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  • Response to Comments by Bret Davis, David Kim, and Lisa Rosenlee on Taking Back Philosophy
  • Bryan W. Van Norden (bio)

Let me begin by saying that I am extremely grateful to Sarah Mattice for organizing this symposium on my book, Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto, and to the three reviewers, each of whom read my work with great care and offered feedback that is extremely generous and insightful.1

Response to David Kim

After providing a clear and sympathetic summary of my book, David Kim raises two questions. First, how should the study of what I have called the Less Commonly Taught Philosophies (LCTP) be incorporated into the curriculum of philosophy departments?2 Kim suggests five degrees of incorporation, in order of increasing rigor:

  1. 1. Make electives on the LCTP available to students in philosophy departments.

  2. 2. Require for the major or advanced degree in philosophy a course on any one of the LCTP. [End Page 637]

  3. 3. Require for the major or advanced degree in philosophy a particular course on the LCTP that is paired thematically with a mainstream focus of the department (for example, a course on the Indian philosophy of language might be required of students in an analytic philosophy department).

  4. 4. Require multiple courses of one of the former kinds for the major or advanced degree in philosophy.

  5. 5. Require that philosophy faculty integrate the LCTP into their current courses (for example, someone teaching personal identity might be required to teach at least some of the Buddhist-Nyāya debates on this topic).

To be honest, I have been battling for so long to get mainstream philosophers to agree even to (1) above that it has not occurred to me to demand any of (2) through (5). I currently teach at Yale–NUS College, where first-year students are required to take a two-semester, multicultural, historical survey of philosophy. Readings include Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist texts, alongside Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hobbes, Nietzsche, and classics of Nyāya and Vedanta. Philosophy majors are required, in addition to satisfying the previous general education requirement, to take courses in at least two distinct philosophical traditions.

Kim's provocative question forces me to confront troubling issues: some philosophy departments are cross-listing courses in the LCTP but are not actively supporting their majors and graduate students when they show interest in these areas. I also know of cases in which philosophy departments have transparently shown indifference to the quality of the instruction offered in the LCTP. It sometimes feels as if some departments are (consciously or not) sabotaging the successful integration of the LCTP into the curriculum. Perhaps if departments required instruction in the LCTP of their majors and graduate students (option 2, at least), they would be forced to support student interest and to value high-quality instruction in these areas. So Kim is perhaps right that we need to set the bar higher than merely inclusion of the LCTP.

The second issue Kim raises is "that there are some substantial differences between LCTP," and my "account caters to one set of them and would need another set of arguments for the more expansive or total inclusion of LCTP" that I advocate. As groundwork for addressing this topic, I would like to present a tentative tripartite typology of the LCTP.3

(I) Chinese and Indian philosophies are distinctive because each consists of a set of philosophical schools and thinkers that are in conscious, explicit dialogue with one another (Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism in East Asia, and the various Orthodox and non-Orthodox schools in South Asia), but are largely isolated from other traditions.4

(II) The traditional philosophies of Africa and the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and Australia are similarly isolated from other traditions (until [End Page 638] the modern era); however, there is not a conscious, explicit dialogue within the traditions of Africa and the Indigenous Peoples. For example, Aztec, Mayan, and Indigenous North American philosophies did not identify themselves as arguing against specific thinkers or texts in other lineages,5 and the philosophical views of the Ethiopian Christian Zera Yacob and those of Kemetic philosophy (for instance) developed in isolation from one another.



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