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Towards a Theory of Structural and Transcendental Illusions [1998]

New Delhi: Center for Studies in Civilizations - Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 2012 (posthumous).

Summary: Reflective self-awareness, which is another name for philosophy, seems to question everything except itself. Yet, questioning or doubting is what philosophy essentially consists of and if reflexively it does not question itself, how can it be regarded as an "honest" exercise of reason with "reasoning" itself? But how far can the reflexive activity of self-reflection be carried without striking against the boundaries which seem to repel any effort to go beyond, even though there is a vague, tantalizing awareness that there is a "Beyond" which lies outside the grasp of reason which man alone appears to possess as the faculty for knowing what is "true" and determining what is real? The so-called "infinite regress" does not seem infinite enough as it stops, or is stopped, very soon at the level of existential self-consciousness where alone philosophy or rather the activity of philosophizing has its being.

The activity and the source of the activity all lie there, but not so the structures that are built that go by the name of philosophical systems which are associated with the names of thinkers and traditions, philosophical traditions, as we well know, discussed and debated by successive generations over millennia since human beings achieved self-consciousness. The exact datability of acquiring philosophical self-consciousness, whether in India or China or Greece, can hardly be fixed. But, however different these imposing structures of philosophical thought may be, they yet share a common belief that by a pure exercise of reason they can know what is "real" or, even in some cases, that it can be known in principle. The belief in both its forms is strange as it rests on a claim to "finality" and "completeness" which the least little reflection on what the human situation consists in would have been sufficient to dispel. The paradoxical contradiction involved in the arrogance of reason is matched only by the still greater arrogance of faith found in all he spiritual and religious traditions of the world with which philosophy has been intimately entwined during the course of most of its history.

Such a widespread illusion shared both by reason and faith in almost all of their forms, calls for an investigation as it seems not only to define the human condition but to be co-terminus with its history. The present work attempts to do just this. It suggests that the roots of the illusion lie in the nature of human consciousness itself which is not only conscious, but also self-conscious in a way whose structure has not been grasped, and in which perhaps lies the immanent and transcendent source of this illusion. The present work shifts the attention from reason to consciousness and self-consciousness, and tries to explore the roots of those illusions which arise in the realms of knowing, feeling and willing because of the very structure of consciousness and self-consciousness. The method of transcendental criticism is taken from Kant and, through a transcendental critique, an attempt is made to make humanity aware of the "transcendental illusion" to which one is inevitably subject. An attempt is made to distinguish between illusion that arise because of the structure of consciousness and those that arise because of the transcendentality of self-consciousness. The former are called "structural illusions" while the latter are termed "transcendental".

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