The Argumentative Indian

Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity

Amartya Sen

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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A Nobel Laureate offers a dazzling new book about his native country
India is a country with many distinct traditions, widely divergent customs, vastly different convictions, and a veritable feast of viewpoints. In The Argumentative Indian, Amartya Sen draws on a lifetime study of his country’s history and culture to suggest the ways we must understand India today in the light of its rich, long argumentative tradition.
The millenia-old texts and interpretations of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Muslim, agnostic, and atheistic Indian thought demonstrate, Sen reminds us, ancient and well-respected rules for conducting debates and disputations, and for appreciating not only the richness of India’s diversity but its need for toleration.
Though Westerners have often perceived India as a place of endless spirituality and unreasoning mysticism, he underlines its long tradition of skepticism and reasoning, not to mention its secular contributions to mathematics, astronomy, linguistics, medicine, and political economy.
Sen discusses many aspects of India’s rich intellectual and political heritage, including philosophies of governance from Kautilya’s and Ashoka’s in the fourth and third centuries BCE to Akbar’s in the 1590s; the history and continuing relevance of India’s relations with China more than a millennium ago; its old and well-organized calendars; the films of Satyajit Ray and the debates between Gandhi and the visionary poet Tagore about India's past, present, and future.
The success of India’s democracy and defense of its secular politics depend, Sen argues, on understanding and using this rich argumentative tradition. It is also essential to removing the inequalities (whether of caste, gender, class, or community) that mar Indian life, to stabilizing the now precarious conditions of a nuclear-armed subcontinent, and to correcting what Sen calls the politics of deprivation. His invaluable book concludes with his meditations on pluralism, on dialogue and dialectics in the pursuit of social justice, and on the nature of the Indian identity.

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Preface

These essays on India were written over the last decade — about half of them over the last couple of years. The first four, which make up the first part of the collection, introduce and explain the principal themes pursued in this book, related to India’s long argumentative tradition.

India is an immensely diverse country with many distinct pursuits, vastly disparate convictions, widely divergent customs and a veritable feast of viewpoints. Any attempt to talk about the culture of the country, or about its past history or contemporary politics, must inescapably involve considerable

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Reviews

Praise for The Argumentative Indian

"India, going back for generations, has offered us masterful political, philosophic and economic commentary. That grace endures, and Amartya Sen is now its leading contributor. Nothing, whether from India or from the world at large, could surpass the essays in The Argumentative Indian. As will many others, I endorse this book for all." --John Kenneth Galbraith
"Sen denounces—and indeed disproves—the bigoted view that reason is essentially Western or European. India, he makes plain, has a long tradition of civil debate, of secular thought and of contributions to math and science. The opening essays are broadly historical, but Sen moves on to issues of greater relevance and urgency...Collections of previously published essays often prove uneven; this one is remarkably uniform in theme and quality...ultimately revelatory." --Kirkus Reviews

"Of the stream of eloquent Indians who have enlivened modern intellectual life...Amartya Sen is perhaps the most versatile and most determinedly argumentative...His present collection is a bracing sweep through aspects of Indian history and culture, and a tempered analysis of the highly charged disputes surrounding these subjects – the nature of Hindu traditions, Indian identity, the country’s huge social and economic disparities, and its current place in the world ...If ever there was a global intellectual, it is Sen...his true distinctiveness becomes clear when seen against the background of two [rich] historical traditions: ...of classical political economy, and of social criticism and reform: the call and response of British liberal imperialism and Indian cosmopolitan nationalism... Sen wants us to notice the strong individuality of [Indian] culture...but his view of India is also critical. His essays take unsparing measure of India’s social and economic problems...Although Sen is free with his judgments, his writing maintains a coolly embattled tone, as well as an unfailing, old-style courtesy...[He] is a distinguished inheritor of the tradition of public philosophy and reasoning – Roy, Tagore, Gandhi, Nehru." --Sunil Khilnani, Financial Times

"Mr. Sen’s interests...extend far beyond the work that won him the Nobel...The 16 chapters range from an appreciation of Rabindranath Tagore, a great poet of Mr. Sen’s native Bengal, to an examination of the historic intellectual links between India and China, to a discussion of India’s wealth of sophisticated calendars... Mr. Sen shows that the argumentative gene is not just a part of India’s make-up that cannot be wished away. It is an essential part of its survival – and an advantage."
--The Economist

"Sen is unquestionably one of the most distinguished minds of our time . . . Yet while the pieces here are, as one would expect, enjoyably erudite and full of intriguing insights, they are not written in acadamese...Instead, the book is formed from a series of elegantly written historical and philosophical essays which cohere to form a single argument: that the sheer diversity of views and faiths and competing ideas that have always coexisted in India has naturally led to a fecund and tolerant argumentative tradition.
… profound and stimulating . . . erudite and sophisticated . . . engaging and thought-provoking. The product of such a great mind at the peak of its power, it is one of the most stimulating books about India to be written for years, and it deserves the widest possible readership." --William Dalrymple, The Sunday Times (London)

"EP Thompson once wrote that since ‘all the convergent influences of the world’...run through India, ‘there is not a thought that is being thought in the west or east that is not active in some Indian mind'...It is certainly rare to see them as elegantly synthesised as they are in the cosmopolitan mind of Amartya Sen...His prose is benignly professorial, always measured, and occasionally rises to dry irony...He wants to see how the argumentative tradition in India can be deployed against ‘societal inequity and asymmetry’ and what actual use can be ‘made of the opportunities of democratic articulation and of political engagement’...‘Silence is a powerful enemy of social justice,’ Sen writes."--Pankaj Mishra, The Guardian

"In this superb collection of essays, Sen smashes quite a few stereotypes and places the idea of India and Indianness in its rightful, deserved context. Central to his notion of India...is the long tradition of argument and public debate, of intellectual pluralism and generosity that informs India’s history.
One of the book’s many triumphs is its tone. Sen does not indulge in triumphalism about his country’s past...he propounds a view of Hinduism as an inclusive philosophy rather than an exclusionist, divisive religion. This view of Hinduism is mature enough and magnanimous enough to accommodate dissenting views and ‘even profound skepticism.’...This is a book that needed to have been written. The perception of India in the West and, indeed, among Indians themselves has never been more amorphous as it is now. The Argumentative Indian will provide a new dimension and perspective to that perception. It would be no surprise if it were to become as defining and influential a work as Edward Said’s Orientalism." --Soumya Bhattacharya, The Observer (London)


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About the Author

Amartya Sen

Amartya Sen is Lamont University Professor at Harvard. He won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998 and was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, 1998–2004. His most recent books are Development as Freedom (Knopf, 1999) and Rationality and Freedom (Harvard University Press, 2002). His books have been translated into thirty languages.

Amartya Sen

Amartya Sen

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Available Formats and Book Details

The Argumentative Indian
Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity
Amartya Sen

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
October 2013
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9781466854291
ISBN10: 1466854294
432 pages, Includes three black-and-white illustrations
$9.99

Trade Paperback

Trade Paperback
Picador
September 2006
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9780312426026
ISBN10: 031242602X
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 432 pages, Includes three black-and-white illustrations
$18.00
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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