box

Speakers at the Shivdasani Conference 2009
Speakers at the Shivdasani Conference 2009

The conference ‘Thinking Inside the Box: the idea of a category in Indian philosophy’ was held at Somerville College, on the weekend of 10–11 October.

An international group of highly regarded speakers addressed the issue of categorisation in a number of different Indian philosophical traditions.
During the course of the conference a number of themes and issues began to emerge. One was the general problem of categorisation.
Is categorising the world in various ways simply relative to different cultures and so, in some sense, arbitrary or is there an underlying coherence to different categorisations? Is categorisation simply random like the classification of animals in Borges’ fictitious Chinese Encyclopedia or is there an underlying rationale behind it?
On the whole the speakers showed that classification is a rational process although it could be argued that there are different kinds of tradition specific rationality. A second issue was the relation between Indology and Philosophy or the history of philosophy in contrast to philosophising. On the one hand some scholars emphasised the need for philological and historical accuracy and the need to refer to the commentarial traditions, on the other some scholars emphasised the need for rigour in philosophical analysis without much reference to sources.
These were extremely stimulating debates which will continue in the warm hearted spirit with which they were raised.
We hope to publish the proceedings with a good academic publisher. Meanwhile recordings of the proceedings are available at