“European Philosophy” Is No Good


At least not as a helpful label:

So I have a provocative proposal of my own: intellectually speaking, the more valid distinction is not between ‘European’ and ‘non-European’ philosophy, but between philosophical cultures that respond to Greek thought (however indirectly), and those that do not.

That’s Peter Adamson, professor of philosophy at LMU Munich and creator of the podcast History of Philosophy Without Any Gapswriting in Philosophy Now in response to an earlier piece by Jay Garfield (Yale-NUS) and Bryan Van Norden (Vassar) discussed here previously.

Garfield and Van Norden had proposed renaming philosophy departments that fail to cover “non-Western” philosophical work and traditions as “Departments of European and American Philosophy.” This led Adamson to wonder just what “European Philosophy” is. After introducing the distinction between philosophical cultures that respond to Greek thought and those that do not, Adamson continues:

Philosophers of the Islamic world—Jews, Muslims, and Christians writing in Arabic or Syriac—belong to the former category, as do Latin American thinkers. Philosophers of pre-modern Asia—India, China Korea, Japan, etc—as well as thinkers of the pre-colonial Americas and Africa, belong to the latter. Of course some believe that there may have been an exchange of ideas between the Greeks and India, but if so the influence was not determinative as it was in the case of the Islamic world, and in any case the influence is more usually thought to have traveled from India to the Mediterranean rather than the other way around.

So we reach another possible critique to add to Garfield and Van Norden’s polemic: ‘Eurocentric’ philosophy doesn’t even manage to be Eurocentric! It fails to cover its own supposed cultural domain, by omitting world-class thinkers who lived and worked in Europe, as well as those who lived and worked elsewhere. Much the same, by the way, can be said of other intellectual labels, such as ‘Western philosophy’.

Adamson’s essay is here.

UPDATE (10/4/16): See this follow-up post by Meena Krishnamurthy (Michigan) at Philosopher.

detail of photo by Jason Tozer

detail of photo by Jason Tozer

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