Which facts are relevant? Hipkapi and Hinduism

1. Many facts are interconnected within a culture. (The same applies to Nature too.) Some hypothesis or another notices some of these facts as facts, and it is able to provide an explanation (using the term ‘explanation’ rather loosely) for them. This explanation helps us understand the phenomenon (means merely the appearance) in question because the theory or hypothesis under discussion is able to show what that interconnection between the sets of facts is. (That is, it tells us of the pattern that unifies these facts into a whole of some sort.)

2. Which facts are relevant? This question cannot be answered in the absence of a theory (or hypothesis). So, for instance, when Arun comes up with a set of facts (practices) he is saying that the facts he notices are relevant to the issue of deciding what ‘Hinduism’ is. His non-exhaustive list looks like this: “the various ceremonies that mark the transitions in life; the patterns (not the particulars) of festivals, fasts, temples & shrines, household puja, pilgrimage, the epics, Puranas, trinity, concept of avataar, etc.,etc.” In other words, these facts (not others like the structure of latrines, the use of spices in cooking, wearing saris, etc) are considered relevant to deciding the question. That he selects only some common facts and not others as relevant facts to discuss the nature of Hinduism suggests that he is working with an (implicit or explicit) hypothesis about what Hinduism is. This is an obvious conclusion: as facts, each fact is as important and as relevant as any other fact. Only a hypothesis can assign weights and relevance to the facts. If he were to have no hypothesis about what Hinduism is, he would simply wave his hands in the direction of India and say that “all the facts” of the culture have a pattern behind them (which has not hitherto been investigated) and that pattern is Hinduism.

3. If you were to presuppose some commonsense idea about the concept of religion, his selection makes sense. However, if you use, say, the concepts of ‘laukika’ or ‘paramaaarthika’ or ‘adhyaatmika’ then the choice of these facts are not self-evident. One has to justify why a festival is not ‘laukika’ but ‘paramarthika’; whether pilgrimage is really in the best interests of ‘adhyaatmika’ and so on. Using the word ‘Dharma’ makes the choice of facts in this list even more non-obvious: ‘Is going to pilgrimage a dharma?’ Is believing in puranas a Dharma?’ and so on. However, if we reformulate, say, the previous question, it makes sense: ‘do puranas talk about Dharma?’ It shows that using the notion of Dharma in this context is a matter of some complexity and not self-evident. However this problem is not manifest if we use the word ‘religion’: Is believing in Puranas religious? Is pilgrimage a religious act? And so on. In other words, the obviousness of the facts is absent when we use concepts from the Indian traditions. However, this obviousness is present if we work with some or another commonsense concept of religion and the idea that Hinduism is a religion.

4. That Arun also thinks this way is evidenced in his reaction to my ‘hipkapi’ examples. Even though most of the facts I cite are biological, he said that the facts were unrelated to each other. Why did he say this? My argument was that ‘hipkapi’ is the common pattern unifying these facts. However, ‘hipkapi’ did not explain anything; it was merely a name. On the other hand, to use Arun’s argument, there could be a pattern behind the hipkapi facts; none has investigated them hitherto. Why did he dismiss it so easily? The answer is obvious: names do not explain anything.

5. I confront the same situation with respect to Hinduism. It is just a name at the moment (in Arun’s argument). He puts together some facts (hipkapi facts), says that the pattern unifying them is ‘Hinduism’ (or hipkapi), and that no one has investigated whether there is a pattern behind them (hipkapi pattern).

6. However, the difference between Hipkapi and Hinduism, in our present context, is this. The very facts that Arun uses are used to suggest the existence of a religion called ‘Hinduism’. Arun appears to consent to one aspect of the argument: there is Hniduism, and these facts are facts of Hinduism. The only issue is what is Hinduism if it is not a religion? This question already presupposes the truth of what requires to be proved: that the facts that Arun talks about are (some of the relevant) facts that settle the issue. Such an assumption points in the direction of a hypothesis.

7. In other words, Arun has to show that the structure of the latrines in India (for instance) is less relevant to settling the issue of the existence of Hinduism than, say, pilgrimages. Why cannot I say that the proof that British constructed ‘Hinduism’ is provided by the fact of Indians driving on the left-side of the road?

This entire post makes the following simple point. In choosing some facts as relevant facts, one uses a hypothesis. Facts, to put it even more simply, are facts of a theory. The existence question of Hinduism can be solved only in the presence of a hypothesis (explicit or implicit) about what that entity is. If we are not careful, we merely take over the commonsense conception of religion to identify Hinduism, even if we explicitly say that it is not a religion.

Perhaps, Arun can come up with a positive argument why he thinks that there is an entity called Hinduism. It is not sufficient to say that there could be pattern behind some arbitrary list of facts and that one would like to call that pattern Hinduism. If one does that, all one says is that Hinduism is hipkapi.

CheckĀ Does Hinduism Exist?

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