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  • Response to Brian Bruya's "Ethnocentrism and Multiculturalism in Contemporary Philosophy"
  • Robert Cummings Neville (bio)

What a breath of fresh air to find a philosopher learning in a detailed way from the sciences! (A look at Professor Bruya's bibliography shows that this is not the first time for him.) His "Ethnocentrism and Multiculturalism in Contemporary Philosophy" is a tour de force in using findings from scientific psychology to address moral and political problems in academic philosophy in America. I thoroughly agree with his cumulative findings that philosophical ethnocentrism, which marginalizes or even wholly ignores non-Western philosophies, stems from evolutionarily reinforced psychological and sociological proclivities to ethnocentrism. I also agree with his argument that ethnocentrism is not the most successful approach, in society in general and surely not in academic philosophy. The philosophical academy ought to be multicultural in the approaches it brings to philosophy. He is right to say that the point is not to bring in more Chinese (and other ethnic groups with minority status in America) philosophers but more philosophers who use the philosophical culture and approaches of China and other minority traditions. My own philosophy department has a distinguished Chinese member who teaches philosophy of science but not Chinese philosophy. I teach Chinese philosophy but am not Chinese ("Brian Bruya" does not sound like a Chinese name either).

I also agree with him about the several remedies he suggests for dealing with the ethnocentrism of academic philosophy in America, strategies such as pressing for more central places on programs of, say, Chinese philosophy, including Chinese and other ethnic minority traditions in topical societies, and so forth. Like Professor Bruya, I attended the January 2017 meeting of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association and was shocked by its sparse attendance. I participated in two sessions on Chinese philosophy and one sponsored by the Charles S. Peirce society, and attended other special group meetings, but no sessions of the regular program. The sparse attendance was caused in part by additional factors beyond the Western, indeed mainly analytic, ethnocentrism of the regular program. For instance, now with the widespread use of Skype the meeting is no longer essential for hiring; with the proliferation of online journals, graduate students can get published without giving conference papers, although that still helps with hiring. But many philosophers exist for whom the analytic ethnocentrism of the APA Eastern Division is simply not interesting. My impression was that the proliferation of group or satellite meetings was better and more enthusiastically attended than the regular program meetings. I'm glad that so many alternatives exist to the regular program because more kinds of philosophers can find their place. The downside of this, however, is that all these [End Page 1019] groups are themselves in-groups. Because of the diminishing health of the APA Eastern Division, things might have to get worse before they can get better. The strategies Professor Bruya recommends might be frustrated for a while. But he is surely right that the APA ought to have a regular program that is pluralistic enough so that all the marginalized people are pulled into the center and set to talking with one another.

Connected with the issues Professor Bruya (and I) have with the APA is the fact that, at very many undergraduate institutions, interest in philosophy is dwindling, with fewer majors and course enrollments. Part of the cause of this is the attractiveness of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) for the sake of getting a job. However, all of us philosophers know that preparation for a job is not the sole function of undergraduate education. If they took more philosophy courses, students would not see themselves as defined so much by their pre-professional work. But another part of the cause of dwindling philosophical study is that so much of what we teach is not interesting to any but the professional philosophers. You have to be a philosophical insider to find the study of necessity in terms of differences between Kripke and Lewis on possible worlds to be very interesting.

Here I would like to make a suggestion regarding Professor Bruya's rough definition of philosophy as problem solving. He...


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