Reflections on Human Inquiry: Science, Philosophy, and Common Life, Springer 2017.


Chapter 1, Introduction


Human beings are endowed with cognitive agency. Our grasp of the world, and of ourselves, are not merely responses to external stimuli, they are reflective products of human inquiry. The twelve exploratory essays collected in this volume examine forms and limits of human inquiry from a largely sceptical point of view.


At one point in human history it was thought that modern science, especially theoretical physics, is the paradigm of human inquiry. Where does this form of inquiry significantly apply? Are there limits on its claims of truth and objectivity? How much of the vast canvas of human experience does it cover? Where do other forms of inquiry, such as philosophy, religion, and the arts, attain their salience?


With the emergence of scientific study of the human mind itself, these critical questions have taken a more intriguing form in recent decades. Can human inquiry investigate its own nature? Can the scientific theory of language explain the richness of human expression? Can a science of the mind account for human experience?


These probing questions on the scientific enterprise are usually addressed from the outside, as it were, by humanists and critical theorists. In these essays, they are examined from the inside by a philosopher whose primary academic work concerns the study of the human linguistic mind. In that sense, the sceptical inquiry turns on itself.


The twelve essays carve the route from the scientific mode to the literary and artistic modes through a survey of the forms of human inquiry. The book will engage the attention of philosophers, including philosophers of science, literary theorists, cultural studies, and history and sociology of human knowledge.





The book has many fundamental insights. To mention just a few: an intelligible space is made for skepticism, some light is thrown on the way the history of philosophy and science are intertwined, remarks are made on the nature and history of Indian philosophy which are surprising and suggestive and a distinction is drawn between the order of things which humans inquire into and the needs of humans. .. Mukherji argues for a position he calls “Reflective Pluralism” which arises out of the general tenor of his book. While the book makes many an important contribution, both in specific and general areas of inquiry, the view titled “Reflective Pluralism,” while understated in the book, is one of its most important contributions. ... Reflective pluralism is a strike against hegemony, period. If the Indian tradition of thought was liberal and tolerant, then reflective pluralism is a renewed attempt to capture such a tradition again, in a much richer manner, but also a more urgent manner. More needs to be said about it, though, and I hope more is said about it soon, not just by Mukherji but by other philosophers too.

- Nilanjan Bhowmick, Gauhati University Journal of Philosophy,

Special number on Bertrand Russell, Volume 3, December 2018


The best chapters, in my view, are the ones that are or include discussions that are broadly sociological or historical...There is some interesting philosophical work in these chapters, especially Chapter 8, which outlines a view of knowledge similar to the view Edward Craig develops in Knowledge and the State of Nature (Oxford, 1991). I am not qualified to comment in a meaningful way on what I have described as the sociological or historical issues, but Mukherji's discussion of these is interesting and enriching, and the chapter on education and extinction raises important questions about the trajectory of our species and the place of 'enlightenment knowledge' in hastening its demise...It's a long drive, with spectacular mountains in view, but at the end of the book I'm not sure where we are. Readers interested in the book are encouraged to read Mukherji's introduction, as it sympathetically presents and describes what he is doing in the book.

- Nick Treanor Notre Dame Philosophical Review, October 2019


"This is an engaging volume, gathering together some valuable essays and articles by the eminent Indian philosopher, Nirmalangshu Mukherji. Working primarily within Anglo American philosophy of the late twentieth century, but also bringing to bear insights from recent Indian traditions, the author notes in his Introduction that these essays aim at discussing issues that arise ‘when one thinks about the idea of being human’, and concern ‘the forms and limits of human inquiry from a variety of directions’ (p. 1). These, of course, are matters of interest to not just professional philosophers, and the subtitle of the book, ‘science, philosophy, and common life’, reminds us of Mukherji’s wish to address a broad audience of intellectuals


"Mukherji ’s volume is very rich, bringing together a number of issues in recent/late twentieth century philosophy, without being overwhelming. This short volume shows the author’s remarkable ability to bring together his reflections on a range of topics in a way that summarizes some of his life ’s study to this point, but that also leaves open lines of investigation for future research. Well written, this is an enjoyable book to read, that seeks to bring philosophical debate to a broad audience."

- William Sweet in Sophia, 2020


"Mukherji undertakes two tasks—creating the space for alternative, albeit rational, forms of inquiry, and showing, by example, what these


alternative forms might look like. The first task is formidable because the space is already taken by the recent proliferation of philosophical theories of mind in a quasi scientific mode. Mukherji’s thorough grasp of this literature is revealed in the artful argument against these attempts to show why they are doomed to failure. The problem is that these theories are not conceived of as alternative modes of inquiry. The second task is even more daunting, because the alternative form of inquiry that he recommends is in its infancy. Focusing on fundamental concepts in philosophy of mind, consciousness, belief, knowledge, and interpretation, Mukherji provides examples of what such an inquiry might look like, by addressing such fundamental questions as that of how to understand human cognitive agency as a whole."


- Monima Chaddha, Monash University, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, July 2020.







With remarkable range and depth, these tantalizing essays explore scientific and cultural forms of inquiry, leading concerns of Indian and western philosophy (and indigenous thought as well), the role of the cognitive agent in description and ascription – concepts that are examined in depth -- and other topics that have inspired reflection on the world and ourselves for ages.  At each point, there are instructive and challenging new perspectives and insights.  A notable achievement, and a welcome gift to the inquiring mind.

 Noam Chomsky, Emeritus Institute Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy,  Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Nirmalangshu Mukherji's selection of essays in this book are reflections of a fine scholar made over a very worthy career of research and teaching in Philosophy and Linguistics in India for the last many decades. Their range is wide —science, philosophy, literature, linguistics, music, religion, and everyday experience—and they are at once rigorous and accessible. They reflect a deep commitment to scientific objectivity, even as they are wise in their understanding of the limits of science’s reach into the domain of what he calls ‘common life’. They will be a source of much pleasure and instruction and insight to the serious reader.

 Akeel Bilgrami, Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University


A collection of essays on classical topics -- knowledge, truth, realism, belief, meaning, interpretation – by a critical and innovative mind with an atypical intellectual profile. Mukherji is nourished by analytic philosophy and theoretical linguistics, but his interests go well beyond narrow academic concerns. His writings reflect the breadth of his aspirations and should appeal to the general public as well as to the experts.

 Francois Recanati, Director, Institut Jean Nicod and Senior Fellow, CNRS, Paris.




Philosophical Choices: Essays on State, Resistance and Intellectuals, Tulika, New Delhi, Forthcoming.


These essays are among the political pieces written since the catastrophic events of 9-11. Massive violence against humanity is a recurrent theme in modern, industrialized societies. But the same societies also gave rise to impressive forms of popular resistance. 9-11 signaled a change in the agenda. Under the leadership of the United States, advanced industrial states had developed colossal instruments of propaganda and violence to throttle popular resistance. Vast sections of working masses were basically disenfranchised.


In the absence of mass movements, forms of terror have taken over the role of resistance. The presence of this terror is now used as a new pretext for controlling domestic populations, targeting specific communities and launching wars of aggression abroad. As the twin terrors confront each other in a spiraling cycle of violence, the democratic space for the unarmed humanity – in fact, the chance of survival of the human race – diminishes. What options for resistance are now available to arrest what otherwise looks like an inevitable course to doom?


These essays are a fragile and essentially personal effort to come to grips with this overwhelming question. These are expressions of anguish and anger directed at mounting insanity, celebration of little glimmers of hope, attempts to analyze, understand, expose, locate the ground, and act.











  • Traditions and Concept of Knowledge, Conference on Science and Tradition, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, December 1997.
  • Anxieties, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, August 1998.
  • Addressing the Mind, Conference on Addressing the Soul, Bangalore University, December 1998.
  • Ascription of Consciousness, Conference on Phenomenal Mind, Indian Council of Philosophical Research, Lucknow, February 1999. (Expanded version in Reflections on Human Inquiry, Springer 2017.
  • Epistemology Socialized, Two lectures at Calcutta University, March 1999.
  • Textuality and Common Life, Conference on Literature and Philosophy, Jadavpur University, March 2000
  • Beliefs and Believers, Epistemology Conference, Calcutta University, March 2000
  • Literature and Cognitive Agency, Seminar on Literature and Anthroplogy, Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages, Delhi University,March 2001.
  • Textuality and Mass Culture, Paper Presented in Conference on Religion and Material Life, Indian History Congress, Mysore, December 2003.
  • Narrow Creativity, Conference on Creativity and Cognitive Science, University of Hyderabad, February 2004.
  • Truth and Intelligibility, Conference on Methodology of Science, Viswa Bharati University, December 2004.
  • Construction of Identity, Seminar on Identity: Perspectives and Issues, Kamala Nehru College, New Delhi, December 2005.
  • Resistance and Democracy, Annual meeting of Anthropological Society of India, Kolkata, February, 2011.
  • Beyond Arms Struggle, International Conference on Beyond Marx, Institute of Social Development, Kolkata, February 2012.
  • Fascism and State Terror, Public meeting, Patna, March 2013.
  • Radhakrishnan on education, Conference on Radhakrishnan, Viswa Bharati, September, 2013.
  • Radhakrishnan: An Academic Enigma, Conference on Radhakrishnan, Viswa Bharati, September, 2013.
  • Resistance and Governance, International Conference on Prospects for the Left, Institute of Social Development, Kolkata, November 2013.
  • Education for the Species, Keynote address, Philosophy of Education Conference, Ajim Premji University, Bangalore, January 2015.
  • Marx on dictatorship of proletariat, Max Mueller Bhavana, Mumbai, October 2015.
  • Can Philosophers Change the World, Two invited lectures at Mumbai University, November 2018
  • What is a Basic Science?, Invited lecture at Conference on Techno-science, Indian Institute of Technology, Ropar, February 2019
  • Can Philosophers Change the World (Revised Version), Inaugural Lecture, Philosophical Society, St. Stephen's College, 26 April 2024



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