On Philosophy: A Short Introduction by Ranganayakamma

Book Review by Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

Ms. Ranganayakamma is well known as an author in Telugu, whose works have been translated into English and most probably in other languages too. Her interest has generally been Economics, Feminism and Marxism. She has written not only for fellow Marxists but also ventured to writeEconomics for Children, lessons based on Marx’s Capital. Her polemical articles collected in Casteand Class: A Marxist Viewpoint is also an important contribution to the study of the history of India. Her most famous work, Ramayana: The Poisonous Tree, re-tells the story of Valmiki’s epic with the emphasis shifted from Rama to Sita. All these have been translated into English and known to the Marxists, both in North and South India.

However, Ms. Ranganayakamma, although a confirmed Marxist for many decades, had never any interest in Philosophy. All philosophical works, particularly the immaterialist ones had remained in her bookshelves for many years without evoking any desire in her to study them. She found the subject itself to be boring and unprofitable. She could never understand why Marx and Engels were
fascinated by Hegel and Feuerbach (unfortunately she refers to him mostly as Bach, which is the name of a famous musician). Only in 2013 she decided to go through the philosophical works in a personal collection and this renewed study led to the publication of the Telugu book Tatva Sastram (2014). The book under review is a translation of this work.

Although the title of the work bears the word ‘Philosophy’, the author decided to give an overview of several selected philosophers, both Indian and European, from the Marxist point of view. One cannot but recall the title of her book For the solution of the ‘Caste’ question, Buddha is not enough,Ambedkar is not enough either, Marx is a Must. Here, too, she starts from Kapila and Socrates, Thales and Buddha, Heraclitus and Democritus to Plato and Aristotle. Leaving almost the whole of the European Middle Ages, she comes to Bruno and Bacon, then to Hobbes and Descartes, Spinoza and Locke, Bailey, Berkeley, Hume and Kant are also considered in brief. Finally she arrives at Hegel, Feuerbach and Marx-Engels. She does not go beyond them, thus leaving out post-marxian philosophers of the twentieth century, not to speak of the twenty first. There is, however, one chapter on Mao Zedong’s (Mao Tse-Tung) views on dialectics. It is to be noted that the author does not retain the order of the three laws of dialectics as formulated by Engels. Instead of beginning with the unity and struggle of the opposites, she opens with ‘Change in Quality with change in Quantity’. She even calls it ‘Hegel’s First Law of Dialectics’. Mao, on the other hand, considered the unity of opposites to be the one and only law, the other two inhering in it (Mao Tse-Tung Unrehearsed: Talks and Letters1956-71. Ed. Stuart Schram, London: Penguin Books, 1974, 226).

All in all, people seeking initiation in philosophy will find the work useful and if that leads them to further studies in the original texts, the author would be amply rewarded. As she confesses at the end of her Foreword to the Telugu original: ‘Why should we be totally unaware of what Philosophy is and what its history is. It is good to know something about it, isn’t it? Now, I have rectified my mistake of not allowing it to fall on my ears. It is certainly necessary to have some amount of acquaintance with Philosophy. We will know to what extent it is necessary for the society’ (italics in the original).

Philosophy: A Short Introduction -by Ranganayakamma
Sweet Home Publications, Hyderabad – 500033. June, 2019. Pages 320, Price INR 100.

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Jul 21, 2019

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya [email protected]

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