The Absence of Chinese Philosophy in the U.S.

The Absence of Chinese Philosophy in the U.S.


In the United States, there are about 100 doctorate-granting programs in philosophy. By my count, only seven have a permanent member of the philosophy faculty who specializes in Chinese philosophy.

That’s Eric Schwitzgebel (UC Riverside), writing in the L.A. Times.

Philosophy professors in the United States have all heard of Confucius and the Daoist Laozi. Many have also heard of their approximate contemporaries in ancient China: the later Confucians Mencius and Xunzi; the easygoing skeptic Zhuangzi; Mozi, the advocate of impartial concern for everyone; and Han Feizi, the authoritarian legalist. But most of us have not read their works. As a result, most U.S. university students are not exposed to Chinese thinkers in their philosophy classes.

Schwitzgebel notes that “our neglect of ancient Chinese philosophers in U.S. philosophy departments is partly a remnant of our European colonial past” and partly a function of ignorance begetting ignorance:

Because we don’t know their work, they have little impact on our philosophy. Because they have little impact on our philosophy, we believe we are justified in remaining ignorant about their work.

He argues against their exclusion from the curriculum on a number of grounds, comparing them favorably in some respects to a number of Western philosophers firmly entrenched in the canon. The article is certainly worth reading. Afterwards, if you haven’t already, you can enjoy this:

(image: sculpture of Confucius by Zhang Huan)

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