Philosophy has to be about more than white men

When it comes to philosophy, for instance – a particularly important discipline as our world is built on ideas – the work of white males, dead or alive, dominates the field. This is not simply because white males have contributed profound work, but also due to the glaring yet tacitly silenced relationship between power structures and knowledge. This is why philosophy professor Angela Davis’s complex body of work on the social justice system has not influenced contemporary philosophical studies on prisons in the way Michel Foucault’s work on the same topic has. Or why the Ethiopian philosopher Zera Yaekob, who long before Nietzsche declared that “God is dead”, daringly criticised organised religion in his 1667 treatise, Hatata, where he also said: “He who investigates with pure intelligence … will discover the truth.” But despite promoting reason in this way, he is not dubbed the father of modern philosophy, Descartes is.

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One thought on “Philosophy has to be about more than white men

  1. While I certainly agree with the main sentiment of the article, the way the author goes about defending is unhelpful, even counter-productive. Comparisons between ignored philosophers and those in the canon, particularly those amounting to “who was there first” or whose thought is more significant, can reinforce the wrong ideas.

    Looking at the commentary on Yaekob, he’s not doing anything at all like Nietzsche, and barely that of Descartes. And not nearly as systematic. Anyway, none of these were first to criticize organized religion or promote reason (by a couple of millennia).

    But that shouldn’t be the point anyway. It’s not that the Yaekobs of history produced better, earlier work. The point is that contemporary philosophy should be open ideas of all sorts, in a way that hasn’t been so in the past.

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