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January 17, 2013 5:20 AM   Subscribe

Can non-Europeans think? So the question remains why not the dignity of "philosophy" and whence the anthropological curiosity of "ethnophilosophy"?
posted by infini (60 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Why is European philosophy 'philosophy', but African philosophy 'ethnophilosophy'?"

For the same reason New Age and Reggae used to be different aisles in the record stores: It's all music, but there some categorical differences.
posted by three blind mice at 5:52 AM on January 17, 2013


It is precisely that self-confidence, that self-consciousness, that audacity to think yourself the agent of history that enables a thinker to think his particular thinking is "Thinking" in universal terms, and his philosophy "Philosophy" and his city square "The Public Space", and thus he a globally recognised Public Intellectual.

There is thus a direct and unmitigated structural link between an empire, or an imperial frame of reference, and the presumed universality of a thinker thinking in the bosoms of that empire.

As all other people, Europeans are perfectly entitled to their own self-centrism.
It's an odd comment about Kant circa 1800 when Prussia was just one small German principality among many fractious warring little fiefdoms... hardly anything approaching an empire and about to get squashed by Napoleon.

But aside from that, what he's left with is just another post-modern dig at European enlightenment thinking, Foucault would certainly not disagree too strongly with the idea that the "universalism" of "philosophy" is just chauvinism dressed up. It all fits in well with the Foucaultian dyad of POWER and RESISTANCE, without Euro-chauvinistic power to react against, guys like this have little to say.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:07 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Um, no, the naming scheme is not quite equivalent to that for different musical categories.
posted by eviemath at 6:09 AM on January 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow, I am not even remotely surprised that this was written by a Lit professor.
posted by oddman at 6:11 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


> It's an odd comment about Kant circa 1800 when Prussia was just one small German principality among many fractious warring little fiefdoms... hardly anything approaching an empire and about to get squashed by Napoleon.

That's not true at all. Prussia had been a major power since Frederick the Great and had just joined Austria and Russia in carving up Poland. To say they weren't because they were defeated by Napoleon is like saying the Persian Empire was chickenfeed because it was squashed by Alexander, or France was a minor entity because it was squashed by Hitler.
posted by languagehat at 6:20 AM on January 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


It's a complicated story but:
In a 1973 interview with Playboy magazine, Dr. Newton said he spent his childhood in a state of war with his teachers, being suspended from school about 30 times, breaking open parking meters and being arrested at 14 years old for gun possession.

It was only after his graduation from Oakland Techinical High School that Dr. Newton learned to read. ''I read Plato's 'Republic,' '' he told an interviewer. ''I read it through about five times until I could actually understand it.'' 'Trigger Point in My Life'

''This was a trigger point in my life,'' he added, ''because after I finally succeeded in reading this book, I sort of gobbled up everything I could.''
That's Huey Newton talking about Plato and sort of illustrates the poverty of this Columbia professor's viewpoint.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:21 AM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Can non-Europeans think?"

Well, that's a silly question which obscures the more transparent and less begging-the-question question: "Are non-Europeans producing academics?"

Where are all the Nigerian neuroscientists, all the Malian mathematicians, all the Somalian sociologists?

The answer should be clear why they're not be produced, and it's not because of "racism" or "euro-centrism."

But since the article also asks, "What happens with thinkers who operate outside the European philosophical 'pedigree'?" I guess they would say that neuroscience is just some Eurocentric colonial ideology which racistly excludes those who won't submit themselves to the Eurocentric "scientific method."
posted by SollosQ at 6:24 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


The question (or one of the questions) is as to whether Western philosophy has a genuinely distinctive methodology or subject matter such that other traditions of thought could properly be said to be 'not philosophy' in the sense that western philosophy is.

It certainly seems at first blush to be the case that Western philosophy is divorced from a religious and traditional context in a way that resembles western science, and in that respect doesn't altogether resemble the philosophy which is undoubtedly part of, say, Taoism.

But that case has been challenged in great depth by, notably, Oruka on behalf of African sage philosophy. I think myself that there is a distinctive element in western philosophy that I would characterise as forensic, but it's not as straightforward to pin this down as it seems at first glance.

Oruka is fittingly on the lists that Dabashi quotes - those are some interesting and intimidating lists, and one suspects the intimidation is not accidental but rhetorical. When we actually get down to looking at them I think we find that some of the people listed really aren't doing philosophy while some have achieved proper recognition (others are fair enough).

What about people who have moved to the West? In philosophy of mind, which is what I know best (least worst) people like Jaegwon Kim or Ramachandran have been readily accepted - but are they honorary Americans because they work in American institutions?

Very interesting. Perhaps in the end if we are just polite enough to remember to call it 'Western Philosophy' and not just 'philosophy', can we keep our playground?
posted by Segundus at 6:26 AM on January 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


While it is true that a question has a power which a statement does not, perhaps this piece could be improved if the author made more assertions and declarative statements? Might it be a stronger work if there were fewer paragraphs entirely made of questions? If you have something on your mind, perhaps you should say it? Is it an effective writing strategy to leave the reader guessing your implication?
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:28 AM on January 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


That's not true at all. Prussia had been a major power since Frederick the Great...

forgot about fredrick the great, guess you have a point there... history 1, ennui 0.

still, i feel like he is imposing the sensibilities of the european 19th century backwards onto the 18th. he could say, that imperialism is built on the delusions of universality from the enlightenment but it seems like he is going in the opposite direction.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:28 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why is European philosophy "philosophy", but African philosophy ethnophilosophy

The same reason that there is Women's History, Black History, etc: European white dude history is all the other histories. Same goes for other academic disciplines.

Which means that I mostly think this guy is right, I guess. Though that was an unnecessarily provocative title to an unnecessarily dense piece of writing. (That, or I've been up too late to totally comprehend anything above a 7th grade reading level.)
posted by NoraReed at 6:29 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Where are all the Nigerian neuroscientists, all the Malian mathematicians, all the Somalian sociologists?

Here.

The notion that science is the exclusive domain of Western thought is ahistorical, and laughably false. We didn't catch up with Far Eastern and Islamic scholarship until the Enlightenment.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:37 AM on January 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


Segundus: "Perhaps in the end if we are just polite enough to remember to call it 'Western Philosophy' and not just 'philosophy', can we keep our playground?"

A relevant question is whether the distinction impoverishes the field by excluding people outside its geographically circumscribed canon. When "Western Philosophy" is taught as "Philosophy", are important ideas, influences and points of view being missed by everyone who doesn't then go on to study "Ethnophilosophy"? I'm hardly qualified to judge, but it does seem likely.
posted by vanar sena at 6:49 AM on January 17, 2013


I saw this the other day and didn't even think to post it since it has two things that Metafilter does not do well: 1) theory and 2) race. Anyways, some quick comments before I rush out the door:

Dabashi isn't making a general claim about all knowledge and all disciplines in all times. He's very specifically talking about contemporary political and theoretical discourse. What this means is that he's not talking about applied or technical fields, such as, say, neuroscience. Though it's worth noting that I believe Chinese patents have just started outnumbering the US and the Chinese investment in universities is staggering: they have significantly more think tanks and research centers than we do.

This also means that this isn't a 1990s debate about commensurability (e.g., is Confucius et al really doing philosophy?) and "postmodern relativism" (something that has never really existed and which has no adherents). Some of the writers he's talking about are fairly well-known in the west, if under-rated. Spivak, for example, was one of the main forces behind post-colonial and subaltern studies and the translator of Derrida's Of Grammatology.

I think part of the subtext is that, while a lot of these people are engaging with questions that would presumably interest a Western political philosopher (e.g., Dipesh Chakrabarty's attempt to de-universalize Marxism), we hit a brick wall with the self-interestedness of discourse. How many self-interested Western political historians would make the center of their field, say, imperialism? When I initially read the piece, I thought of a remark in a recent essay by Lydia Liu where she critiques the tendency to see the study of post-socialism is a small niche field, even though the number of people who live in post-socialist milieus (Russia, China) make up a huge percentage of the world. As this example suggests, reading these thinkers is not about "meritocracy," and not just "affirmative action"--rather it asks us to change the center of the important subjects in philosophy and politics and to think in a universe where, say, the Haitian revolution (slave-led, emancipatory) is more important and central than the French one.

Maybe instead of turning this into another "Postmoderism sucks!!!" thread, we could talk about non-Western philosophers that we like? I saved the piece because I thought it was a good reading list, but I would have been more interested in learning about thinkers from other regions (e.g., South America, the Middle East, etc.).
posted by johnasdf at 6:54 AM on January 17, 2013 [13 favorites]


Where are all the Nigerian neuroscientists, all the Malian mathematicians, all the Somalian sociologists?

Here.

The notion that science is the exclusive domain of Western thought is ahistorical, and laughably false. We didn't catch up with Far Eastern and Islamic scholarship until the Enlightenment.


Perhaps I wasn't as explicit as I should have been. I am talking about contemporary science, because scientific output is a product based on societal variables. Hence, it is easy to see why Mali isn't producing any mathematicians today. Hence, it is also to see why Europeans in the past weren't producing any good thinkers during periods.

Russell Hoban's Pilgermann is a great story because it depicts how inferior, barbaric, and uncivilized the Christian society was to Muslim society which was experiencing a great golden age.

I mean, it's a fact that Mali isn't producing mathematicians today, and it's also a fact that it isn't really their fault. Unless we want to say, "Well, it's all ahistorical. if Huey Newton was able to teach himself to read, then certainly Malians can teach themselves to be Paul Krugman's! If they're not, then it's their own lazy faults!"
posted by SollosQ at 7:00 AM on January 17, 2013


It all fits in well with the Foucaultian dyad of POWER and RESISTANCE, without Euro-chauvinistic power to react against, guys like this have little to say.

How very lucky for him that Euro-chauvinism is alive and well and running departments!
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:01 AM on January 17, 2013


Segundus: "Perhaps in the end if we are just polite enough to remember to call it 'Western Philosophy' and not just 'philosophy', can we keep our playground?"

A relevant question is whether the distinction impoverishes the field by excluding people outside its geographically circumscribed canon. When "Western Philosophy" is taught as "Philosophy", are important ideas, influences and points of view being missed by everyone who doesn't then go on to study "Ethnophilosophy"? I'm hardly qualified to judge, but it does seem likely.
posted by vanar sena


Imho, this is a timely question, both at the grand MSM level and the local or personal one, for I found myself saying 3 times this week, to three different people, not all of whom were Indian, for 3 different reasons, that its all because of Macauley.

The fact remains that all of India's literature, writings, science, philosophy, mathematics, music theory, name what you will, were lumped together under one subject: Oriental Religion or Hindoo Mysticism or some such, and so, even though 150 odd years have passed, neither the thinking (Chanakya anyone?) nor the science or math etc ever quite recovered and emerged from under that patronizing label.

Hence the tendency towards the "ethno" ...
posted by infini at 7:15 AM on January 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's so cute when people act like "Western Philosophy" or "European Philosophy" is an actual thing.
posted by koeselitz at 7:22 AM on January 17, 2013


Nigerian Neuroscientists

Malian Mathematicians

Somalian Sociologists.

Your remedial reading list: "Guns, Germs and Steel" and "Collapse", both by Jared Diamond.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:27 AM on January 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Why, when the author is attempting to demonstrate the wide range of non-European philosophers, does he cite a bunch of poets and novelists?

Saying that non-Western countries produce fewer philosophers of note isn't the same as saying people in those countries can't think.
posted by Dasein at 7:29 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Saying that non-Western countries produce fewer philosophers of note isn't the same as saying people in those countries can't think.

You're right. In fact, the question should be asking why are non-Western countries producing fewer philosophers of note.
posted by infini at 7:33 AM on January 17, 2013


SollosQ: " I am talking about contemporary science"

That's quite specifically not what the article is about though. If you believe that the list of non-Western philosophers provided contains nobody of value, then perhaps your line of discussion is still relevant.

infini: "even though 150 odd years have passed, neither the thinking (Chanakya anyone?) nor the science or math etc ever quite recovered and emerged from under that patronizing label."

I think you'll find plenty of people even in this thread who think that's okay - it's just a "categorical" label after all, it's not like it's banned or anything - and to an extent that's none of my business as an ethnic.

The bigger concern is whether the overall field of philosophy (or any other field) is affected by the divisions that cause ignorance of work across borders. I think they do. Chanakya is a relevant example - if The Prince is relevant to your study, so too is Arthashastra.
posted by vanar sena at 7:33 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


johnasdf: “Dabashi isn't making a general claim about all knowledge and all disciplines in all times. He's very specifically talking about contemporary political and theoretical discourse.”

Can you point to a place in the article where he makes this distinction? I can't see him saying this.
posted by koeselitz at 7:35 AM on January 17, 2013


The bigger concern is whether the overall field of philosophy (or any other field) is affected by the divisions that cause ignorance of work across borders.

Here's an interesting article, which while on a different subject, questions the same issue of ignorance of work across borders.

There are many reasons for the international business community to be grateful to the English language. English is the dominant business language precisely because it gives the global community access to itself – it is widely spoken, lacks the grammatical complications of the romance languages, and has a simple alphabet that lends itself easily to use on the internet.

However, as an entrepreneur in Italy, one of the many European countries where the native language is not English, I cannot but notice how strongly the discourse on innovation has become determined by the English language, and the media reporting in that language.

This dominance of English language carries with it an accompanying perspective of Europe, both in terms of stereotypes and in terms of relevance (or lack of) to the Anglo-Saxon world. This often puts European businesses and countries at a serious disadvantage that they are too little aware of, and are hardly addressing. But it also disadvantages businesses in the English-speaking world, which are perhaps not aware that they are receiving an abbreviated picture of innovation in Europe. This article is about the non-English disadvantage and what we can do about it.

Deconstructing the innovation bias

posted by infini at 7:38 AM on January 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hey, let's be fair about this. As a field which produces no actual measurable product, the only effective metric of success in philosophy is the snob factor. So it's not at all surprising that some countries would get snubbed. For example, imagine how unsophisticated you'd look if you actually cited an American as a philosopher of note! Why, I'd throw my monocle to the ground and spit on you in disgust for such tasteless effrontery! Then I'd take the Grey Poupon away from you because you'd clearly be far too unsophisticated to appreciate it.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:40 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Where are these people referring to Homi K. Baba or Achille Mbembe as "ethnophilosophers" or suggesting that Gayatri Spivak's work should be studied by anthropologists not as the work of a fellow, equal academic but as an ethnographic subject?

I mean, there is a good discussion to be had on whether non-Euroamerican academics who chose to challenge Eurocentrism in various ways are second-class academic citizens or the hottest thing since sliced bread, and whether non-Euroamerican academics are constrained in their choices because there is some unwritten rule that they will not be considered as equals in the realm of "universal" theory and therefore are forced to turn that on its head by focusing on subaltern/postcolonial studies etc. (look at Spivak, for example: would she have achieved the success she had or been accepted into the Old Boys Club if she had worked within the confines of Euroamerican thinkers such as Derrida rather than challenging and stretching that tradition to address "the subaltern problem"?)

There's also a discussion to be had on the status of work being produced outside the Euroamerican academy. But my sense is that Dabashi has taken a yes, existing, concept of "ethnophilosophy" (which I would understand to be a system of ethics and morality existing outside formal academic philosophical traditions and something that an anthropologist might find and study not only in African villages but also in working-class Irish neighborhoods or corporate boardrooms) and applied it in a way that no-one would use it, to refer to the work of some of the most notable scholars working in the very heart of the Western academic beast.

(Note, my perception may be warped by coming from the academic discipline of anthropology, where the only reason we ever picked up Derrida or Delueze to begin with is to better understand what scholars like Spivak and Baba were getting on about)
posted by drlith at 7:42 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Where are all the Nigerian neuroscientists, all the Malian mathematicians, all the Somalian sociologists?

Quite a few of them have been brain-drained over to the US, like this Nigerian neurosurgeon, this Malian mathematician, and this Somali sociologist.

That's a tangent away from the article though. What is not a tangent is that one day I am going to build a shrine to Edward Said, because what the writer is talking about is (again) Orientalism. In this case the narrowly defined praxis of Western social philosophy being taken as an assumption as the correct an proper way of thinking, backed up with a history of being able to impose that belief and disregard others.

The point the article was trying to make about boxing all non-Western thought as somehow exotic reminded me of the book, How to Write the History of the New World. One its key points was that, during the burgeoning Enlightenment, a heavy emphasis on logic and reason led many scholars to discount key texts from the Americas written by indigenous people or by early-arrived Europeans. They were seen as irrational accounts with no merit, written either by barbarians with no capability for reason or worse, Spaniards. These Enlightened thinkers then went on the pen reams of atrocious armchair anthropology, all of it sublimely "rational."

Basically, it's easy to say "these are the important thinkers" when you have a whole canon of literature and thought that has deliberately excluded or discounted anyone playing outside the rules of that canon itself has set.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:46 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Koeslitz - I don't know if he says it outright, but it seems to be the point and subtext of the article, which is largely concerned with philosophy. He starts out by talking about contemporary theorists like Judith Butler and Zizek and then he writes, in present tense, about contemporary political thinkers from the global south like Ashis Nandy and Achille Mbembe. (And of course, I was wrong in the he does cite a number of Middle Eastern thinkers.) He's talking about contemporary intellectual production, not citing Avicenna, Hsun Tzu and the Gates of Ijtihad Gates.

Wolfdreams01 -- Actually, what you're saying is the opposite and actually more apropos than your ad hominen tone would suggest. If you were to cite a contemporary Western philosopher, you would get more cultural capital, since other people would recognize him/her. That's actually one of the points of the article, which may be a little difficult at times--but c'mon, he ends by talking about the value of a philosophical term called chutzpah.

drlith -- I like your comment, but you'd be surprised. I was at an editorial board meeting for a large university press and they referred to even German and Russian languages as being too "exotic" to publish--not to mention, say, Chinese or Hindi. I think anthro is a really different field than, say, straightforward political theory. My anthro friends are all familiar with, say, the partition of India/Pakistan, the Cultural Front, and religious studies, etc., but when I talk to people from political studies, theory, law, etc., even people like Deleuze and Lacan are towering people compared to Spivak. In fact, CUNY (and Judith Butler) recently honored her and most people who showed up were Butler fans who'd never heard of Spivak. You can also hear this in a London Review podcast, where Jaqueline Rose talks about Spivak as though most people haven't heard of her, while quoting Butler as though she were Hegel. However, I think you're right about how ethnophilosophy is not the right term.
posted by johnasdf at 7:51 AM on January 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


I don't understand Slap*Happy. You're telling me to read Diamond, and yet you seem to be giving me a list that a libertarian would give me.

This libertarian would say to me: "Look at these individuals who have come from the third world and have succeeded! Obviously, those who have not succeeded must then be at fault." Yet, Diamond says that it isn't due to any inherent lack of intelligence in third world individuals. Rather, poor luck of being born into such conditions. These poor conditions explain to me why Mali has only produced, apparently, twenty mathematicians out of a population of fourteen and a half million. Yet here you are Slap*Happy, apparently telling me that instead it is instead the lazy or stupid Malians fault. How else can you ascribe the success of only these twenty mathematicians over the other fourteen and a half million outside of factors like socio-economics and education level?

/sarcasm.

But seriously. Everyone here seems to be misunderstanding me as saying that third world people are inherently stupid.

Basically, it's easy to say "these are the important thinkers" when you have a whole canon of literature and thought that has deliberately excluded or discounted anyone playing outside the rules of that canon itself has set.

Are we talking about the history of philosophy or contemporary philosophy proper? Because the two are different. Mathematicians don't study Sankore Madrasah. Are they eurocentric for that? If so, then fine, philosophers are eurocentric as well. But don't tell me contemporary mathmeticians and philosophers are being excluded due to eurocentrism, that the scientific method is eurocentric, or that peer review is eurocentric, because you've just told me that they are not (by providing me with an unnecessary amount of lists).

If you think this article is only about the exclusion of certain sources in some imaginary "canon" (mathematicians or physists even read a canon of Euclid or Newton outside of those special great books schools), then that's okay. I disagree, but that's a different issue.
posted by SollosQ at 7:55 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


“Dabashi isn't making a general claim about all knowledge and all disciplines in all times. He's very specifically talking about contemporary political and theoretical discourse.”

Can you point to a place in the article where he makes this distinction? I can't see him saying this.


I'm not sure if I was able to parse the article properly of course, but this looked to me a little like what might be saying this:

What immediately strikes the reader when seeing this opening paragraph is the unabashedly European character and disposition of the thing the author calls "philosophy today" - thus laying a claim on both the subject and time that is peculiar and in fact an exclusive property of Europe.
[...]
The question of course is not the globality of philosophical visions that all these prominent European (and by extension certain American) philosophers indeed share and from which people from the deepest corners of Africa to the remotest villages of India, China, Latin America, and the Arab and Muslim world ("deep and far", that is, from a fictive European centre) can indeed learn and better understand their lives.
[...]
The question is rather something else: What about other thinkers who operate outside this European philosophical pedigree, whether they practice their thinking in the European languages they have colonially inherited or else in their own mother tongues - in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America, thinkers that have actually earned the dignity of a name, and perhaps even the pedigree of a "public intellectual" not too dissimilar to Hannah Arendt, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Michel Foucault that in this piece on Al Jazeera are offered as predecessors of Zizek?
[...]
What about thinkers outside the purview of these European philosophers; how are we to name and designate and honour and learn from them with the epithet of "public intellectual" in the age of globalised media?

posted by infini at 8:03 AM on January 17, 2013


I RTFA, but I only did so out of a sense of duty to Metafilter after I noticed that his initial list of "philosophers" was a list that half the working philosophers in Europe and the US would sneer at (myself included) and the other half would shrug at. Where are Chomsky, Nozick, Dennett, Searle, Singer?

Also, I think several of you are either deliberately or absent-mindedly misreading SollosQ's point and being rather uncharitable. Benefit of the doubt, at least a little, people.
posted by cthuljew at 8:05 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


But don't tell me contemporary mathmeticians and philosophers are being excluded due to eurocentrism, that the scientific method is eurocentric, or that peer review is eurocentric, because you've just told me that they are not (by providing me with an unnecessary amount of lists).

But they're lists of nominally excluded thinkers. You can have qualms with their contents, but this particular line of reasoning isn't coherent.
posted by invitapriore at 8:07 AM on January 17, 2013


Where are all the Nigerian neuroscientists, all the Malian mathematicians, all the Somalian sociologists?

A lot of them are in graduate school in richer countries, because that's where they can get full scholarships. Graduate schools have very large international student populations compared to undergraduate programs, and I met a great many students and post-docs from developing countries while studying.
posted by jb at 8:23 AM on January 17, 2013


cthuljew, you mean where he starts with a quote of a list from an article about Zizek?

(And why sneer at any philosophers?)
posted by forgetful snow at 8:30 AM on January 17, 2013


wolfdreams01: "Hey, let's be fair about this. As a field which produces no actual measurable product, the only effective metric of success in philosophy is the snob factor. "

"Lucky you, being born without legs. Nothing to miss, right?"
posted by boo_radley at 8:31 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't understand Slap*Happy. You're telling me to read Diamond, and yet you seem to be giving me a list that a libertarian would give me.

Your confusion is obvious. It's not a libertarian argument. See also: Radi-Aid.

Well meaning chauvinism is still chauvinism.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:34 AM on January 17, 2013


So it's chauvinistic to want the United States to end world hunger because it's in a objectively superior economic position than third world countries? It's chauvinistic to want to help improve other countries so that famous economists won't consist vastly of names and people like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz but will rather be exactly proportionate according to per capita measurements? It's chauvinistic to not want Amartya Sen or Jaegwon Kim to be some sort of exception to the statistic?

Guess I'm a dirty chauvinist then.
posted by SollosQ at 8:46 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


cthuljew: "I RTFA, but I only did so out of a sense of duty to Metafilter after I noticed that his initial list of "philosophers" was a list that half the working philosophers in Europe and the US would sneer at (myself included) and the other half would shrug at. Where are Chomsky, Nozick, Dennett, Searle, Singer?

Also, I think several of you are either deliberately or absent-mindedly misreading SollosQ's point and being rather uncharitable. Benefit of the doubt, at least a little, people.
"

I think his essay is a rebuke of something else AJ posted earlier and that needs to be kept in mind:
In a lovely little panegyric for the distinguished European philosopher Slavoj Zizek, published recently on Al Jazeera, we read:
There are many important and active philosophers today: Judith Butler in the United States, Simon Critchley in England, Victoria Camps in Spain, Jean-Luc Nancy in France, Chantal Mouffe in Belgium, Gianni Vattimo in Italy, Peter Sloterdijk in Germany and in Slovenia, Slavoj Zizek, not to mention others working in Brazil, Australia and China.
What immediately strikes the reader when seeing this opening paragraph is the unabashedly European character and disposition of the thing the author calls "philosophy today" - thus laying a claim on both the subject and time that is peculiar and in fact an exclusive property of Europe.

Even Judith Butler who is cited as an example from the United States is decidedly a product of European philosophical genealogy, thinking somewhere between Derrida and Foucault, brought to bear on our understanding of gender and sexuality.
There's a lot to unpack in the essay, and it's a challenging read if you're not into philosophy -- I think you lose much critical context if you don't know the names and arguments of those philosophers. But I think the last para sums it up pretty well if you were perhaps looking for a thesis statement in the first section:
Compared to those liberating tsunamis now turning the world upside down, cliche-ridden assumption about Europe and its increasingly provincialised philosophical pedigree is a tempest in the cup. Reduced to its own fair share of the humanity at large, and like all other continents and climes, Europe has much to teach the world, but now on a far more leveled and democratic playing field, where its philosophy is European philosophy not "Philosophy", its music European music not "Music", and no infomercial would be necessary to sell its public intellectuals as "Public Intellectuals".
posted by boo_radley at 8:50 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Are we talking about the history of philosophy or contemporary philosophy proper?

These are not exclusive topics, particularly when contemporary philosophy relies upon a historical corpus of literature to reference and respond to. The fundamental ideas of peer review and the scientific method can exist without bias, but -- particularly in a field with as much subjectivity as social philosophy -- they can in practice be perverted by having as the established body of "universal" literature composed primarily of European men. It lends itself to classifying critical approaches to philosophical ideas grounded in non-Western thought or de novo ideas as somehow a variant branch of philosophy, and therefore not "true" philosophy.

Also, I'm not really sure what your argument in this post is. You've had vehement reactions to others responses, but I'm not sure you've really clarified your initial position. You said, "The answer should be clear why they're not be produced, and it's not because of 'racism' or 'euro-centrism,'" but I don't see where you've put forth what that "clear answer" is.
posted by Panjandrum at 9:04 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


So it's chauvinistic to want the United States to end world hunger because it's in a objectively superior economic position than third world countries?

My, what a lovely strawman. Realistic goal setting, too.

No, it's chauvinistic to assume scientists do not, and cannot come from Mali, Nigeria and Somalia because the United States is "objectively superior."
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:06 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Slavoj Žižek informercial?
posted by infini at 9:06 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, it's chauvinistic to assume scientists do not, and cannot come from Mali, Nigeria and Somalia because the United States is "objectively superior."

I have never implied that they cannot or do not. My whole argument this whole time has been that the United States has an advantage at producing scientists per capita because we have greater educational opportunities. Unless you mean to imply that a degree (bachelors, masters, doctorate) in a field from a United States institution has the same merit as one from a Malian institution, or that international students only come here because of the full scholarships.
posted by SollosQ at 9:20 AM on January 17, 2013


United States has an advantage at producing scientists per capita because we have greater educational opportunities.

True. The downside of billions.
posted by infini at 9:29 AM on January 17, 2013


As a field which produces no actual measurable product, the only effective metric of success in philosophy is the snob factor. "

Since the products of the field of metrics cannot themselves be measured without leading either to infinite regress or ridiculous circularities of the form 'the only metric of this metric is this metric itself', this argument explodes in its own face in rather an amusing way.
posted by jamjam at 9:31 AM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't even know why you recommended I read Jared Diamond, Slap*Happy, because I agree with what all he says. I mean, the guy even writes about how "disproportionate distributions... of achievements," occur, which is all I've been saying this whole time.
posted by SollosQ at 9:38 AM on January 17, 2013


Diamond also clearly lays out the rise and fall of civilizations.
posted by infini at 9:42 AM on January 17, 2013


I don't have any problems with this article. Eurocentrism is an obvious problem in today's world. I'm not familiar at all with African Philosophy, but when I was reading about Buddhism it bothered me that Western Philosophy didn't value more "Eastern" ideas.

My impression of modern "European" Philosophy is it would be appropriate to distinguish between "Continental" Philosophy and Analytic Philosophy. The FPP seems to be mostly referring to Continental Philosophy. Analytic philosophy is more suitable as a universal practice very similar to science - or that should be its goal, I would think.

I also get the impression that from some scientists perspective philosophy is useless, analytic philosophers find continental philosophy to be sheer nonsense, and continental philosophers think many analytic philosophers and scientists are clueless idiots who don't fully understand the context of the problems they think they are solving. Non-Eurocentric academia is simply ignored.

It would be a really good thing for different traditions and cultures to make an honest attempt to work together and understand each other, imo.

A recent talk by Zizek. (He gets Gangnam Style completely wrong, but there are some good things).
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:58 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are something like four percent as many people in Mali as in the United States, and on average any one of those people has about two percent as much income as an average person from the United States. I wouldn't think it terribly surprising if you couldn't find all that many Malian mathematicians even if Malians were inherently superior at mathematics.
posted by Flunkie at 10:06 AM on January 17, 2013


However, as an entrepreneur in Italy, one of the many European countries where the native language is not English, I cannot but notice how strongly the discourse on innovation has become determined by the English language, and the media reporting in that language.

This dominance of English language carries with it an accompanying perspective of Europe, both in terms of stereotypes and in terms of relevance (or lack of) to the Anglo-Saxon world. This often puts European businesses and countries at a serious disadvantage that they are too little aware of, and are hardly addressing. But it also disadvantages businesses in the English-speaking world, which are perhaps not aware that they are receiving an abbreviated picture of innovation in Europe.


That's an interesting point; I was thinking along similar lines about literature. In a word, notice how if you take Bloom's canon as a proxy for critical opinion, his English+American authors dominate the lists after the Middle Ages. I use Bloom for argument's sake, but authors from the rest of Europe are getting the short end of the stick, let alone authors from other places who do not write in English. It's not just the percentage of translated books in the US and UK compared to other European countries that shrinks the market for non-Anglophone writers, but anecdotally I've seen more love for someone like Stendhal in non-French, non-Anglo Europe than in the UK. Or consider how often you hear about Shakespeare compared to Dante or Cervantes. On the other hand, I saw a Tagore quote yesterday on an Indian article about a football tourney, so there's that.

As a field which produces no actual measurable product, the only effective metric of success in philosophy is the snob factor.

They often write books that you can buy and sometimes people talk about them.
posted by ersatz at 10:45 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Greco-Judaic background provides Euro-America with profound conceptual advantages. With the globalization of knowledge, these advantages are readily available to all. Euro-America is itself busy abandoning its Greco-Judaic background in favour of presentism and progressivism. This provides an opportunity for the marginalized to pick up the rejected cornerstones.
posted by No Robots at 11:11 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Akkadian-Egyptian background provides the Fertile Crescent-Mediterranean with profound conceptual advantages. With the globalization of knowledge, these advantages are readily available to all. The Fertile Crescent-Mediterranean is itself busy abandoning its Akkadian-Egyptian background in favour of Greek thought and Roman technology. This provides an opportunity for the marginalized to pick up the rejected cornerstones.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:01 PM on January 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


A similar thing happens in other cultural areas. When the Police or the Clash do a reggae-style song, it's considered "rock" or artistic music. When a Jamaican does it, it gets categorized as an ethnic cultural artifact called "reggae." When Bansky or Haring do graffiti-inspired art, it's considered art worthy of preservation and consideration (http://www.amny.com/urbanite-1.812039/rage-is-back-author-adam-mansbach-on-nyc-graffiti-1.4452019). The other works of this very same art form are relegated to the category of "graffiti."

It's about primacy, and what's considered important, something that comes of out true intellectualism and meaning and not just emotion.
posted by ChuckRamone at 12:04 PM on January 17, 2013


Another take: this "represents a particularly destructive and unhelpful kind of critique [because] it risks missing the real imperialism and anglo-americo-eurocentrism for a focus on the intellectual problem."
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:06 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anotherpanacea -- That blog post is interesting, but the obvious response is why can't you criticize both material and cultural materialism at the same time? They're obviously part of the same argument and not at all mutually contradictory.

In fact, if we could change the reading practices of American academics and the cultural capital of these global south writers, then these non-western universities would of course see an increase in grants, their professors would have more readers/prominence, etc.
posted by johnasdf at 1:39 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, I agree that we should read African philosophers, but it's not enough.

I don't think philosophical reading practices are driving the tremendous material inequality between the US and Ghana. And the material inequality prevents most African philosophers from participating in the conversation.

So, yeah, we must begin to read more philosophers who happen to be African, but the goal shouldn't just be to add dead black guys, most of whom didn't do philosophy, to the canon alongside dead white guys. That's ethnophilosophy, "sage wisdom," etc. The goal should also (and maybe primarily) be to add live African philosophers to the conversation right now.

I work with a guy who does great work on Heidegger, and is African. He gets some recognition because he is based here in the US. But what of the people who are left behind?
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:59 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I work with a guy who does great work on Heidegger, and is African. He gets some recognition because he is based here in the US. But what of the people who are left behind?

Welp, Foreign Policy* is struggling with itself to deal with the issue of current day Sub Sahara and its emergent future. The tip would be to look outside of the MSM "tastemakers" to get an idea of the so called "left behind" ...

*FP has a bunch of things that could prevent reading, close pop up and then View with Page Style set to No Style
posted by infini at 5:13 PM on January 17, 2013


anotherpanacea, great link in that it offers us a glimpse of some of the other barriers:

First, I think people don’t often appreciate the logistical challenges that African philosophers sometimes face. I was lucky, in that I retained many of my global connections. But my colleagues had to scrape to get access to many professional journals, and their access was often supported at the whim of external donors – access to things like journal archives is expensive! That’s why I’m planning to try to publish as much as I can in open-access formats (I would release my book as Creative Commons if it wouldn’t make my tenure committee have a good laugh at my expense). But if you can’t engage with the most current research, it’s going to hurt you when you go to try to get your own stuff published and become respected as a philosopher. Even books can be a problem – you might think that eBooks would be a great boon to folks working in a place where getting physical books shipped (no Amazon warehouse in Ghana!) can be slow and expensive, but I quickly learned when I suggested this that the problem is: good luck getting Amazon to take payment for that eBook in Ghana cedis. Plus, while I don’t get to conferences enough, that’s my own fault – my Ghanaian colleagues made pretty decent salaries for Ghana, but it made going abroad to conferences, relatively speaking, much more expensive for them – again, making it harder to gain recognition, other things equal.

[...]

this uncomfortably makes Western people’s assessment of whether I’m likely to be a good colleague to Africans more important than Africans’ assessment of whether I was.

posted by infini at 5:21 PM on January 17, 2013


There's a thought here, it strikes me, that the higher you can build the walls around the garden of journals and archives and research....
posted by infini at 5:38 PM on January 17, 2013


Wow, that guy has a wordy and not very original ax to grind - mostly a rewarmed, overly complex, passive-aggressive whine that it's not fair nobody is listening to us, but don't worry, once we are being taken seriously, then nobody will care about what you have to say anymore (of course you can still go do your thing over in your corner); a bunch of contortions over politics. Yeah, I know that ignores nuance, but still, it's more or less the subtext. Get back to me when you're more interested in actual truth than in who supposedly has the most control of it. (And for crying out loud, come out and say what your philosophies really are, rather than trying to define them in implied opposition).
posted by blue shadows at 7:19 PM on January 17, 2013


The fact remains that all of India's literature, writings, science, philosophy, mathematics, music theory, name what you will, were lumped together under one subject: Oriental Religion or Hindoo Mysticism or some such, and so, even though 150 odd years have passed, neither the thinking (Chanakya anyone?) nor the science or math etc ever quite recovered and emerged from under that patronizing label.

So they had a World Telugu Conference over the New Year weekend in Tirupati. For those who aren't in the know, the general mood in (Indian) language-based conferences such as this is generally that of lament, on how mastering an Indic language isn't often enough, how you need to master English to progress even in India, how the vernacular press is given a short shift over the English press even though the vernacular press has been growing so spectacularly and the English news channels such as NDTV 24x7 simply don't really have the viewership numbers that the vernacular news channels have. You know, that's sort of a thing, much lamentation, some based in objective truth, but some emotional venting, and some fundamentalist absolutism.

Here's the thing though: one of the more interesting arguments to emerge there was that there should be an optional subject in 10th class (ie, O levels equivalent) in _Telugu_ computing. Not about coding per se, although that's a nice possibility, but about using computers in vernacular tongues; get student time to contribute to translation efforts in open-source and closed-source software, and crucially, to get them to *express themselves* in vernacular tongues when they use computers. So you'd have term projects where students would contribute to Telugu Wikipedia or start a Telugu blog or something.

Intriguing idea, but just to fit in with your point, I think it's one possible way to de-Macaulay-ize Indian education. Mainly because I believe the problem with Indian education isn't just this lumping together of ideas under an "Indian" heading, but also the predominant worldview here is still essentially Victorian: people still practise problems from SL Looney's Trigonometry, learn grammar from Wren & Martin, don't study anything newer than Maugham or DH Lawrence (at best), or any world event after 1947 (although I understand recent syllabus revisions have fixed this). It's a worse situation in vernacular literature; the newest literature piece I've studied in school dates to 1870's.

Basically, the only way a moffusil kid from Jhumritalayya, for instance, can discover Baudrillard is through English. That in itself, gets people (desis) to ghetto-ize, say, Chanakya, into an "Indian" heading, as opposed to a heading that reads as "statecraft", or "economics", or even "policy studies".
posted by the cydonian at 8:41 PM on January 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


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