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05/12/2016

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John Protevi

Characteristically thoughtful post, Eric. Thanks. A couple of observations, taking off from the decolonializing project Drabinski's post was devoted to distinguishing from "diversity" approaches:

1) Very good way to show Christianity as another dimension of invisibility, along with "white" per Drabinski, hidden behind "Western." I think we should take that as a clue to uncover other interlocking dimensions of invisibility along with those two. "Western" also stands for "still-invisibly-ableist," "still-invisibly-hetero," "still-invisibly-anthropocentric," and so on. I don't include "still-invisibly-male" as at least that dimension of unthought default setting mode for philosophy is at least now becoming visible (to many people at least) thanks to the centuries of work by feminists.

2) When you note the racism and genocidal calls of "the others," that is to my mind a devastating counter to calls to "diversity." The call has to be to de-colonializing, de-racializing, de-ableizing ... philosophy, not just to broadening our sources. It's to change the way we read philosophy, to bring out the invisible dimensions which serve the social-structure-forming (or at least reinforcing and justifying) as well as epistemic, moral, and aesthetic functions of philosophy.

(Side note: the invisible Christianity allowing "Western" to be used as it is didn't become awkward after slavery and colonialism the way it did after Auschwitz, perhaps because of the long term nature and intricate workings of slavery and colonialism meant the entire society, religious organizations and doctrines included, were so permeated by and so involved in the reinforcement and justification of those power relations that can't we see that involvement in the past, let alone see it now in our current society, still structured as it is by the succeeding permutations of the racism and exploitation that were slavery and colonialism. The documentary evidence presented in the case of the Jesuits at Georgetown show just how direct that involvement could be; the real challenges lie in showing the more indirect cases -- as well as continuing to unearth other direct ones.

Eric Schliesser

On (1) and (2) mostly agreed (and you nicely draw out implications--I will ponder these). On the side note, here's part of my 'yes but'' to John Drabinski (to be developed soon): there is a tendency here (by critics and friends alike) to homogenize the "western" traditions such that the folk who contested colonial, racialized, slave-driving, misogynistic enterprises also get written out or silenced, etc. And so doing we reinforce historical injustices (often by accepting a crude historicism) and we also misunderstand how we got to here; we also play into narratives that reduce complexity.

Dan Budhwani

You said, "Some of the texts/authors from these non-Western traditions also express rather sectarian commitments. Some of the Islamic philosophers that I teach use examples that may well be thought racist (whatever their intent) and they call/permit for genocide on certain kind of savages (anticipating some of the worst features of 18th and 19th century European philosophy)."

I wasn't sure why this was relevant to the so-called distinction between Western and non-Western philosophy. John Drabinski responded to the same op-ed (https://jdrabinski.com/2016/05/11/diversity-neutrality-philosophy/) and pointed out that major Western figures like Locke, Kant, Hume, and Hegel have all had "theories of race, nation, genesis of human difference, and justifications for all sorts of slavery, conquest, and domination". I don't see how you can contrast Medieval Islamic philosophers with "more tolerant/broad-minded authors" when justifying oppression is one of the big things so many philosophical traditions have in common. We don't generally teach Aristotle's conception of natural slaves when teaching his ethics, nor do we teach how that conception was used historically to justify subjugating American Indians and Africans by philosophers like Sepulvada. If suppressing the "sectarian commitments" of the biggest figures in Western philosophy is done fairly regularly in classes, then why should we worry much about those same commitments in non-Western philosophers.

Schliesser, Eric

Thank you for your comments, Dan. First, I am not suggesting we should not teach non-Western philosophers because of their calls for genocide. (As I point out, I do teach them and don't hide their genocidal elements.) The same is true of some early female philosophers (e.g. Cavendish) who were into racial hierarchy. I am just noting that the Garfield/Van Norden position on diversity is not well thought out if not incoherent.
Second, Aristotle's conception of natural slaves rarely gets a pass. I encountered it in the class-room several times in my education, and never hide it as a teacher. In fact, if you go check the last year of this very blog, I discuss his very doctrine regularly. Even Kant's sexism and racism are now much more widely noted and discussed (including the evolution of some of his views.)
Third, you are right, however, that the after-life and use of some of the more noxious and evil doctrines [I call it an instance of the 'Socratic problem'] tends not to get discussed in philosophy courses/education or very much in scholarship. (But, again, I have blogged quite regularly about the intertwining of eugenics and philosophy.) Having said that, there is a whole literature on so-called 'inductive risk', which is all about the real world consequences of expert/philosophical doctrines and that provides a good vehicle to do so. Here we do run up against the idea that some the real world impact of ideas belongs to history of ideas or sociology not philosophy--I reject that, but I am probably in the minority.

Sanne van Oosten

Thank you for this insightful blog post, I enjoyed reading it. What about calling it White Philosophy? It might be a bit uncomfortable, but that is what a lack of diversity really is anyway.

Eric Schliesser

I think the danger with 'White Philosophy' is that you efface the non-White folk who contributed to the project. But the nice thing about 'philosophy' is that it is an unprotected word--so people can call it whatever they want. If you want to call it 'White Philosophy' and that will help improve the ways it is practiced (or is descriptively accurate about its past practice) and makes it more inclusive (etc.), by all means, go for it!

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