It might seem broadminded to call for philosophy professors to teach ancient Asian scholars such as Confucius and Candrakīrti in addition to dead white men such as David Hume and Immanuel Kant. However, this approach undermines what is distinct about philosophy as an intellectual tradition, and pays other traditions the dubious compliment of saying that they are just like ours. Furthermore, this demand fuels the political campaign to defund academic philosophy departments.
Philosophy originates in Plato’s Republic. It is a restless pursuit for truth through contentious dialogue. It takes place among ordinary human beings in cities, not sages and disciples on mountaintops, and it requires the fearless use of reason even in the face of established traditions or religious commitments. Plato’s book is the first text of philosophy and a reference point for texts as diverse as Aristotle’s Politics, Augustine’s City of God, al-Fārābī’s The Political Regime, and the French philosopher Alain Badiou’s book Plato’s Republic (2013)...Even philosophers who do not mention Plato directly still use his words – including ‘ideas’ – and his general orientation that prioritises truth over piety. Philosophy is the love of wisdom rather than the love of blood or country. It is in principle open to everybody, and people all around the world heed Plato’s call to live an examined life.
I am wary of the argument, however, that all serious reflection upon fundamental questions ought to be called philosophy. Philosophy is one among many ways to think about questions such as the origin of the Universe, the nature of justice, or the limits of knowledge. Philosophy, at its best, aims to be a dialogue between people of different viewpoints, but, again, it is a love of wisdom, rather than the possession of wisdom. This restless character has often made it the enemy of religion and tradition.
Consider the outlook of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111), a towering figure in Islamic thought. In Deliverance from Error, al-Ghazali recounts his time reading Plato, Aristotle and their ostensibly Muslim readers. He asserts: ‘We must reckon as unbelievers both these philosophers themselves and their followers among the Islamic philosophers, such as Ibn Sina, al-Farabi and others.’ Al-Ghazali recommends that Muslims ‘shut the gate so as to keep the general public from reading the books of the misguided as far as possible’. Even though he himself makes philosophical arguments, he does not want to enter the tradition of falsafa and is widely credited with trying to end this tradition with books such as The Incoherence of the Philosophers. If one wants to study Islamic political thought in the centuries after al-Ghazali, scholars should primarily study theology (kalam) and jurisprudence (fiqh), not falsafa.--Nicholas Tampio "Not all things wise and good are philosophy"@Aeon.
Tampio understands philosophy as a tradition that starts with Plato's Republic. It is not clear why, if it starts with Plato, it does not start with Plato's Apology, or, better yet, with Plato's (now lost) lecture On the Good. It is said to be characteristic of this tradition that (i) it privileges reason over piety; (ii) it pursues truth through dialogue; (iii) it is urbane--ruling out the activity described in the Phaedrus;* (iv) it is pursuit of wisdom; (v) it is often an enemy of religion and tradition. In addition, (vi) critics of this tradition (like Al-Ghazali--I return to him at the end) are not properly part of philosophy. Since a playful Platonist must offer 7 items (cf Symposium), I remark that notably absent -- given the rhetoric my professional friends often espouse -- is the idea (vii) that philosophy is essentially argumentative; let's be grateful for small mercies.
It is notable that (iv) is on the list because Tampio is explicitly interested in what ought to take place in philosophy departments; these days professional philosophers insist we lack interest in wisdom in the manner of our ethicists insisting that to study ethics has no bearing on character or ethical behavior. If there is any pursuit of wisdom in contemporary philosophy this is a contingent affair (if one prefers an argument from authority, see Quine Theories and Things (1981: 193)].
We can recognize in (i) and (v) an Enlightenment construction of the tradition. It was already contestable in the eighteenth century (Hume is rather deflationary of reason, Berkeley rather fond of religion), and it is quite remarkable that the many ways in which the tradition and religion mutually supported each other, say starting with Philo or, if you wish (since it is mentioned by Tampio), Augustine, gets re-interpreted as non-intrinsic to the tradition. It does not take Nietzsche to point out that philosophical reason and religion have been partners in crime (sometimes literally crime). Yes, 'often' is not 'always'; but it is equally true to say that philosophy and religion have been each others friends. Or to put the point more in soft-Hegelian terms, it's often the case that because of the needs of religious philosophers, philosophy made progress (by the development of new distinctions, argumentative moves, etc.)
More subtly, the whole point of the Enlightenment, and arguably Plato, is to show that piety and reason are not natural antagonists, but, in the right institutional context, mutually supportive: to quote Spinoza (who mostly ridiculed Plato), on the nature of the argument of his Political Theological Treatise: freedom can be granted without endangering piety and the peace of the commonwealth, but also the peace of the commonwealth and piety depend on this freedom. Whether the Enlightenment is right about this is an open question, but it is odd to present the tradition as undermining piety in the name of that tradition when from the start the tradition itself tries to show (perhaps mistakenly) that its path is the path of true piety. For, if philosophy truly undermines piety then the good citizens of Athens were right to condemn Socrates--again that's an open case, but it is one that the tradition tries to meet (cf. Socratic Problem). Tampio's position provides much better fuel "to the political campaign to defund academic philosophy departments" than the teaching of any culturally distant, complex text from 11th century Islamic Spain!
On (vi): it ought by now to be a familiar trope that philosophy's critics, the self-described anti-philosophers (e.g., Al-Ghazali, Montaigne, Margaret Cavendish, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Thoreau, Isaiah Berlin, Derrida), are as much part of the tradition as the official philosophers. (I have been influenced on this point by reflecting on Rachel Barney's piece on Gorgias's Encomium of Helen.) Again, to be soft-Hegelian about it, by their engagement they help articulate and extend the tradition.
Let me close with an observation or two (or more) on Al-Ghazali. First, it is true that Al-Ghazali presents himself as a critic of the philosophers. By this Al-Ghazali means (this is somewhat ironic given Tampio's claims about (v)) theistic philosophers (Al-Ghazali thinks that non-theistic philosophy is seriously discredited.] Tampio presents himself as an expert on Islamic political thought, but I think he fails to note the point of the passage he quotes. Al-Ghazali is not rejecting philosophy and its tradition (primarily Al-Farabi and Ibn-Sinna) as such. When he writes that we ought to ‘shut the gate so as to keep the general public from reading the books of the misguided as far as possible,’ in context, he is merely recommending that philosophy should be kept from unprepared souls. In so doing he follows in the footsteps of Plato, who, after all recommended a rather stringent curriculum before one could enter into philosophy, and Al-Ghazali anticipates the position of his fiercest critic (Ibn Rushd) as well as Bacon (and even, if I may offer an interpretation without evidence of the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume). That is to say, Al-Ghazali is an elitist about who can enter into the philosophical conversation, but it does not follow he is against that conversation as such. I am not the first to notice this; Ibn Tufayl makes the point explicitly in his Hayyi Ibn Yaqzan, where he argues that according to Ghazali philosophy should be done only with a select few. (He even treats Ghazali as somebody who teaches such matters esoterically by way of hints! [recall])
In particular, as I have noted before, Al-Ghazali is explicit that the political philosophy of the Islamic philosophers is not to be rejected. (This is why I teach him in my own course on classical Islamic political theory, despite several experts telling me that his work is about epistemology.) And, while certainly, Al-Farabi does not have the mainstream authority that Al-Ghazali has in contemporary Islamic thought, it is also remarkable, as I learned from my students, that all over the Arab world, Al-Farabi is not just mentioned but also taught in elite high schools as part of the philosophy of the 'Golden Age.' (Obviously there are complicated sociological issues about the nature of such teaching, but these are no less existing in the way philosophy is taught at, say, at a Gymnasium, those self-styled bearers of bildung into the classical tradition, in Europe.)
This is not the place to situate Al-Gazali's Deliverance in a long tradition from Galen to Descartes (recall, and my references to Menn). Rather, I want to close with an observation. Al-Ghazali explicitly poses his own sufi wisdom as distinct from the philosophical tradition. But he does so in ways that are distinctly familiar from philosophical mystics. I am not the first to notice this; again I learned the point from Ibn Tufayl, who explicitly treats Ghazali as being no different from Ibn Sinna and Ibn Baji on this point. Those of us who live later could also include Spinoza and Leibniz to the list,and if we are ecumenical in spirit, Augustine, Kierkegaard, and Anne Conway. This tradition can be traced back to Plato (Cf. Timaeus, Symposium, Phaedrus). One reason why I teach Al-Ghazali (with gratitude) is that he found a way to artfully combine the philosophical tradition with the straight path.
PS One may think that all I have showed is that the tradition is broader than Tampio allows; and that I have done nothing to address the argument that reflection distinct from the Platonic tradition should be ignored by philosophers. But about that see * below.