Pitfalls in Philosophical Thinking

Pitfalls in Philosophical Thinking

What with all the new gurujis/mAtas springing up like mushrooms everywhere! Every black magician is now a spiritual leader, as he/she entices people with tricks and tactics like producing-bhoodhi-by-magic, engaging in bear hugs and what not. Of course all these gurujis or mAtas claim themselves to be avatars of God Himself/Herself. That is one common punch line. God indeed! Well they are out there to make a quick buck. What’s more? The bigger players are transducers of black money to white.

All these are recent developments and could not have survived fifty years ago, when people had a better understanding of what India is and what her teachings are. No way that these frauds could have engaged in this revelry.

Anyway, that was not the original intent of this write up. What I did want to impress upon was the fact that these frauds never make anti-social statements. If they do, they will be chucked out by their own followers. No, they are not dumb to lose their clientele that easily. They will make statements like, “Love your fellow being”, “Never kill, never lie”, ad infinitum. (As though they found all these truths themselves!). Most people are satisfied by such statements and they cannot/do not think deeper anyway. So these frauds capitalize on their indolence.

The trouble arises when these half-baked philosophers start making irresponsible statements that apparently look very correct and nice to hear but are, in essence, illogical. In the remainder of this write up, we shall have a look at some of them and decide their verity.

Statement 1All philosophies are “fundamentally” right.

Let us analyze this statement. What is meant by “fundamentally right”? When we say fundamental, we do not refer to rules of a stable society, such as: “Always speak the truth”, “Never steal” and so on. These are the statements that almost all (successful) philosophies will endorse. If they fail to do this, they are unlikely to have large subscriptions. This is because, if these statements are not endorsed, society runs into chaos and anarchy, which is not acceptable to most people. We shall use the term “practices” to refer to such rules of society. After all, one may not stop stealing because someone asks him to stop, but at least because he/she does not want his/her things stolen by another.

Since most philosophies do not have problems in accepting “practices” as mentioned above, they must differ in certain things, which are really “fundamental”. Fundamental as in the answers to questions like: Is there a God? If yes, who is He? What is my relation with God? What is my final destination? …and so on.

Philosophy A differs from philosophy B in answers to such “fundamental” questions, although in all probability, they will endorse the common “practices” of society. For a question like: “Is there a God?” there can but be one kind of answer between a Yes and a No. One cannot say that both answers mean the same thing.

Now, let us consider the case of two philosophies, which give opposing answers to at least one fundamental question. For example, to the question of the final destination (moksha) of man, Tattvavada says: Final destination (the amount of bliss experienced) varies with each soul. Advaitha shastra says: Final destination for each soul is becoming God itself.

Since the question is a fundamental question, a difference in answer entitles each philosophy to stand on its own without repeating what the other says. Note that at least one of the answers should be wrong OR both should be wrong! There is no way that both answers are correct. So all philosophies CANNOT be fundamentally right.

Statement 2The original philosophers were all correct. The interpreters of these philosophies have misinterpreted them to be different from each other.

Definitely possible with respect to “practices”, but with respect to “fundamental questions”, there cannot be changes (misinterpretations). If there are, then those changes by themselves form another philosophy, which is no longer the original one. (Remember though, that the two philosophies may continue to exist under the same name).

Statement 3Fallacies in a philosophy depletes the number of subscribers with time.


Again, definitely true with respect to “practices”. One cannot preach mass murder and expect the thought-school to flourish. However, with respect to “fundamental questions”, this may not be true.

Consider the case of Atheism Vs Theism. The bone of contention is the fundamental question: “Is there a God?” An Atheist says No and a Theist says Yes. There are but two possibilities:

  1. Only one of them is correct.
  2. Both are wrong.

Both cannot be right at the same time, since the question is a fundamental question. No one can say that Theism and Atheism finally preach the same truth.

But Atheism has surely survived the test of time, and so has Theism; both with corresponding sets of believers.

Followers can follow either school without questioning its credibility, if they are endowed with sufficient disinterest to think deep. Large scale following of a philosophy, for whatever length of time, does not ensure the absence of fallacies in that philosophy.

Statement 4A fundamental tenet preached by a philosophy, INDIRECTLY, cannot go unnoticed by its followers for a long time.


The most effective testimony against the above statement is the Advaitha philosophy of Sankara. To start with, it accepts theism. Temples, idol worship, prayers to Gods etc are endorsed. Yet, to the fundamental question of “What is the final destination of a soul?” the answer is “becoming God”.

Now, according to this philosophy I am as much God as you happen to be, and so is every body. If everybody is God, this is just an INDIRECT way of saying there is no God. This, as learned scholars of this philosophy agree, is Atheism, though it started with the premise of Theism. This is a classic case of “reductio ad absurdum”.

The philosophy had its roots before Sankara, with Gowdapada, and Sankara himself lived at least 1000 years ago. It has been around for a long time. Yet the average follower of the philosophy thinks of it as a theistic one. Thus, an indirect version of Atheism is noted as a theistic philosophy.



Most people today are either followers (which may be by accident of birth, strong influence of environment and so on) or they are customers to a God-man/God-woman, who grants what they wish in a materialistic sense. Thus, as long as the “practices” of a school conform to normal societal standards (never lie, do not kill and so on), they are comfortable with it, though the school may preach fundamental fallacies. They are rightly called followers and not investigators!

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