Translating the “Exact” and “Positive” Sciences: Early Twentieth Century Reflections on the Past of the Sciences in India
Inductivist theories of science dominated the landscape of the philosophy of science in nineteenth century Europe. This paper explores their vocation in late nineteenth and early twentieth century India. In the first half of the nineteenth century British Indologists and educationists introduced scholars at the Oriental colleges in India to Francis Bacon's Novum Organum Scientiarum. Baconian inductivism was simultaneously interpreted as a methodology that highlighted the distinctiveness of the method of the modern sciences, as well as its similarities with the constellations of knowledge in South Asia. The paper attempts to show that in the second half of the century and later, inductivism as formulated in the writings of William Whewell and J.S. Mill sets the stage for the debate on the inductive nature of the sciences in India. Two Bengali scholars, the philosopher B.N.Seal and the social scientist Benoy Kumar Sarkar, turn to the writings of Whewell and Mill as resources as well as offering a `Kuhnian exemplar’ to mine the history of Indian philosophy for cognitive homologues in order to reconstruct the specific nature of `the exact and positive sciences of the `Hindus’. In other words, the corpus of writings of Whewell and Mill, notwithstanding the differences amongst them, provides these two South Asian writers with a lens to embark on a comparative history of philosophy and present the knowledge systems of India as scientific.