We behave, by and large, as if we are operating in an efficient market in philosophical ideas, insights, and arguments. This state of affairs is, while intelligible and even rational in some sense, just bizarre.
So writes Eric Schliesser (Amsterdam), in “On Linguistic Narrowness in Philosophy,” a post which draws attention to yet another way in which the landscape of academic philosophy is shaped by something else besides the pure quest for truth.
If you want to read most philosophical classics it is sufficient to master Middle Egyptian, Greek, Latin, Chinese, Arabic, Aramaic, French, German, English, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Pali, Korean, Japanese, and maybe a dozen more languages that contain multiple written philosophical classics…
Now consider that “of the currently listed 7,099 living languages, 3,866 have a developed writing system.” Let’s stipulate that the vast majority of the writings in these writing systems involves accounting and mating/family matters. Even so, that’s a lot of living writing systems in which people can muse about, say, reality, the point of it all, the nature of value, or social order, or beauty, etc. I feel extremely confident in saying that these writing systems and the non-living ones pretty much go un-surveyed by the vast majority of most professional philosophers…
Our profession does not incentivize the sometimes onerous efforts of translation and advocacy, and the even more laborious efforts to seek out wisdom and insight in linguistically hard to get to places.
This general ignorance of philosophy in most of these languages is often accompanied by dismissiveness:
In earlier times, in the philosophical traditions of European early moderns, the search for occult or hidden knowledge also involved the seeking out of linguistically and temporally distant works… Leibniz and Bayle come to mind… [But today] this omnivorous hunger is not part of our professional DNA, because for every Leibniz, there is a Descartes or a Carnap, alas, who proudly announces that other traditions are irrelevant and—this is what I find so remarkable—the temptation they offer, of willed self-ignorance, is at bottom more seductive and alluring.
The full post is here.