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  • Beyond Philosophical Euromonopolism:Other Ways of—Not Otherwise than—Philosophy
  • Bret W. Davis (bio)

Philosophy must diversify or die.

Bryan W. Van Norden, Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto

There are forms of difference undreamt of in academic philosophy's current efforts at diversification.

Justin E. H. Smith, The Philosopher: A History in Six Types

Dealing with the Dilemma of Exclusionary versus Inclusionary Violence

Is Philosophy Western? Was philosophy born and raised exclusively in the Western tradition, or can it be found in at least some non-Western traditions? Is the phrase "Western philosophy" a specific restriction of a more universal field, or is it, as Heidegger and others have claimed, a tautology since philosophy defines the essential core of the Western tradition and it alone?1 Is it true, as Husserl thought, that "Europe is philosophy: the idea of Europe is the idea of philosophy—an idea of a universal rational science congruent with philosophy"?2 Or do such claims of what I will call "philosophical Euromonopolism" inevitably evince a vicious circle of arrogance based on ignorance and ignorance based on arrogance?

As announced in my title, I will be arguing against the Euromonopolistic claim that philosophy is Western, against stubbornly ethnocentric and racist reasons as well as against unconvincing arguments for making this claim. Nevertheless, there are some legitimate postcolonial concerns about ascribing the originally Western term "philosophy" to non-Western traditions of pursuing wisdom. If we also take these concerns seriously, the question "Is philosophy Western?" presents us with a genuine dilemma that today puts philosophy in crisis. A crisis can portend disaster, but it can also be an opportunity for transformation and growth.

Here are the two horns of the dilemma with which the question "Is philosophy Western?" confronts us: If we say Yes too readily and too easily, we risk not only Euromonopolistic arrogance but even philosophical suicide. [End Page 592] On the other hand, if we say No too readily and too easily, we risk not only hermeneutical blindness but also a violence of inclusion that is only relatively less pernicious than the more obvious violence of exclusion. For those who think about, and on the basis of, non-Western traditions and who are knocking on the door of our philosophy departments, the dilemma in question means that they are all too easily either excluded and ignored or admitted and misunderstood. Either what they (and, full disclosure, much of what I) do is not counted as philosophy and they are sent off to be quarantined in an area studies or religious studies department, or they are invited in on the condition of conformity to preexisting Western concepts and conceptions of what it means to do philosophy.

Robert Bernasconi writes of the "double bind" that exponents of African philosophy are placed in:

[W]hen African philosophy takes Western philosophy as its model, then it seems to make no distinctive contribution and so effectively disappears, but when its specificity is emphasized then its credentials to be considered genuine philosophy are put in question and it is dismissed either as religion or as wisdom literature.3

Sarah Mattice reiterates the point in her study, which draws on Chinese as well as Western philosophy:

The philosophical double bind occurs in judging what is or who has philosophy; when judged from the perspective of Greece or western philosophy, either the work of the other is so similar as to be uninteresting, or so different as to not count as philosophy.4

Is there a way out of this double bind? Is there a "middle way" through the horns of this dilemma of exclusionary versus inclusionary violence? I think there is, but I don't think it is a clear path that will leave us and them unscathed. Rather, I shall argue, the lesser of two evils, the path of least violence, entails taking the risk of inclusionary violence. In taking this path, what is crucial is that we counteract the inevitable inclusionary violence our philosophical hospitality entails by at least at times allowing this horn of inclusionary violence to be turned around upon ourselves. In particular, we need to allow non-Western traditions to contribute not only different answers...


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