When Someone Suggests Expanding The Canon…


A gem of a comment from Amy Olberding on the post earlier this week about expanding the philosophical canon is worth excerpting:

…let me just explain how these sorts of conversations read to me and how, it seems to me, they repeat endlessly. On my most cynical days, I think we can dispense with any further conversations about including non-western traditions. For here are all the conversations:

Someone proposes expanding the field to better incorporate non-western sources.

The conversation will then go on with the following ingredients, mixed in various proportions and orders:

a) someone will simultaneously profess not to know non-western sources and express skepticism that the sources are philosophical;
b) someone will offer argument that – hey! – there are some good things out there and here’s a list of some (which, if ensuing future iterations of nearly identical blog conversations are indication, most everyone will ignore);
c) someone will make claims along the lines of “I once read something in that area and it wasn’t very good” and thereby ostensibly settle the matter for us all;
d) someone will offer incredibly condescending remarks purporting to explain what philosophy is (once and for all! in a blog comment!) and, well, there it is, non-western stuff just, alas, doesn’t fit (not that there’s anything wrong with that!);
e) someone will offer patronizing paths toward normality for the deviant folk studying non-western traditions (e.g., if you could just justify yourselves to us with reference to forms and styles we find completely familiar and won’t overtax us, then you could belong too);
f) someone will claim as unexceptional fact that philosophy isn’t western at all but cosmopolitan, universal, objective, physics-like (pick your own wildly ambitious poison here) and so must for its own good purity eschew things bearing cultural labels;
g) someone will play precision-mongerer and take issue with some minutiae in any proposed expansion and insist that change ought stop dead in its tracks till we sort out this tiny detail;
h) someone will point out that as mere mortals with limited budgets, we can’t be expected to do everything (or presumably even anything where non-western traditions are concerned);
i) the entire conversation will expire under the weight of all of this until next time someone resurrects it like, zombie-like, to “live” all over again in our consideration with all of the points a)-h) to be repeated.

What you won’t find in any of these conversations: reasonable intellectual humility, anything like the inveterate curiosity philosophy purportedly cultivates, or responsiveness to epistemic authority and expertise. I submit the following question: Who would be best positioned to *know* or authoritatively make recommendations about what, if any, non-western philosophy should be included in US departments? Answer: Trained philosophers who have expertise in the non-western philosophical domains under consideration. Now since this is, after all, philosophy, I don’t expect complete deference to authority but even a modicum of intellectual humility, curiosity, and respect for epistemic authority would be a nice change.

Put more plainly, Bryan Van Norden and Jay Garfield are *philosophers* and *experts* in Chinese and Buddhist traditions (respectively) and think there’s something worth incorporating here. Their compatriots with relevant training do too. I do wish all the folks on this thread trying to *school* all these folks would at least pause to recognize that you are interacting with *other philosophers who in fact know more that is salient than you do.* If we saw even a little of that, maybe the zombie would finally die. Until then, I will make a bingo card of the above and await the next installment of the zombie chronicles.

Feel free to make additions to the list.

ouroboros phi

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Matt
5 years ago

I am sympathetic to this, bu another way to see this, “Put more plainly, Bryan Van Norden and Jay Garfield are *philosophers* and *experts* in Chinese and Buddhist traditions (respectively) and think there’s something worth incorporating here.” is that people who are interested in something often think that others should be interested in it too. In general, that seems like a bad inference to me.

That said, I can say that this is a really great time for political philosophers to be getting interested in philosophy from the Chinese tradition. Princeton University Press has a really great series of books (edited, I think, by Daniel Bell) on political philosophy coming from the Chinese/Confucian tradition (I’m not 100% sure how best to characterize it) that can be very valuable for political philosophers. Most of them don’t assume too much background in Confucian thought (it seems to me – I have only a very modest background and they seem clear enough to me), they are relatively short, they don’t cost too much, and they are focused on issues that are of direct interest and relevance to political philosophy as it’s done it the English-speaking world now: democracy, perfectionism, human rights, liberalism, etc. Furthermore, many of the books provide significant attention to current situations in the areas of the world influenced by the Confucian tradition, making them of more than historical interest. They seem to me to be great opportunities to expand out to new areas for people who are interested in doing so.Report

Tacos
Tacos
Reply to  Matt
5 years ago

Isn’t the reason that philosophers EVER publish or discuss their work that they find the topic interesting and think that others should be interested in what they have to say? And isn’t it only minimally decent to one’s colleagues, as Amy writes, to trust them that it is interesting?Report

Matt
Reply to  Tacos
5 years ago

Well, I hope that people who are interested in, say, ethical issues related to immigration will be interested in my work, or people interested in political philosophy more generally will see this as an interesting sub-topic, but when I meet, say, someone interested in Ancient Philosophy, or the philosophy of language, I neither put much effort into trying to convince them that my work should be of interest _to them_, nor feel that they are being in any way bad colleagues if they find nothing personally interesting in what I do. I actually do fine some of the work at issue interesting (see the rest of my post!) but also think that the mere fact that experts in some topic find it highly interesting is only a small reason to think that others should be interested in it.

I agree that many of the moves that Amy Olderding describes above are obnoxious and anti-intellectual. I hope I manage to avoid them, and I know that I don’t like it when similar things are said about my own work. But, even if that’s right, it doesn’t, by itself, support the claim I highlight and contest. These seem to me to be distinct points, and if so, it’s bad to run them together.Report

a graduate student
a graduate student
Reply to  Matt
5 years ago

I should think that the ethics of immigration is a prime example of how non-western philosophy can add something very crucial: it is very typical of a certain dominant kind of western philosophy to consider migration as the anomaly, and a settled life on private property inside a nation-state with borders as the starting point. But this is a very specific position, and philosophy should consider several positions on the issue, and arguments for and against. The ethics of migration is as much the ethics of settlement and restricted movement. If ethics should be relevant globally and not be temporally parochial it cannot assume the starting point of a certain historical tradition and its political institutions, even in a situation where these institutions dominate the world.Report

Matt
Reply to  a graduate student
5 years ago

Sure. I spend a fair amount of time studying the laws and practices of different countries (not just “western” ones) on immigration, so am happy to accept this. Are there any philosophical works you would recommend?Report

Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
Reply to  Matt
5 years ago

“people who are interested in something often think that others should be interested in it too” True, but not the point I was after.

My colleagues who like analytic metaphysics can think I should find it interesting. They might be right about that, but *I* would be wrong and working above my credibility and authority station to reply to them not only or primarily that I personally am uninterested but that a) analytic metaphysics is not philosophy; b) they fail to understand what philosophy is, what counts as argument, and what the discipline *in its entirety* is about; c) I once idly looked for some interesting analytic metaphysics and didn’t find any so prove that some exists already; d) that in my completely untutored opinion analytic metaphysics better fits in basket weaving departments; e) that analytic metaphysics is loaded with cultural presuppositions that can’t/don’t sufficiently generalize, unlike my own field (Confucian ethics!) that speaks to the unambiguously perennial issues, such as the ethics of family; etc., etc. My carrying on that way would be the worst of condescension and arrogance, for my *peer* who is merely in a different area of philosophy does not need a primer either on philosophy itself or on her very own field and expertise.

I’ll go ahead and put it as strongly as possible here. In professional conversations about non-western philosophy, knowing something about them or indeed being expert them reduces one’s credibility *as a philosopher*. Hence all the a-h maneuvers described above. In this and in other areas (I think of phil of race and feminist phil, indigenous American phil), the more you know, the less credibility you’ll have and the more outrageously patronizing the responses will be. These are the deviant areas of philosophy and so the conversations about them embed a host of conversational moves meant to signal that deviance and either preserve the status quo or insist that the deviant normalize beyond recognition before being permitted entry.Report

Francisco Melgar Wong
Francisco Melgar Wong
5 years ago

There are questions: “Who killed John Lennon?” “Did you see ‘Star Wars’?” “What did you eat?” And there are philosophical questions: “What exists?” “What do we know?” “What is good?” “Can my mind exist independent from my body?” If we accept this, that there are questions more philosophical than others, then philosophy programs should be built around these philosophical questions. I mean, we should read books and authors that will help us in thinking philosophical matters. We should not care if they are asian, incas, african, indian. To dismiss books and authors in virtue of their color, language, culture or race would be a mistake. Because philosophy, by its own nature, is about the general, and not the particular. But it also would be a mistake to build philosophy programs around an ideal of inclusion and representation of every color, language, culture and race. The authors of this article refer to Tommaso d’Aquino and his reading of Aristotle as a proof that “philosophy has always become richer as it becomes increasingly diverse and pluralistic”, but let’s be accurate. Aquino didn’t read Aristotle because he was trying to defend some ideal of democratic plurality or the representation of every civilization. He read Aristotle, in part, because Aristotle offered a solution to his ontological argument, i.e. as an empiricist, Aristotle offered Aquino the possibility to prove the existence of good by its earthy effects. It helped him to think about a philosophical problem. And that is the way philosophy should work. I Think.Report

Francisco Melgar Wong
Francisco Melgar Wong
Reply to  Francisco Melgar Wong
5 years ago

“to think of god by its earthy effects” is what I meant to write.Report

boomer trujillo
boomer trujillo
5 years ago

Things that I don’t see on the list, but which I personally have to grapple with, are my cognitive and temporal limitations.

Concerning my cognitive limitations, it’s taken me the better part of a decade to be able to talk about ethics, one of my AOSs, in any degree of specialization. Even so, in teaching, I routinely have to leave stuff out because my students can’t read all of the relevant material. With research, it can get tricky. Unless writing a specifically non-Western piece, it’s hard to resist the vices of anachronism or clumsy categories or misleading generalizations when integrating wide sources. I try to anyway, but I think I often fail. As it is, reviewers often lambast me for not addressing topics X, Y, and Z, which hardly ever include non-Western concerns.

As for temporal limitations, I think this is the biggest one. And I think it’s related to a concern about the profession generally. One thing that I’ve become acutely aware of is this: philosophers read slowly, and it is an increasing trend to specialize. This means we, compared to English for example, don’t read many works. And, when we do read widely, it’s often within a narrowly defined field. For example, people can do competent and insightful work in mind, metaphysics, and epistemology without knowing the history of philosophy or wider debates. If they can name-drop certain theses excerpted from Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, etc., that’s often enough. (Never mind that historians of philosophy often problematize these bare-bones characterizations.) People can do 19th century German philosophy without a huge knowledge of the history of philosophy. They can write about Hegel or Marx without more than a basic understanding of Spinoza, Aristotle, etc. People in moral psychology can have ‘common sense’ approaches to analyzing moral practice without integrating contemporary psychology or neuroscience. The philosophical game, as it now stands, can be played by people with narrow foci. The point is this: to broaded philosophy to include more than Western philosophy, it will take time and reading outside of one’s areas of competence. And, given the demands on teachers and researchers that already exist, I think this is where the issue faces most of its friction. This can lead to a daunting task even before starting.

Hopefully this shows how, even for the non-arrogant and open-minded philosophers, integrating more is really difficult. But I think this might just show how there should be more systemic tools devoted to making the learning and conversation easier. Philosophers, though, face a curious task of avoiding the Scylla of superficial, wide reading and the Charybdis of serious, systemic reading in only one area.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  boomer trujillo
5 years ago

“it’s taken me the better part of a decade to be able to talk about ethics, one of my AOSs, in any degree of specialization.”

I confess I’ve never really understood this line of argument. Sure if you’re going to teach a grad seminar or an advanced undergrad class in a topic you need to be an expert in it. But in introductory classes I’m trying to teach the students to read and contend seriously with texts that are unfamiliar to them, written in a style that is unfamiliar to them. Why is it a bad idea to model that very behavior by including topics and texts that are new to ourselves, alongside those we’re more familiar with? You don’t have to be an expert to read parts of Ivanhoe and VanNorden’s Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy over the summer and include one or two selections in your intro to philosophy class. http://www.hackettpublishing.com/readings-in-classical-chinese-philosophy

Moreover, we routinely assign graduate students as teaching assistants, responsible for guiding and grading undergraduates in areas that are often far outside their area of expertise. And contingent faculty like myself routinely have to be flexible in which classes and topics we will teach. The same, I’m told, is routinely true for faculty members working in small departments. A decade of expert training isn’t the general standard we, as an academic field, generally use for qualification to teach topics or texts.Report

boomer trujillo
boomer trujillo
Reply to  Derek Bowman
5 years ago

So, honest question, is your advice just to sorta jump in after reading a few things? And how long did it take you to feel comfortable with the material?Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  boomer trujillo
5 years ago

So far, for Chinese Philosophy, I’ve only taught selections from Confucius and Mencius in a pre-college summer course titled World Philosophy (you can find the syllabus on my website). To be perfectly honest, I was very apprehensive about taking on the course, which I inherited from a colleague with a specialization in Buddhism and familiarity with other non-Western sources. I probably would have said “no,” but as a (then) part-time instructor I couldn’t afford to turn down paying work. So I decided to trust my own philosophical abilities (and the vote of confidence of my colleague) and dive right in.

I didn’t really feel comfortable with any of the material until after I actually taught it, but in terms of preparation, I’d say I spent 2 – 4 weeks preparing for the 1 day I would teach of Chinese philosophy. In addition to the Ivanhoe and VanNorden linked above, I read Joel Kupperman’s Classic Asian Philosophy https://global.oup.com/ushe/product/classic-asian-philosophy-9780195189810 and I browsed through Introduction to World Philosophy by Bonevac and Phillips http://bonevac.info/wp/Introduction_to_World_Philosophy/Welcome.html

I made it clear to my students that they weren’t getting an expert in Asian philosophy (or Buddhist philosophy or African philosophy, etc). Rather they were getting an expert in Western philosophy teaching them how to use philosophical techniques to carefully read and critically engage with these texts, with an eye toward how they can enrich our thinking about our own lives. For me at least, this isn’t fundamentally different than how I teach other classic works of philosophy – even those I know well. My aim – at least for an intro class – is not to transfer as much of my expert knowledge to the students as possible – it’s to train them to think and engage independently with difficult and rewarding material.

In terms of advice, I guess I’d suggest something a bit more modest than just jumping in (for those who have the luxury of being choosy about their teaching assignments). Instead, why not recognize that there are defeasible reasons for wanting to broaden the cultural scope of the texts you use and so occasionally make time for some light exploration of such texts that are designed to be accessible to introductory students. If you don’t run across anything that would be an interesting fit with your existing teaching, try again later. But if you do find something, don’t feel like you have to master all of the subtleties, context, and secondary literature to provide a selection that experts in those fields have determined to be suitable for undergraduates. Again, this isn’t fundamentally different than what I do when covering figures or periods in an intro class that are outside my primary expertise. You don’t have to have an AOS in Early Modern to assign Descartes.Report

boomer trujillo
boomer trujillo
Reply to  Derek Bowman
5 years ago

Thanks for the advice.

Yeah, I find that it varies pretty radically by class and purpose. In an intro class, I don’t think there’s any reason not to integrate as many perspectives as possible. In an ethics class, it’s getting easier and easier to integrate Chinese philosophy, especially Chinese philosophers who emphasize filial piety or group dynamics. I think in most history surveys that sample the middle ages, it’s easy to integrate Jewish and Islamic thinkers, as they were contemporaries of the canonical thinkers, and they preserved Aristotle and many philosophical traditions. Political philosophy, while I don’t really see diversity much in it, I know huge strides are being made to integrate Latin American philosophy. Those are just some examples.

I think we ultimately agree. Professional philosophers should be able to read a text, extract a thesis, and construct support for that thesis. That skillset is universal.

But for claims that we’re seriously engaging, this is when I get uneasy.
It’s difficult enough to try to get Hume right, arguing against ready-made toy versions of radical skepticism. It’s more difficult still to get Thomas right, against the backdrop of the middle ages and his urge to unify Christian dogma and philosophy. And once we get to Aristotle and Plato, I think many people read with an unacknowledged agenda. Expanding the canon requires similar cognitive exertion because we’re not only extending our minds temporally, but now we’re dealing with different cultural and historical contexts. And at least in my classes, I try to mention this; I try to connect the pieces we read to show how they’re talking about the same thing.

Moreover, once we talk about the *profession*, even more work needs to be done. I don’t think it’s only about “expanding the canon,” a pre-approved list of thinkers and topics. Even if philosophy had a definitive canon, and even if it included many non-Western thinkers on the list, the complaint is about changing the discipline. No single philosopher can do justice to every area. But as a profession, we should certainly be upset if we can’t consider more traditions. Tenure lines need to be opened up to people in these research areas or from these cultures. Major journals need to encourage submissions by scholars working in diverse areas. And when departments and the profession *don’t* do this, there needs to be more than silly excuses offered, which I think Olberding really does well to emphasize. Additionally, as we should learn from feminist philosophy, we need to allow groups to speak for themselves; we need to be ready to listen. We can’t just appropriate or create toy versions of their philosophies, or else we’ve enacted a new kind of harm. Again, the Scylla and Charybdis I mentioned.

But I think this blog post, and a handful of APA committees, shows we’re at least ready to have these conversations. That’s pretty refreshing.Report

Richard Feist
Richard Feist
5 years ago

Expanding the canon is, in principle, a great idea. It seems hard to argue against having more philosophical texts around that can be read, thought about, written about, taught and so on. But that is the key: which texts? Instead of going top-down and arguing for including non-western categories, why not go bottom-up, that is, on a text-by-text basis? Is there a great text that has not yet been accepted into the philosophical canon? No doubt there is. So start with that and I strongly suspect that after a critical mass of so-called “non-Western texts” has been accepted into the canon, the need for any argument for categorical expansion will simply wither away.Report

(Zombie) Phil
(Zombie) Phil
5 years ago

If the most relevant question that is being debated is “what non-western philosophy should be included in U.S. philosophy departments?” (or “is there something of philosophical value in non-western philosophy?”), then surely we should defer to experts in non-western philosophy.
If it is “should non-western philosophy be included in U.S. philosophy departments?” then it is much less clear why should we defer to experts in non-western philosophy.
I think Amy’s gem of a comment problematically conflates these two questions.Report

Rick Grush
5 years ago

Philosophy — Western philosophy as currently practiced — is of course very conservative and parochial. But it can change over time. I’m reminded of how until recently many philosophers of mind didn’t care at all about psychology or neuroscience. And they had arguments for why these fields were irrelevant. Now things are quite different. What brought the change about? It wasn’t that there were people who knew phil mind and neuroscience and repeatedly claimed that neuroscience was relevant. That’s going to get you nowhere. Rather, they showed how and why it was relevant by publishing articles that made progress in phil mind topics by using resources from psychology and neuroscience. It took a while, but the sea changed. Maybe the canon should be expanded to include things like Chinese and other kinds of non-western/non-European philosophy. But my suggestion would be for proponents of that idea to not waste a lot of time just claiming that that is the case. For reasons that Justin’s post outlines, this isn’t going to be very effective. Rather, make the case by demonstrating that it is relevant. That’s how phil mind changed its purview. And on that note, I’d actually be enthusiastic about taking a look at an article or paper that does this. My main field is phil mind, and if anyone can point me in the direction of a paper or article that deals with a topic in phil mind but from the perspective of Chinese (or other non-western) tradition, I’m all eyes. TIAReport

Avi Z.
Avi Z.
Reply to  Rick Grush
5 years ago

I would suggest you check out the work of Evan Thompson if you are interested in philosophy of mind/cog sci that incorporates Asian Buddhist philosophy in a serious way.
One problem seems to be the attitude of standing there with your arms folded in front of you (so to speak) and demanding that someone else inform you of the existence of philosophers or texts that you could be discovering through your own research. Much current philosophy is enfeebled by the narrow prejudice that rules out in advance any attempt to broaden one’s own knowledge by doing research into non-Western approaches relevant to one’s field. There are excellent translations and secondary works out there to assist in this research.Report

Rick Grush
Reply to  Avi Z.
5 years ago

I disagree. There are literally an infinite number of things that could potentially be relevant. Most of them aren’t, and it can’t be known a priori. It isn’t every philosopher’s responsibility to learn about everything that exists because failure to do so constitutes some sort of hubris. Those who take the plunge by learning about area X are to be applauded, and if they find something useful there, then they are welcome to have exclusive rights to this new method that others had ignored. Pat Churchland made quite a name for herself and quite the career by being one of the first to do this in Phil Mind. As for Evan Thompson, I know him and I enjoy his work. But the elements of it that I find valuable strike me as standard phil mind. A little bit on the touchy-feely end of the spectrum to be sure, but definitely recognizably in the western tradition. If his approach is inspired by non-western elements (as he obviously claims it is), then great. But there is space between being inspired by X and X itself having a claim on the canon. I might be inspired to defend a philosophical thesis on the basis of a sci fi movie I saw. Doesn’t mean that movie should become part of the canon.

Let me be clear, I’m not professing skepticism. I myself have spent a lot of time trying to convince people that tools from control theory and signal processing are useful for philosophy of mind. And now that idea is fairly commonplace. But that didn’t happen because I accused anyone of hubris at the time I started publishing. Rather, it was because I did the hard work of putting those tools to use to shed light on topics that philosophers of mind were interested in. The quacks and the visionaries sound a lot alike. The difference is that the visionaries can make progress that wasn’t otherwise being made.

I hope I’m not sounding skeptical. I know next to nothing about non-western traditions, and as someone who was once an outsider in terms of preferred approach, I get it. But the advice is that it’s like moneyball. If it’s valuable and nobody else is doing it, don’t complain, but be of good cheer. Make a career for yourself, like Pat Churchland (or Billy Beane), and then watch all the former nay-sayers copy you.Report

B
B
Reply to  Rick Grush
5 years ago

Rick Grush, I would recommend the paper by Evan Thompson and Jake Davis called “From the five aggregates to phenomenal consciousness”. It does a really nice job of getting at some of issues quite close to you’ve been interested in for a while, but in a way that’s anchored by one particular understanding of the 5 skandhas. Jake also wrote a really nice dissertation linking empirical research in moral psychology with a particular form of Buddhist practice that he is committed to, under Jesse Prinz. I hope that some of it comes out as papers, as his ideas strike me as fresh and fairly novel, though close enough to the cognitive science for people like you and me to build off of.Report

JDRox
JDRox
5 years ago

I don’t know if this counts as (h), but one reason why I often find discussions about this tedious, from rather the opposite perspective, is that the “reformers” have not actually specified, in any realistic sense, the reform they’re looking for. Who, or what, should be cut to make room for what they want to add? Because we’re sure as hell not getting any new lines any time soon! In my department, and many, many others, we can’t even cover the extant cannon. We have:

1) A trained medievalist who covers medieval, ancient, and phil law.
2) A trained specialist in (early) modern philosophy who covers modern, aesthetics, phil race, and continental stuff.
3) A trained political philosopher who covers ethics, political philosophy, business ethics, medical ethics, phil religion, feminist philosophy, and philosophy of race.
4) A scholar of modern philosophy who covers ethics, environmental ethics, phil law, and related topical courses like philosophy of human nature.
5) A trained philosopher of mind covering epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and related topical courses like death and dying.
6) A trained philosopher of language covering philosophy of science, logic, philosophy of language, and related topical courses like philosophy of artificial intelligence.

For a somewhat small school–but there are hundreds like us–we have a pretty big department! But we don’t have anyone really trained to cover ancient, Kant, ethics, business ethics, philosophy of race, philosophy of science, logic, or continental philosophy (among other things). As I said above, we’re not getting a new line anytime soon. So what, exactly, is the proposal? Who should be replaced by an expert in Chinese, Africana, Indian, Islamic, Jewish, Latin American, or Native American philosophy? (Or rather, who should we have declined to hire in favor of an expert in one of those areas?) Or is the suggestion that in addition to the 3-5 things we currently try to keep vaguely abreast of (2-4 in which we don’t have formal training), we add in a whole different philosophical tradition? It’s not that I think philosophy in these other traditions is no good, or not important. It’s not enough to be good though. What stuff in the extant canon is it better or more important than? That’s the question that the reformers need to answer for their proposal to be a serious one. Or at least, that’s what I think! But maybe I’m wrong. If so, I’m sure I’ll be schooled in the comments!Report

LK McPherson
LK McPherson
Reply to  JDRox
5 years ago

“What stuff in the extant canon is it better or more important than? That’s the question that the reformers need to answer for their proposal to be a serious one. ”

No, that’s not the question “reformers need to answer.” There is, of course, no answer to be had from a view from nowhere, let alone one that could possibly satisfy the condescending demand that the answer be “serious” from the perspective of people who think such a demand is perfectly reasonable. Also, of course, anything already in a canon is there because its formers and followers have deemed it great or particularly important, which raises the bar almost impossibly high to get them to regard stuff of types about which they know virtually nothing as being “better or more important than” the stuff the formers and followers already most highly value.

It’s 2016. Are many philosophers still truly under the misimpression that canon formation is mainly a function of culturally disinterested, universalistic experts making objective judgments about which works should make the cut? Anyway, wouldn’t such experts have to have decent familiarity with types of stuff that almost without exception don’t make their cut? Didn’t some guy in the Western philosophy canon go on about the importance of “competent judges”?

Why take seriously claims such as “the ‘reformers’ have not actually specified, in any realistic sense, the reform they’re looking for”? For philosophers somehow truly confused, here’s a suggestion to start with: Any at least mid-sized department should make an effort to include at least one course in non-Western or otherwise Olberding-deviant area of philosophy per academic year, which probably should involve hiring at least one tenure-stream philosopher with at least an AOC in the area. Many departments of Western philosophy might regard this as too much to bear, but there’s nothing unrealistic about the proposal.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  LK McPherson
5 years ago

I’m not asking for an answer from the “view from nowhere”, I’m asking for an answer. It’s a simple question: given the actual constraints most departments face, how are you proposing that a department be constructed? In any case, I find your subsection helpful: one Olberding-deviant course per year. If *that* is the suggestion, however, I think that many many departments already satisfy it, depending on how we define ‘Olberding-deviant’.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  JDRox
5 years ago

Ugh. *suggestion*Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  JDRox
5 years ago

I agree that the question, “what should get cut?” is a bad one, but maybe for different reasons than LK McPherson (whose view seems to me to lead to skepticism about deserving to be in the canon). It’s not obvious that adding one figure to the canon requires removing another. I would have assumed, for instance, that the canon grows over time. It’s true that hiring decisions, which are your focus, are zero sum. But this just means that if we expand the canon, specialists in extant figures would have more diverse competition, not that those specializing in some one area would fall out of consideration across the board. The result would presumably be a few less Kant scholars here, a few less Aristotle scholars there, etc., but both remain in the canon. (Or at least, that’s how I think it should be. Obviously trends will make some AOSs relatively un-marketable, but that problem seems to me largely independent of the issue of the diversity of the canon.)Report

G
G
Reply to  LK McPherson
5 years ago

I’m just glad someone pointed out that it’s 2016. For a minute, I had forgotten. (I’m also reminded of when Kant was asked about whether women are equal to men, and gave a negative response because “it’s 1700.” Citing the year to make a moral “argument” is just silly (seems like the new teleology). But we should have all realized that by now, since it is 2016.)Report

LK McPherson
LK McPherson
Reply to  G
5 years ago

I wasn’t citing the year to make any argument, anonymous “G.” Not that your complaint matters one way or the other — which is your performative point, of course, whether the likes of you in discussions of these general type realize it. Such commenters typically sound kind of smart and serious, in that familiar way philosophy undergrads think they’re intellectually intimidating when, in fact, they’re simply coming across as blustery, narrow minded, logic chopping, reactionary twits.Report

Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
Reply to  JDRox
5 years ago

JDRox, I think there’s a rational trepidation and prudence in people avoiding this sort of specificity. Almost anything one would say in reply will immediately draw fire as evidence that one wants to crowd out some storied and signally important area of western philosophy. And from there it’s a short leap to saying that one doesn’t understand philosophy itself – i.e., more proof of deviance. But let me try. There’s more than one way to skin this cat.

First, unlike people trained exclusively in western departments who are mostly ignorant of nonwestern philosophy, I venture that (literally!) no one trained in the US in Asian philosophy is untrained in western. You have been able to escape education in Chinese, Indian, or Tibetan philosophy, but *no* specialists in these areas have escaped basic training in the “big” western figures. So, getting yourself a specialist in Indian phil of mind may well win you someone who can also teach Kant, if not at a grad level then advanced undergrad; hire a specialist in Tibetan ethics and you may well win someone schooled in western virtue theory too. Asian specialists are obliged by the conventions of the field and job market to know western materials so if you hire one, you’ll get more than Asia in the bargain. I’m far less familiar with phil of race, Africana phil, or other marginalized areas, but I’ll boldly speculate that the same is true there.

Second, one substantial problem here is that we speak as if incredibly broad domains – e.g., ethics, mind, political theory, epistemology – are by definition western or must signal western specialization. There are in fact epistemologists who do Indian, ethicists who do Tibetan, and so forth. That they do not get counted as such is an artifact of our professional practices and reflexive categorizations (and this is also why their absence from “general” journals is problematic too – those journal contents by default define fields for us). So if your department needs political philosophy, why imagine that is *instead* of someone in, e.g., Asian? Or race? Acting as if one must horse trade away one’s “ethicist” to get an Asian or race specialist is a category failure.

Third, there are some US departments that house specialists in Asian philosophies (also race, Africana, Latin American, and others) and produce PhD students who both specialize in other areas and can teach outside the standard canon. E.g., in my department, we produce PhD students with some regularity who are specializing in fields like epistemology and ethics (i.e., for convenience, “western” versions of these) but who *also* by dint of our having specialists and their taking work/training, can teach Chinese philosophy and (before our specialist left) Tibetan philosophy. I.e., we have your standardly trained folk but with all kinds of bonus teaching skills (including, increasingly, race). The same is true, I venture, for multiple departments – off the top of my head: Duke, Utah, New Mexico, SUNY Buffalo, as of next fall, UConn. And that’s just Asian – institutions with race, Africana, Latin American, and others also exist and my bet is they have similarly *enriched* PhDs who can do what you’re used to plus more. So, in short, get your standard epistemologist or ethicist but get the ones on the market who come with training to cover courses you can’t presently offer.

Fourth, on the crassest note possible, given the atmosphere on campuses today and student movements to challenge institutional hegemony, getting a line that increases the global and intellectual reach of your department is going to be a lot easier case to make to administration than insistence that you need to replicate in your faculty every hidebound traditional philosophy department in the US, departments that are no different in composition or curriculum than they were 50 years ago. To be clear, this approach is adamantly not an “identity politics” move (whatever that is!) but to say that administrative receptivity to hire requests is likely increased where you can show that you’re actually doing something novel, cutting-edge, interesting, and likely to put your place on the map as different than all the rest.

Finally, there really is nothing new under the sun here. Departments never cover all they want and never get all they want. Not having all you want is arguably part of the job and business. So yeah, departments have to make tough choices. But it’s psychologically and rhetorically not useful to leap from acknowledging that choices are tough to anxiety about “brand-dilution.” The latter is what seems to me to be the issue where people appear to panic over not having, e.g., a Kantian in every pot. That having a nonwestern specialist or skilled AOC onboard makes a department weaker philosophically is a view I just don’t accept, nor should we reflexively assume it.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Amy Olberding
5 years ago

Thanks Amy. I agree with much of what you say, but (I guess obviously) I don’t think it’s in tension with my earlier comment. For example, given our limitations, when hiring an epistemologist we “needed” someone who could cover lots of core analytic. We’d have been ecstatic if that person could also teach, e.g., Indian philosophy. But it’s hard to find such people–at least if we don’t give applicants who can teach Indian philosophy a huge “bump”. In any case, I largely agree with you: it would be ideal if departments had people teaching non-Western traditions. And I agree with you that most departments are nowhere near ideal. We both agree that given this non-ideal state departments need to make tough choices about what to cover. I’m just asking for suggestions about how to make those tough choices–how to compose, say, a six-person department. Conversely, I’d be happy with some sort of ranking of topics/people/times it is important for a department to be able to cover. I have my own vague sense of the answers to those questions, but I’m not going to try to enforce them on others–I’m happy to rethink them, and perhaps your answers are better than mine. But I need to know what your answers *are* in order to assess them.Report

SB
SB
Reply to  JDRox
5 years ago

This could equally well be used as an argument that we should stop having new thoughts and generating new philosophy: since we are already too busy teaching the old stuff, it is impossible for us to take on anything new. In reality what happens is that new perspectives reconfigure the general overview of the field and individual specialists continue specializing in their specialty.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  SB
5 years ago

I don’t follow. As a matter of fact, new ideas/research programs do replace old ones–the debates of the 80s just aren’t the debates of today. More relevantly, when, e.g., ethicists start investigating a new topic in metaphysics, their expertise in metaphysics helps, since that’s what they’re doing. We don’t have to hire new people to work on, e.g., grounding: your very own resident metaphysician can do a little reading and join the fray.Report

a graduate student
a graduate student
5 years ago

To Matt and JDRox (and people who share their concerns). I think the issue you are raising can and should be dispelled by taking the case for non-western philosophy to *primarily* be this:

Non-western philosophy should be included in curricula, conferences and journals *across the board*, and not as an additional sub-field of philosophy side by side with ethics, metaphysics, phil mind etc. An ethics/metaphysics/phil mind course should include arguments, concepts, starting positions etc from many traditions, and there are *very* good ones from many of them. Often there is also interesting stuff concerning methodology, terminology, distinctions, and meta-philosophy about how to settle disputes or move forward with a disagreement to be found. And it is not a legitimate move to simply assume “western” meta-philosophy (i.e. G.E. Moore, P.F. Strawson, etc.) and then refuse to discuss certain arguments against, say, individual existents or successful reference, and exclude them from the outset. Even more so in ethics and political philosophy.

It would also be a good idea to hire experts where possible. But while it is necessary that some places do this, not all places have to. Think of Greek and German philosophy: it is included in ethics and metaphysics through arguments by Plato, Aristotle, Kant, etc. Not everyone who teaches or writes things using concepts from these thinkers can read the original texts. Not knowing Greek or German and not being Aristotle/Kant scholars does not prevent people from using the concepts of teleology, substance or autonomy, or teaching them to students. The same should be true for concepts like svabhava, ubuntu or dao.

Attention should be given to the original formulations, and care should be taken in translation, but it is not a requirement that one is a specialised scholar to use or discuss them. And the concepts *are* interesting and the arguments *are* important arguments. Neglecting them is unprofessional. And if students (and colleagues), are exposed to them, some will choose to dig deeper. So long-term and general superficiality does not follow from people teaching and writing about them to the extent they can, given constraints. I second Rick Grush’s point that it is (sadly) de facto up to people who know this to convince the stubborn academic mainstream, as with neuroscience and phil mind. But it would not hurt if more people engaged with it. If it takes spending an hour every now and then to look at the SEP articles, browse the journals etc, then, well, academics know how to do that.Report

Matt
Reply to  a graduate student
5 years ago

A graduate student – my issues (not really “concerns”) are not at all the same as JDRox, so I’m not sure why you put us together. My only “concern” was that I think that the inference from “X is a philosopher and an expert on Topic Z, and thinks that Z is something that should interest us” to “Z should interest us” is, to say the least, not a very strong one. That leaves aside the issue of expanding the cannon, or the annoyance that rightly comes from the other situation that Amy Olberding discusses. In fact, in my comment I noted that there were lots of places where such expansion seems easy and reasonable. (I’m reading Joseph Chan’s _Confucian Perfectionism_ right now, and think it’s probably the most interesting thing on perfectionism I’ve read. People interested in the sorts of challenges to democracy suggested by people like Jason Brennan or Alex Guerrero (or maybe even David Estlund) should certainly be interested in both the old Confucian state exam system and current work by people like David Bell on Chinese meritocracy, and so on. I give Confucian virtue theory exactly as much time in my undergrad into to business ethics class as I do to every other moral theory we consider [one day], and think that is probably too little, given how important doing business in countries influenced by Confucius is likely to be for many of my students.) So, I’m not at all hostile to the general idea. I’d even say that if, say, the person who is an expert on Rousseau in JDRox’s department were to leave, that seems like a slot that could very easily be filled by a person who worked on Asian philosophy. Again, my only concern here was that one of the main bits of argument seemed to me to be a pretty clearly bad one. That’s so even if some of the conclusion is good.

(On a slightly different note, I’d say that in political philosophy there are several people doing what Rich Grush (rightly, I think) calls for, though a large number of them work outside the US. There are some exceptions, but most of the ones I’m familiar with work outside the US, and have benefited greatly from Daniel Bell’s Princeton-China series of books. I’d be very happy to see this stuff get more mainstream in the US, and I think it slowly is.)Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  a graduate student
5 years ago

This is a nice example of what is bugging me: “the concepts *are* interesting and the arguments *are* important arguments. Neglecting them is unprofessional.”. I’m not denying the first two claims, but the third just doesn’t follow. Loads of interesting and important stuff is neglected in most departments, because we can’t cover everything. (And if we’re just talking about someone teaching some non-western philosophy, I think that’s more common than the NYT piece suggests.)

To reiterate: I’m not claiming that ignoring non-western philosophy is ok. I’m not defending my ranking of what’s important or how a department could be constructed. I *might* do that later, depending on what alternatives are proposed. Or I might not. It depends on the alternative! I’m just asking for someone to outline their alternative.Report

Seahorse
Seahorse
5 years ago

JDRox, I’m not sure that the problem you describe above is really all that daunting. Every philosophy department I’ve encountered has a particularly leaning, whether it be Sellarsian philosophy, philosophy of science, history of philosophy, epistemology, philosophy of action, or philosophy of religion. (You get the idea.) It is not that departments intentionally exclude a particular specialty; it is that faculty tend to value certain things and look for competences that will benefit the department in general. It is not as though every department has an equitable spread of all Western AOSs.

My point is this: If a department can have three philosophers of language, one logician, one metaethicist, and one early modern historian (for example), why could a department not have three philosophers of language, one logician, one metaethicist, and one eastern historian? My suspicion is this never happens because departments never think, “Shucks, it sure would be nice to have someone with an AOS in Aristotle to teach ancient classes, and they might add a lot to faculty discussions given that Sam is a virtue ethicist and Mary is working on Neo-Aristotelian theories of grounding.” It is not as though every department has a checklist of positions they must fill. If this were the case, there would be no such thing as specialty rankings on Phil Gourmet. (Or, at least, they would be much more dependent on having one exceptional faculty with a particular AOS rather than a cluster of good people like, say, Florida State has for philosophy of action or Notre Dame has for philosophy of religion.)

If philosophers put more effort into incorporating a few diverse philosophers into their undergraduate courses (and gain rudimentary knowledge of the subject by reading a good secondary source), they would be more likely to see the connections between, say, Confucianism and virtue ethics, or Islamic philosophy and Aristotle. The fact is that there is considerable overlap in just about every AOS imaginable in philosophy. The discipline is missing out on interesting and worthwhile philosophical discussions because every person doing virtue ethics is just going to go to the same wells and perpetuating the same discussions. Just as Wittgensteinians are thrilled when they get access to archives never before available because of the new discussions and breakthroughs additional texts might facilitate, so should philosophers of every persuasion be excited when new philosophical perspectives become available because of the ways in which they might shake up contemporary discourse. However, the current cycle is self-perpetuating; unless those on the inside take the first step to expand their horizons, they are only going to be interested in hiring philosophers in the same old fields. Why not, instead, of departments that lean towards Confucianism and ethics, as well as those that lean toward Aristotle and ethics? And departments that lean toward Jewish philosophy and political philosophy, rather than just departments that lean toward free will metaphysics and political philosophy? There is already a surplus of departments. We might as well make it interesting.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Seahorse
5 years ago

Thanks, this is helpful. I know you weren’t being fully serious, but I would claim that a department with three philosophers of language, one logician, one metaethicist, and one early modern historian was quite poorly constructed! But what you say suggests something interesting: maybe we’re so far away from the ideal that we might as well stop trying. If we’re at that point, I don’t have a point!Report

Conch
Conch
Reply to  JDRox
5 years ago

And what is the ideal? Can you give me the precise categories you have in mind? Let’s look at your list:

“1) A trained medievalist who covers medieval, ancient, and phil law.” (I would imagine most departments nowadays don’t have a medievalist.)
“2) A trained specialist in (early) modern philosophy who covers modern, aesthetics, phil race, and continental stuff.” (I would gather many departments don’t have an early modern historian who can also teach continental philosophy. And some departments who *do* have someone who does continental might only have philosophers who do 19th and 20th century continental philosophy.)
“3) A trained political philosopher who covers ethics, political philosophy, business ethics, medical ethics, phil religion, feminist philosophy, and philosophy of race.” (Why do these run together? Many philosophers do ethics and metaethics, but not political philosophy. Some people do early modern and political philosophy [yay social contract theory], but don’t do anything in medical ethics. I would be *especially* shocked to find out that these political philosophers do philosophy of religion. Do that many political philosophers really do philosophy of religion? I don’t know of that many.)
“4) A scholar of modern philosophy who covers ethics, environmental ethics, phil law, and related topical courses like philosophy of human nature.” (How many departments offer courses in environmental philosophy? And why is this competency so small? The category seems entirely arbitrary. Doesn’t phil of social sciences or phil of economics seem as pertinent as phil law or environmental ethics?)
“5) A trained philosopher of mind covering epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and related topical courses like death and dying.” (By now I hope my point is clear…but why couldn’t this person do phil language? Why doesn’t death and dying involve phil religion?)
“6) A trained philosopher of language covering philosophy of science, logic, philosophy of language, and related topical courses like philosophy of artificial intelligence.” (No aesthetics? Hasn’t aesthetics been important to philosophers for centuries? What about ancient? You don’t think departments need anyone who specializes in ancient philosophy? What about early analytic? Shouldn’t that be its own category, just like early modern and medieval?)

These lists may not be entirely arbitrary, but they are certainly very influenced by culture and biases about what is important. 200 years ago philosophy of religion would’ve been a category of its own. Some departments don’t include continental at all, or if they do, they consider it a specialty unrelated to any of the other topics you’ve mentioned. Or perhaps they link it to metaphysics or epistemology. I’m sure many continental philosophers would resent being grouped in a single category. And yet…we still have yet to consider Confucius or Buddha! How strange…Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Conch
5 years ago

Just to be clear: that wasn’t a description of what I take an ideal department to be, that was a description of what happens to be my department! And the medievalist covers ancient, and the modernist covers aesthetics.Report

E
E
5 years ago

I’ll admit that, while I’ve never given it myself, I like the following kind of stock response:

f) someone will claim as unexceptional fact that philosophy isn’t western at all but cosmopolitan, universal, objective, physics-like (pick your own wildly ambitious poison here) and so must for its own good purity eschew things bearing cultural labels.

I’ll also admit that part of the reason I like it is that I’ve just never cared about who said what and where they said it – whether it was Confucius, Avicenna, Candrakirti, or, wait for it, Hume, Aristotle, Kant, etc. I’m one of those people who just doesn’t care about the history of philosophy. In fact, I’m one of these people who thinks we should be introducing students to philosophy via textbooks that state a view, state an objection, state a reply, and so on, i.e. textbooks that approximate stating the ideas ahistorically or “physics-like”, as it were. When I teach, I solicit views from my students, and we take it from there. We _never_ stop to discuss whether they’re expressing a view that’s canonical, or not. We just object to their ideas, reply to them, revise, tweak, reject them, and so on.

So can someone tell me why I should care about expanding the canon, when I don’t care about what’s in the canon in the first place? Or on the flip side, can someone tell me why I should care that we preserve the canon as it is?

Honestly, I’m not trying to be a jerk about this. I just don’t get why anyone on either side of this debate cares so much about it. And I am far from the only person who thinks this way. Just about everyone I do philosophy with has this attitude about it.Report

boomer trujillo
boomer trujillo
Reply to  E
5 years ago

E, I’m sympathetic to a view that’s at least similar to this. It sounds, to me, like a type of methodological naturalism, where philosophy mimics the way science inquires into things.

Taking that as a starting point, a good reason to read the history of philosophy, and the philosophy of many cultures, is to do any of the following:
(a) Provide a competent literature review, to understand the origins of the problem, and the context and questions the answers arose from.
(b) Find new ways of explaining old positions, both for and against the one you’re defending (especially to avoid confirmation bias and to create robust accounts of opposing arguments).
(c) Investigate how many people, and in what circumstances, come to the same answers, or formulations of the same questions, as you.

Science relies a lot on peer-review, replication, and critical analysis of results. I think the history of philosophy provides a way to do comparable stuff, and it especially guards one against the trendiness of certain topics or approaches. It’s often the case that philosophical debates are old and rehashing the same ideas.

However, it’s also important to consider that, while philosophy can learn a lot from science’s methodology, it’s not exactly like science. People, for example, might concede that scientists can agree to near universal things like atomic theory or evolution. What a comparable universally agreed upon notion in philosophy is, I’m not sure. Maybe non-contradiction? The point, though, is that the further we get away from universally agreed upon things, the more we need to check our own subjective and cultural influences. If philosophy’s concerns really are universal, then we should see them mirrored in other bodies of philosophy. And if not, we need to explain why.Report

Komal
Komal
Reply to  E
5 years ago

The teaching of philosophy is usually divided into the pure philosophy or pure ideas part, and the historical part. The latter is almost always there, even if it’s not explicit: when teaching philosophy of language, for example, competent teachers do not merely talk about issues in philosophy of language, but also talk about what other people have said in the past about those issues, and often structure the course around a certain ‘dialectic’ that has occurred among certain philosophers. Students are supposed to follow an idealized conversation that started at some point in the past, and then maybe contribute to it in their own way (I happen not to fully favour this, but that’s another issue). In other words, philosophers are concerned with what other philosophers have thought in a way that physicists are not. When the people in question are mostly white, Western males, then that is clearly a problem: it means either the only people whose conversations and thoughts are worth studying are white, Western males, or that non-white, non-male, and non-Western people’s worthy ideas and conversations are being ignored despite their worthiness. The former disjunct is prima facie implausible (I won’t say more because it’s obvious) and is further challenged when one looks into non-Western philosophy and sees worthy things in it, which leaves us with the latter disjunct that describes the clearly problematic situation people like Bryan Van Norden, myself, etc. are complaining about.Report

Toby
Toby
Reply to  E
5 years ago

I also share this view of philosophy and agree that it is entirely irrelevant who made an argument or what tradition it comes from (except perhaps in understanding the meaning of terms and avoiding strawmaning). So here is a thought:
If it is irrelevant whether Kant or Confucius made an argument then we are only made intellectually poorer by ignoring arguments from non-western traditions since there is no reason to think they would be less valuable than the western ones.
On a more practical note:
Even if we teach our students via ideas and arguments and avoid history/dialectic/tradition as much as possible we still have to set them something to read, so why not make it something from outside the western tradition?
Now a question for specialists in non-western traditions:
I know how to introduce someone to a topic via major texts in Western philosophy and more importantly how to research in that tradition but I don’t know how to find good works in non-western traditions, practical advice on how to do that would be very useful. For example I currently work on free will (with specific reference to deliberation and the belief in abilities thesis), how should I find good non-western work on this (or any other topic)?
It seems to me some of the resistance is just plain laziness and confusion about how to fix the problem, and in this way practical advice would be really useful for those of us who think that history and tradition really shouldn’t matter (even though they do in fact influence us in various ways).Report

Komal
Komal
Reply to  Toby
5 years ago

I don’t have an amazing answer to your last question, but ‘World Philosophy’ by Daniel Bonevac and Stephen Phillips is a good introductory textbook with non-Western philosophy stuff in it. Through sources like that and the SEP you can find out about original sources and then look those up on the internet, in libraries, etc.Report

Stephen Clark
Stephen Clark
5 years ago

Splendid.
Just to point out that the UK QAA Benchmark Philosophy devised several years ago – see http://www.qaa.ac.uk/publications/information-and-guidance/publication?PubID=2912#.VzbGluTYB3U – emphasised that “It is valuable when a single honours programme that is primarily in one particular philosophical tradition affords students some acquaintance with some other tradition or traditions.” This was with the clear intention of recommending provision outside the mainstream Western tradition of philosophical enquiry.Report

jake stone
jake stone
5 years ago

As with continental philosophy, much Eastern philosophy (e.g., Buddhism) does not depend on reasoning alone. Indeed, reasoning may play a secondary role to experience and assertion.

I am by no means dismissing Buddhism. On the contrary, I think it is truly profound and our trust in reason, at times, problematic. I am suggesting, however, that a person trained in reasoning and primarily analytic philosophy is unlikely to see BUddhism as a philosophy at all and will find it exceedingly difficult to engage in dialogue with Buddhism. Moreover, such a person may feel that opening philosophy departments to Buddhism will lead to an unbridgeable divide across which dialogue cannot be held.

I am not defending such a view, but this is the concern that those supporting Eastern philosophy might want to addressReport

JT
JT
Reply to  jake stone
5 years ago

I think analytic philosophers (including myself) often forget, especially when engaged in blatant boundary policing, that it’s not rare for our debates to eventually devolve into a bout of rock-’em sock-’em intuition bashing, especially when it comes to foundational issues. An alternative explanation for the behaviour you describe might well be that Reason is more central to the self-image of those who count themselves as ‘analytic’ philosophers than ‘continental’ philosophers or Buddhist philosophers.Report

Nathan
Nathan
5 years ago

Are there good *online* sources for response (b) above, “hey! – there are some good things out there and here’s a list of some…”? If so, can someone share them or create some kind of archive of them? It seems that readily accessible (online and in terms of content: that is, fairly introductory) sources here would be very helpful for familiarizing people to non-Western traditions and so integrating them into their courses and research.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Nathan
5 years ago

Here’s an online translation of the Analects of Confucius: http://www.indiana.edu/~p374/Analects_of_Confucius_%28Eno-2015%29.pdf

This article is a commentary on the Buddhist master Dogen; some of the interpretation is advanced and perhaps contentious (I’m not expert), but as a philosopher in the Western tradition I found the discussion of contradictions in Dogen’s work interesting and accessible: http://www.dogensangha.org/downloads/Und-Shobo.PDF

The Ivanhoe and VanNorden text I cited above is published by Hackett, which produces very affordable editions. A quick search reveals that Van Norden has a few books there that could be ordered – or you could request desk copies: http://www.hackettpublishing.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=van+norden

But I agree, a more comprehensive clearinghouse for online resources would be great.Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  Derek Bowman
5 years ago

Derek, I just looked through a bunch of the Analects at the source you provided. I still haven’t found any clear arguments for any positions.

What am I missing? Can you please direct us to the philosophical part?Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

I could, but you’ll find much more straightforward philosophical arguments in Mencius, Mozi and later authors. The Ivanhoe and Van Norden book I cite above is a great source of both background and of translations of multiple texts. And – as a generalization of that advice – you’ll do better looking to expert sources, not me. I just provided that link as an available online resource.Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  Derek Bowman
5 years ago

Thanks. This has been helpful in showing me that at least a good Chunk of Confucius is not real philosophy. Perhaps none of it is.

If someone who understands what philosophy is picked up a random philosophical work of Aquinas, Hume, or Searle, or Kripke, or Mill, it wouldn’t take him or her very long to see that it constitutes philosophy. Positions are argued for, objections are considered, and those objections are replied to systematically. That is clearly not the case with Confucius’s main work, as I’ve now seen for myself.

If there is some good philosophical passage in Confucius or any other Chinese thinker that I should consider assigning as a reading in my course, I hope someone will present it to me here. If that doesn’t happen and I’m told to ask other people for myself or read through a major work of over 100 pages on my own to check whether there’s even one argument in it, That’s not going to happen.

If these works really are philosophical, then it should just take a few minutes for the people telling us it’s philosophical to produce for us a passage containing clear philosophical work.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

And it’s shown me that you went into Confucius looking to prove a point, not looking to learn something. When philosophers go into a text looking for reasons to endorse our preconceived notions, we’re very good at finding those reasons.Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Then by that very same reasoning, Derek, you went into reading my comment looking to prove a point, not looking to learn something. For it follows as a specific case of your alleged truism that when you go looking for reasons to endorse your preconceived notion will find it. Your preconceived notion is that there anyone who doesn’t join you in praising the thinkers of all traditions as important philosophers must be biased. I, by contrast, don’t really care either way. If there’s some good philosophy in another tradition, I’d be happy. I’d also be happy if there isn’t.

There is an easy way to resolve this dispute without both of us insinuating that the other is being biased. It’s very simple. If there is in fact a passage in the translation of Confucius’ Analects that you linked to, then simply produce that passage for us and show us what the argument is. It would have taken you very little time, and you have no motivation for keeping it a secret from everyone.

If you fail to do that one more time, it’ll be obvious that you’re simply bluffing or otherwise arguing in bad faith. Last chance. Show us the passage with the argument.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

How about this, Confused: Prove to us that you’re actually a philosopher, and that you have any ideas worth taking seriously. Your school yard game of setting up your own arbitrary standards and declaring “last chance” – as though I haven’t already pointed you to more reliable sources of information if you really wanted to learn what actual philosophers, trained and employed in Western departments of philosophy, have to say about what makes Confucius’s work philosophical.

My aim in this conversation was to provide information that I – as a non-expert in non-Western philosophy – that I found useful. Somebody asked for links to online resources; I provided the ones I had. If you don’t find them useful, or if you’re no interested in taking the time to read them – well, that’s your loss.Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

I spent an hour reading through it over lunch today, Derek. There was not, as far as I saw, a single argument to be had.

I’m doing the work here of looking for arguments. You’re the one who’s glibly and lazily making assertions that others are meant to take seriously. You’re also the one engaged in schoolyard sophistry.

Since you’re clearly not interested in serious conversation, I’ll leave it to someone else to find a single philosophical argument in this, the passage at the very link you provided us with. Here it is, word for word:

“1.1 The Master said: To study and at due
times practice what one has studied, is this not
a pleasure? When friends come from distant
places, is this not joy? To remain unsoured
when his talents are unrecognized, is this not a
junzi?
1.2 Master You said: It is rare to find a person
who is filial to his parents and respectful
of his elders, yet who likes to oppose his ruling
superior. And never has there been one
who does not like opposing his ruler who has
raised a rebellion.
The junzi works on the root – once the
root is planted, the dao is born. Filiality and
respect for elders, are these not the roots of
ren?
1.3 The Master said: Those of crafty words
and ingratiating expression are rarely ren.
1.4 Master Zeng said: Each day I examine
myself upon three points. In planning for others,
have I been loyal? In company with
friends, have I been trustworthy? And have I
practiced what has been passed on to me?
1.5 The Master said: To guide a state great
enough to possess a thousand war chariots: be
attentive to affairs and trustworthy; regulate
expenditures and treat persons as valuable;
employ the people according to the proper
season.
1.6 The Master said: A young man should
be filial within his home and respectful of elders
when outside, should be careful and
trustworthy, broadly caring of people at large,
and should cleave to those who are ren. If he
has energy left over, he may study the refinements
of culture (wen).
1.7 Zixia said: If a person treats worthy
people as worthy and so alters his expression,
exerts all his effort when serving his parents,
exhausts himself when serving his lord, and is
trustworthy in keeping his word when in the
company of friends, though others may say he
is not yet learned, I would call him learned.
1.8 The Master said: If a junzi is not serious
he will not be held in awe.
If you study you will not be crude.
Take loyalty and trustworthiness as the
pivot and have no friends who are not like
yourself in this.
If you err, do not be afraid to correct
yourself.
1.9 Master Zeng said: Devote care to life’s
end and pursue respect for the distant dead; in
this way, the virtue of the people will return to
fullness.
1.10 Ziqin asked Zigong, “When our Master
travels to a state, he always learns the affairs
of its government. Does he seek out the information,
or do people give it to him of their
own accord?”
Zigong said, “Our Master obtains this
information by being friendly, straightforward,
reverential, frugal, and modest. The way our
Master seeks things is different from the way
others do!”
1.11 The Master said: When the father is
alive, observe the son’s intent. When the father
dies, observe the son’s conduct.
One who does not alter his late father’s
dao for three years may be called filial.
1.12 Master You said:
In the practice of li,
Harmony is the key.
In the Dao of the kings of old,
This was the beauty.
In all affairs, great and small, follow
this. Yet there is one respect in which one does
not. To act in harmony simply because one
understands what is harmonious, but not to
regulate one’s conduct according to li: indeed,
one cannot act in that way.
1.13 Master You said: Trustworthiness is
close to righteousness: one’s words are tested
true. Reverence is close to li: it keeps shame
and disgrace at a distance. One who can accord
with these and not depart from his father’s
way – such a one may truly be revered.
1.14 The Master said: A junzi is not concerned
that food fill his belly; he does not seek
comfort in his residence.
If a person is apt in conduct and cautious
in speech, stays near those who keep to
the dao and corrects himself thereby, he may
be said to love learning.
1.15 Zigong said, “To be poor but never a
flatterer; to be wealthy but never arrogant –
what would you say to that?”
The Master said, “That’s fine, but not so
good as: To be poor but joyful; to be wealthy
and love li.”
Zigong said, “In the Poetry it says,
As though cut, as though chiseled,
As though carved, as though polished.
Is that what you mean?”
The Master said, “Ah, Si! – I can finally
begin to talk about the Poetry with him.
I tell him what came before and he understands
what is coming next.”
1.16 The Master said: Do not be concerned
that no one recognizes your merits. Be concerned
that you may not recognize others’..”

I don’t see an argument in any of this. Anyone reading this comment can see clearly whether I’m making this up. This is what you sent us to. If the real argument is only apparent when someone like you reads it, then you must know where the argument is. Tell us the argument. If we have to go ask someone else to show us the argument, then either you’ve asked that person for the argument or you haven’t. And if you haven’t, and you can’t find one on your own, then we have no reason to believe there’s an argument here. And I’ve spent a considerable amount of time looking at it, and I can’t find an argument. And your refusal to show us the argument makes it seem awfully likely that you’ve got nothing, either.Report

Alexus McLeod
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

http://ctext.org/mozi/universal-love-ii
http://ctext.org/mozi/on-ghosts-iii

If you cannot find arguments here, I’m really not sure what else can be said. And this is just one example. There are arguments everywhere in Chinese Philosophy. They’re really not that hard to find. Also, if argument of the kind you seem intent on demanding is the hallmark of philosophy, then a whole lot of Western Philosophy shouldn’t count as philosophy either–including much of the work of Nietzsche and Wittgenstein, for example.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Confused: You’ve misunderstood me. I’m not suggesting that anyone take me seriously as an expert on Confucius, nor am I trying prove anything about the philosophical status of Confucius. I’m suggesting that – in addition to the link to Confucius you’re focusing on – anyone who’s interested in learning more read the actual scholarly sources I’ve pointed to aimed at beginners.

But i did challenge you to prove that you’re a philosopher, and so far you’re doing a terrible job. You’ve called me names, you’ve mentioned reading Confucius, and you included a long quote. As I often tell my students – quoting long passages just proves you know how to cut and paste. Now lots of forms of inquiry and discourse involve reading, quoting, and name calling. But I’ve yet to see any evidence that you’re an actual philosopher and that what you do is actually philosophy. Last chance: show the Socratic wisdom of being humble but curious about what you don’t know; go read some actual scholarly work and, if you’re having trouble understanding primary texts on your own, consult introductory guides by experts; don’t ask for – or be satisfied with – the kind of pat answers or easy “proofs” that can be provided in a comment thread.Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Derek, I hope you don’t actually teach your students that there’s some sort of general prohibition against philosophers quoting extensively from other philosophers. Many philosophers do it when there’s need to. In this case, I did so because I wanted to make it clear to everyone, including you, that there don’t seem to be arguments in the passage that you implied contains arguments. Once again, I invite you to point out where one of the arguments is. You shouldn’t need to be an expert on Chinese philosophy to do that. You can admit that you don’t know that there are any arguments in the passage, or you can show me where at least one argument is. Simple.

I also hope that you understand issues of the argumentative burden of proof more than you let on. It is, for obvious reasons, impossible for someone who doesn’t see any arguments in a passage to show that there aren’t any arguments there (what would that even involve? Going through every possible argument that might exist and showing, for each one, that it isn’t in the passage?). By contrast, for any passage and anyone who claims that the passage contains an argument, it’s extremely simple. You just say, “Here’s the conclusion, and here are the premises.” That’s why the burden is on the side of anyone claiming that the passage you directed us to is a work of philosophy to show that it is in fact one by showing a single philosophical argument in it. I

If you can’t meet that burden because you’re not an expert on Chinese philosophy and the passage that you think contains an argument is so convoluted that even you can’t find a single argument in it despite your having presented it as an instance of philosophical writing, then fine, just step aside for an expert who can. But no need to be pissy about the fact that you can’t do it. Also, if all the arguments are so well hidden that it would take an expert to extract even one of them from the text, there’s no way in hell I’m going to present it to my philosophy students. Nor should I. I thought you were arguing that this was real philosophy and that it should be taught as part of the curriculum. This is turning into a case against that.

Finally, if you really care about “the Socratic wisdom of being humble but curious about what you don’t know”, then join me in admitting that we for the moment don’t know whether there are in fact any arguments hidden in the passage you sent us to. I’ve admitted that: you haven’t. I, like Socrates, am asking to be shown. You, like a sophist, are confidently maintaining your position despite not being willing to present a case of your own and referring me to authorities. What Would Socrates Do?Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Confused: I never asked you to prove a negative. I asked you to prove that you’re a philosopher. Again, you haven’t risen to the challenge – perhaps because that’s an insulting thing to ask of one’s professional colleagues, or because this isn’t a very good forum for demonstrating that, or because policing the boundaries of philosophy isn’t a terribly philosophical activity.

What would Socrates do? Undoubtedly he would start by asking what philosophy is, then point out that Hume, Aquinas, Mil, etc. is just a list, not a definition. Then we might propose “love of wisdom,” upon which we might explore the ambiguity of those terms (e.g. whether being a “friend” to wisdom requires actually having wisdom, or whether it can be love from afar), or we might simply discover that this definition is too broad, failing to distinguish the practice of ‘philosophy’ from absolutely any activity engaged in by reflective and thoughtful people. Then perhaps you would propose a definition in terms of arguments, upon which we would examine all the parts of the traditional philosophical cannon that involve either no arguments at all or hidden and/or difficult to understand arguments. Perhaps we’d try out another definition like “those employed by philosophy departments” which would also prove unsatisfactory. And so we would end in aporia, never developing the conceptual basis needed to address our initial question. If you’d care to try out such an exercise in earnest, you can find my contact information on my website.Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Hi, Derek. I see that you’ve apparently given up trying to show that there are arguments in the passage you sent us to. That’s fine with me, but this is your big opportunity to persuade others in the profession to incorporate “non-Western” texts into our syllabi. The question most of us have is: is it really philosophy? And will it help our students learn to philosophize as well as assigning some other texts that have clear arguments? If you’re content to let the answer be no, or if the best you can do is to tell us that there are arguments hidden in the texts but that even you can’t say what they are because you’re not an expert in Chinese philosophy, then you’ve basically convinced most of your audience that even the representative sample that you yourself selected are so obscure that our average students, and perhaps even our best students, won’t have a hope of finding the arguments in them and doing the philosophy. That being the case, you’ve helped me and probably many others not to incorporate those texts into our syllabi next year. I was, and I say this seriously, considering it, but now I’ve pretty well decided not to.

You divert me to the question of what philosophy is. I’ll bite: philosophy is the attempt to resolve various controversial issues by presenting and analyzing arguments for and against various controversial propositions. There are many, and possibly unlimited, topics that philosophical work can cover. However, if there are no clear arguments presented by a given side, then a work is definitely not an instance of philosophy.Report

HighFiveG
HighFiveG
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

I think it’s a great idea to expand the canon.

I also think that demanding that someone prove that they are a philosopher is a crap thing to do.

You know, this blog is better than the old blog. But it still gets bitchy and elitist.

Fortunately, I know Justin and friends are reasonable enough to publish this comment.Report

P2
P2
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Thankfully, we can move on without the approval of Confused, and those like him.Report

Komal
Komal
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Confused: You have a very narrow and boring conception of philosophy.Report

paolo
paolo
Reply to  Derek Bowman
5 years ago

Alexus: what is the argument/position there though? I actually can’t tell either. I mean – it just sounds like a dialogue with “wise sayings” on morality that one finds in, say, some Christian literature. I do not doubt the overall claim about Chinese philosophy, but here I would also like some help how to read it.

You are quire correct that there is Western philosophy that is not exactly argumentative, though I think your choices are not the best ones. Nietzsche is not a good one to pick. He is perhaps not systematic, but actually he gives arguments and quite deep ones – just not stated in analytic way). Wittgenstein is more difficult – since he consciously rejected writing in a certain way – but his work is technical and systematic – he gives a theory and the argument for the theory is its explanatory power. For less argument – Aristotle is sometimes simply stating things and arguments need to be reconstructed, as are some later Stoics (like Seneca).Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

I’ve already suggested some scholarly sources aimed at beginners. I promise you those are better resources than whatever you be adjudicated in a comment thread. It’s true that they lack the instant gratification of a blog comment thread.Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

Alexius, I share Paolo’s puzzlement about what the argument is meant to be here. Let’s start with the first chunk from the first excerpt from the source you recommended:

“Mozi said: The purpose of the magnanimous is to be found in procuring benefits for the world and eliminating its calamities. But what are the benefits of the world and what its calamities? Mozi said: Mutual attacks among states, mutual usurpation among houses, mutual injuries among individuals; the lack of grace and loyalty between ruler and ruled, the lack of affection and filial piety between father and son, the lack of harmony between elder and younger brothers – these are the major calamities in the world.

“But whence did these calamities arise, out of mutual love? Mozi said: They arise out of want of mutual love. At present feudal lords have learned only to love their own states and not those of others. Therefore they do not scruple about attacking other states. The heads of houses have learned only to love their own houses and not those of others. Therefore they do not scruple about usurping other houses. And individuals have learned only to love themselves and not others. Therefore they do not scruple about injuring others. When feudal lords do not love one another there will be war on the fields. When heads of houses do not love one another they will usurp one another’s power. When individuals do not love one another they will injure one another. When ruler and ruled do not love one another they will not be gracious and loyal. When father and son do not love each other they will not be affectionate and filial. When older and younger brothers do not love each other they will not be harmonious. When nobody in the world loves any other, naturally the strong will overpower the weak, the many will oppress the few, the wealthy will mock the poor, the honoured will disdain the humble, the cunning will deceive the simple. Therefore all the calamities, strifes, complaints, and hatred in the world have arisen out of want of mutual love. Therefore the benevolent disapproved of this want.”

I would be very hesitant to assign this passage to undergraduates, since it is an instance of something I try hard to stop them from doing. The “therefores” in the passage don’t seem to indicate the conclusions of philosophical arguments but, rather, a sort of causal relationship. Mozi is presenting his view that lack of magnanimity causes some organizations and individuals to attack others more readily and that their being magnanimous would make this less likely. But he doesn’t really argue for this view, and it isn’t even clear that it’s the kind of view that needs argument. It’s just not very controversial or interesting. Actually, it’s almost analytically true that a magnanimous person is someone who cares enough about others not to attack them hastily. I’m sure there may have been some people who needed a reminder to be magnanimous, and it’s good that Mozi provided them with that. But I don’t see any case being made here for an interesting or controversial conclusion.

P.S. Derek, this repeated “We’re right and you’re wrong, but you’re stupid if you think we’ll show you this in a comment thread, so here I am in a comment thread smugly telling you to look elsewhere for the clear proof that we’re right and you’re wrong, since I can’t offer an iota of support for our true contention” shtick is getting pretty stale.Report

Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Confused,
I’ve started and deleted several replies to all of this interaction about the Analects. Some aimed at patience and explication; more were in the snarky, nasty style of philosophy blog interaction. I shouldn’t be writing this now, so let me keep it short. The text you are mocking has been venerated as a source of wisdom for millennia by millions of people. Philosophers have struggled with its’ challenges for most of that time and a great many have delighted in it. I understand that you neither like it nor respect it – perhaps, like Hegel, you think it would be better had it never been translated and made available in the west. You have made your view abundantly clear. But please stop now. I am confident that those who share your views of philosophy are amply convinced of your point. Those who are not convinced are unlikely to be moved by yet more derision and repeated importunate demands for hermeneutical explication. I have to say straight up that interactions like the one here make me think that the discipline has somehow developed into little but meanness masquerading as inquiry, actively stifling imagination and delighting in exercises of derision and contempt. I write this only as a way to register my despair in case, in addition to denying the Analects the status of philosophy, part of your goal was to demoralize people who admire it as a work of philosophy. So, with your aims presumably fully fulfilled now, please, just stop.Report

Stephen Clark
Stephen Clark
Reply to  Amy Olberding
5 years ago

I hope, despite the provocation, you can avoid despair!

Some philosophy is argumentative: that is, it attempts to establish conclusions by deducing or inferring them from necessary or well-established or widely accepted or at least plausible premises. Or conversely, it attempts to demolish such argumentative discourses whether in favour of an opposite conclusion or with a view to suspending any commitments on the field. What argument there is for saying that this is the only sort of philosophy I do not know – it seems clear from our history that it isn’t the only thing that has been called philosophy.

In particular, some philosophy (quite a lot of philosophy) is more concerned to explicate or present a way of life and thinking, to show how disparate habits or opinions do all fit together (or of course, not), whether to make that way an attractive one or an unattractive or simply to show how other people may have been entranced by it. The arguments with other schools of thought, or with other philosophers even in the one school, generally take place – as it were – behind the scenes. A great deal of the canon of classical Mediterranean philosophy is like this, although it also included examples of argument in the sense described above. Anyone who dislikes or despises the Analects presumably also dislikes and despises the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius or the Handbook of Epictetus – thereby missing out on any hope of understanding another profoundly influential and attractive philosophy. Presumably they also focus on telling students how bad most of Plato’s detailed arguments are, without offering any explanation of how Platonism has influenced two millenia of thought and practice in religion, politics, art and science. Personally I think most explicit and detailed arguments in the canon are rather poor ones – but the philosophers concerned are still worth due reflection.

The Greek philosophers who lie at the root of the Western tradition (Greek-speaking, not necessarily Greek by birth) were well aware of their debts to Egyptian, Babylonian, Hebrew, Celtic and other ‘barbarian’ thinkers (indeed they sometimes suggested that the barbarians had a better sense of what was valuable in philosophy). Even later European philosophers acknowledged that Indian (both the Orthodox and the Heterodox schools), Islamic (both Arab and Persian) and Chinese philosophers were enquiring into matters of moment, and doing so with clear attention to clarity, consistency and reliability (especially as shown in action, by those who tried to live by the philosophers’ rules).

Of course we all begin from where we happen to find ourselves: it is not surprising that Western philosophers since the ‘Enlightenment’ have thought that they had the edge over older ways of thinking, even when they were drawing, without attending to the fact, on just those older ways: it is a familiar trope that philosophers want to think that they are saying something New, and rebutting the older school which trained them! When most of our students came from just this Western background they need not have felt any problem in finding a canon full of dead white – and almost entirely European – males. Nowadays a lot of students from a different background may feel, with justice, that they are being alienated from their own history and tradition in being asked – without any substantial or educated argument – to ignore non-European philosophies and texts (also to ignore texts written by any women who managed, against the odds, to participate in philosophical discourse, but perhaps that is a different issue).

The comments piling up on your splendid piece do, sadly, show exactly the habitual put-downs you described.

For the record, and more personally: forty years ago I found Chinese texts very helpful in understanding and explaining Aristotle. And Indian texts are also helpful in doing the same for Plotinus. Those who study Early Modern European Philosophy would also, I think, profit from looking at those other traditions. But even if such study did not help us to understand the existing canon better it would still be very well worth doing.Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  Stephen Clark
5 years ago

Stephen Clark,

I don’t “dislike or despise” the works of Confucius, Marcus Aurelius, or Epictetus. They all contain interesting and thought-provoking ideas. Whether they are philosophical is another story. Many philosophers have argued for and against the positions put forth by these thinkers., and I don’t gainsay that.

I also have no objection to presenting my students with poor arguments from ‘the Canon’ or elsewhere. It’s good for them to analyze some of those arguments. A philosopher who presents bad arguments is still a philosopher, and may have been an important philosopher. But saying that every thinker is a ‘philosopher’ in the way academics to day mean the term just because the term used to be used (and is still used by non-philosophers) to refer to something else would be like criticizing Radio Shack for assuming that all calculators need to be inorganic because the term ‘calculator’ used to refer to people who sat at desks and did sums.

Whenever I’m asked what I do for a living and tell people that I teach philosophy, I get a bunch of very strange reactions from people who think that all we do is sit around and try to say deep and wise things. This is a common misconception that no doubt discredits the profession immensely at just a time when many of our departments are at a risk of being cut by people who would probably appreciate what we are actually doing if they understood it. Going around spreading the idea that absolutely everyone who has been called a “philosopher” by his or her culture is just like us is effectively an anti-PR campaign for the discipline.Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  Amy Olberding
5 years ago

Amy,

You’ve got me very wrong, I’m afraid. I’m not in any way mocking the Analects or any other work of Chinese thoughts. Far from it. I’m aware that it has been “venerated as a source of wisdom by millennia by millions of people”. I don’t doubt that it contains much that is wise, and have never contested it. I don’t “hate” or disrespect the work.

None of those things are at issue.

What’s at issue is whether there are works of PHILOSOPHY that we ought to be teaching in our syllabi that we’re wrongfully overlooking. I have often wondered that myself, and would like to present my students with philosophy from diverse sources. But when I went to anthologies of Chinese and other “non-western” philosophy, I was unable to find passages that were philosophical enough to assign. So I didn’t. Now, the issue is being discussed here. I followed the link that Derek Bowman gave, and found something else whose philosophical status seemed dubious (whatever its other merits). So I asked for clarification of which part I should look at for the philosophy, since I don’t have months and months this summer to pore over the Analects to find one or two actually philosophical bits amid all the other wisdom, etc. I hoped that someone would either direct me to that or at least provide another link to some Chinese thought that is genuinely philosophical. I still hope that, but somehow it hasn’t happened. Instead, people are being oddly defensive and dismissive of these concerns.

In saying these pieces of writing are not philosophical, I don’t mean to say anything critical about them. I’m merely pointing out that they don’t seem to constitute instances of the practice of philosophy – the practice of working out abstract problems through argument and counterargument.

No doubt you will be tempted to dismiss this characterization as blind or pig-headed, and assume that I’m not aware of the fact that the term “philosophy” has meant different things to different people. But I’m very much aware of it. I’m also aware of the fact that “science” and “history” have meant different things to different people. Scientists and historians know that also. But please note that scientists and historians don’t see a strange need to adjust their disciplines in order to accommodate everything that has ever been called “science” or “history”. Early people who tried to write about the past didn’t submit their work for peer review and were often uncritical in their choice of source material. That doesn’t mean that historians today should do that. People who tried to understand the natural world didn’t use to do double blind experiments. That doesn’t mean that this is not an important criterion in a studys being properly scientific.Report

natcphd
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman, PhD natcphd.me natcphd.comReport

P2
P2
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Confused — ENOUGH!! Your issues have been addressed. Your questions have been asked and answered.Report

Scott
Scott
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

I for one think the conversation was going in a worthwhile new direction, and that the initial comments were clearly misread by some with us or against us types.Report

P2
P2
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

My apologies, Scott. For many of the reasons stated in the OP, I’ve grown more than weary of the standard objections to taking account of cognitive diversity (or even the possibility of cognitive diversity) in philosophy. I do think that, in this case, the questions have been asked and answered. Furthermore, as the answers have yet to be recognized *as answers*, at this point I have understandable doubts concerning the fruitfulness of further iterations. But I could be wrong!Report

Bharath Vallabha
Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Confused, I think you are skipping over a crucial point.

Giving arguments is the explicitly logical aspect of philosophy. Another aspect is creating worldviews which have an internal coherence and help the reader to grow conceptually – this is the artistic aspect of philosophy. Cavell on Emerson’s essays, Dreyfus on the Illiad, etc. are examples of highlighting the latter. Of course, in the best philosophy, the logical and artistic aspects go together. Wittgenstein’s Tractatus is a good example. The arguments in it aren’t obvious just by scanning the page. Instead, it presents a conceptual reorientation (saying, as it were, “try looking at things this way”), which once entered provides the material for tons of arguments on this or that topic.

Every piece of philosophy involves this dimension of first entering its conceptual worldview. It feels like arguments of Descartes, Kant, Quine, etc. pop off the page as arguments not because they are some special kind of text, but because the artistic, world-making dimensions of those texts are already second nature to those in Western philosophy departments. Imagine a freshman who scans the pages of Kant’s First Critique, and says, “There are no arguments here; it’s just complicated jargon.” The work of teaching philosophy to that student is the task of helping him enter into the worldview of early modern philosophy so that then the student can see Kant’s jargoned sentences as arguments. This kind of enculturing happens so routinely in our classrooms that we take it for granted.

A senior philosophy professor who never studied Asian philosophy is in the same position regarding Confucius that the freshman is with Kant. That one is an expert in Kant or logic or functionalism doesn’t mean that one can spot the philosophical arguments and structure of any text. Especially of texts of a different culture. I think this is Olberding’s point: she and others with her expertise are the ones who can open up the texts like the Analects, who can help us to enter that worldview so that the space of arguments within it can be seen. Philosophers like Olberding shouldn’t have to prove their expertise to someone outside her expertise, anymore than the professor has to prove on the first day of class to the freshman that there are arguments in Kant. We give the professor a semester’s worth of time to make his case, so that the enculturation can sink in. Experts in non-western philosophy deserve the same.Report

paolo
paolo
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
5 years ago

Actually, there is a pretty straightforward answer to Confused and I am puzzled why nobody answered him – rather than dismissed his question as misguided, bigotted and so on. I can give one that I believe myself (and others may vehemently disagree). It is not obvious that the Analects are a philosophical text per se. In fact, I do not think they are and I do not think that is particularly controversial thing to say. Aristotle wrote a bunch of works that are not philosophical and some that are that have little argument (and Plato wrote a bunch with pretty suspicious arguments). To point that out is not a sign of meanness. You won’t find clear arguments for clearly identifiable positions in the Analects. This is a well-known feature of some early Chinese texts that made it into the philosophical canon. In this sense, they play a role that for, say, Greek philosophy, was played by Homer, Hesiod, and so on. That being said, can they be interpreted philosophically? Definitely, and they have been so. And they can be shown to contain coherent and interesting thought. In fact, their philosophcial interpretation is crucial to for later development of Chinese thought. In this they are a bit like bible for Christian thought – even Amy’s reaction shows as much as these texts are talked about in terms of veneration. It is not a philosophical text, but it is crucial for understanding A LOT of philosophy and it can be interpreted philosophically. I do not think you can assign them to students in an intro course to philosophy. But there are other texts you can (I can’t tell by heart now, but Mencius’ has some nice passages on human nature – I think in the Gaozi books – that look a bit more like philosophy).Report

Bharath Vallabha
Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

I agree Confused’s question isn’t bigoted. Instead, there is not yet a clear sense in many departments for what it means for specialists in non-western philosophy to be colleagues in the philosophy department. An analytic epistemologist can treat an analytic ethicist as having an expertise she doesn’t have, and vice versa; this is possible because there is a shared sense that neither knows way more about general philosophy than the other; what separates them is only what one learns in grad courses.

But this is clearly not true in the case of a philosopher who only knows western philosophy, and a philosopher who knows both western and non-western philosophy; the latter knows things which it is not just that the former isn’t an expert in, but that they are often not even a novice in. This creates a tremendous conversational power imbalance in favor of the specialist of non-western philosophy who can talk intelligently about Kant with a Kant specialist, while the Kant specialist might not even be sure what counts as a move in engaging with Confucius. In this situation, laying down what philosophy does and does not look like is a short hand way of trying to level the playing field; of affirming that what one learnt in one’s own education sets the parameters for philosophy. As if it is an a priori fact that as a philosophy professor one can’t be completely in the dark about large swaths of philosophy; hence what one is in the dark in can’t be philosophy.

Similarly, conceding that the Analects isn’t a philosophy text is conceding too much. Once it is accepted that it can be interpreted philosophically and that it gave rise to lots of philosophy, not sure what is gained by saying it is not philosophy per se.Report

paolo
paolo
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

@Bharath Vallabha

I am a professor of philosophy (not a particularly “prominently” institutionalized) and I admit I am completely in the dark about: philosophy of physics and biology; renaissance philosophy, most early modern besides Descartes and Hume; anything between Hegel and Marx, contemporary metaphysics & philosophy of language, and any applied ethics. I know bits and pieces (like names) only. I know a bit about Descartes and Hume, some Greek and Medieval philosophy, Kant, and Foucault. I also read as undergrad quite a lot of Indian and Chinese philosophy. I know a bit more about Nietzsche and ethics and Russian philosophy. So there are a lot of things I am completely in the dark in (also including philosophy of race, feminist philosophy – I frankly have no clue about them). I do not think they are not philosophy. However, I do not think anything one can interpret philosophically is thereby philosophy – one can interpret philosophically Homer, the Simpsons, or Harry Potter. It does not make those things philosophy. Of course, you can think that (just like some people think that anything that can be interpreted – i.e., has meaning – is a text). But then really anything is philosophy and then you have to bite the bullet and allow philosophy to go the way of literature departments that used to study “literature” but rarely do anymore.

Let me put things differently, see what you think (i do not necessarily endorse what follows) . Philosophy is a particular cultural practice originating in Greece that spread throughout Mediterranean and later was mainly practiced in Europe and the Americas. It is essentially involves putting forward theses for public examination backed by arguments followed by a procedure in which objections are raised and answered. The theses and arguments are generally not of empirical sort although empirical observations and theories might have consequences for such view. Well, this is terrible, but let’s say that this is it. Zhexue is a Chinese cultural practice that shares some features with philosophy but is also different (I do not dare to generalize as to what it is). We can call the former Western zhexue and the latter Chinese philosophy but in doing so we are simply trying to make something into something that it is not, both ways. These two are not easily reconciled though they can communicate and it is not certain that they should be reconciled. Perhaps having a department of Zhexue and a department of Philosophy would be a way to go. Anyway this is inspired by Ming Ouyeng’s There is No Need for Zhongguo Zhexue to be Philosophy. I mention this because the reaction to people who have hard time seeing Zhexue or other cultural forms of thought as philosophy (which might well be a cultural way of thought) is being labeled here as irrational and they are told to shut up.Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

Paolo and Bharath,

This is extremely helpful, and thank you both very much for actually addressing my questions rather than insulting me, condesceding to me, and bossing me around in an attempt to shut me up for making some simple and sincere comments in an attempt to revise my reading list. How counterproductive to the purposes of diversifying the canon or promoting philosophy!

After reflecting on both of your comments, I think that what I ought to do is this.

1. I should find and include in my introductory syllabus at least one piece of “non-western” writing that presents an argument for some philosophical conclusion. I’m sure there must be at least one such piece of writing, even if non-western wisdom traditions tend to be less like this.

2. I should also include in my syllabus at least one piece of non-western writing that, while it doesn’t present or consider a central argument, makes some interesting and controversial claims that it would be interesting and productive for me and the students to consider and try arguing for and against. But in order to avoid giving the impression that all western thinkers are concerned primarily with reasoning things through and that no non-western thinkers are, I’ll also (and earlier in the syllabus) include a reading from Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius with the same feature and treat it in the same way.

3. I should explain, immediately prior to the first reading (by Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius, or maybe from Plato’s Timaeus) that philosophers aren’t only interested in hearing out and presenting arguments and counter-arguments. Philosophers are also interested in considering and presenting interesting problems, or answers to certain problems, or (even more broadly) just interesting thoughts that other philosophers can then argue for and against. In saying this, I won’t make any declarations about whether those aspects of the western tradition of thought that led to modern philosophy represent a way of thinking that is largely exclusive to the west, or whether the Chinese practice of zhexue counts as philosophy – I’m not in any way an expert in these questions and should leave it to objective-minded people who actually know both traditions to make that judgment. My only purpose will be to implicitly support the view that writings of interest to philosophers, and perhaps some genuinely philosophical works, can be found outside of the western tradition. The rest of this exploration will be for the students to undertake.

Does this sound reasonable? Also, can either of you recommend some good readings for 1. and 2.?

Thank you both very much again for being sincere and helpful interlocutors rather than arrogant and unreflective sophists. I wish I could expect that from everyone in the discipline, but these blogs have been rather depressing in showing me the darker corners of our profession that I hadn’t realized existed. Both your comments were a ray of hope for me, and I’m very grateful.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

Paolo, Thanks for the transparency about what you know and don’t know. Let me be also clear about myself: what I studied was mainly parts of western philosophy, and I am in the dark about large portions of logic, philosophy of physics and biology, political philosophy, feminism, asian philosophy, african philosophy, etc. I know a little something about many figures from around the world, but this mainly through haphazard personal reading, and I never studied it more systematically (though like many things, I wish I had).

I fully agree that irrespective of one’s expertise, there should be a space where any academic philosopher can engage in discussions of whether X is philosophy. That said, asking people to show the arguments in a given text is a bad way of having such a discussion, because seeing something as an argument requires a trained eye as much as anything. The background assumption that the person asking to be shown is already in a position to see the argument is wrong. How to have a discussion given this fact, and the fact that the two people debating (as with Confused and Olberding) are not a teacher and a student, but two colleagues, is important and interesting.

I definitely don’t think that philosophy is a cultural practice originating in Greece, and mainly practiced in Europe and America. This is a prominent creation myth, which like all creation myths perpetuates certain structural and institutional biases. This is not to say everything is philosophy. I would love to hear a debate between two experts in the Chinese tradition about whether the Analects counts as philosophy or not; I have my inclination about which side I agree with (the side which says it is philosophy), but I am open to thinking about it. But a debate between an expert and one who admits to not being an expert in the Chinese tradition – not so much. Carnap saying that Kant’s metaphysics is bunk is one thing; a philosophy professor who just skimmed Kant saying it is another.Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

Bharath, I agree that training is needed to see that something is an argument. But I’m not sure about the “as much as anything” part of what you say. Many contemporary philosophers go so far as to enumerate their premises and write “therefore” before the conclusion. It’s hard to miss the argument there, if you know what an argument is.

Even when philosophers don’t do this, their arguments are often quite clear. It’s hard to miss how the arguments in Berkeley’s Dialogues or Plato’s Meno are meant to work, for instance.

Sticking with the problem of putting together a good introductory philosophy syllabus, I’m always careful to include mostly (I would have said entirely but some of this conversation has made me change my mind) works whose arguments are fairly easy to discern. I’m not keen to follow where you seem to be going, which if I’m not mistaken is to the conclusion that everything contains arguments equally, but some arguments are more apparent than others. I guess I just don’t see a basis for believing that. Or have I misunderstood your point?Report

Bharath Vallabha
Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

Confused, what you say regarding 1-3 with the syllabus sounds great to me. Really thoughtful to show there are different aspects of philosophy, and that these different aspects can be found in both western and non-western texts.

I don’t think everything contains arguments equally. I think there are (at least) two dimensions to philosophy: a frame-work creating part (what I said earlier is the artistic part) and drawing out the consequences internal to, and in between, frameworks (the logical part). Often what great philosophers do is create a new framework, or reorient an existing one, so that different arguments come out of it and illuminate existing questions in new ways. I agree in contemporary philosophy there is enumeration of premises, etc. There is a high focus on the logical part, and less so, and less freedom for, the artistic part in contemporary academia. This is not altogether good thing, because when the artistic part withers, the ability to create fundamentally new arguments withers as well. Better, as you suggest in 1-3, to highlight from the beginning, in intro classes, the multiple dimensions of philosophy; which also opens up interesting connections across traditions. Nothing in any of this needs to raise the worry of relativism or the worry that any philosophical text is as good as any other. We cannot give principles for what makes a philosophical text better than another; it is partly a matter of a certain skill of differentiation, which is learnt through practice and doing philosophy over a period of time, and which people can disagree about productively.Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
5 years ago

Thanks again, Bharath. Your comparison between Confucius and Kant is thought-provoking.

If that’s right, though, then I begin to despair about my plan to introduce non-western sources into my reading list for my introductory course. I would never assign the transcendental deduction to freshmen, for obvious reasons. In general, if a work of philosophy is so difficult that only an expert who has devoted years to studying the source is able to make philosophical sense of it, then it just doesn’t seem to be the right thing to assign. Also, since I am not such an expert with respect to Confucius, it would be wrong for ME to assign it. I obviously can’t identify the (allegedly) deep arguments in it, nobody else here seems able to either, and I’d just be stuck at the front of the room trying to articulate something I don’t know about a reading I allegedly can’t understand without extensive training, all in front of some students who also fail to understand it and who are with me for the purpose of learning something. No thank you! I’ll definitely take a pass on Confucius, if this is the way things are.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Confused, It’s not a matter of difficulty of the text, as much as a synergy between the reader and the text. Of course, one should assign texts one is inspired by in some fashion. If you are not able to get into Confucius, definitely don’t teach it. Same with Asian philosophy in general. But this is different from saying you are not including the Analects (or some Confucian inspired Chinese text which you find is easier to read for freshman) because that text isn’t philosophy.

You say: “I obviously can’t identify the (allegedly) deep arguments in it, nobody else here seems able to either”. The first part might be true, but the second part just isn’t. Some people on this thread can identify the deep arguments in it; in fact, that is what they specialize in. But that is different from communicating it to you right now, in this space, in this format, with you claiming it is not philosophy.

Perhaps the idea is: if one is to be able to explain Confucius in an intro class to people with no philosophy background, then Confucius experts must be able to explain it to now, in this context, to people without any background in Confucius. This doesn’t follow. Because even the professor in intro class cannot teach a student who stridently, if earnestly, asks to be proven to him, given what he already knows, that X is philosophy, or that philosophy is worthwhile. This happens sometimes with students who get annoyed with Socrates, and say that what Socrates is doing isn’t great, but gibberish. If the student digs in his heals, there is not much the professor can say in that context. Introduction to philosophy is an invitation, not a command or a moral injunction. This is probably what you are responding to: the seeming moral tone in these kind of discussions that if one isn’t teaching non-western thinkers, one is bad somehow. Here there has to be a distinction between the situation being bad (not teaching non-western philosophy in an intro class) and the professors of those classes being bad actors. The former can be true, even if the latter isn’t.Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Thanks for your further, thoughtful comment, Bharath.

However, I think you see me as saying that Confucius is not a philosopher or that Asian philosophy is not really philosophy. That’s not my position. I’m agnostic about whether it is, but I have some suspicions that these ARE in part philosophical works.

I simply came looking for some passages of Asian or other non-western philosophy I could assign. I saw that someone had provided a link to Confucius’ Analects, and followed the link, and couldn’t see how the first few pages were philosophy. I figured either that I was missing an argument in it or else that someone had sent me to the wrong big of the Analects or else that there was some other Chinese work that would be more philosophical. I asked about that, but instead of getting a decent response, I was insulted, called a sophist, asked to prove that I’m a philosopher (whatever that’s about), and yelled at to stop contributing to this discussion thread,. I’ve resolved not to let those crude interlocutors sour my taste for non-Western philosophy before I find any, because (as you say) they take a “seeming moral tone in these kind of discussions that if one isn’t teaching non-western thinkers, one is bad somehow).” But I’d still like to be referred to a passage of philosophy from a non-western source that it would be appropriate for me to assign to incoming students. I honestly don’t see why it’s so hard for even one person on this thread to mention even a single such source without screaming at me to stop having this conversation or condescending to me or calling me a juvenile sophist. If it’s that hard to come up with a single work of non-western philosophy, then I really have to start to wonder.Report

Stephen Clark
Stephen Clark
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

It is often hard, especially in the heat of the moment, online, to notice that one is being unfair: if my own brief interventions struck you as offensive, I do apologize – as I also apologize if I misunderstood you.

But to explain why some of us have found your interventions irritating: you were offended or puzzled by the suggestion that you were not a philosopher – well, others of us were similarly offended or puzzled by the implications of your remarks. You appeared to be insisting that a particular classic non-Western text could not be considered philosophical because (as far as you could see) it contained no ‘arguments’. You persisted in this – and seemed to be extrapolating your judgement to all non-Western texts – despite being reminded (a) that there were significant classical Western texts that were not laid out in this argumentative fashion but were still – by almost everyone – counted as philosophy, and (b) that the arguments in some philosophical schools went on, as it were, behind the scenes, so that the visible texts needed to be read against an informed understanding of the context. I remarked that another generally acknowledged aspect of philosophy alongside the argumentative was to put some larger view on display, showing how one part related to another, without any necessary intention of demonstrating either its truth or its falsehood. The goal of that sort of philosophy is understanding, not demonstration (I agree that the two aspects are intertwined). You seemed to respond, I don’t know why, by saying that this was as much as to imply that philosophers spent their time uttering or repeating supposedly profound thoughts, and that this was bad PR. In an earlier post you also seemed to suggest that the Analects (and by implication perhaps also the Meditations of Aurelius et al) were banal or obvious – not noticing, perhaps, the context in which they were proposed, and their difficult implications. One way of approaching Confucian thought is to consider the role of filial piety – and associated problems (also addressed in Plato’s Euthyphro and Gorgias) about whether or not to denounce our parents to the State – a highly relevant issue even now. So also are issues about our duties of care.

Some of your posts since then have been more to my taste! I’m quite ready to believe that you are seriously thinking what non-Western texts or traditions you might present to your students, at least as tasters for some alternative ways of thinking and behaving, or as reminders that philosophical thought did not begin in Greece and is not confined to Europe and the West. If you do try out the Analects it might also be helpful to consider the so-called Neo-Confucian thought of Chu Hsi (which has clear parallels to Aristotelian philosophy) – but the Analects are easier to get hold of. It’s many years since I explored Chu Hsi, but I see that there are some well-recommended secondary studies now, for example by H.C.Tillman. But it may be that you should go for Chuang Tzu (aka Zhuangzi) rather than Confucius: those writings are much more the record of conversations, rather than simply their results, and could excite students to continue those conversations. See e.g. http://terebess.hu/english/chuangtzu.html (but do also check the secondary literature).

But it may be that the Chinese style is too far removed, and requires too much background (and the historical details are obscure). Why not instead try Ibn Tufayl’s splendid novel Hayy Ibn Yaqzan about a feral child raised by a gazelle, on a desert island – and managing to deduce an entire rationalist metaphysics: it’s an earlier version both of Tarzan and Descartes’ Meditations!

Or try The Questions of King Milinda – set in one of the Hellenistic kingdoms, and allowing a full statement with appropriate arguments of early No-Self doctrine, relevant to both Buddhist thought and Humean.

Or Ghazali’s Deliverance from Error (which is a response to deep scepticism or depression of a kind that might excite debate: “My disease grew worse and lasted almost two months, during which I fell prey to skepticism (safaa), though neither in theory nor in outward expression. At last, God the Almighty cured me of that disease and I recovered my health and mental equilibrium. The self-evident principles of reason again seemed acceptable; I trusted them and in them felt safe and certain. I reached this point not by well-ordered or methodical argument, but by means of a light God the Almighty cast into my breast, which light is the key to most knowledge”.

Or look at the Bhagavat Gita – immensely influential, and raising issues about duty as well as about metaphysics.

If you’re seeking novel arguments of a more familiar kind, try Jonardon Ganeri’s work on Indian philosophy (there is some good stuff on the principle of non-contradiction). Or Hu SHih’s Development of the Logical Method in Ancient China. Or work by Geoffrey Lloyd on China and Greece.

See also Peter Adamson’s Philosophy without Gaps: http://historyofphilosophy.net/. Once you have identified what issues you yourself wish to address in your classes then at least make some effort to see whether those issues are covered in non-Western texts from a different angle. And perhaps you might then be able to consider whether your first set of issues are really the most cogent or interesting ones – what do our fellow humans of another tradition find of interest?

Stephen Clark

[email protected] [[email protected]]Report

Stephen Clark
Stephen Clark
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

A fewlines seem to have gone missing from my last response:

Or look at the Bhagavat Gita – immensely influential, and raising issues about duty as well as about metaphysics.

If you’re seeking novel arguments of a more familiar kind, try Jonardon Ganeri’s work on Indian philosophy (there is some good stuff on the principle of non-contradiction). Or Hu SHih’s Development of the Logical Method in Ancient China. Or work by Geoffrey Lloyd on China and Greece.

See also Peter Adamson’s Philosophy without Gaps: http://historyofphilosophy.net/. Once you have identified what issues you yourself wish to address in your classes then at least make some effort to see whether those issues are covered in non-Western texts from a different angle. And perhaps you might then be able to consider whether your first set of issues are really the most cogent or interesting ones – what do our fellow humans of another tradition find of interest?Report

Bharath Vallabha
Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Confused, Thanks for your clarification. Let me also clarify: I don’t find fault with others who responded to you earlier. These kinds of conversations about what is and is not philosophy, where the arguments are, etc. are happening in the midst of broad institutional structures which are heavily slanted towards western philosophy, structures which reinforce, in ways subtle and not so subtle, habits that much of non-western philosophy is really not philosophy, or is second rate at best, and so forth. People who are dedicating their lives to nonwestern philosophy in western academic phil are in an uphill battle: not necessarily against particular people who are bad, but against a whole framework which is unconsciously taken for granted. You might be asking in earnest, but in the broader context, it takes on a different hue. Just as people have to try to avoid taking on a moralist tone, so too those asking to be shown arguments have to show awareness of the structural issues at play.

I am not sure what you mean by “a passage of philosophy from a non-western source that it would be appropriate” to assign. If what you are looking for is a page or two, that out of any historical and cultural context in which it was written, will jump to any reader as obviously an argument, there is no such thing. Imagine giving Descartes’ third meditation to students who are not familiar with Christianity or western culture: I doubt how to engage with Descartes’ passage as an argument will be obvious to them. If this is hard to imagine, it isn’t because Descartes text is somehow intrinsically philosophy in a clear way, but because the cultural context of Descartes, through colonialism and capitalism, have spread further in the world, than Asian cultural ideas affecting the west. I have no doubt that experts in Chinese philosophy can point to similar “argument” passages in Chinese philosophy. But what they cannot do is present it in a way which doesn’t require some elucidation of the key concepts of those arguments, concepts which are not as obvious in a western concext. Including non-western texts in the curriculum has to involve engaging to some extent with this situation, and setting the texts in a way to facilitate seeing the arguments in it.

An argument is not equivalent to a culturally neutral piece of reasoning which anyone, irrespective of their background, can see. This isn’t to give up on truth and reason in arguments, but to highlight how difficult it is to find truth and reason in a truly culturally inclusive way.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Confused:

For what it’s worth, my suggestion that you prove that you’re a philosopher was intended to show how absurd it is to demand proof that something/someone is philosophy/a philosopher in such a context. I’m glad that you’ve found Bharath’s engagement helpful. But I will note that my intentionally disrespectful responses to you did not begin until after you began drawing unwarranted conclusions from my unwillingness to try to engage in the interpretive exercise you tried to force me into. In any case, I hope you’ve learned that my personal unwillingness/inability to explain something to you about non-Western philosophy (or anything really) is not a good basis on which to draw substantive conclusions about that subject matter. For a more reliable source of online resources, see the variety of links offered here: http://blog.apaonline.org/2016/05/17/chinese-philosophy-in-the-english-speaking-world-interview-with-bryan-van-norden/Report

TD
TD
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

I think Bharath is wrong about this: there are hundreds of short sections in non-European philosophical texts which are clearly argumentative and suitable for presentation to undergraduate students. They suffer without context, but I don’t think they suffer much worse than European philosophy.

From Arabic philosophy you could teach the third book of Avicenna’s Book of Healing, a series of clear arguments against a system of spatial and temporal atomism with no familiar parallels in the canon of European philosophy. You could also teach Avicenna’s Flying Man, a thought experiment intended to prove soul-body dualism.

From Chinese philosophy you could teach the last part of “Autumn Floods” in the Zhuangzi, which presents a short, amusing debate about epistemic access to other minds. (The Zhuangzi is, I think, more approachable for philosophers than are the Analects and Daodejing.)

From Indian philosophy you could teach the controversy over legitimate sources of knowledge. All the orthodox and heterodox schools of classical Indian philosophy engaged in intense debate over valid grounds for knowledge. For instance, the Carvaka school held that perception was the basis of all knowledge, and ruled out other means of knowing on those grounds. E.g. since there is no perceptual access to the kind of universals that ground inference, inference is not a valid source of knowledge.

These are some examples from a novice in these traditions. A few hours’ acquaintance with any of the various sourcebooks in Arabic/Chinese/Indian philosophy will furnish you with more.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Those are nice examples, and very helpful. Surely my own limits are showing through. The kind of things TD presents might be what Confused was looking for. It would be great if these and other examples could be listed on a website somewhere, so that people could dip into these other traditions piecemeal if they wanted, and for use in classes.Report

Stephen Clark
Stephen Clark
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
5 years ago

A couple of coincidentally relevant pages:

A good, informative review of a recent work on Chinese Philosophy: http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/67058-theories-of-truth-in-chinese-philosophy-a-comparative-approach/

And an interview with Bryan van Norden: http://blog.apaonline.org/2016/05/17/chinese-philosophy-in-the-english-speaking-world-interview-with-bryan-van-norden/

The latter contains the following devastating paragraph: QUESTION: “It has been argued that Eastern ideas such as Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism are interesting, but are mystical and not philosophy because “they do not attempt to argue for a position by using logic and evidence” (Massimo Pigliucci). What do you think of this criticism? Why should we take Eastern philosophy seriously?”

ANSWER: I would ask people like Pigliucci why he thinks that the Mohist state-of-nature argument to justify government authority is not philosophy? What does he make of Mengzi’s reductio ad absurdum against the claim that human nature is reducible to desires for food and sex? Why does he dismiss Zhuangzi’s version of the problem of the criterion? What is his opinion of Han Feizi’s argument that political institutions must be designed so that they do not depend upon the virtue of political agents? What does he think of Zongmi’s argument that reality must fundamentally be mental, because it is inexplicable how consciousness could arise from matter that was non-conscious? Why does he regard the Platonic dialogues as philosophical, yet dismiss Fazang’s dialogue in which he argues for and responds to objections against the claim that individuals are defined by their relationships to others? What is his opinion of Wang Yangming’s arguments for the claim that it is impossible to know what is good yet fail to do what is good? What does he make of Mou Zongsan’s critique of Kant, or Liu Shaoqi’s argument that Marxism is incoherent unless supplemented with a theory of individual ethical transformation? Of course, the answer to each question is that those who suggest that Chinese philosophies are irrational have never heard of any of these arguments because they do not bother to read about Chinese philosophy and dismiss it in ignorance. Such comments remind me of the sort of undergraduates who don’t complete the assigned readings, but think they have some “really cool ideas” about the topic anyway, and that the whole class would benefit greatly from hearing them. My grade would be, “D-. See me!”

Actually the whole piece is devastating!Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Thanks, TD. That sounds like the sort of thing I’ve been looking for as a reading (though not so much Avicenna — while many Arabic philosophers are clearly doing philosophy, I’m not sure it’s relevantly “non-Western”, since it belongs to the continual tradition that appeared in Athens in the 4th Century BC, then the Roman and Hellenic world when they were at their height, then flourished mostly in the Islamic world while Europe went through its dark ages, then gradually became more prominent in Europe in the later middle ages, and more recently had its center shift from Europe to the English-speaking world).

However, I wasn’t able to find the passages you’re discussing in Zhuangzi or the Carvaka school. The works are so vast — can you perhaps guide me more specifically to the exact pages or sections I should be looking at?

Thanks very much again.Report

TD
TD
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Avicenna is relevantly non-Western insofar as he is barely ever discussed or assigned in Philosophy departments, despite his obvious adherence to the canons of argument you’ve been defending. This suggests, at least to me, that current criteria for excluding philosophers from the curriculum have nothing to do with their method. Arabic philosophy continues the tradition of Greek philosophy and feeds directly into the Latin West. It’s a key part of European philosophical history, and it’s systematically ignored. Why?

However, I suggested Book of Healing III because it contains Avicenna’s response to the earlier and lesser-known Ash‘arite doctrine of atomistic occasionalism. You won’t in fact find anything like this doctrine in European philosophy unless you’re accustomed to teaching Diodorus Cronus. Nor does Aristotle respond to anything like it, since temporal minima weren’t postulated in Greece until the Hellenistic period. So the Aristotelian response to occasionalism is only available here, in a work of Arabic philosophy.

The Zhuangzi passage is the final episode in the 17th chapter, called “Autumn Floods.” It begins with Zhuangzi and Huizi walking by the river.

No Carvaka works are extant, but a brief and clear account of their arguments can be found in the Sarvadarshanasamgraha (“Collection of all Philosophical Schools”), a late Medieval compendium. The arguments against inference are also found in Jayarashi Bhatta’s Tattvopaplavasimha (“The Truth-Destroying Lion”), which appears to rely on the Carvakas. Translations of both are printed in “A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy” (Radhakrishnan & Moore, PUP 1957), pp. 228-234 and pp. 236-246.Report

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Reply to  Derek Bowman
3 years ago

In addition to such blogs as Warp, Weft, and Way on Chinese Philosophy and the Indian Philosophy blog, there are entries on non-Western philosophies of Asian provenance at both the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. In addition, there is the Society for Teaching Comparative Philosophy,* which has plenty of helpful resources and we have a FB group of the same name which regularly posts relevant material about non-Western philosophical worldviews and traditions.
* http://stcp.weebly.com/
Incidentally, my late teacher and truly trailblazing pioneer in the comparative study of religions and philosophies (which he came to call collectively ‘worldviews’), Ninian Smart, lamented this state of affairs well over fifty years ago! He attempted to initiate a more broad-minded and “global” approach with such books as Reasons and Faiths: An Investigation of Religious Discourse, Christian and non-Christian (1958) and Doctrine & Argument in Indian Philosophy (1st ed., 1964). He penned virtually all of the entries on “Indian philosophy” in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Paul Edwards (Macmillan, 1967), and continued to publish articles and books on philosophies east and west, north and south. One of his later works, World Philosophies (Routledge, 1999), contained introductions (and long bibliographies) to religious worldviews philosophies around the globe. (I worked on revising the massive bibliographies for the second edition by Oliver Leaman published after Ninian’s death.) It’s simply appalling and inexcusable that this state of affairs persists (there’s been some progress, but it’s been glacially slow (as that phrase was used prior to compelling evidence for global warming).Report

Scott
Scott
Reply to  Nathan
5 years ago

In Indian philosophy, check out http://www.philosophindia.org. Wonderful archive of PDF files.Report

Scott
Scott
Reply to  Scott
5 years ago
Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
5 years ago

JDRox,
I’m just not the person to ask about this, as I am deviant all the way down and simply cannot see how this is so difficult. I attended a small liberal arts college in Arkansas (Hendrix College) that had a faculty of 2 at the time and yet managed to have in their regular offerings a survey of Indian philosophy, of Chinese philosophy, and feminist philosophy – all while not specializing in any of that themselves. My PhD is from the flagship of deviance, University of Hawai’i, where we had multiple specialists in Chinese, Indian, Islamic, and Japanese, not to mention a demographic population (at faculty and student level both) that looks nothing like philosophy nationally. (If you want to see what an alternative vision of philosophy looks like, look there.) I just don’t see what’s so hard, but I’m trained to think it’s really not.

At some point you may just have to concede that the problem is motivational not logistical. And from what I see, a huge hurdle in mustering up motivation is that people worry that the integrity and “quality” of what they offer will be tainted, that their students will emerge (gasp!) knowing something about Nagarjuna instead of, I don’t know, pick your western poison here too. But people can and do survive such indignities. My colleague, Linda Zagzebski, took her very first philosophy class at Stanford with the great David Nivison, a pioneer in the study of early Chinese philosophy. Joel Kupperman got tainted early by studying at University of Chicago with the esteemed Herlee Creel. Both Linda and Joel have, I think, turned out ok. This early exposure did not ruin them, as far as I can tell, nor apparently did they suffer setbacks from their early coursework crowding out things essential to their philosophical futures.

Now I know I sound incredibly impatient so let me make clear that this impatience is directed not at you but the profession at large where the motivational problem masquerades regularly as a logistical and resource problem. Quite apart from individual departments struggling with this, what we have yet to see is the profession as whole doing so. Instead, people object that they don’t know where to find work in deviant areas to read, don’t know where to find potential hires who could teach deviance, and so on. But here’s the thing, you normal folk in the profession can’t find stuff to read easily because:
a) the general journals people most read almost never publish deviant work;
b) the deviant journals themselves are not on your go-to list for investigating;
c) the anthologies you construct and consult almost never include deviant work;
d) the encyclopedias you construct almost always relegate the deviants to their own sections if they include them at all;
e) the conferences you plan and attend rarely include deviants and when they do (as at APA) the audience will include only, or mostly, other deviants;
f) the introductory texts you teach with rarely include deviant work and, moreover, have wholly normalized organizational structures that entail including the deviant at all means sticking it in a specially constructed deviant last chapter (you know, for the philosophy teachers who like that sort of thing);
g) and, finally, because you’ve surrounded yourselves with people just like you, you have no colleagues on hand you could ask about where to find the deviant stuff that would most interest you (if you were in fact interested).

So that leads me to the problem finding people. If you want colleagues who can teach deviance, you may have trouble finding them because, in line with the above:
a) the strong deviant programs are not going to be the ones you think are strong along the axis of normalization and wholly tamed “quality” you reflexively employ;
b) the strong deviants – well trained in the specialization – are going to be perceived as surely missing some essentials – all those classes they didn’t take while they were running after deviance!;
c) the strong deviants won’t seem as good to you because they’re not publishing in the outlets you think indicate “quality”;
d) you won’t have seen the strong deviants at conferences because you don’t attend those sorts of talks;
e) some of the strong deviants will have been picked off way ahead of your efforts by departments in Religious Studies, where they’ll go because somehow (it’s a mystery truly) Religious Studies has figured out that even *without* converging once and for all on a settled definition of what gets “included as religion,” they think it’s pretty cool to have philosophical Daoists around and if they waited till they sorted out what religion most properly and precisely *is*, they’d be denied enormous intellectual resources they’d rather have than not.

So, in sum, having engineered conditions in ways that conceal the skilled deviants among you and promote a brain drain of deviants into other disciplines, you can’t find anyone. It’s a problem. I wonder how we’ll solve it… Maybe you should get mad that almost all of your institutional professional structures are set up to promote this problem.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Amy Olberding
5 years ago

This all seems reasonable, even if I’m less worried about it. As you note, there are many such “deviant” areas of philosophy, and I guess I think the existence of such areas is basically unavoidable. I understand that it is frustrating though, and I’m not happy that the world turned out this way. And I’m still open to arguments that we should promote some currently marginalized research areas (such as, e.g., Indian philosophy) and demote some currently popular research areas (such as, e.g., modern philosophy)!Report

Scott
Scott
5 years ago

Jake’s comment above strikes me as characteristic of one tendency. It assumes, based on obviously minimal real study, a certain picture of an eastern tradition, Buddhism, and says, in effect, come on in even with your non-rational tendencies. To begin with the obvious, one would note that ‘Buddhism’ doesn’t name a philosophical position or tradition. To approach it in terms of the (also faulty but for other reasons) disjunction between analytic and continental philosophy is to virtually ensure that the attempted dialogue goes south. Buddhism is more aptly compared with other religions; and when considering a philosopher who is also a Buddhist, the question of the relationship of this religious identification to the philosophical identifications with which it coexists in various relationships of consonance and dissonance is one of the interesting questions to raise, if the question of the relation of religion to philosophy seems pressing to the reader. It some cases it was and in some it wasn’t considered particularly important philosophically to Buddhist authors. Some of them were too busy hashing and rehashing the same thought experiments to determine how we actually ever succeed in referring to something and making sense. The peevish, nit-picking, rationality of it all would be music to ears of anyone reared on the prose of Kripke and Fodor. This can be found out quite easily even without the linguistic competence to go beyond the paucity of currently available translations. Look up Nyaya and Navya Nyaya. Start with Ganeri and work back from his bibliographies.

Amy articulates a position that may resonate inside academia and does resonate with me. It runs into this difficulty, however. Certain non-western traditions that should be of interest to precisely those philosophers (phenomenologists, Deleuzians, Fanonians, Foucauldians, feminists, etc.) who are apt to affirm their deviance and the value of deviance require learning bodily techniques (which is why they are interesting) through lengthy apprenticeship (I use that term advisedly and with full awareness of the problems it raises). In terms of Classical Hatha practices and Yoga (not to be co fused with what is mostly sold as such!), that will mean learning from Brahmin Indians, mostly men, or those trained by them, and who take on to an unnerving degree the heirarchical thinking of their teachers. If one were to start talking about how wonderfully deviant it all is, they would discreetly distance themselves. You might not even notice. Since these are subtle bodily techniques, you learn them through hints, as one learns a musical instrument. Imagine if your guitar teacher decided to stop really teaching you and just go through the motions. That is quite a quandary in which to find oneself, and it raises epistemic and ethical/political issues that an embrace of deviance won’t quite get at, although as I say, it appeals to my sensibility.Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  Scott
5 years ago

I might be asking too much here, but is it possible to explain why the traditions you have in mind require learning bodily techniques? Could one understand the structure or logic of the view without mastering the bodily techniques? For example, could one conditionalize on the claims about bodily techniques to get something like, “If one masters such-and-such bodily technique, then one will this-and-that”?Report

Scott
Scott
Reply to  Johnny_Thunder
5 years ago

I replied below before I saw how to do it as a reply 🙂Report

Scott
Scott
5 years ago

Johnny Thunder, you could look at it that way in part, and those of us who seek to learn the techniques in question without the benefit (or burden) of a relationship of complete immersion, which is largely impossible anyway, do need to make ample use of textual hermeneutics as supplements to the oral teachings that are available. And the textual aspect is helpful in building bridges with western philosophy. There are, for example, interesting parallels between the epistemology sketched in a very compressed way (and I mean into about half a dozen terse verses) in the Yoga Sutras of Patangali and Husserl’s notions of insight, normative science, and technology (in Logical Investigations). There are, of course, vast and important differences as well, but no one ever accused Husserl of writing in an overly compressed way, so there is something to be said for making the comparison stick if it will and to the extent that it will. One can also, of course, study these traditions as anthropologists have, or approach them as James did religious experiences. But the problem is this: if one takes them seriously as philosophy, recognizes the emphatic sense in which they claim that the first person experience including embodied techniques is required, and especially if one already takes philosophy (with Hadot and others) to be more a matter of the choice of a way of life than a matter of mere talk about life, then one does need to at least consider the possibility that the claim of authority based on having gone through the training is valid. But, as I said, it is more a problem to consider than a recommendation. It is certainly not for everyone (again, popularly marketed nonsense notwithstanding).Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  Scott
5 years ago

Thanks, that’s helpful. I think I can sharpen my question in a couple ways now. First of all, I’m wondering: is what the Brahmin comes to know through bodily movement propositional? If so, then presumably I could entertain this proposition after he has communicated it to me. Unless it includes a concept that I don’t yet understand. But in any case, is there anything I can observe–other than the testimony of the masters–that should increase my credence in this proposition (or in the proposition that there is such a proposition that I don’t yet understand)? It seems to me important that there be some such evidence. Otherwise, I will have no more reason to devote time to these bodily movements than to getting baptized or sacrificing to the Greek gods. And I’m also inclined to think that that kind of testimony isn’t enough to justify academic hiring of scholars in these areas.

If it’s not propositional, what is it? A what it’s like kind of thing? Know how? Some other kind of knowledge I haven’t considered? Are philosophy departments the appropriate place for pursuing this other kind of knowledge? If it’s non-propositional, and comes from bodily movement, then as a contingent fact about how philosophy (and probably academia more generally) has developed in the west, it seems unlikely to me that academic philosophy departments are going to be especially well suited to pursuing this kind of knowledge. That’s not to diminish the knowledge itself, but to point to the limitations of modern academic philosophy.

I would have liked to look up what you’re talking about in order to ask these questions in a more informed way, but I’m actually not sure what to look for. I think the big stumbling block is not knowing what the content of the knowledge derived from bodily movement is supposed to be.Report

humble grad
humble grad
Reply to  Johnny_Thunder
5 years ago

It might be a “know how” or a “what it’s like” or some other kind of knowledge. That’s a philosophical question. The point that Amy Olberding and others have been emphasizing is that the resolution of such philosophical questions ought to take place within epistemological debates in philosophy departments, rather than at the gates of the academy. There are lots of open questions about the content of propositional knowledge, the justification of empirical knowledge claims, whether or to what extent cognition is embodied, extended, a priori, internal, external, and so on. If in order to be counted as philosophy, analytic epistemology first had to establish definitively what the content of propositional knowledge claims consists in (for example), it would never have gotten off the ground.

What is being called out here as illegitimate is the practice of banishing entire traditions of intellectual inquiry from the ambit of academic philosophy by subjecting them to philosophical critique outside the academy. If someone thinks there are proper philosophical objections against the epistemology of yoga, they should proceed with it like they do with other positions they argue against, i.e., by reading the relevant texts, teaching them, writing about them, critiquing them in conferences and journals, etc.Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  humble grad
5 years ago

humble grad,

It sounds like you’ve come to my comments with some (in my view wrong) assumptions about where I fit into some kind of culture war within philosophy. I think that’s caused you to misinterpret me. All that’s happening here is that Scott has said some philosophically interesting things and I’ve asked him questions about them and expressed views about possible answers. I haven’t talked about thinkers I’m unacquainted with or generalized about any traditions. Prof. Olberding has explicitly rejected complete deference to authority; she has only recommended intellectual humility by non-experts. I submit that my questions for Scott are appropriately humble.

To respond to your specific points:

“If in order to be counted as philosophy, analytic epistemology first had to establish definitively what the content of propositional knowledge claims consists in (for example), it would never have gotten off the ground.”

If you re-read my comment, I think you’ll see that what I’m asking for is much more modest than a definitive statement of what propositions are. I’m asking whether it’s possible, from the perspective of the philosophers Scott is talking about, to convey or provide evidence for their view to the uninitiated.

“What is being called out here as illegitimate is the practice of banishing entire traditions of intellectual inquiry from the ambit of academic philosophy by subjecting them to philosophical critique outside the academy.”

Nothing that’s been said so far suggests that my comments amount to an attempt to “banish an entire tradition”. I made some (tentative) claims about particular views that Scott described. I haven’t generalized beyond these particular views.

When you talk about “what is being called out here”, I assume you’re talking about Amy Olberding’s arguments, which I mostly agree with. However, I would interpret these arguments as more narrowly concerned with Asian philosophy, as opposed to “entire traditions of intellectual inquiry” per se. Merely being a tradition of intellectual inquiry isn’t enough to merit academic funding. Prof. Olberding’s point is that the relevant authorities tell us that there is much of real value in the Asian philosophical traditions.

“If someone thinks there are proper philosophical objections against the epistemology of yoga, they should proceed with it like they do with other positions they argue against, i.e., by reading the relevant texts, teaching them, writing about them, critiquing them in conferences and journals, etc.”

I don’t think my comment can reasonably be interpreted as indicating that I “think there are philosophical objections to the epistemology of yoga”. The comment consists of questions at many crucial points and the potential problems I point to have to do with potential answers to these questions. At no point, though, do I even suggest that these answers I consider really are the yogic epistemologists’ views. The process of question and anticipated answer that I engage in is meant to help clarify the questions.

As for reading relevant texts, teaching them, writing about them, etc.–it would be absurd to require such things in advance of an exchange of ideas of the kind Scott and I are having. Scott’s said some things that sounded interesting. I’m asking him about them. To require that people refrain from these kinds of questions until they’ve taught or published on the topic in question would be disastrous for philosophy.Report

scott
scott
Reply to  Johnny_Thunder
5 years ago

Sorry, I thought this thread died and just now saw your response. I also see that this thread generally has become quite heated, including the interaction about your question. For my part, I think it is a valid question, but it highlights in a way the problem, call it the academy-blindness if you like in keeping with John Protevi’s nice blog post in response to this. It simply isn’t a matter of reading texts. In fact, the reading of texts is understood to come at a particular, relatively later, phase in the apprenticeship. Also, if one is going to be quite traditional (westerners are sometimes given a pass on this) then one must memorize and be capable of reciting the relevant text before one is allowed to ask questions about it. And that points to the real point I was trying to get at. If we are really taking seriously the philosophical merit of the traditions at least of one branch of Indian Philosophy, i.e. Yoga, then it is not at all a question of graciously allowing it into our cannon. It is, rather, a matter of persuading the few people who know how to teach it to teach it to us. And they have a rather particular set of norms around who is, as I have heard it put by one very famous Indian teacher, “a student worthy of this teaching”. And since it is, yes, a know-how and, yes, a matter of “from the insideness” any post hoc propositional formulation is understood to be subservient to the production of the experience and not subject to evaluation by one who has not had the experience. Again, I am not necessarily endorsing this position in my own name. I am merely indicating that the question of whether we should admit or not some tradition on other into “our” cannon misses at least part of the point in the case of at least one tradition, at least in one of the ways that project was formulated here. You should look, if you want a source, at the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The best translation and introduction is in French, by Michel Angot. In English most bad, but the least bad is Edwin Bryant.Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  scott
5 years ago

Thanks, Scott, if you’re still reading. These points are extremely interesting.

I may be contradicting some of what I said to humble grad now, but your latest post reinforces my concerns. Since we (individuals and departments) have finite resources, and if we uninitiated can’t grasp the knowledge that yoga produces, I can’t see how it would be rational for us to devote some of these resources to yoga. To devote resources to something, I take it, you need evidence in advance that doing so will have some payoff. You seem to be saying that, according to yogic philosophy, this kind of evidence is in principle impossible. I suppose there’s testimony. But I don’t think that will be enough–lots of practices can claim testimonial evidence *and* can give me a taste of what they can contribute.

So now I think the reason this isn’t the bad kind of objection that humble grad is against is that I’m not arguing against yogic philosophy without having studied it; I’m arguing that yogic philosophy cannot provide me any reason to study yogic philosophy–at least, if Scott is right about yogic philosophy.

This argument doesn’t extend to most of the philosophy we’re talking about here. Prof. Olberding has said in comments above that the Chinese philosophy she’s advocating doesn’t involve a very radical break with the contemporary mainstream in philosophy–that many of the great Chinese thinkers, for example, are arguing in a broadly similar manner as the great western thinkers; Van Norden and Garfield say similar things.Report

Scott
Scott
Reply to  Johnny_Thunder
5 years ago

I think the points you raise are valid, actually. And I think they are exactly the kinds of concerns philosophers should be raising when they study traditions that work with norms at variance with western rationalism (broadly construed, it’s not a monolith, etc.). What should be kept in mind, however, and this was my point, is that while western philosophers are arguing, sometimes earnestly and sometimes derisively, about whether eastern traditions should be included in their institutions, the eastern teachers are judging, sometimes just as derisively, the western notion you seem to defend that argument or discourse alone and prior to experience in the flesh can accomplish much. The interesting thing is that some of the, for me, most interesting western thinkers of the last century arrive at The same point, but they have no tradition of embodied practice to turn to–except art, which is interesting but makes a different kind of claim.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the kind of evidence being claimed may be of a very particular kind. I think it will be shown within a few years by people working in biological anthropology that yoga techniques (I am talking about pranayama supported meditation) change the nervous system in quite precise ways, affecting in a deliberate and, we hope, measurable way, what Damasio would call the proto-self and core consciousness. Now, the question will be whether yoga enters our culture–and it is entering our culture in a big way–via medicalized normative-therapeutic techno science, with all that entails about its uses and misuses, coupled with “philosophy” cooked up in religious studies departments (at best), or whether it studied by philosophers and subjected to critical scrutiny in a way that, in my opinion, philosophers are better at than their peers in the other humanities disciplines.

i agree that it is definitely not feasible to integrate proper yoga training into existing university department curricula. But it is also not clear that that will be a viable home for philosophy if things continue apace. I think, of course, that that is unfortunate, but the tide seems finally to be turning against the feudal structure of the university.

Thank you for the engagement.Report

paolo
paolo
5 years ago

I went through top 10 Leiterrific departments. Medieval (i.e., Christian and Islamic) Philosophy: 3 people (1 affiliated, 2 regular); Renaissance Philosophy: 0 people. Eastern European philosophy of any period: 0 people. Asian (Chinese philosophy): 1 person. Asian (Indian) Philosophy: 0 people. So pretty thin on all these fronts. I did not check American philosophy (James, Santayana, etc.), Latin American philosopy, or Africana philosophy, but I think it would be similar numbers with perhaps Africana having a few people.Report

Rusty Jones
Rusty Jones
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

Some of these numbers are low if affiliates count. Harvard philosophy, for instance, has two excellent affiliates, Parimal Patil (Indian) and Khaled El-Rouayheb (Islamic). But at least one of these was not counted. Students who want to work in lightly represented subfields, either as a main focus or as a secondary one, would do well to note affiliated faculty and to ask questions about whether they are affiliates in name only or rather are accessible and integrated into the intellectual life of the department. (Parimal and Khaled fall into the latter group.) They should also ask questions about non-affiliates who are nevertheless relevant members of the community. We, for example, would quickly point to Mark Schiefsky (in classics, but with serious philosophical interests in Arabic and Renaissance) and perhaps others.

The intended point: Of course the representation in these areas is “pretty thin”. None of this is meant to suggest there isn’t a real issue of representation, nor is it in any way a rebuttal to Amy’s great post. (That I feel the need to add such an obvious disclaimer is perhaps an indication of the prevalence of some of the attitudes she is concerned about. Probably this comment belongs on that other thread, but I’ve already read one thread too many.) But for those with budding interests in these lightly represented areas, it can be worth digging beyond the surface of what’s going on at various institutions. At mine, at least, not only are the philosophers philosophers, but so are (at least) the chairs of Classics and of South Asian Studies, and the director of undergraduate studies in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. In fact, they’re damned good ones. But of course none of this would turn up from a survey of the regular philosophy faculty.Report

paolo
paolo
Reply to  Rusty Jones
5 years ago

Right – I knew about them, but I went by the “department interests” which lists neither Islamic nor Indian philosophy. In any case, I do not think that whether or not there are people interested in non-western philosophy in other departments than philosophy matters to the argument of van Norden. Olberding, and others. If I read Olberding , Vallabha and others correctly, to heed their voices would mean radical overhaul of philosophy departments in the US and Europe. There would be no justification for having an analytic (European) philosopher of language as opposed to someone working on language from the perspective of Buddhist, Persian, or African philosophy. THe call is to represent philosophy as a global discipline – and that must mean that Western philosophy cannot have a priviliged position vis-a-vis any position within a department. A department of philosophy of this sort might have a Western philosopher of language, Buddhist epistemologist, Confucian philosopher of science, and Africana philosopher of religion. Only then you could claim to have a department of philosopher, as opposed to a department of Western philosophy. If we continue to relegate other traditions to an affiliated postion in the department, or what have you – we are just avoiding the charge and responsibility.

This is no small matter. And they do have a point since the way we practice philosophy seems to be rooted in an inherent contradiction. On the one hand, we can think that philosophy aims at universal truths, perennial questions and so on. But if so, then it should be a global discipline. And if it is a global discipline, then on what basis are we excluding other than Western European traditions? Is it because we do not think they had philosophy or at least good philosophy? Or is it just prejudice? You might think, wait, but philosophy is more like sciences! But then the answer is simple – if it is like sciences, then how come it is not practiced in this way globally as all other sciences are?

On the other hand, you can think philosophy is more like a cultural product, rooted in tradtion. But then we should call it Western philosophy, just like we do not call English departments, Literature, but English. Unless, again you think that no one else had philosophy unless by some sort of courtesy.

The whole talk about diversifying syllabi and so on – that’s nice, but the fundamental problem is much more radical – and unless it is changed in the way I outlined, I do not think we will stop hearing the voices like van Norden, Vallabha and others. Personally, I disagree with some or many of their points – my view is, I take it, conservative. But it should be made clear what is, fundamentally, at issue here and I think it should be recognized that IF they are right, then we are doing things really wrong. It’s not about cosmetic changes to syllabi, or hiring a token Non-western person or adding a section to APA (there are already quite a few).Report

Rusty Jones
Rusty Jones
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

Thanks for the thoughtful response. You may well be correct about the relevance of the matter to the initial arguments. I already took the point to be only obliquely related to Amy’s post.

“Right – I knew about them, but I went by the “department interests” which lists neither Islamic nor Indian philosophy.”

I see. That is an oversight on our part – perhaps a telling one. In any case, I have accurately represented their areas of expertise, and we need to be sure we do so in a clear way on our website.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

@paolo: are you serious about a “Confucian philosopher of science”? (Or indeed, any culturally-relative philosopher of science?)Report

paolo
paolo
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

Wallace: yes, I am absolutely serious. There is a category in Chinese Philosophy of Science in philpapers after all: http://philpapers.org/browse/chinese-philosophy-of-science. After all, science is not just physics, but biology, chemistry, social science, and so on.

You might think that somehow thinking philosophically about quantum mechanics or what have you is not culturally dependent, because you think that quantum mechanics is such. But I am not sure you are entitled to such a view. On the one hand, presumably, there are broadly speaking ethical and social issues concerning any science. These include religious aspects, what is doing science in an ethically responsible way, and so on. BUt also what society thinks science should be doing in within society. But there are also other issues – if you think that you operate within a theoretical framework of what counts as, say, explanation or prediction, then it is possible to have a different framework. Why not Daoist, Mohist, or Buddhist? A quick google search on, say Buddhism and Quantum mechanics reveals as much. And there are other issues, say, whether the concepts used in science are not chauvinist, cis-gendered, and so on. So, yes, I am serious about this.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

@Paolo:

Just to be clear: having noted earlier in this same thread that you are “completely in the dark” about philosophy of physics, you are now advocating distinctively Buddhist (and Daoist/Mohist) philosophy of physics on the basis of putting the phrase “Buddhism and Quantum mechanics” into Google?

(And the result of your search, assuming your return is similar to mine, was pages upon pages of the kind of New Age nonsense that gives philosophy a bad name among physicists – as anyone working in QM could have predicted.)

There is more than one kind of epistemic deference. If (as has been argued pretty persuasively on this thread) people untrained in (e.g.) Chinese or Indian philosophy should defer to experts before declaring that there are no arguments to be found in those traditions, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask people to, (e.g.) make a proper academic study of quantum mechanics before deciding that philosophy of quantum mechanics must be culturally parochial and ought to be broadened to include Buddhist philosophy of quantum mechanics.Report

paolo
paolo
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

@ David Wallace: no, I am not advocating distinctively any X philosophy of science and I am also not advocating it on the basis of a google search. Frankly, I do not know how you inferred that from anything I said. I pointed out that if Olberding, van Norden and others are right, then philosophy as it is currently practiced in the academy in US and Europe needs to radically change. In particular, whatever the object of philosophical inquiry there is, European philosophical perspective on that subject can no more be the default, standard, normal or paradigmatic perspective. If there is Buddhist epistemology or Hindu philosophy of langauge it needs to be treated on a par, as a matter of principle, to Christian (or Western) epistemology or philosophy of language. I have not endorsed their view at all, hence I did not advocate for anything of that sort. If you disagree that that is what their view implies, that is something to argue with me about. Whether or not some particular branch of philosophy is or is not susceptible to being done in different cultural ways of philosophy is not particularly important or interesting to their overall point.

But to the point – if there is or could be, say, Buddhist or what have you philosophical thinking about science (done presumably by somebody trained or knowledgeable in physics and also Buddhist philosophy – I do not see why there could not be such a person), then yes, there might well be Buddhist philosophy of science. Perhaps buddhism has nothing to say about science, I do not know. But perhaps it does. There is Hegelian philosophy of science, so why not Buddhist? Aristotle holds something like a New Age view of matter and causation (words of Myles Burnyeat, not mine) and we do allow Aristotelian perspectives in contemporary physics, no? Tim Maudlin has written “what Aristotle would have said to Einstein”, why not someobody “what Buddhist or whatever philosophy XY would have said to Bohr”? So even if there now no such thing, there is no a priori reason to think it could not be done unless, of course, it can be shown that Buddhist or Confucian thinking just cannot in any way contribute to philosophical thinking about science, whether before, now or in the future.

I also did not concentrate on philosophy of physics in particular as opposed to of biology or what have you. But I do not see why you exclude it. You merely state that it is not culturally parochial because you are a philosopher of physics and you know. That assumes that you are an expert on both philosophy of physics and on what is culturally parochial, being able to tell, from a third point of view, that your own way of doing things is universal, not culturally dependent, and so on. Perhaps that is so. And perhaps it is true that philosophy of physics can only be done in analytic way. But it would be pretty hard to show that that is true and, I assume, rather easier for someone trained non-analytically (in some other tradition) and in physics that it is not true (if it is not).

Personally, I started out being rather firmly on the anti-Olberding side, but I am starting to see that they do have a point. I like indian and chinese philosophy – I always think of them as interesting historical ways of doing philosophy (in the same way as I think of Greek philosophy). I never thought that they are of particular relevance to contemporary ways of doing philosophy. I do not endorse their view because it is way to strong for me (i.e., at least the way I understand what they claim). But I can see now that part of what they are saying is that there is a priori dismissal from us of those traditions as being philosophically interesting in the way in which Greek or Medieval or Early Modern philosophy can be philosophically interesting and that assumption is not just prejudice but also philosophically stupid. It is not a matter of respect for those traditions – that is pretty empty. It is a matter of actually admitting it into the horizon of things we consider when we think about philosophy in departmental meetings, in conferences, and so on. We do it as best an afterthought, or as something “weird” and “also” worth including. But it should be simply a partner at the table, at least (so much I would go for defintiely) insofar as history of philosophy is concerned.Report

david wallace
david wallace
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

@paolo: I take the point that some of what your original post was saying is exegesis of others and I’m erroneously attributing it to you; apologies for that. Beyond that I think the conversation is at the diminishing-returns point.Report

Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

Speaking only for myself, I think what Paolo is saying here needs emphasizing: Part of what’s at issue here is not that there is some new, rival vision of philosophy being introduced as a replacement for the current version. Instead, the point is more that we don’t yet have *any idea* what a more enlivened, open philosophy might do, be, or become. At least part of the objection by people like me is that philosophy has somehow fallen into a mode of practice in which it seems to settle far too much by reflexive exclusions, and by replicating over and over unexamined patterns of doing things. To those of us on the outside, it feels like far, far too much gets settled by fiat, in advance, at the front gates of the discipline. I too have no idea whether such a thing as Buddhist physics would be possible, but the point is that the discipline has not been improved by trying to settle this sort of thing in advance of any inquiry and without involving all the salient expertise. At the very least, it appears it has been settling far too many things in exactly this way (again, by having a practices, ways of talking and teaching that by default treat much more as settled than should be). Instead of seeing this discussion as a threat to philosophy or to “standards,” it is possible to see it as a return to philosophical fundamentals, as a restoration of robust open-mindedness, devoted suspension of quick or unexamined assumptions, and a healthy dose of self-doubt that any of us are likely to get “philosophy” right once and for all.

I hope, Paolo, I haven’t misrepresented any of what you said!Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

Repeating my question to Kathryn: do you really mean “Buddhist *physics*”? (My emphasis.) That is: are we really talking not just about different ways of doing philosophy, but different ways of doing physics? Whether or not any part of philosophy is “cosmopolitan, universal, objective, physics-like”, I’m pretty sure physics itself is!Report

Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

Phil of physics! Sorry.Report

paolo
paolo
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

@Amy – no you have not. I think I can understand a little better what you are talking about now (it’s not that what you said was said unclearly, obviously, it is rather that it’s sometimes hard to see what others are saying when they come from a perspective or position that I do not share or have not experienced). I actually only became more sympathetic when David Wallace pushed what I was saying to an unnecessary, ridiculously extreme consequence – namely, that I am advocating (let’s grant I was advocating for a minute) some sort of new age b.s. that we find in the Eastern philosophy/Metaphysics sections in bookstores. It’s not so much that I was not doing it, but the fact that he even thought one could be doing it. In other words, I realized that there was not so much an inclination to see what is reasonable and is or could be interesting or important in what I was saying (or you, since I was drawing conclusions from what I understood you were saying), but an inclination (perhaps not entirely conscious) to see something silly, badly thought out, or dangerous. It was not “I wonder what Chinese philosophy might have to say about a or b,” it was “Knowing c, I can tell you Chinese philosophy has nothing to say about it.” He might of course be right, but that’s not the point. I have actually done exactly the same before when I suggested that the choice is between the way CompLIt went or Lingustics. I take it, none of you is advocating loss of standards, rigor, clarity, or criticism. Yet, I drew the conclusion all the way to that end. So it’s maybe not so much about changing the canon, or syllabi, or even intentionally learning about Chinese or Indian philosophy when one can be learning about other, perhaps more useful things to one’s work or more interesting to oneself. It is simply about seeing non-Western philosophy as not a threat by default and treating it as a partner, as we do Greek philosophy, whether we do or do not want to learn about it. Changing one’s attitude. The rest might or might not follow. So, that’s what I got, despite diminishing returns.

As I indicated, I am not persuaded about the strong conclusion (i.e., that pluralism should overhaul the way philosophy is done in US entirely – though I can see how one could demand it), for a variety of reasons (no doubt, not all of them entirely objective. But I think thinking that having a non-western philosophy represented in departments on regular basis (say, a historian of Indian or Chinese philosophy in the way in which we have Greek or German philosophy) would be a good standard for departments to adopt. And this could spur the disciplines to more vigor across the board and catch more attention, and so on.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

@Paolo: I apologise if I read into your argument a more extreme or absurd position than you had in mind. But in that case I have no idea what you did have in mind by your comment about the findings of a “quick google search on, say Buddhism and Quantum mechanics”. It’s off the back of that comment that I thought that you were advocating something so extreme – New Age nonsense is mostly what such a search throws up, and even the not-obviously-nonsensical stuff is written by people whose quantum mechanics is clearly based on popular accounts rather than a proper understanding of the mathematics.

(It is a perennial irritation in doing philosophy of physics that physicists themselves are exposed to “philosophy” largely through that kind of nonsense, which is very prevalent and makes very casual use of not-understood physics, and that as a consequence philosophers of physics have to work to overcome that impression of the field when trying to have useful conversations with physicists. If I’m oversensitive on the point, that’s the background context.)Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

David, when I was an undergraduate I took a cross-listed course called Buddha’s brain team-taught by a philosopher and a psychologist. A significant portion of the course dealt with philosophy of mind, but philosophy of neuroscience and psychology also figured in, and there were some distinctive contributions from non-Western traditions, and the course was one of the highlights of my undergraduate education. Which is just to say, Buddhist physics might not be a serious area of philosophy of science, but there are other contenders.

And I guess I’m a little confused as to why that would be implausible — isn’t the possibility in the spirit of Neurath, Duhem, etc.?Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

Kathryn: my (most recent) point was a reasonably specific response to Paolo’s “Buddhist philosophy of quantum mechanics” comment, which wasn’t intended to generalise to the life or cognitive sciences.

You’ve used the phrase “Buddhist physics” (as distinct from “Buddhist philosophy of physics”) in your reply, and it might just be a slip, but it’s very much the sort of thing that concerns me in these discussions. To suppose that there’s a field of “Buddhist physics” (as distinct from Western physics) would a dangerous form of cultural relativism about physics, a field which is practiced pretty much the same way across the world and which has seen towering contributions from large numbers of non-Western physicists.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

That was just a slip–typing from my phone while walking. But thanks for the follow-up.Report

Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

Paolo,
I think it is, hopefully, both – i.e., shifting inclinations away from reflexive rejection or dismissal, and expansion. But I also think that if the first were achieved, the second would follow more organically. If people could overcome a predisposition to discount non-western philosophy or to assume non-western work is dubious, then more would have access to what it *can* offer (e.g., it would start showing up in “general” journals more, at conferences that aren’t specialist, etc.) and would be far more likely to find it *enjoyable* as a set of sources for undergraduate teaching, as well as its specialists offering a potential hire pool.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Oldenburding’s post contained much that as interesting and worthwhile. It is worth keeping in mind, though, that it was a Straw Man posted as a response to me, when I had not engaged in the behavior she described, but merely could have gone on to engage in it. This too is a sort of conversation, and a sort of dismissiveness, that needs to be avoided when addressing this important issue.Report

Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Yeah, Hey Nonny Mouse, I feel like a heel for that. I apologized on the other thread. Hope you saw it; if not, again, I’m sorry you caught the heat when I boiled over. And I agree that there are patterns of this sort of interaction all over the discipline and that they’re not good for any of us.Report

anothersomeone
anothersomeone
5 years ago

Not sure if this resource has already been mentioned, but there’s a database of syllabi here that might be very useful for anyone interested in potentially diversifying an existing course or in developing a new course based in a non-Western tradition: http://www.apaonline.org/members/group_content_view.asp?group=110430&id=380970

Those who have developed non-Western or partly non-Western courses: please consider adding your syllabus to the list. Those of us (like myself) who are untrained in these traditions but are interested in bringing them into the classroom, however haltingly, would appreciate it!

I also want to thank Amy Olberding for her patient and cogent defense of diversifying the canon. It has persuaded even a highly analytically trained, ahistorical, & M&E trained philosopher such as myself that I should be doing more to make my intro & undergrad courses more diverse, though I know this will be a slow and ongoing enterprise.Report

natcphd
5 years ago

Why would we even expect the institution that has styled itself as ‘philosophy’ to engage in ways other than those itemised?

Throughout 500 years of eurocentric competitive colonisation of our planet, you (I address, past and present, participants in and sustainers of the self-styled institution of ‘philosophy’) have acted time and time again, in ways that manifest not your love of wisdom, but rather your investment in white power.

You are duplicitous. Your imperial nakedness in the court of public opinion should make you ashamed that you peddle whitewash as ‘philosophy’. But shameless as you are, you respond to decolonial criticism with backlash.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  natcphd
5 years ago

I’m sure philosophers act in ways that don’t manifest a love of wisdom all the time. E.g., when they eat a sandwich or get gas for the car. I’m not sure what it means for one’s actions to manifest one’s investment in white power–if you gave a specific example of how, say, Parfit or Williamson are manifesting investment in white power I’d be willing to try to assess it though.Report

natcphd
Reply to  JDRox
5 years ago

‘I’m not sure what it means for one’s actions to manifest one’s investment in white power’. Use the standard bibliographic tools to educate yourself on what this means. Use your newly encountered learning to reflect upon the defensive backlash of you and your ilk, in this educationally derailing thread.

Indeed, the suggestion that I am attempting to ‘help win anyone over to our side’ is naive. It misunderstands what investment in white power is. It is (at least) being impervious to rational argument. The defensive participants in this thread are not participating because they are willing to be convinced by counter-arguments and persuaded to act differently. They are participating to sustain the status quo. That is their duplicity.

You attempt to derail discourse from decolonial conversation about the institution of eurocentric ‘philosophy’ to nit-picking quibbles over individual ‘philosophers’. Doubtless, if I venture to say anything about an individual, you will belabour that comment about the individual and successfully stifle discussion about the institution. Thanks for your backlash bait, but you can keep it.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  natcphd
5 years ago

According to you, being invested in white power entails being impervious to rational argument. Since I, and most other philosophers, are not impervious to rational argument, I guess there’s less investment in white power than some have worried. Yea! We don’t even need to nitpick!Report

Grad Student Working in Asian Philosophy
Grad Student Working in Asian Philosophy
5 years ago

I’ve been meaning to comment for a while; sorry for coming late! A few points:
1. Natcphd: I am not sure that your comment means anything (though you threw some polarized social justice words together). I am definitely sure that it will not help win anyone over to our side.
2. JD Rox’s question is a legitimate one that deserves an actual answer (not moral condemnation).
To answer his/her question, I do not think that any department is obligated to get an Asian philosophy scholar over (say) a Kant scholar. But they likewise should not feel obligated to take the Kant scholar over the Asian philosophy scholar. The decision should obviously be the one that is best for the department and students. But I would argue that, more often than not, the Asian studies scholar will be a better fit in a small department. Most departments already have people that are at least reasonably capable of teaching Kant, Epistemology, so on and so forth, but few have anyone qualified to teach Asian philosophy. An Asian philosopher can fill in that gap and, as Amy noted, likely fill in other gaps in the curriculum.
3. Also as Amy highlighted, there are other changes that can happen more swiftly and make a big difference. For example, the APA could host an additional section on Asian philosophy. Ideally, if the section was on (say) Indian logic, mainstream logicians could attend and start up a dialogue. I suspect that both sides can learn from one another and attending an occasional talk is not a big time suck. Major journals could also have special issues on Asian philosophy (I believe Rebecca is doing this at Georgetown). They could likewise publish more work in Asian philosophy if, of course, it meets the journal’s standards.Report

JDRox
JDRox

Thanks, this is helpful! I might even agree with you, at least for undergrad departments, if we’re only asking about what would benefit the undergrads most. I do think part of our “job” is to be a resource for our colleagues, and for departments that teach continental, aesthetics, and several other areas there would be a big bonus in having a Kantian. But maybe you’re right even so. I do think “a Kantian” would be somewhat far down the “list” though: most small departments don’t have one, or only have one because that person is their modern person.Report

PeterJ
PeterJ
5 years ago

It seems a simple matter to me. ‘Western’ philosophers discover that all positive metaphysical positions are absurd and can make no sense of this result. ‘Eastern’ philosophers take this result as a proof of their philosophy and explain why it is the case.

Nagarjuna proves that all positive or extreme metaphysical are absurd. This is pretty much all we would need to know about him to grasp the essence of his proof of Buddhism. There is nothing ‘eastern’ about this result. Almost every thinker arrives at it. We can scratch our heads and wonder what it means, meanwhile going nowhere, or we can study the philosophy for which it is an axiom and see how it can be used to derive an explanatory theory.

I cannot see a third option other than to give up on philosophy. Without a metaphysics in place I can see no way to make sense of ‘eastern’ ideas on ethics, politics or much else or even much point in trying to make sense of them. Just as Schopenhauer explains altruism as the ‘breakthrough of a metaphysical truth’ everything would be explained by reference to metaphysical truths – one of them being the absurdity of extreme metaphysical theories as has been well-established by western philosophers but rarely taken into account by them.Report

Confused
Confused
5 years ago

This is a response to Stephen Clark. Somehow, I can’t reply directly to any of your posts from yesterday.

I didn’t say, and don’t think, that everything Mozi had to say was banal. Rather, what I said was this: “I would be very hesitant to assign this passage to undergraduates, since it is an instance of something I try hard to stop them from doing. The “therefores” in the passage don’t seem to indicate the conclusions of philosophical arguments but, rather, a sort of causal relationship. Mozi is presenting his view that lack of magnanimity causes some organizations and individuals to attack others more readily and that their being magnanimous would make this less likely. But he doesn’t really argue for this view, and it isn’t even clear that it’s the kind of view that needs argument. It’s just not very controversial or interesting. Actually, it’s almost analytically true that a magnanimous person is someone who cares enough about others not to attack them hastily. I’m sure there may have been some people who needed a reminder to be magnanimous, and it’s good that Mozi provided them with that. But I don’t see any case being made here for an interesting or controversial conclusion.”

In other words: while some things that Mozi said in the passage that was recommended were no doubt useful, it doesn’t seem to work to understand him as presenting an argument for an interesting conclusion. If one tries to reconstruct what he says as an argument, he seems to be arguing for something self-evident (i.e. that magnanimous people care about others enough to not attack them hastily), which isn’t so charitable.

You say that the purpose of much philosophy is not to present and consider arguments but rather to outline a possible worldview or position. I actually disagree with that. I’m sure you can enumerate many instances of works that are studied by students and professors in many prominent philosophy programs, but I really don’t think those are philosophy in the proper sense (though they might be fodder for philosophical discussion by others). Saying “Hell is other people” or “The totality of words corresponds directly to the totality of things in the world” or “a substance is that which exists in itself and is conceived through itself” or “maybe the galaxy is an atom in a much bigger galaxy” are speculative thoughts, not philosophy. And speculations are cheap. The philosophical work comes from actually considering whether there’s anything to be said in favor of this world view, or against it, or what must logically follow from it and why. That’s the philosophical part, and it’s what philosophical training consists in.

If you disagree and think that philosophy involves just sitting around and coming up with interesting ideas, then I think we just disagree about what the subject matter of the discipline is. But there are many others who agree with me that philosophy has to be argumentative (you mention Massimo Pigliucci as an example). And so the question is: is there anything in non-western philosophy that WE should assign to our students as readings? If something doesn’t contain a clear argument, then it’s not going on my syllabus, whichever tradition it comes from.

You mention a number of intriguing candidates for inclusion, and I’m interested. However, like many readers of this blog I suspect, I don’t have the time to pore through several long works in search of some passages that may or may not contain arguments. What would be really helpful, and what would do a great deal to help get more non-western works on our syllabi, would be if you and others could say not just “Look for the part of huge text T that contains the passage about U” but actually say where in the huge text we can find those passages.

Thanks!Report

Stephen Clark
Stephen Clark
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

I give up.

Nothing I said had the implication that I thought “that philosophy involves just sitting around and coming up with interesting ideas”: the ones you instance mean nothing outside their context, and dealing with them requires us to see what they imply, why anyone should find them plausible, how they might be modified and so on. What I was describing was the attempt to understand and make sense of ways of acting and thinking, without any intention of demonstrating their truth or otherwise by formal argument: this often requires careful examination of what may well be very unfamiliar backgrounds, and of the unvoiced and so unexamined assumptions in the text. It may also require us to look beyond the particular texts that display those ways of thinking and acting, so as to uncover what their implications were at the time, what led their authors to offer their conclusions, and who they were disagreeing with. We must acknowledge in some cases that what is written down is only the result of a debate or other sort of exchange which it takes time and effort to reconstruct. This enterprise may also require us – and here it seems to me that you cheerfully ignore the requirement – to take the alternatives seriously: the idea that it is “almost analytically true that a magnanimous person is someone who cares enough about others not to attack them hastily” (which seems incidentally to be accepting “magnanimity” as an appropriate translation of whatever concept was there in the original text, and to give it a meaning that seems rather unlike the meaning attached to it when it was coined as a word for the Aristotelian virtue, megalopsuchia) seems astonishingly optimistic. Asking for an argument of the familiar “if p then q” sort for being thus “magnanimous” (or for any other substantive conclusion, especially in ethics) is likely to be a failure for a very familiar reason: anyone unpersuaded of the conclusion Q is likely to conclude that arguments of the form “if P then Q” are actually reductiones: the real result – if the logical or other entailment is accepted – will be to dismiss P. Persuasion is very rarely so easily captured in formal terms: and it is then that we need a larger understanding and experience if we are to continue any sort of conversation or cooperation. Nothing of this implies, by the way, that there is no place for purely argumentative discourse, dialectic or even eristic – and such forms are also found elsewhere than in Greece or places influenced by Greece.

Do please read the review by Van Norden, and the interview, which he concludes as follows, with a quote from Chu Hsi, whom I mentioned before: “Let me close with one of my favorite quotations from Zhu Xi, which sums up the spirit of Chinese philosophy:

There is a certain sort of talk among the current generation that encourages laziness. People say things like, “I would not dare to carelessly criticize my elders!” or “I would not dare to assert my own uninformed opinions!” These are simply expressions of laziness! Certainly one shouldn’t unthinkingly criticize one’s elders, but what harm is there in discussing what is right or wrong with their actions? And certainly one shouldn’t insist on one’s own opinions, but when we read books, we will have doubts and have insights. Naturally we will have opinions. Those who don’t have opinions simply have not read carefully enough to have any doubts!”

The texts I mentioned are not very long, but there are volumes of shorter readings in Chinese as of Indian philosophy: you don’t have to plough through the entire corpus of Confucian, Daoist, Buddhist or Vedantin thought to find significant directives, or even detailed – but also often very abrupt – arguments. You can also, if you are serious in wishing to explore the possibility, consult philosophers such as Bryan Van Norden, or Alexus Mcleod, or Jonardon Ganeri, or Kisor Chakrabarti, or Peter Adamson …. but the list goes on. And it probably will remain the case that the arguments thus abstracted from their context will mean less to you and your students than they would if a little more time and effort were expended on understanding the context, and accepting that stories as well as arguments can be making significant contributions (points that also apply of course to the study of ancient Mediterranean texts: there’s probably more philosophical value, for instance, in understanding the meaning, the background – and the influence – of Plato’s ‘myth of the cave’ than in sneering at the clunky form of some of his overt arguments).

But I really do now give up. You seem adamant in your conviction that only the sort of philosophical activity which you yourself practice is worth the name (though you acknowledge that other academics, including many employed in “Philosophy Departments” disagree), and that no similar activity has ever gone on in regions uninfluenced by the Western tradition (as otherwise, you suggest, those of us who disagree with you would be giving precise examples). You are, I think, wholly mistaken on both counts. There are other ways of “doing philosophy” (in the West as well as elsewhere), and there are plenty of highly argumentative philosophers who “do it your way” in the Indian, Muslim and Chinese traditions (I’m not implying that there aren’t such philosophers in Japan, or anywhere else), though they may do it in a somewhat different style (Buddhist texts are oddly repetitive for example). The original spark for these exchanges concerned the way any suggestion that non-Western texts and thinkers be brought into play was automatically dismissed with a variety of specious and stereotypical excuses, without any serious attempt to consider what those texts and thinkers can contribute, or even what they are actually like. You seem to want to continue to do the same. OK. Enough. I give up.Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  Stephen Clark
5 years ago

Stephen Clark, I have never said, and I don’t think, that nothing like philosophy “has ever gone on in regions uninfluenced by the Western tradition”. I don’t know what I ever said that gives you that idea.

My needs are simple and I’ve made them clear repeatedly. I’m looking for readings to put in my syllabus that give students models of philosophy as the presentation of arguments and counter-arguments, and stop them from thinking that philosophy is just a matter of making profound-sounding pronouncements, which many of them lazily think it is. I have no idea whether or not there are philosophical works that do the trick to be found in the non-western tradition, but I’m sure there must be.. And if anyone can direct me to good ones to put in my syllabus, I’d really like that and would do it. But I don’t have the time to wade through long works like the Analects searching for something that might work. If that’s what it will take, I’m not going to make my syllabus more diverse, and probably many others will be in the same position.

I have no idea how you got from that to your apparent view that I’m making some sweeping pronouncement about what is or isn’t in the totality of non-Western thought. I have never said any such things. I’m just looking for some good non-Western readings, and serving as everyone’s punching bag for my pains.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Bharath Vallabha
5 years ago

There is something important in Confused’s push to find arguments in the Analects which has not yet been discussed. Maybe what I am about to say is not something Confused’s thinks, but it is perhaps in the vicinity of the issue regarding arguments.

Let’s grant that the Analects has philosophical arguments in it. But it is also normally considered a religious text – in the public consciousness on a par with the Bible, the Gita, etc. According to one narrative (call it “the separation narrative”), a main aim of western philosophy of the last 400 years has been to separate religion (or religious philosophy/theology) from philosophy as such. The motivation for such separation, on this narrative, is simple: “religions are in conflict, so peace requires a neutral language, which is what the Enlightenment philosophers sought to create.”

One worry about nonwestern philosophy then is that it is a threat to the separation narrative. Put simply: If the Analects counts as philosophy, why doesn’t the Bible? And if the Bible counts, then aren’t we back in the time of the 1600s in Europe, and aren’t we losing the advances of separation made since then?

This worry is compatible with acknowledging there were atheists in nonwestern philosophy, and even certain kinds of secularism, and that there was lots of arguments re metaphysics, ethics, etc . But on the surface there still seems to be this difference between, say, chinese philosophy and european philosophy of last 400 years: chinese philosophy pre communism still held to the Analects as a foundational text, but european philosophy separated itself from the bible (or the Iliad) as a foundational text. From this perspective, the push for finding “philosophical” arguments in the Analects might be the push to find arguments in the sense assumed by the separation narrative.

Of course this is a vast issue. But those pushing for pluralism need to face it head on. Ignorance of nonwestern philosophy, or implicit racism, are not the only causes why people push against pluralism. The separation narrative is foundational to certain parts of western academic philosophy. It is like a gate holding pluralism at bay, and it has to be taken seriously.Report

TD
TD
5 years ago

When people assert that non-Western philosophy doesn’t make arguments and therefore isn’t philosophy, they’re making two silly claims. The first claim is, apparently, that in 4500 years of recorded history, nobody east of the Urals ever offered a reason to do or believe anything. This claim merits refutation only in the hope that shame might shut mouths ignorance has not. The second claim is that there’s only one way to do philosophy, namely formal argumentation. In offering counterexamples to the first claim (in the thread above), I don’t want to be taken to endorse the second.

Like most philosophers, I believe that any philosophical position worth the name will be capable of formalized expression, and will stand up to analysis. I also believe that training in philosophy is chiefly training in this kind of analysis. But it’s just not true that formal argument is the sole available tool for getting ideas from your head into somebody else’s. It is an obvious, demonstrable fact that other communicative strategies are capable of conveying thoughts to an audience: metaphor, hyperbole, allusion, allegory, paradox, parody, jokes, mockery, insults, fables, myths, lies–all have been used by writers (including canonical Western philosophers) to communicate ideas to readers, successfully, for millennia. Confronted with these techniques, philosophers sometimes behave as though they are literally unintelligible, or at least as though they involve a significant sacrifice of clarity. But clarity is relative to capability, and while these skills can’t be formalized, like dancing they can be learned and improved. Most intelligent people have no trouble getting jokes, recognizing parody, parsing allegories, or interpreting myths. These modes of communication pose no obstacle to understanding if you have some basic experience in their use, gained chiefly by reading things besides recent articles in journals of philosophy. If you are personally out of your depth dealing with these communicative techniques, if you feel you cannot understand writers who use them, please consider whether this is not a mark of the seriousness and rigour of your education, but an indication that it has hobbled your powers of analysis.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  TD
5 years ago

There is a third kind of claim that people sometimes mean by saying nonwestern philosophy doesn’t make arguments, and that is not at all silly. On this claim, the relevant notion of argument is the giving and taking of reasons in a way which does not have “religious texts” as foundational texts. On this view, it is only in Europe (in ancient Greece and then during the Enlightenment) that a certain kind of rupturing from earlier religious traditions happened: where the earlier texts were set aside in the practice of giving and taking reasons (this is the kind of view Paolo earlier on this thread articulated; I don’t know if he believes it). This is what makes Socrates and Kant “philosophers” in that in order to evaluate or understand their view, this line of thought goes, no reference to any religious text needs to be made. Kant might have been religious, but supposedly he made no reference to that in arguing against Hume.

The worry hangs in the air: Can this be true of traditions which begin with, and continually engage with, texts such as the Upanishads, Tao Te Cheng, etc.? The view is that somehow once this “religious” aura is attached to giving and taking reasons, it infests the activity in a way which renders it not quite fully rational – not really an “argument” in a full sense. The worry is that somehow nonwestern philosophy is going to drag the west back into a more primitive time, and in the process empower religious fundamentalists by weakening modern secular philosophy.

Now, I don’t agree with this view at all. In fact, I think it depends on crude conceptions of religion, and ultimately, very limited conceptions of philosophy. But it is a very powerful view which cannot be dismissed as simply due to ignorance or an obsession with formal reasoning. I am not saying this worry has to be fully answered before piecemeal improvements are made re changing syllabi, hiring specialists in nonwestern phil, etc. Much more of that is needed. But I doubt pluralism will ever fully take root until this worry is addressed seriously.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
5 years ago

But Aquinas, for example, is certainly taken to be a philosopher, and he began with and continually engaged with religious texts — maybe you think he does so differently from how others do, but I’m not quite sure what the difference would be. So, if this is what some folks have in mind, it doesn’t seem like it’s applied consistently.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

Is there a difference between Aquinas as a 13th century Christian philosopher and, say, Shankara as an 8th century Hindu philosopher? Taken in their own times, I don’t see any difference.

But when Aquinas is read in philosophy departments now (atleast in non-religious colleges), he is read so as to separate his insights from his theological framework. The idea is that western philosophers are able to do this because they have the practice of making precisely such a separation, as developed by some of the early modern philosophers. I think many people skeptical of philosophy departments becoming pluralistic have this question: Are we now going to draw such a separation when reading someone like Shankara as well? Are we going to separate Sankara’s insights from his theological framework? Or to stick to the example of Confucius: are we going to separate his insights from the framework of spirits and rituals?

Part of what adds confusion here is the rhetoric that our aim in engaging with nonwestern philosophy must be to appreciate it in its own terms, as if doing any of this separation of the “philosophical” parts from the “religious” parts amounts to a kind of orientalism. This raises an interesting question for philosophers such as Olberding, Van Norden, Ganeri, etc. as they help bring nonwestern philosophy to western academia: is their aim to introduce nonwestern philosophy without enacting any separation of religion and philosophy, or is their aim to enact such a separation so that they aim to show how much indeed survives from nonwestern philosophy after such a separation? It would be great to hear more from specialists of nonwestern philosophy on this question.Report

paolo
paolo
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

@Bharath and Kathryn
I think it is more complicated with Medieval philosophy. There is acknowledgement that not all they wrote is philosophy and that they were not only philosophers. Some of it makes little sense without theological framwork (lots of Bonaventura), some of it can be taken competley independently of it. At the same time, however, they do try to make sense of faith and God philosophically. In fact, following PLato and Aristotle they often adopt and defend a philosophical conception of God. It is worth emphasizing that there is a difference between that conception and a popular conception. In Greek philosophy it is quite obvious – not only were some Greek philosophers atheists (Anaxagoras and Socrates were both accused of it and sentenced for it), some of them had radical ideas about deities entirely contradictory to popular Greek or Roman religion (Aristotle’s theoretical god & and Epicurean “flying faint images” as I like to call them are the most famous examples). In general, they often rejected traditions. As Medieval philosophy slowly adopts these frameworks, there is a distinct struggle to remain philosophical while not undermining Biblical conceptions. And that tension is a source of much philosophical thinking which includes theology. So it is a long relationship with religion – usually marked by rejection of popular conception of religion and either rejecting it or working out a philosophical conception. But so is philosophy’s relation to science and art.

I do not know enough in this area about Chinese and Indian philosophy (most I know is human nature/ethics stuff). But IF they adopt and take on board full-fledged religious mythology, dogmas and so on, without subjecting them to rational criticism and rethinking, reasoning strictly within confines of established tradition, one might think they are less philosophical and more religious. But somehow I doubt that is the case, from the little I know. THere will be borderline cases, obviously, but that is everywhere. Personally, I do believe that religion and philosophy are in an uneasy relation. That is compatible with individual philosophers being deeply religious (just like scientists can be religious). But I guess that would be a whole another discussion.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

“So it [Medieval philosophy] is a long relationship with religion – usually marked by rejection of popular conception of religion and either rejecting it or working out a philosophical conception. But so is philosophy’s relation to science and art.” This seems to me a great description, which applies as well to Chinese and Indian philosophy. (Paolo, nothing I say here is meant to disagree with you; just following out a line of thought.)

In Indian philosophy, there are atheists, materialists, thinkers who reject the Vedas, and many others thinkers, who even if they accept the Vedas, try to articulate in a rational way what it means and why to believe them. The worry some people have that nonwestern philosophy is just one big mesh of religious superstition is just wrong. It is as internally complex as western philosophy. Surely this is one main thing which specialists in nonwestern philosophy are doing and why we need more of them: they are bringing out this internal complexity of these other traditions, to help us get beyond simplistic dichotomies of religion/philosophy, east/west, etc.

This idea of the internal complexity of nonwestern philosophy suggests an interesting possibility: that the difference between, say, Indian philosophy and European philosophy of the last 400 years is not anything distinctly philosophical, but rather sociological, having to do with the rise of capitalism and how it reoriented much of European society. As Ganeri shows in his great book, “The Lost Age of Reason: Philosophy in Early Modern India 1450 – 1700”, philosophy in India in 1500 was amazing complex and sophisticated, with many different dimensions. There is a temptation to ask: “Well, but if it was so sophisticated, why didn’t they come up with scientific revolution or capitalism?” The mistaken assumption in this question is assuming that any cultural achievements are a direct result of that culture’s philosophical achievements. But that is just not true: some things are discovered in some places as opposed to others for all sorts of historical, sociological reasons.Report

paolo
paolo
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
5 years ago

@Bharath Vallabha: I don’t doubt the complexity of Indian philosophy (if anything, from what I know, I despair it!) or anything of that sort. The question of scientific revolution is interesting, of course, but it is WAY beyond my expertise (although I am pretty sure that the explanation is complex, and involves all kinds of reasons). I will have to continue thinking about all this – no doubt other occasions will happen. I think commenting on blogs, to use David Wallace’s phrase, does come to diminishing returns – I mean that positively though. I feel like I need to refuel…Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  TD
5 years ago

TD,

I hope you don’t have me in mind for either of these claims. I’ve made neither and hold neither.

What do you mean by ‘formal reasoning’? Syllogistic logic? Quantifier logic? Is there really anyone in this conversation insisting that all philosophy must come down to that?

Sure, much philosophy involves jokes, parodies, allegories, etc. I have no problem with that. Like you, I hold that philosophical arguments can appear in all those formats. Yes, by all means, let’s include any such passages that present or imply philosophical arguments. If the arguments are only implicit, then great, let’s hear what they are. I’d be glad to include in my course readings a passage that only implies a philosophical argument. I just want to know what the implied philosophical argument is. That’s all. And so far, nobody here seems willing to present a passage from non-Western philosophy that contains an argument or even implies one. That’s odd, but I’m sure it says more about the powers and concerns of the participants in this discussion than the actual works themselves. Pity, though..Report

TD
TD
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

I didn’t have you in mind. If you will excuse me, I think your problem is more basic than what I’m talking about here: you’ve repeatedly said that you are simply unable to identify arguments in non-Western texts. For instance, in this post you claim, not for the first time, that “nobody here seems willing to present a passage from non-Western philosophy that contains an argument or even implies one.” Now, you’ve actually been directed to a number of such passages, by a number of different people. Moreover, you’ve repeatedly insisted that works of non-Western philosophy, such as the Analects (a book of approximately 90 pages), are too long for you to read, and in lieu of looking at the index for these texts yourself, or consulting one of the many selective introductory readers people have told you to look at, you have asked that people provide you with page numbers for the philosophical bits. Again, people have obliged you–I’ve given page numbers for a few unmistakably argumentative pieces of Indian philosophy, and now you tell me that nobody will show you where the arguments are.

Am I right in thinking that what you want is just to be led by the hand through a piece of non-Western philosophy? If so, please understand why people are getting frustrated: most trained philosophers don’t need as much help as you’re asking for to identify and understand an argument, and most trained philosophers are willing to read short books on their own to help them understand issues they’re confused about. But you are of course right that if non-Western texts contain arguments, it should be possible for somebody to walk you through one and point the argument out. So let me give it a go. Quite a while ago, Alexus McLeod offered you an argument in the Mozi. The link is here: http://ctext.org/mozi/universal-love-ii

Here’s your earlier reading of this passage, for reference: “Mozi is presenting his view that lack of magnanimity causes some organizations and individuals to attack others more readily and that their being magnanimous would make this less likely. But he doesn’t really argue for this view, and it isn’t even clear that it’s the kind of view that needs argument. It’s just not very controversial or interesting. Actually, it’s almost analytically true that a magnanimous person is someone who cares enough about others not to attack them hastily. I’m sure there may have been some people who needed a reminder to be magnanimous, and it’s good that Mozi provided them with that. But I don’t see any case being made here for an interesting or controversial conclusion.”

I think you misunderstood the structure of the argument. You think Mozi is arguing that lack of magnanimity is the cause of the world’s ills, and you complain that the view is almost analytical, so not worth arguing. But this is a premise of the argument, not the conclusion. Take it section by section:

Section 1. Mozi lays out the purpose of the discussion: the aims of the magnanimous person are ensuring good things for the world at large and getting rid of bad things. How is this to be achieved? First, Mozi clarifies what he means by bad things, through a series of illustrative examples. Bad things turn out to be hostility and aggression, both between states and between individuals.

2. Mozi examines the cause of the identified bad things: public and private agents only designate a limited set of other agents as objects of love, on the basis of their social proximity to the designating agent. The identified bad things can all be explained as results of this phenomenon. Again, this is set-up: it will be a premise of the next section.

3. Mozi proposes a solution to the problem: we can get rid of bad things if all agents regard all other agents with love.

4. Mozi considers an objection: this is a trivially obvious solution, and is too impractical and difficult to bring about. He responds: (1) this objection arises only because people have a faulty understanding of good things and bad things; (2) seemingly difficult tasks can be achieved when rulers model or encourage them; (3) practising universal love is less difficult than these tasks, since loving others causes others to love you.

5. Mozi gives historical examples in support of claim (2): people have done difficult and impractical things at the behest of their rulers.

6. Mozi clearly states the abstract import of the examples, repeats (3), and explains the connection of (2) to (3): the combined effect of the ruler’s influence and the reciprocal causal power of love means that universal love is not nearly so impractical or difficult as was held in the objection. Conclusion: there is a simple strategy for instituting universal love.

7. Mozi responds further: (4) universal love has been instituted previously, in three separate historical instances. Conclusion: the simple strategy is demonstrably possible. The objection does not withstand scrutiny.

8. Final conclusion: the stated desires of the rulers (sc. ensuring good things, eliminating bad things) commit them to the institution of universal love.

Earlier, you defined philosophy as “the attempt to resolve various controversial issues by presenting and analyzing arguments for and against various controversial propositions.” That’s exactly what you get here: the controversial issue is how good things for the world can be ensured, and how bad things can be eliminated. The controversial proposition is that instituting universal love between public and private agents will eliminate bad things. An argument against this proposition is presented, and a number of responses are proposed. Evidence is offered in favour of the responses, and a conclusion is reached. The conclusion, which is both interesting and controversial, is that there is a simple, practical, and proven program for eliminating bad things from the world, and that rational rulers are bound to enact it.

To what extent the argument holds up is difficult to answer without the context of the rest of the Mozi and a knowledge of the historical examples cited. A lot of the concepts in play (the magnanimous person, universal love) are not given full treatment in this short excerpt, which is to be expected since it comes from the middle of the book. But it is, obviously, an argument. Does this satisfy you?Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Yes, TD, that’s excellent. Just what I was looking for. Thanks!Report

Justin Tiwald
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

Arguments are ubiquitous in Chinese philosophy and I’m not sure why we’re having trouble identifying them. Perhaps because we’re focusing too much on source texts like the Analects and the Daodejing? But that’s the tiniest sliver of the textual tradition. Here are some examples to add to the good ones mentioned above, just from my reading and research the past couple of weeks.

1. Fazang’s “Rafter Dialogue” — a mereological treatise. See Tiwald and Van Norden’s Readings in Later Chinese Philosophy for the dialogue and Nicholaos Jones’ “Fazang’s Total Power Mereology” for discussion (Asian Philosophy, 2009).

2. Dai Zhen’s arguments for treating robustly self-interested desires as constituents of virtue. See my “Dai Zhen’s Defense of Self-Interest” (Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 2011).

3. The debate between Zhu Xi and Dai Zhen about self-focused vs. other-focused empathy. See my “Sympathy and Perspective-Taking in Confucian Ethics” (Philosophy Compass, 2011).

4. Zhuangzi’s case for skepticism about the inherent badness of death. See my “Well-Being and Daoism” (Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Well-Being, Guy Fletcher, ed.).

5. Xuanzang’s proof of idealism. See Bronwyn Finnigan’s “Buddhist Idealism” (not yet published, but a draft is available for download on PhilPapers).

In my view, much of the best work in Chinese philosophy is devoted to showing that certain views drawn from a Chinese text have comparative advantages over competing views. Other fruitful work focuses on creating plausible, systematic readings of influential Chinese texts. I wish that I could do these things well, but I cannot. Instead, I’m more inclined to the work of reconstructing, filling out, and expanding on specific arguments, and there are others with a similar disposition. I don’t think my sort of work is necessary to show that Chinese philosophy should have a home in western philosophy departments. But it’s there, for what that’s worth.Report

Matt
Reply to  Justin Tiwald
5 years ago

For what it’s worth, let me add that I have both learned a lot from and had success assigning Justin’s work on Confucianism and human rights in classes on the philosophical foundations of international law and human rights. It’s very high-quality work.Report

Justin Tiwald
Reply to  Matt
5 years ago

Thanks, Matt. I’m really delighted that you’ve found it useful.Report

Matt
5 years ago

TD said “Avicenna is relevantly non-Western insofar as he is barely ever discussed or assigned in Philosophy departments,…”
(I am sorry to not directly reply to your comment – perhaps there is a limit on how far responses can be embedded, but it didn’t seem possible to directly reply to it.)

I wanted to ask people who work on medieval philosophy how far this is true. It’s not my area, and I haven’t taken a class on medieval philosophy since I was an undergrad, but the text book we used (_Readings in Medieval Philosophy_, Schoedinger, ed., Oxford University Press) included a selection from Avicenna (which we read) as well as selections from by Maimonides, Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Levi ben Gerson, Averroes, and Al-Farabi. I had always assumed that this text was relatively standard in content (if not exactly form). If that’s so, then the claim that Muslim and Jewish philosophers are ignored seems hard to credit, at least compared to medieval philosophy more generally. But, maybe the text is more idiosyncratic than I had thought.

Or, maybe the claim is that Avicenna should be assigned more than he is _outside_ of a medieval philosophy class. I have no strong opinion on that, except that I expect that the same arguments can be made for many medieval philosophers who are rarely assigned outside of such classes.

(Of course, it’s not that unusual to include Martin Buber in a “phenomenology and existentialism” class, either, I think, again making the claim about Jewish philosophy seem less plausible. I’ll admit that I’m not super sure he should get more than a bit part – why him and not, say Dietrch Bonhoeffer? – but it’s not super rare to include him to some degree, maybe even more in a philosophy of religion class, where I also read him as an undergrad.)Report

paolo
paolo
Reply to  Matt
5 years ago

From Ivanhoe/van Norden, Readings in Chinese Philosophy – section on Mozi (this is just a part of much larger argument):

“Definition part”:
Suppose there were two people: one who maintains partiality and one who maintains impartiality. And so the person who maintains partiality would say, ‘How can I possibly regard the well-being of my friends as I do my own well-being? How can I possibly regard
the parents of my friends as I do my own parents?’ And so when his friends are hungry, the partial person does not feed them. When his friends are cold, he does not clothe them. When his friends are ill, he does not nurture them. And when his friends die, he does not bury them. This is what the partial person says and what he does. But this is not what the impartial person says nor is this how he acts. The impartial person says, ‘I have heard that in order to be a superior person in the world, one must regard the well-being of one’s friends as one regards one’s own well-being; one must regard the parents of one’s friends as one regards one’s own parents. Only in this way can one be a superior person.’ And so when the impartial person’s friends are hungry, he feeds them. When his friends are cold, he clothes them. When his friends are ill, he nurtures them. And when his friends die, he buries them. This is what the impartial person says and what he does.

Argument:
“Now the words of the two people that we have considered contradict each other and their actions are diametrically opposed. Let us suppose,
though, that both are trustworthy in what they say and reliable in what they do. And so their words and deeds fit together like the two halves of a tally, and they always follow through and act on what they say. If we grant all of this, there is a further question I would like to ask. Suppose one must put on one’s armor and helmet and go to war in a vast and open wilderness where life and death are uncertain; or suppose one was sent by one’s ruler or high minister to the distant states of Ba, Yue, Qi, or Jing and could not be sure of either reaching them or ever returning from one’s mission. Under such conditions of uncertainty, to whom would one entrust the well-being of one’s parents, wife, and children? Would one prefer that they be in the care of an impartial person or would one prefer that they be in the care of a partial person? I believe that under such circumstances, there are no fools in all the world. Even though one may not advocate impartiality, one would certainly want to entrust one’s family to the person who is impartial. But this is to condemn impartiality in word but prefer it in deed, with the result that one’s actions do not accord with what one says. And so I don’t see what reason any person in the world who has heard about impartiality
can give for condemning it.”

Challenge to Confused: Identify the premises and conclusion.Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

Thanks, Paolo! That’s another great one. It’s going into my readings for sure, once I find it.

(To answer the question:
1. There are times when we must trust others to look after our interests and those of our families.
2. At such times, everyone, whether partial or impartial, would prefer to entrust those interests to impartial people rather than to entrust them to partial people.
3. But to prefer impartiality over partiality in those cases and partiality over impartiality when it suits one is to be hypocritical.
4. And it is bad to be hypocritical.
5. Therefore, it is better in general to be impartial.)Report