N.Y. Times Blog Post on Western Bias in Philosophy
HERE. Posted by Justin Smith of Concordia University, Montreal. (Hat-tip to Sam Crane, who has his own discussion of the piece going, over on his blog, The Useless Tree.) Much of Smith’s piece is probably “preaching to the choir” for our readers, but it’s good to see these points made in the mainstream. Here is an excerpt:
Western philosophy is always the unmarked category, the standard in relation to which non-Western philosophy provides a useful contrast. Non-Western philosophy is not approached on its own terms, and thus philosophy remains, implicitly and by default, Western. Second, non-Western philosophy, when it does appear in curricula, is treated in a methodologically and philosophically unsound way: it is crudely supposed to be wholly indigenous to the cultures that produce it and to be fundamentally different than Western philosophy in areas like its valuation of reason or its dependence on myth and religion. In this way, non-Western philosophy remains fundamentally “other.”
One good way to begin to correct this problem would be to stop describing it as “non-Western,” but instead to be explicit about which geographical region, or which tradition, we are discussing: Kashmir Shaivism, for example, or Chinese Mohist logic, just as we would speak of German Aristotelian Scholasticism or American Pragmatism, without, ordinarily, bothering to specify that these are both “Western.”’ Imagine, for comparison, the righteous vigor with which we would condemn the academic subfield of agricultural history if 95 percent of all the research in this field were devoted to irrigation techniques in Southeast Asia, while the remaining 5 percent was required to package itself as the study of “non-Southeast Asian irrigation techniques.” This sounds absurd, and it is, but it really is no more so than when the small minority of scholars who work on say, Indian or Chinese philosophy, are obligated to present their research as having something to do with “non-Western philosophy” for the simple reason that it does not come from Northwest Eurasia.
An alternative approach to the history of philosophy — one that takes the aim of opening up the discipline seriously — would treat both Western and non-Western philosophy as the regional inflections of a global phenomenon.
When we say “West” we mean, ordinarily, Europe, along with its recent extension into North America. Europe is, literally, a peninsula of Eurasia, comparable roughly in size, cultural diversity and civilizational antiquity to the Indian subcontinent. Certain significant things happened first in Europe rather than elsewhere, such as industrialization; other important things first appeared outside of Europe, such as movable type. Now it is of course very difficult to define “philosophy,” but if we think of it broadly as systematic reflection on the nature of reality and on humanity’s place in that reality, then it is clear that Europe can make no special claim to be the home of philosophy.