“Eugene Park Was Right: Academic Philosophy Is Failing Its Cosmopolitan Values”

Bharath Vallabha has a post here about philosophical traditions, cosmopolitanism, and universality.

“The power of philosophy is that, by raising abstract questions about human beings, it generates inquiry to which any person can contribute, irrespective of their local, contingent situation. Universality is intrinsic to philosophy, and most philosophy classes in the Anglo-American tradition are taught with this aim of universality firmly in mind. How can ignorance of non-Western philosophy be compatible with this universal impulse of philosophy? How can Anglo-American philosophers claim to seek universal philosophical truths and concede that they are only aware of the Western philosophical tradition?”

“If most Anglo-American philosophers have “no opinion at all about non-Western philosophy because they are simply ignorant of it,” then in what sense can they speak about philosophy itself, rather than just about Western philosophy?”

“So why are most Anglo-American philosophers content to just continue the debates they inherited from their teachers, who inherited them from their teachers, and so on? Park articulated the urgent need to bring Western and non-Western philosophers into dialogue. Where is the urgency to do that on the part of most Anglo-American philosophers, not for the sake of minorities, but for the sake of their own growth as philosophers and world citizens?”

“According to Leiter, minorities should go beyond their traditions and engage with Western philosophy, but the only thing Western philosophers have to do is to continue on with the internal momentum of Western philosophy. In fact, they must guard it from being corrupted by the “consumer demands” of minorities.”

“It is understandable that Descartes and Kant in the 17th and 18th centuries did not engage with non-Western philosophy; after all, they wrote within a culture of colonialism. But what is the excuse for contemporary Anglo-American philosophers? Especially now that advances in civil rights, immigration, and technology have made our society more open than ever? Enlightenment philosophers stood ahead of their culture, prodding their contemporaries to look beyond their local traditions to a global world.

Contemporary Anglo-American philosophers, however, are lagging behind their culture, even as our global society hungers for new ideas.”

83 thoughts on ““Eugene Park Was Right: Academic Philosophy Is Failing Its Cosmopolitan Values”

  1. Can someone explain in what way is engaging with, say, Xuanxue school of thought from the 12th century (or Chinese Marxist philosophy) illuminating for a contemporary philosopher of mind, language, or biology? They do not engage with the medieval figures from the West or Soviet philosophers either.

  2. p, I can’t explain that but it does seem clear to me that for a, e.g., contemporary philosopher of mind, e.g., Nyaya accounts of perception would be productive, illuminating, and relevant to engage with.

  3. I would presume it’s illuminating in the same sort of way that Aristotle or Aquinas scholars might claim that their respective figure’s can be illuminating for scholars working on contemporary issues in mind, language, and biology.

  4. p, actually, on further reflection, I’m confused by your comment. I’m not sure why you were singling out the Xuanxue school of thought from the 12th century particularly (which I know nothing about) but the Xuanxue school of thought seems to have all sorts of interesting relevance to contemporary philosophy of language more broadly (I’m thinking here of, e.g., what’s written about language in the Daodejing, commentaries on it, and the relevance for contemporary work on the intersection of language and political philosophy, social approaches to language, etc.). Can you say more about the 12th century in particular?

  5. p,

    Why would we be assuming that the interaction would have to be known to have specific advantages for specific fields designated in advance, rather than as it usually plays out, growing spontaneously from the ordinary interactions of philosophers? When people are making this argument, there is no assumption that every single philosopher or even group of philosophers necessarily has to be directly engaged with non-Western philosophy; only that the engagement occur. So it’s unclear why there would need to be any direct engagement — except, again, insofar as it would actually happen to arise in ordinary philosophical interaction in departments, conferences, and the like.

  6. My point simply is that there is a great, in fact huge, amount of stuff in the history of Western philosophy that could be perhaps interesting or illuminating but very few if any contemporary philosophers engage with it. And for good reason – it’s not particularly relevant to them and to the extent that it is, it generally boils down to showing that Aristotle held some sort of proto-view to some contemporary view (which is both bad history of philosophy as well as useless observation). So Aristotle has a lot to say about soul, perception, or language but it is all very much outdated, based in assumptions and views that nobody nowadays share or could share, and so of historical interest only. It is a bit more interesting to us than Chinese thought since it traces how we go where we are. So my question simply is what is to be gained, for contemporary philosopher, by engaging with history of philosophy in China or India, when he does not even do it and does not seem to need to do it, in the case of Western philosophy? If the question is about teaching and researching other than Western history of philosophy as history of philosophy, I am on board. I just do not think the cosmopolitan argument is any good.

  7. Hi, Stacey, I’ve rewritten my comment a bit to clarify.

    p,

    Why would we be assuming that the interaction between Western and non-Western philosophy would have to be known to have specific advantages for specific fields designated in advance, rather than as it usually plays out, growing spontaneously from the ordinary interactions of philosophers as they go about their own research concerns in departments, conferences, and the like? When people are making the argument for the importance of bringing Western and non-Western philosophy into dialogue, there is no assumption that every single philosopher or even group of philosophers necessarily has to be directly engaged with non-Western philosophy, in the sense of actively doing research in it, or directly transferring ideas from it to their own area; only that the engagement occur. So it’s unclear why there would need to be any explanation beforehand as to how it can illuminate this or that field. If there happens to be something that benefits this or that particular field through philosophers interacting in departments and conferences, all the better. But you can’t have such interactions if non-Western philosophy is hardly even there to make them possible in the first place.

  8. This is a great topic for discussion. I think the growing awareness of non-western conceptions of mind, self, agency, community, responsibility, etc etc are part of the reason why sophisticated constructivisms have begun to multiply within philosophy (and neighboring disciplines). The universalist ideology is on the wane and it can’t end soon enough!

  9. I just do not think the cosmopolitan argument is any good.

    But the cosmopolitan argument applies at the level of teaching and researching other than Western history of philosophy as history of philosophy; Bharath Vallabha’s point is explicitly about curricula and teaching.

  10. p, ok, how about this: If Western philosophers engaged more with other philosophical traditions, we might avoid doing work that’s already been done? For example, say that Western philosophers were familiar with Jain philosophy, it probably would not have taken us as long as it did to develop standpoint theory. For what it’s worth, I think the overwhelming majority of the history of philosophy is of more interest than purely historical interest (and actually, the philosophy of language found in the Xuanxue school of thought is a prime example).

  11. “It is understandable that Descartes and Kant in the 17th and 18th centuries did not engage with non-Western philosophy; after all, they wrote within a culture of colonialism. But what is the excuse for contemporary Anglo-American philosophers? Especially now that advances in civil rights, immigration, and technology have made our society more open than ever? Enlightenment philosophers stood ahead of their culture, prodding their contemporaries to look beyond their local traditions to a global world.”

    This is about teaching and/or researching history of philosophy?

  12. p,

    It is, as I said, about curricula and teaching (and opportunities for research, as well); this is explicit in the article, and it also directly follows from the context, since the article is reflection on Eugene Park’s essay and the response to it. History of philosophy happens to be one area of curriculum and teaching; there are obviously others, like social and political philosophy.

  13. Re: philodaria – sure, though you can get the standpoint theory ialready from Herodotus and the Ancient skeptics as well. In other words, if contemporary philosophers did more history of philosophy, they would not have to reinvent things… but that’s just as true of Western philosophy – you can get functionalism from Aristotle (if you misread it a bit), darwinism from Empedocles, possible worlds from Leibniz and atomists, and so on and so forth.

  14. p, what are the criteria that would need to be met to have a satisfying answer? I gather they would include:

    a) there cannot be similar work already available in western tradition
    b) the work must have utility in serving the philosophical preoccupations of the contemporary philosopher
    c) there cannot be, or cannot be too many, obscuring parochial or antiquated assumptions one would need to clear out in advance of making use of the ideas

    Are those the only criteria? Or are there more? I think it would be useful to have a sense of these before people persist in trying to respond, as it seems new criteria are introduced as suggestions are being made.

  15. p, well, now I’m confused as to your previous comment. You wrote, “And for good reason – it’s not particularly relevant to them and to the extent that it is, it generally boils down to showing that Aristotle held some sort of proto-view to some contemporary view (which is both bad history of philosophy as well as useless observation). So Aristotle has a lot to say about soul, perception, or language but it is all very much outdated, based in assumptions and views that nobody nowadays share or could share, and so of historical interest only.”

    Your point read to me as though history of philosophy is rarely useful beyond its historical interest, and so, if we don’t need to engage Western history, why engage non-Western history (which one could dispute, as I did, by pointing to its usefulness, or alternatively, by pointing to social and pedagogical usefulness, among other things, etc.). If that’s not what you meant, can you clarify your original point?

  16. philodaria – my point is that although it would be useful and illuminating to look at history of philosophy (for a contemporary philosopher), it is neither necessary to do so nor the best usage of her time since there is only so much time and one can barely get to reading the literature written by one’s contemporaries and directly relevant to what one is doing. I do not doubt the social or pedagogical utility of non-western philosophy. But I do doubt its utility when it comes to contemporary research (in much the same way in which I doubt the utility of history of physics/linguistics to contemporary physics/linguistics).

  17. Ah, I understand now I think. However, I disagree. Looking at the history of physics and linguistics both, it does seem to me as though some really incredible research has come out of precisely historical awareness. Or, in philosophy of physics, Don Howard’s work for example, I think is really excellent. Even if it were the case that that being historically engaged couldn’t ever be the best usage of a philosopher’s time, given that most of us make our major contribution to the profession through teaching rather than through research, I wouldn’t be convinced that the utility for research should outweigh pedagogical utility.

  18. I think it’s important to distinguish the different ways in which any history of philosophy might serve contemporary philosophy. Some people conceive of contemporary philosophy as a quasi-scientific enterprise, whereby bits of knowledge are accumulated, little by little, until progress is made on solving philosophical problems. I think this is a good way to conceive of certain areas of philosophy–particularly those areas most continuous with actual science. Furthermore, I think that history of philosophy is, for the most part, irrelevant to these areas (I’m sure there are exceptions). So maybe I am in agreement with p here, I’m not sure. But I also think that a lot of contemporary philosophy is not a quasi-scientific enterprise. And I think history of philosophy can be wonderfully illuminating of these areas, e.g. it does it a great job of revealing our assumptions and showing us new possibilities. Insofar as non-Western history of philosophy contributes to *this*, I think it is of more than historical interest.

  19. p,

    Note that “Anglo-American philosophers” and “non-Western philosophers” are used as generics in the passage. It doesn’t follow from the passage then that a contemporary philosopher of mind, language, or biology ought to engage with writers in the Xuanxue school any more than “male ducks lay eggs” follows from “ducks lay eggs”.

  20. Ted Shear: I did note this rather “complex” point, but I also assumed that readers would be able to identify the references to “philosopher of mind, language, or biology” and “Xuanxue school” as examples used to illustrate the more general claim about the utility of any historical (western or non-western) philosophy to contemporary philosophers insofar as their work is concerned. I could have said contemporary philosopher of race and Carvaka.

    philodaria: the work of Howard I am familiar with is on Einstein and Bohr and Carnap, etc. That is kinda like linguists probing Chomsky… most philosophies that people are concerned with India and China are much older, so the idea would be like working on Bruno or Aristotle or Archimedes. In any case, I would need some examples from say string theory or quantum field theory (in physics) or government and binding in linguistics (or what have you) to persuade me.

    grad: you do not have to think of it in those quasi-scientific terms actually. But I agree that, say, in ethics one could successfully argue that way even if, frankly, the ethical world of Ancient Greece or China is quite distinct from ours and so are their concerns and ours. We actually progressed in ethics (human rights, women’s position in the society, LGBT rights, etc.) much more than in metaphysics or epistemology.

    Just to clarify – I actually believe that philosophers should do more history, both Western and non-Western though not for the reasons outlined in the article. However, neither the reasons I have nor the ones I have read so far seem to me persuasive to the point that I would be comfortable with them.

  21. Again, I do think Xuanxue philosophy of language is incredibly relevant to contemporary philosophy of language–not 12th century specifically that I know of, but that doesn’t undermine my point because the literature I’m thinking of is from hundreds of years earlier.

  22. P, Your comments cover a lot of ground (don’t mean this as a criticism), so I will make a few different points about what I believe.

    a. Teaching and research cannot be separated, so the need to engage with other traditions applies to both.

    b. Re your original question at (1), important to distinguish what happens from what should happen. Even supposing many philosophers of mind, biology, etc. don’t engage with historical figures (which is of course true), that doesn’t mean that should be the case. Also, there are many philosophers of mind, etc. who do engage with history, and think it is extremely relevant. To give just one example (there are scores): Michael Thompson. In his work discussions of cognitive science, linguisitics, biology intersect nicely with issues in Aristotle, Aquinas, etc. More than just as a way of finding functionalism in Aristotle; to the contrary, as a way to find what is wrong with functionalism. For Thompson, as with Dreyfus, Anscombe, etc. modern discussions of mind, etc. presuppose mistaken assumptions, and it is important to go back to history to see alternate views. One might disagree with all this; many do. But this is a live discussion in the profession. The point is that this live discussion can be very much enhanced by engaging with other traditions. To be clear: I don’t mean to imply that the point of engaging with ancient traditions is just to find fault with modern assumptions; it can be about both finding similarities and differences.

    c. It’s great that you know about the Xuanxue school of thought from the 12th century. I don’t; had to look it up. Perhaps you learnt it in a class, perhaps on your own. Either way, great. I imagine that most people are like me and don’t know about it. That means given the current state of the profession in America, etc. most people can’t even understand, let alone, answer your question. If you thought about the relevance of this ancient Chinese tradition and decided it is not relevant to your philosophical interests, no problem. That’s your right. Of course, doesn’t mean you are right. But that is an important conversation to have in the profession.

  23. P, one more point. You write:

    “It [Western history] is a bit more interesting to us than Chinese thought since it traces how we go where we are. So my question simply is what is to be gained, for contemporary philosopher, by engaging with history of philosophy in China or India, when he does not even do it and does not seem to need to do it, in the case of Western philosophy?”

    As I say in my previous comment, many contemporary researchers look to ancient Western philosophy to understand mind, etc. Other traditions can be useful in the same way.

    You say Aristotle might be interesting for “us” since it helps “us” see how we got here. This uses an outdated sense of “us”. Given that students and faculty come from all parts of the world now, the “us” now includes everyone. Moreover, people are more and more “mixed”: their past can’t be kept to this or that continent or hemisphere, but zig zags across the planet. Therefore understanding how we got to where we are requires nothing less than understanding how we all got to where we all are now. It is really depressing to sit in a class and hear someone talk about “our” history and speak only about Plato. Not just because it ignores other traditions, but because it ignores our common situation of all of us navigating plural identities.

  24. The original post appears to have basically the same structure as the following argument: “Physics raises abstract questions about human beings (inter alia). It generates inquiry to which any person can contribute, irrespective of their local, contingent situation. Universality is intrinsic to physics, and most physics classes in the Anglo-American tradition are taught with this aim of universality firmly in mind. How can ignorance of non-Western physics be compatible with this universal impulse of physics? How can Anglo-American physicists claim to seek universal physical truths and concede that they are only aware of the Western physics tradition?”

    This argument seems obviously flawed in the case of physics. I grant that there’s a small chance that some sort of “non-western” physics tradition might have generated insights that would be of use to contemporary physicists, but I think this probability is so small that it is perfectly reasonable for physicists to focus their studies just on contemporary (“western”) physics (which of course is pursued not just in “western” nations). In fact, I think the more reasonable rhetorical question would be “How can people insist that contemporary physicists waste their limited time searching for useful tidbits in physics traditions of cultures that did not have the time, person-power, technology, or background knowledge to generate anything that comes anywhere near the body of knowledge that contemporary “western” physics has accomplished?”

    If the o.p.’s argument clearly fails in the case of physics, why should it be any more persuasive in the case of philosophy?

    (Ultimately it seems that the standard must be higher than just saying that “any person *can* contribute, irrespective of their local, contingent situation” — instead the standard should have something to do with how *likely* it is that particular writers will have had useful tidbits to offer. Yes, in theory, anyone with pencils and paper *could* come up with an exciting new version of string theory, say, but in fact, no one is *likely* to do so without first getting a whole lot of training in a lot of “western” topics. As far as I can tell, the same is true of most contemporary philosophy.)

  25. Bharath: I might indeed be mistaken. In fact, I think I probably am.

    I am not sure teaching and research cannot be separated. Why not? There are many researchers who do not teach and many teachers who do not do active research.

    It’s true that the fact that something does not happen, does not mean it should not. But it also does not follow from the fact that it can happen, that it should happen. In any case, I thought the idea was not whether or not some individual philosophers find history useful, interesting, or essential (or not), but whether by not attending to it, philosophers quite in general are, as a matter of principle, somehow undermining their own project and should, therefore, do so. I have yet to see argument to persuade me about that.

    I am quite aware that philosophers are using Aristotle and other historical figures that way – and I find it interesting especially given the fact that, say, Aristotle’s view is embedded in views of matter, time, space, explanation and causation that they could not possibly find true. In any case, my guess is that one could find out what is wrong with functionalism just as fruitfully by looking at other figures, or by reading a novel (say, by Kundera) or by just talking to each other and thinking about the issues involved – i.e., that there is nothing essential about history per se that would be needed to do so. It is one, but not the only one, source of inspiration.

    I did indeed study Chinese and Indian philosophy at school. I find it very interesting – in its own right, just as I find studying Greek philosophy interesting in its own right. In fact, I find them much more interesting than much of contemporary analytic or continental philosophy. But that is not an argument for others, who are not interested in it, to study it.

    Finally, your last point is what Leiter calls identity politics. Unlike Leiter, I do think this argument has, in general, a lot going for it – and that is why I said I do not doubt the social and pedagogical role of teaching non-western philosophy in the US. And that’s even while I do not find it particularly relevant for myself, even while I am not Western European. When i came to USA, I did not expect anybody to know or care about the philosophy from where I am (i did not myself partly because it is largely a political construct).

    “US” referred to people working in contemporary analytic or continental philosophy to whom, I take it, the article was addressed. When I said “how we got here” I referred to the issues, concepts, problems, and theories discussed by them. I do not know contemporary Chinese (other than Marxist) or Indian philosophy to make judgment about what the issues or problems or arguments they discuss or are concerned with are.

  26. Insofar as the ‘cosmopolitan’ argument attempts to embarrass philosophers by making them look parochial, it only has any force against people who think that Plato is relevant, but Nagarjuna isn’t. It will not, as p notes, have any force against people who think that neither are. I, for instance, am interested in formally inflected epistemology. As far as my own interests, it seems clear to me that 1) questions about e.g. understanding probabilistic accuracy are just questions about belief and representation, and not culturally specific and 2) there’s no point in reading Plato if you care about this stuff.

    Maybe it’s just a special corner of philosophy that’s like this: elsewhere it’s really important to go back to the past. I don’t really think so, though I also have less expertise and so less basis to judge elsewhere. But either way that’s itself a pretty substantive philosophical judgment, one that many people will not share. And to those people, I suspect, this argument will feel really weird.

  27. P’s comment, to the effect that what Aristotle has saiid is outdated and wrong, is seriously in error. It also raises for me a question about what is shaping this discussion. I do know that using the word “troll” gets a lot of people upset, but we need still to be aware of ‘concern trolls,’ who tend to look too nice to be lurking under bridges.

    Concern trolls purport to be on one’s side and really just trying to help. I think that p’s attempts to help consists in posing views that ought not to be here.

  28. Part of what draws me up short in p’s remarks is that there is a rather definite and far from universally endorsed account of what philosophy is and what it should be up to embedded in it. I’m not sure that the burden should be on those who value non-western philosophy to prove to all comers, no matter their definition of philosophy, that there’s something of worth here. One of the benefits of studying non-western philosophy might, after all, be precisely in challenging our assumptions about what philosophers should be up to.

  29. “So Aristotle has a lot to say about soul, perception, or language but it is all very much outdated, based in assumptions and views that nobody nowadays share or could share, and so of historical interest only. It is a bit more interesting to us than Chinese thought since it traces how we go where we are.”

    By “we” do you mean western philosophers? Or westerners in general? If it’s the later, when applying the study of philosophy to contemporary cultural, political, and ethical questions, it seems profoundly silly to exclude non-western philosophers where the majority of the world’s population is non-western. If it’s the former, then when looking at questions about things like the mind-body issue, the historical antecedents or continuity in the profession seem less important than possible insights they offer. If you find that Descartes offers insight, you shouldn’t assume that Laozi doesn’t.

  30. p,

    I only took it that you didn’t catch the use of the generic because of the example that you chose. From the description you provided as “Chinese Marxist philosophy” I took it that it might be surprising if there were lots of interesting connections for contemporary philosophers of mind, language, or biology (though perhaps this is just my ignorance of Xuanxue philosophy and Marxist philosophy more generally!). It seemed to me that this is what your point was capitalizing on, though my bad if I was mistaken.

    I take it that there are plenty of examples where there is a ton of relevant literature in the history of philosophy from Non-Western sources that really are directly relevant to philosophers of mind, language, or biology. I have vague recollection of learning some fascinating things that seemed relevant had I had the time to give them more thought when I took a course as an undergrad in indian philosophy.

    Perhaps, as you say, your concerns are about engaging with the history of philosophy more generally (Western or not) but then it seems to me that the critical comment is not really aimed directly at the point of the original author.

  31. P and R: As others are saying, if you believe Plato and Aristotle are irrelevant to contemporary research into mind, etc., it is hard to get very far for present purposes. Same if you believe philosophy is just an extension of science (not that you believe this). I also don’t think that being ahistorical or doing only science-like philosophy is a basic assumption of contemporary analytic philosophy.

    Philosophy is many things. One main thing it aims to do is to enable people to reflect on our deepest beliefs; this is independent of whatever one’s AOS is. It is strange to say, “Well, I am a philosopher of physics, so I only reflect on deeply held beliefs regarding physics”; one can do that and aim to be a broader philosopher by reflecting on our general deepest beliefs. And many of these deepest beliefs are embedded within our intellectual histories.

    I would even say it is essential to engage with these deep beliefs in the contexts in which they first arose, whether in Greece or China or Brazil, etc. It is not enough to simply read someone’s summaries of Plato or of Confucius. Reading the actual philosophers does something amazing in being able step back and reflect on large scale assumptions, of experiencing these thinkers as one’s contemporaries. What I am saying is all standard stuff from intro philosophy classes, or books written for the public. I think it is also true. If one believes these standardly held views, then it is a real failure to not engage with all philosophical traditions.

  32. Bharath: being a-historical or conceiving of philosophy on the model of science is not required to be a card-carrying analytic philosopher. But neither is it required that one believe history to be deeply relevant to contemporary work or to conceive of philosophy on the model of arts and culture. There are many different views within philosophy about what it’s all about. I thought the original article overly ambitious because it issued a general criticism of philosophers as parochial, but that criticism only goes through if we presuppose a specific picture about the value of history that many of those philosophers may reject. I would reject it myself.

    I think you are also overstating the general acceptance of such a picture. It’s true that most people will say this stuff about the benefits of their undergraduate classes. But the benefits an undergraduate gets from a class are not necessarily the things that a researcher aims at. My goal as a researcher is not to become a better renaissance man: it’s to answer specific questions about inference, rationality, planing, etc. If I thought that a deeper engagement in history would help me answer those questions, I would, but that has not been what I’ve found. We have a wealth of empirical and conceptual tools now available to us that were lacking to the historical philosophers. If I want to understand the upshot of dutch book arguments, for instance, it doesn’t make sense to turn to people writing before mathematically-defined understandings of uncertainty and rational choice were available; and I can’t say i felt that much differently for the less obvious cases either. The stuff about thinking side by side with the great minds of history just seems very handwavy to me as a model for research, as opposed to as a model for undergraduates getting a nice experience.

    I am in a department where people tend to take history seriously; more people here probably agree with you than with me. However, it is not as if they are unaware of views like mine. This is, I think, one of the main metaphilosophical views of the profession. It seems, therefore, worth mentioning, especially if the point hinges on it being actually false.

  33. I’m curious, why is this debate primarily about historical sources? This does not seem to be the focus of the original post. Surely there is contemporary work being done in non-western philosophy by people with just relevantly informed about the world as contemporary western philosophers, no?

  34. I am happy of being accused of being a troll simply because I objected to an argument and even while I expressed sharing enthusiasm for the kind of philosophy the author tried to argue for. I guess I am checking out of the discussion.

  35. P.,

    I’ve been following this interesting discussion and I for one never saw you a troll. I hope that you’ll continue expressing your point of view.

    In this blog they discuss some very sensitive issues having to do with violence, abuse and discrimination. The blog administrators are rightly concerned that insensitive treatment of those themes by trolls may cause further suffering to victims and that this blog will cease to be a safe haven where victims feel free to open up if they fear sadistic and uncaring trolls.

    However, I don’t see that the issues discussed in this thread are so critically sensitive.

  36. I didn’t actually say that p is a troll, but I did imply it. I did so in order to raise a question about what is going on when we are discussing views such as the view that Aristotle is outmoded and wrong. I am really surprised to see anyone make such a judgment, though I do know well known philosophers who hold there is no good reason to read the history of our philosophy.

    Concern trolls do not look like one’s average trolls. They may not even see themselves as trolls, and they will express sympathy and even enthuiasm for the goals others bring to the discussion. But they are mischief makers who mis-frame and/or derail the discussion.

    Has this dicussion been a productive discussion of the OP? Perhaps it has.

  37. “But they are mischief makers who mis-frame and/or derail the discussion.” Most philosophers think that most other philosophers are mis-framing most discussions. As for derailing, who decides where the rails are? Sometimes I want to talk about music, and my companions want to talk about politics instead. Such is life.

  38. I really appreciate that Anne is on the lookout for concern trolling, because it can be a really pernicious influence on a discussion, and we have certainly had horrible instances of it on this blog. And I think Anne and Prof. Manners are right to call our attention to the sorts of questions this discussion has gravitated towards, and what those questions suggest about our priorities.

    I don’t think P is concern trolling. Or honestly, even if they were to some degree, I don’t think enough of this blog’s readers are familiar enough with that term, and the subtleties of the power dynamics it is attempting to highlight, to be able to constructively respond to an accusation of it. I think framing our worries in that way is more likely to shut down conversation than it is to nudge it back on track. That’s why I only call out concern trolling on my posts when it becomes so egregious that I actually want to shut that particular conversation down and via moderating force change the direction the comments are taking.

    I know that we try very hard on this blog to create a safe space where certain kinds of epistemic injustices are minimized. But I think we also need to accept that our readership is very large and very broad, with large swaths of it having little to no experience with thinking through issues of social and epistemic privilege. And that means that many, many people who comment on here are not going to have a clue that the questions and objections they raise are problematic, derailing, or subtly assaultive.

    I think that means that at the end of the day, we can’t have our cake and eat it, too. We can’t both frame the comment sections as if they are open to basically anyone in the profession who has something to say about these issues, and also remain steadfast in weeding out instances of privilege and epistemic injustice creeping into the discussion. I see those goals at odds with one another. And I think many people who don’t understand the latter goal have now formed the opinion that we arbitrarily shut down dissent. Some of that is normal feminist stereotyping in play, but I think some of that has been exacerbated by us trying to navigate this tightrope walk that I don’t think we (or anyone) can actually pull off.

    Calling out people for concern trolling is the mark of a blog that doesn’t want to engage in feminism 101 discussions. I think the readership we have cultivated, though, makes is so that we essentially need to be a feminist 101 blog in many respects. Or, I’d suggest we reframe parts of our comment policy. Either we are prioritizing “niceness” and openness for everyone [see the comment above: “who decides where the rails are?”], or we’re prioritizing making this space safe and welcoming for those who are marginalized and stigmatized and know what they are talking about when it comes to feminism, privilege, stigma, and oppression. But doing the latter is going to require us to not be nice at times and to not tolerate certain kinds of ignorance. And if we’re going to prioritize the latter, I think that means we will not actually be “usually very happy to explain ourselves to non-feminists”–which suggests that we’re still trying to prioritize the former.

  39. Stacey Goguen, I just want to say, as someone who frequently reads this blog, but never comments, that I completely agree with your remarks about cake eating. Indeed, the tension between goals that you describe is largely why I do not comment on this blog, or find the discussions illuminating or compelling. It is hard to play a long, when you are not sure of the rules. Which is a shame (in the case of this post), because I am a feminist, have a genuine interest in non-Western philosophy (I have taught ancient Chinese philosophy to undergrads), but I am also very sympathetic to the position of p and r. And after this, I don’t suspect I’ll be commenting again.

  40. Stacey, of course I disagree at several points. I don’t think a worry about concern trolling means we don’t want to engage in feminism 101 discussions, though that is a quite different topic. My considerable reservations here are quite different. Quite frankly, the comments by p seem to me to be cobbled together from some undergrad courses. There are startling errors about, for example, Marxism in China. Too much of the language is from undergrad judgments – aristotle is outmoded? And quixotic references. Along with comments suggesting his epistemic should be taken seriously by philosophy professors. It all sounds to me like “rate your professors” level.

    Of course, I might well be wrong, so I started out wanting just to raise a question.

  41. I take it that feminism 101 discussions are going to be at a very basic level, like what you are calling “the undergrad level.” So I see that as still being the same sort of reservation. Fem. 101 convos are also going to be full of errors from people who don’t have a sophisticated vocabulary or well thought-out set of premises regarding these issues.

  42. Stacey, we are still in disagreement. This blog is about news feminists can use. there are many different ways in which we become involved in different sorts of projects that are not immediately connectd to our central mission. But I think it is questionable whether we should in general undertake to introduce people to feminism, though clearly explanations are very much in place.

    Right now the topic of expanding the scope of philosophical inquiry is very important. I can certainly see explaining the importance of this topic to a student who is launching a genuine enquiry. I don’t think that is the case here. I think someone launching a genuine inquiry would go so far beyond what they actually know.

  43. Just a quick comment about Aristotle’s being outmoded. The issue of the relevance of Aristotle’s theory of mind has been discussed since at least early 90’s, extensively (those who are interested can find illumination in the dispute between M. Burnyeat’s ‘Is Aristotelian Philosophy of Mind Still Credible?” and Nussbaum/Putnam ‘Changing Aristotle’s Mind’. Burnyeat’s conclusion is that we should just junk it… The discussion has moved somewhat from these two articles (one can read Stephen Menn for what seems to be more historically correct picture but also makes it perhaps even more distant to us, even if in a different way, than Burneyat thought). The issue about explanation and causation is more complicated but those who are interested can start – given the topic – with G.E. R. Lloyd’s ‘Adversaries and Authorities’ which is a great collection of essays on the science and scientific method in both Greece and China. I am not sure what the error is about Marxism in China- they do have their own version, which is different from the one developed in the former Soviet Union.

    Also, I am not a native speaker of English and I do make a lot of mistakes when typing quickly. If that comes out as undergrad level of writing or thinking, well – frankly, I could not care less.

    One more thing: I may not fully understand the comment rules on this blog. But it is striking to me how quickly I have been accused of trolling, of being ignorant, of being an undergrad (this is quite hilarious to me – I will take it as a compliment!), and so on. Of course, this strategy has traditionally not been unusual in philosophy (reading old polemics is often quite entertaining), and I myself actually don’t mind it being called names (again I could not care less). But it does invite one to reply in kind especially if one is a bit hot-headed and then one often regrets what one writes.

    I think the issue Bharath is very important. I find his argument unconvincing even though I would love to have the conclusion. I have tried to persuade my colleagues in the past to hire in non-Western philosophy, but I was not successful. My own view is that we should study other than Western philosophies simply because they are interesting in their own right, just like history of Western philosophy is and a good department that values history of philosophy should seek to have somebody in that area. The utility or relevance to what we do now may or may not exist – who knows what will inspire whom. In any case, that’s all I am going to say.

  44. Let me explain a bit more. I joined this blog in, I think, the fall of 2007. One thing that was clear early on is that people would approach us with objections and enquiries that people would not generally make of other professional blogs.

    I think we still need to be careful about challenges to basic suppositions of an area of enquiry, such as the value of enlarging philosphical enquiry. Still more I think we need to pause when the challenge comes with a lot of false and uninformed statements.

  45. i have nothing more to contribute here. I would be very happy to discover p has the expertise that could come from being a faculty member or grad student at his university.

  46. The fact that we don’t ask people to only comment if they have some training in or experience with all things feminist reads to me as us basically saying that we are willing to introduce people to feminism. Our policy states, “We’re usually very happy to explain ourselves to non-feminists.” That’s what you say when you’re willing to have feminism 101 discussions.

    I’m going to try to explain myself better via email.

  47. Hi Stacey,

    You had two really interesting remarks at #40. They were:

    “We can’t both frame the comment sections as if they are open to basically anyone in the profession who has something to say about these issues, and also remain steadfast in weeding out instances of privilege and epistemic injustice creeping into the discussion. I see those goals at odds with one another.”

    “Either we are prioritizing “niceness” and openness for everyone [see the comment above: “who decides where the rails are?”], or we’re prioritizing making this space safe and welcoming for those who are marginalized and stigmatized and know what they are talking about when it comes to feminism, privilege, stigma, and oppression. But doing the latter is going to require us to not be nice at times and to not tolerate certain kinds of ignorance. And if we’re going to prioritize the latter, I think that means we will not actually be “usually very happy to explain ourselves to non-feminists”–which suggests that we’re still trying to prioritize the former.”

    I take it that you mean that you can’t be nice and initiate change at the same time. I think I disagree pretty entirely- but I’ll focus on one particular reason why FP might want to be careful to be nice to commenters. FP is a serious professional blog, and you’re doing great work here. As far as I can tell, FP is the first place in the philosophy blogosphere where people started really put pressure on philosophers to take responsibility for the things they do that alienate women and minorities- or anyone else on the outside for that matter.

    As a woman and somewhat of an outsider, I expect you to be on my side. I don’t mean that I expect you to agree with everything I say- but I do expect this to be [like you said] a safe spot for me, where I can learn from others, and they can even learn from me sometimes. So if I come here and someone from FP is not nice to me, it hurts pretty badly- much worse than if someone says something asinine or sexist to me on less serious blogs.

    I worry that if people stop focusing on being kind around here, the very people you want to help might get hurt.

  48. I think being on your side is going to entail us at times not being nice to people who say sexist things to you and about you. That’s what I mean by contrasting niceness and safety.

  49. Yes, but what if *I* say something that you interpret as sexist? If you focus on safety, you might shoot me down without explaining to me how my thought might be harmful to me, or finding out what I really meant. That would hurt me.

  50. Yes, doing that could potentially be hurtful to you. But if what you’re saying is hurtful to someone else, then I face a dilemma. Someone is going to be hurt at the end of the exchange. So in that case, I would prioritize supporting the person who is being hurt by something sexist (assuming there aren’t other complicating factors in play.)

    You might feel hurt in that case, but I don’t think it’s likely that you’d be as hurt as the person who was on the receiving end of the sexist thing you said. It will be a judgment call.

  51. If I say something that you interpret as sexist, either I said something sexist, or I wasn’t perfectly clear in expressing myself. If the latter, and you shoot me down, then you’ve hurt me and saved everyone else. But if you ask me to clarify, then nobody gets hurt, and we save everyone. If I’ve actually said something sexist and you shoot me down, again, you hurt me, and save everyone else. But if you explain to me that I’ve said something sexist, then you don’t just not hurt me, but you help me and everyone else too.

    Anyway, I feel a bit bad for hijacking this thread- so we don’t need to keep talking about this here and now if you don’t want to. But the dilemma you say you’re up against is a false one. And I think this is easier to see once you consider the case of the sexist-seeming comment from a junior woman.

  52. This is an acceptable hijack since I’ve already switched directions by talking about some meta-concerns.

    I disagree with your assessment of potential harms though.

    Let’s say you use a gendered slur in reference to someone (even unknowingly), and my response is, instead of saying something like “whoa not cool; seriously don’t do that,” to instead ask you to clarify what you mean, making absolute sure that I’m being nice to you. That is likely to cause the person you threw the slur at some extra harm, if they noticed that I was prioritizing your feelings over their dignity, when you’re the one who messed up.

  53. Okay, I agree that asking for clarification in cases where the sexism looks pretty clear might very well be harmful. And if I were to come on here and call you some sexist slur, I shouldn’t be surprised if you snap back. But in less clear cases you can just say something like, “look, it really sounds like you meant P, and if you meant P, that’s really offensive. Please tell me that you meant something other than P!” That’s not mean or rude, and it certainly favors the offended party over the unclear party. But it doesn’t shut down the unclear. Rather, it gives the unclear a chance to clarify.

  54. Really, I’ve had to do this sort of thing with a very eager and well-meaning student. I thought I could either stay quiet or risk hurting her. Eventually, after several weeks of fretting about it, I found a way to kindly explain to her just exactly what was problematic and potentially offensive about something she had said. She thanked me and ended up writing a really wonderful paper on related issues.

    Maybe it’s a bit Pollyanna of me to see everything as a teaching moment- but I sort of think it is. Btw, is “Pollyanna” a sexist term? Now that I think of it, it very may well be.

  55. [In response to a comment I’m unapproving]
    I’m now in respect & safety over niceness mode.

    Speaking of safety and dignity and respect and all that, I’d like to request that commenters not offhandedly dismiss a larger issue that the OP wants to talk about…on her own post…as being irrelevant to the discussion “at hand.” If people would like to pivot back to one of the earlier discussions on this thread, that’s fine. But please don’t verbally hand-wave away my concerns just because you don’t see how they’re relevant. That’s a kind of microagression.

  56. I assume it was my comment that is referred to @59. I find this unfortunate, not just because I don’t think that what I wrote was objectionable, but also because I resent having it blocked but then negatively discussed second-hand. Like p, I think I’ve outlived my usefulness to (and enjoyment of) this thread.

  57. It seemed that my earlier comment (#25) got overlooked or ignored in the rush to debate thread etiquette. Since no one else answered my questions, and yet I’m still interested in them, I’ll take a stab at answering them myself.

    I had pointed out that physics, like philosophy, aspires towards “universality”, so if the o.p. was right that universality requires attention to “non-western” traditions, this argument should work equally as well for physics as it does for philosophy. Since it seemed implausible to me that professional physicists should waste much time learning about “non-western” physics, it seemed likely to me that there is something wrong with the o.p.’s form of argument.

    I can see two potential responses.

    (1) One response would be to say that physicists really should pay more attention to “non-western” traditions in physics. I’m definitely open to the idea that it may be useful to have a few physicists who try to draw inspiration from unusual sources. But I have a much harder time thinking that “non-western” physics should be taught to all physicists, or that physicists should somehow be embarrassed to claim to be seeking universal truths while remaining ignorant of “non-western” physical traditions. So it doesn’t seem plausible to me to embrace conclusions about physics that parallel those that the o.p. wanted to draw about philosophy. Or does someone want to defend such conclusions about physics?

    (2) The other potential response would be to say that there’s some relevant disanalogy between philosophy and physics that makes the o.p.’s argument work in the case of philosophy, but not physics. The first thing to note is that the o.p. didn’t highlight any such difference (at least not in the argument in the first paragraph, which seemed to be free-standing), so anyone who gives this response seems to be conceding that the o.p.’s first-paragraph argument actually wasn’t a compelling one. I agree.

    After noting that, it would be interesting to ask: what is the relevant disanalogy between philosophy and physics? (2a) Does the alleged difference involve some way in which physics relies upon empirical evidence whereas philosophy doesn’t? I guess, I’m inclined to say that philosophy that runs counter to empirical evidence is probably quite *bad* philosophy, and that philosophy that proceeds in ignorance of empirical evidence tends to be *worse* philosophy than philosophy that is done in light of empirical evidence. Conversely, I think a lot of theoretical physics is basically just abstract mathematics with only quite indirect linkage to empirical evidence. So I don’t see a strong disanalogy here. (2b) Another potential disanalogy might involve some claim that philosophy is *easy* enough that people can do it well, even without a good empirical understanding of how the world works, and even without exposure to the bulk of concentrated research on philosophical topics; whereas one might think physics is too *hard* to do well without having such background knowledge to draw upon. I guess I’m inclined to think that philosophy isn’t “easy” in the relevant sense, so I don’t see this as being a significant disanalogy either. Are there other disanalogies I should be considering?

  58. Tim Minchin makes a joke that goes something like this: “Do you know what they call ‘alternative medicine’ that’s been proven to work? Medicine!”

    I’m inclined to think something similar is true in the case of “alternative” i.e., “non-western” philosophy. All philosophers are welcome to draw upon whatever “non-western” sources they like, and argue that those sources give us important insights. If they’re right, then those insights will be incorporated into “western” philosophy.

    Just as “alternative medicine” is, by definition, quite dubious, I’m inclined to suspect that most “non-western philosophy” that hasn’t yet been incorporated into “western philosophy” is also, by definition, quite dubious. Sure, I admit that alternative medicine might still hold a few good cures that just haven’t been proven yet, and non-western philosophy might still hold a few good insights that haven’t been incorporated yet. But I think it would be silly to insist that all doctors learn a lot about “alternative medicine” and for pretty much the same reasons it seems silly to me to insist that all philosophers learn a lot about “non-western philosophy”.

  59. Picking up on Bharath Vhallaba’s comment back at 32:

    One main thing [philosophy] aims to do is to enable people to reflect on our deepest beliefs; this is independent of whatever one’s AOS is. It is strange to say, “Well, I am a philosopher of physics, so I only reflect on deeply held beliefs regarding physics”; one can do that and aim to be a broader philosopher by reflecting on our general deepest beliefs.

    I guess I do say roughly that thing (with the proviso that plenty of people could and do have research interests both inside and outside philosophy of science; I’m just not really one of them). I agree that I could be a broader philosopher by spending time engaging more with historical traditions, including non-Western traditions. But time is finite, and time spent doing that is time not spent learning functional programming, string theory, or homotopy type theory (none of which are “Western” in particular, unless all science and contemporary maths is Western). Some bits of “philosophy” research are really interdisciplinary, and I wouldn’t want to think that just because one sits in a philosophy department that automatically creates an obligation to prioritise the learning of philosophy over other relevant academic studies.

  60. I think p, r, Devil’s advocate and David Wallace are pressing important, related points. I disagree, so let me try to explain why.

    My claim isn’t that for every philosopher qua sub-specialist, they need to engage with non-Western philosophy. I couldn’t make that claim with a straight face given that like any philosopher, I don’t know large areas of philosophy and don’t know large parts of non-Western philosophy. This kind of claim would have to be made regarding each sub-discipline on a case by case basis, and that is certainly not what I did in the essay. So what do I mean?

    It is important to distinguish two senses of philosophy research: both aim to be culturally neutral but in very different ways. One kind, as in phil of phys, is culturally neutral because it doesn’t use vocabulary that privilages one culture over another; this was enabled by the Scientific Revolution by separating this kind of science from teleology, which tends to be implicitly culture specific. But there is another kind of research, such as more directly into the traditional big questions, where the very concepts of mind, free will, ethics, though they look on the surface to be culturally neutral and so on the surface look like concepts like mass, DNA, etc., are in fact implicitly cultural specific. So in the second sense of research, traditional philosophy questions have the illusion of being culture neutral. I believe that here making progress on these questions, to discover the truth about them, requires unearthing this illusion and doing the positive work of making them truly neutral by integrating all the different cultural traditions.

    In the profession the sense of these two kinds of research are not kept separate. So people who are working on the second kind of research tend to assume that their work is just like the first kind of research, expect engaging with the grand topics of philosophy. This is a cop out. This is fostered sometimes by the claim that the big philosophy questions can be answered by breaking them down into smaller scientific-seeming questions, or by saying that there is a special philosophy method, which is just like science but not really, etc. In this way, the illusion that the big questions are culture neutral is perpetuated. I think if there is more discussion and awareness of the limits of the first kind of research (formal epis, phil physics, logic, etc.) to answer the big questions (which is no objection in itself to the first kind of research), then it will be easier to highlight the illusion of cultural neutrality in most philosophy. For this everyone is responsible together.

  61. Bharath,

    I think this last comment makes a good point. I’m skeptical about the achievement of true neutrality “by integrating all the different cultural traditions,” though, because I’m not convinced that these traditions can be made commensurable with one other without serious distortion. It seems to me that there are two broad options here. One is a kind of cosmopolitan integration of the world’s great wisdom traditions (I believe that “philosophy” is actually the wrong word to apply across the board here); and the other is the sustained development of inquiry that understands itself to proceed within and on the basis of one or more of these traditions. Call these the Nussbaum model and the MacIntyre model.

    In practice, I find the Nussbaum model must always rely on privileging one set of concepts as the ‘base language’ into which other traditions are translated. (Arguably, calling all the worlds’ wisdom traditions ‘philosophy’ does just this: it privileges a Greek term, which arose in a definite cultural tradition against a definite historical backdrop to convey a specific kind of activity, as a catch-all phrase for other traditions that share little or nothing of that context. In other words, I don’t think that what you find in the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Dialects, is ‘philosophy’ even as I think that what you find in both places is very valuable and worth thinking about.) Hence, in practice, I find the MacIntyrean model much more consistent and, in a way, less self-deceiving. Of course, the MacIntyre model suffers from its own set of problems and drawbacks, of which I’m well aware.

    But I’m interested to hear more about your general take on these and related issues, since you’ve clearly thought a lot about this topic.

  62. In response to this comment above:
    “Just as “alternative medicine” is, by definition, quite dubious, I’m inclined to suspect that most “non-western philosophy” that hasn’t yet been incorporated into “western philosophy” is also, by definition, quite dubious. Sure, I admit that alternative medicine might still hold a few good cures that just haven’t been proven yet, and non-western philosophy might still hold a few good insights that haven’t been incorporated yet. But I think it would be silly to insist that all doctors learn a lot about “alternative medicine” and for pretty much the same reasons it seems silly to me to insist that all philosophers learn a lot about “non-western philosophy”.”

    First, if relatively few people in western philosophy know much about non-western philosophy, why should we suppose all the good stuff already has been “incorporated”, as opposed to simply overlooked?

    Second, what grounds do you have for suggesting that even “unincorporated” non-western philosophy is “quite dubious”? Presumably some additional assumptions motivate your claim about “alternative medicine”: perhaps it doesn’t yield accurate diagnoses, doesn’t offer the most effective treatments, or can’t give an acceptable account of its procedures. What’s the parallel for non-western philosophy that has not been “incorporated”? In what ways is it supposed to be inadequate? I doubt a compelling case can be made for that claim, so you know where I stand, but I’ll listen to opposing arguments.

    Third, why is one philosophical tradition automatically assumed to be the superior one positioned to incorporate useful portions from other traditions implied to be inferior and inherently dubious? Does western philosophy lack comparatively for dubious theories or questionable arguments of its own?

    Finally, I’m not sure the point should be that all philosophers need to learn a lot about non-western philosophy, because philosophy is such an enormous area that most philosophers will be doing very well to gain a close understanding of a few portions. Yet in the same way that it might strike us as important to have a basic acquaintance with the major thinkers and philosophical positions staked out in the history of western philosophy, perhaps it is important to have a general acquaintance with the major thinkers and views presented in other philosophical traditions. This doesn’t seem very controversial to me; the greatest challenge seems more practical: finding ways to cover everything desired in an already-stretched curriculum, and finding expert teachers, but these problems affect many areas of interest.

  63. To Anne and Stacey,
    It sounds like you’re having an ongoing conversation here about a long-term problem related to moderating comments on the blog. Not only am I dropping randomly into your discussion mid-stream, but I realize this isn’t my blog and you have far more experience with fielding comments. My two cents, for what it’s worth in this context: it’s better to err on the side of allowing comments to stand, including those you may be concerned are offensive.

    Otherwise, you encourage the perception that some comments are removed simply because they criticize prevailing opinion or are motivated by a different but still legitimate understanding of what constitutes offense. That comes off as unjustifiably heavy-handed. (If moderation is required, inserting editorial comments with an explanation might mitigate this concern without erasing entire entries.)

    Occasionally it seems like comments on a thread are closed down simply because a discussion is getting contentious rather than because it’s actually offensive. That sort of thing makes me uncomfortable just as paternalistic exercises of authority make me uncomfortable; I’ve often seen such approaches used to shut down feminist criticism rather than to support its ends.

    Finally, it’s often helpful to let the audience judge what was said on the merits. If comments founded on sexist assumptions or made with malicious intent are posted, others can see them for what they are. I respect that you have a stricter commenting policy than I would personally choose, as you are entitled to have in your own space, but sometimes it’s harmful to hide the reality of what people are saying. A given view might be better understood in the light of the opposition it struggles against, for example. That’s not to say you must allow people to hurl insults or use abusive language; I merely register this plea on behalf of keeping things open and uncensored when possible.

  64. Ligurio, My sense of the layout on this issue might be similar to what you say. Here are four options:

    1) Western Enlightenment Universalism: Only the West had the Enlightenment, which enabled philosophy to break free from local biases. Therefore, other traditions need to merge with Western Enlightenment to be universal. One might add: the West part is contingent; “we in the West” just got to the Enlightement first; what matters is the Enlightenment worldview.

    2) Global Enlightenment Universalism: Other traditions as well had Enlightenment or proto-Enlightenment worldviews. Therefore, in order to have true universalism, we need to merge all the Enlightenment traditions across the world.

    3) Independent Plurality: The Enlightenment idea of one abstract, universal space is problematic, and always implicitly biases towards local powers anyway. To be universal in a good way, we need to pursue each tradition from within, while at best putting them next to each other.

    4) Interdependent Plurality: The Enlightenment idea of a universal space is problematic only if we already assume that we, or some people, are already there, and we just have to help others get into it. The aim of a universal space is a regulative ideal which can help guide through the confusions and questions intrinsic to the process of becoming open to all philosophical traditions.

    (1)-(3) have real problems philosophically. But what I would emphasize for present purposes is that (1)-(3) give the feeling that the deep institutional structures of the profession are basically fine as they are. On (1)there is no need to change because the profession is already universal. On (2) there is need to change to recognize the Enlightenment parts of other traditions, but practically this feels like mainly a translation exercise; in terms of ideas, the Western Enlightenment already has them. On (3), if the point of being critical of the Enlightenment is to get back to the insights of the pre-Enlightenment West because that is “our” tradition, ironically this feels as if one is saying we aren’t being true enough to the Western roots–something which seems to pull more into the West instead of out into the world; and it is hard to see how putting all the traditions next to each other in this way can lead to each of them being transcended.

    I believe (4) is the best option. But what it requires is a real shift in the institutional practices of the profession. My sense of the profession is that most people wouldn’t say (1) publically, and are perhaps not sure what to think. But (1) is engrained into the institutional practices of the profession, so one doesn’t need to believe it to be contributing to it. At some point, to be really open to other traditions, it is necessary to say, “We need to do things which even the greats in the recent past, people like Dewey, Wittgenstein, Quine, Sartre, etc. didn’t do.” It is taking a step into the unknown, without a clear, predetermined map of how it will all work out, but moved by the sense that things also can’t remain the same.

  65. Thanks, this is helpful. I suppose I am more enthusiastic about (3) and more dubious about (4).

    I don’t think that (3) is necessarily nostalgic–though that is an inherent danger of pursuing (3)–and I would suggest that a book like MacIntyre’s Dependent Rational Animals, which develops an essentially Aristotelian anthropology in tandem with the work of Eva Feder Kittay and others in order to argue for what by *any* account is a fairly radical politics. And I also think that (3) is quite hostile to existing disciplinary divisions and professional structures. (These divisions and structures reinforce what amounts to our *practical* acceptance of either (1) or (2), whatever we theoretically think of them.) Do you know Jonathan Lear’s book on Radical Hope? That book affected me deeply, both in its sensitive reconstruction of a very foreign conceptual world from within, as it were, and in its fine illumination of how critical the loss of a such a world feels to one who actually lives inside it. These people are more often than not the defeated peoples of history.

    My worries about (4) are that it seems to be a soft version of (1)–a friendly and compassionate and helpful and cooperative imposition of (something like) secular modernity as a regulative ideal. Habermas rather than, say, Diderot.

    Perhaps I am in general unsympathetic to “universality.” In any case–as hinted above–I certainly agree with you that (1) is the default, professionalized, naive, view of the discipline taken as a whole. The Marxist in me thinks that practices and structures have to change before ideological shifts have any real force or novelty, and the pessimist in me thinks that practices and structures are not going to change any time soon.

  66. As a Chinese who had studied Chinese classics and Chinese philosophy for quite a long time before moving to analytic philosophy, I agree with most of what p said about history of (both Western and non-Western) philosophy (except one minor point: the Xuanxue school existed between 3rd and 6th century, but not in 12th century, at least not I am aware of). I find it both possible and beneficial to distinguish between, on the one hand, ideas and arguments that are of intellectual-historical, sociological, and anthropological (etc.) interest, and on the other hand, ideas and arguments that are of genuine philosophical interest.
    For instance, I recently read Franklin Perkins’ new book, Heaven and Earth Are Not Humane: The Problem of Evil in Classical Chinese Philosophy http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/product_info.php?products_id=807080 . This book, I think, is a really excellent exercise in history of philosophy, and is of great historical and sociological interest for those who want to know how ancient Chinese dealt with the problem of evil as well as how their approaches could turn out to have greatly influenced the development of a relatively secular culture of the Chinese society. But knowing all these doesn’t contribute to the contemporary philosophical debate (if resistance by a minority of Christian apologist philosophers can still count as “debate”) over the problem of evil itself: for all the arguments and counter-arguments that can be found in ancient Chinese philosophy concerning this issue have already been developed and tried out in the contemporary debate. (Similarly I don’t think studying medieval Scholasticism would contribute anything here).
    I know much less about Indian philosophy than Chinese philosophy, but from what I have read, I think the claim (#2) that “for a, e.g., contemporary philosopher of mind, e.g., Nyaya accounts of perception would be productive, illuminating, and relevant to engage with” is similarly exaggerated.

  67. The comment below ended up under a different OP. I’m moving it in case anyone is interested in our moderating policy.

    | In reply to Niccolea (Nick-cole-yah).
    Niccolea,

    I thought I’d stay away from this post now, but I’d like to make a few comments on your thoughtful remarks.

    1. I think at least most of us would agree that our comments policy makes some people pretty unhappy. As a general rubic, I think we only remove posts that can cause distress by being either pretty nasty or making false accusations. Very recently (Sunday) we have about 10 comments identifying a well know commenter as a Leiter sock puppet. I just saw the last one, which I removed with a comment. Then someone else removed my comment on the grounds that it might set off another sock puppet frenzy. The comments were pretty insulting, and also the sort of thing that ups the noise level on a blog and makes discussion more difficult.

    2. Believe it or not, we do try not to remove comments. I wasn’t advocating removing p’s. comments, though someone did remove one or more comments from the thread. I don’t think they were p’s.
    I may have been radically unclear about what myy worry about p was. I thought his comments had an internal latent inconsistency which, in my view, became overt after I raised some questions about him. Clearly, others did not agree with me. I will say very vaguely that I had other background information that first got me worried. We do get some background info behind the scenes. In particular, we get your url. If you are commenting from a particular university, then that is usually very clear.
    I don’t like posts with lots of really bad mistakes about philosophy, but misrepresentation seems to me also really not good. However, I might have been wrong, and in any case, mere misrepresentation is not against our policy. Further, no one found his implying he is a philosophy professor questionable, so I decided to get off the limb I was on.

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  68. Ligurio, I agree that anything other than (1) would be great progress. It is interesting why (1) has such a grip in the profession, that too given that generally people in the profession are not racists. One might say it is implicit racism, but I am not sure of that. My sense is what is driving it is a slippery slope worry concerning practical issues such as the number of faculty positions available. As Laura Grams says above, there are already budget cut worries. Add to that the pressure of opening to other traditions (that too without knowing in advance where it will all end, what counts as an alternate tradition and when it can be said they are all included), and one might be overwhelmed that one’s philosophical interests are being undercut both from outside and inside academia. At many public universities, departments becoming more pluralistic is only going to bring more pressure from conservatives that funding should be cut, since they are already worried about what they sense as the Enlightenment American culture being corrupted by the increase in minorities. I can understand these pressures on philosophy departments. But I would say the profession has no choice but to move towards other traditions. Otherwise the dissonance is too strong and obvious between saying to the general public that we should embrace America becoming a minority majority while at the same time resisting that within the profession. America will go through deep growing pains in the coming decades, and if the philosophy profession wants a leading role in that future, it has to make changes within itself.

    Y, your argument seems to me as follows: i) anything in classical Chinese philosophy is covered in contemporary debates, so (ii) classical Chinese philosophy is merely of anthropological interest, so (iii) it isn’t of intrinsic philosophical interest. If I have your argument right, I think neither (ii) nor (iii) follow. Re (ii): if the same material is covered in contemporary and classical texts, that doesn’t make the classical text anthropological; it makes them prescient and ahead of their time philosophically. Re (iii), even if classical texts are mainly of anthropological interest, that doesn’t show they are not of philosophical interest, since the merits of philosophical anthropology (as in Wittgenstein, MacIntyre or Bourdieu) is itself a live debate in contemporary philosophy.

  69. Annejjacbson, I am not sure how background information or where a person is writing from can be relevant. I take it what you are responding to are blanket dismissals of Aristotle or the relevance of historical figures to philosophy; many professors say such things, and they make them as a philosophical point (though mistakenly, in my opinion).

    But I think you are right about your broader point of concern regarding the language of some of p’s early posts (p, I hope you don’t see this as a criticism; I mean it as a general point). The manner of the question of the first comment, as well as phrases such as “I just do not think the cosmopolitan argument is any good” and “neither the reasons I have nor the ones I have read so far seem to me persuasive” reminded me of Kristie Dotson’s idea of the culture of justification. It is fine to disagree, and one can show that just by giving reasons for disagreeing. But when the language suggests that a person is not convinced and it is the other person’s job to convince one, that can trigger all sorts of power dynamics which are really harmful and which can shut down the other person. It is never one’s job to convince one’s interlocutor; the most one can do is put one’s reasons out there, but convincing is a psychological situation which requires many more things than what an interlocutor can sometimes provide. There were many times I was shut down through such language. Though I don’t think that is what p was doing (and am thankful for his interesting comments), I am also glad that Annejjacobson flagged the general issue.

  70. Bharath, I would take the mere fact that some classical texts are “prescient and ahead of their time philosophically” to be of historical/historiographical/political/etc. interest, but not of intrinsic philosophical interest. Suppose we discover that a well-known sophisticated and convincing argument A, which we used to think was first developed by philosopher x, had actually been developed by philosopher y a hundred years before x. We would need to revise our history of philosophy accordingly to give y the due credit, and may also need to reflect on the implicit biases in previous historiography (e.g. if y was a female philosopher and was neglected because of that). But does this discovery add anything to our philosophical understanding about the validity of A or related arguments and counterarguments? To take mathematics as analogy.It seems to me that whether it was Gödel himself who proved the incompleteness theorems, or whether he stole the proof from some Smith who died obscurely, has no intrinsic mathematical interest, although it does matter a lot in other aspects.
    To be sure, there are differences between philosophy and mathematics (and sciences for that matter), to the effect that anthropological and historical surveys of philosophical ideas might be more useful to philosophical inquiry than those of mathematical/scientific ideas are to mathematical/scientific inquiry. But even so, this interest seems purely instrumental rather than intrinsic, and diminishes as contemporary philosophical inquiry makes progress (i.e. as the possibility of there being good arguments that have been made by our ancestors but have been long forgotten decreases, eventually below the threshold of skepticism).

  71. Bharath,

    I agree with pretty much everything you say there @72. I would also note the obvious, as sometimes it’s worth doing so: during the same period that philosophy has felt enormous pressure on hiring lines and budgets, thereby reinforcing a practical commitment to (1), pre-professional schools, and, especially, business schools, have geometrically increased their proportionate share of university funding, and have proliferated and are continuing to proliferate into subdisciplines. At my university, the Business School has something like 7 or 8 DEPARTMENTS within it. This reflects what we really value as a people, of course. And until that changes, it won’t. And I’m afraid that our commitment to neoliberalism–“an economy that kills” Pope Francis has said–won’t change until things get very bad indeed.

  72. Replying to Bharath @64: I think I agree with most of this. Where I might disagree is the classification of “big questions” as automatically out of reach of science and science-connected philosophy. After all, physics is engaged with understanding the nature of matter, space, time and motion, and the ultimate constituents of physical reality, and biology is concerned with the origin and development of species and of life in general. These are pretty big questions, and many philosophers have worked on them; we don’t list them as “traditional big questions” of philosophy simply because we’ve made so much progress on them and on the methods that can be used to address them that we’ve stopped calling them philosophical.

  73. Y, re whether philosophy is like science or math, please see my comment at 64 above.

    Earlier, at 34, JT raised a good question: why has the discussion on this thread focused on history of philosophy? The main issue is not whether historical texts are relevant to research. It is about the asymmetry between Western and non-Western philosophy in the profession. Some people saying that they personally believe that all history is irrelevant to research doesn’t change the institutional fact that in Anglo-American philosophy by and large Western historical texts are treated as relevant to research. No one, as far as I am aware, is trying to change this institutional fact such that references to Western philosophical history are removed from contemporary research. Therefore the institutional asymmetry regarding Western and non-Western philosophy remains.

    I think in the context of this discussion the focus on history of philosophy perpetuates the following line of thought: we can ignore history of philosophy, therefore we can ignore non-Western history of philosophy, therefore we can ignore all contemporary non-Western philosophy which makes reference to historical non-Western philosophy, therefore insofar as we engage with non-Western philosophy it must be of the math-science kind, and that kind of philosophy is what contemporary Western philosophy exemplifies, and so really contemporary Western philosophers just need to keep doing what they are doing, and others need to merge with it. The main problem with this line of thinking is that it reinforces the illusion of cultural neutrality in Western philosophy.

    David, I agree. I didn’t mean to make a contrast between big questions and small questions in philosophy. I meant to make a distinction between big questions which we already have the vocabulary for pursuing culture-neutrally, and those which are more culturally-infused. I also think there is a middle ground, such as concepts like consciousness. There are many ways that consciousness can be understood, some which are more culturally-specific, and some which are more culturally-neutral. Often the culturally-specific dimensions of this concept get hidden under a veneer of cultural neutrality.

  74. BV re # 73: i don’t think it is useful to go back over my concerns about p, but I’ll say a few things. One is that behind the scenes we usually see a url and an email address. If you see a url is from the Univ of X and the address is Ssmith13@ux.edu, and Sarah Smith with that email address is at ux in the philosophy department, they her claim to be a phil prof is very believable. . So if someone who strikes you as potentially pretending says they are a philosophy prof and their url is uy and their address is given as jjones@uy.edu, but there isn’t anyone of that name there, then one wonders.

    During a recent heated discussion someone with a particular user name was posting from SF and Portland Oregon alternatively, with about 2 hours in between. This was kept up for a while. A linguistic division of labor.

    Also, there is a huge difference between saying ‘I think Aristotle is outmoded’ and ‘aristotle is generally regarded as outmoded. The latter seems clearly false, going by Leiter’s recent poll on necessary areas for a strong phd. Aristotle and the ancient ranks at 7, abov logic. Also, a strong topic in Chinese Marism is its relation to traditional Marxism fom the west, contra p.

  75. BV, LET ME ALSO SAY THAT I have really appreciated the inights you are bringing, and I am sorry you’ve left philosophy, but I would also guess that was a good decision for you. It probably would have been for a number of us.

  76. Anne, thank you for helping keep in view in this thread that this topic has a personal dimension as well. Yes, leaving academic philosophy has been good for me. When I was in academia there was a persistent tension within me which was, as Park puts it well, “beyond unreasonable”. This tension made doing philosophy for me inseparable from a sense of constantly fighting with the profession, and it was not sustainable. For the most part I did not share what I was feeling with others, nor did I feel I could share it, which made it worse. I think of what I was struggling with as a form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). When one goes through things which make one feel totally helpless, as if one were powerless to change something painful, the mind and the body go into a heightened defensive state; and this can persist for years, often implicitly, creating an exhausting hyper-vigilance against things which trigger the trauma. This can create patterns of shame and anger, since one wonders why one is feeling like this when externally everything seems so normal and fine. For me it was helpful to leave academia to gain distance from this and put things in perspective.

    One might wonder: “All this sounds like abuse, the kind we can imagine goes with physical violence or emotional manipulation. But how can this be relevant to academic philosophy, which is simply concerned with truth? Even supposing Western and non-Western traditions should be merged for the sake of research, that is a point about reasons. Where does trauma come into this?” But just because academic philosophy aims at truth doesn’t mean that its institutional structures are set up in the ideal way to realize that aim.
    When an abuser says to her victim, “I can’t be hurting you, because I love you”, she is confusing the intention with the action. Similarly, though academic philosophy aims at truth, which is universal, in practice it undermines this aim through perpetuating forms of false universalism and segregation: these texts can’t merge with those texts, that tradition can’t come too close to this tradition, those thinkers are fine as long as we don’t have to engage with them, etc. It is these entrenched practices that cause pain.

  77. “Also, there is a huge difference between saying ‘I think Aristotle is outmoded’ and ‘aristotle is generally regarded as outmoded. The latter seems clearly false, going by Leiter’s recent poll on necessary areas for a strong phd. Aristotle and the ancient ranks at 7, abov logic.”

    Even assuming this poll correctly reflects the opinion of people in the profession, which may or may not be the case, I don’t think it shows that a majority of philosophers disagree with p’s assessment of the relevance of Aristotle for contemporary philosophical research. Aristotle is probably my favorite philosopher, but I mostly agree with p that what he wrote is not relevant for contemporary research, except in a rather weak sense. It doesn’t mean that I think people shouldn’t study Aristotle, because I also think he is extremely interesting in his own right and that it’s very important to study him in order to understand the way in which Western philosophy developed.

  78. Bharath Vallabha,

    Since you’re an excellent communicator and writer and in addition, have “a lot to say”,
    I hope that whatever your future professional goals, you continue making your thoughts and opinions public.

  79. Delurking to say I agree with Wallerstein and have very much enjoyed reading Bharath Vallabha’s article but especially his comments here. Encouraging him to continue to write for the public is rather selfish on my part (especially since I study Chinese philosophy at Hawaii), but I’m going to do it anyhow.

    He also handles pointed questions about the value of non-Western philosophy with a grace I generally lack (which is why I haven’t commented earlier), but wish I had.

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