Think of a contemporary college philosophy department in America. The students in the department come from a variety of cultures and backgrounds from around the world. The students also have a wide variety of identities, including those of gender, race, economic background, sexual orientation, disability and many others. Given this plurality of student backgrounds and identities, what should the philosophy curriculum of the department look like?
Consider the dimension of culture and race. The curriculum right now at most departments in America, and especially at the elite (that is, the most financially well off) departments, is almost entirely based on Western, European-based philosophy. In most departments the focus in history of philosophy is ancient Greek and Roman philosophy from about 600BC to 400AD, modern European philosophy from 1600 to 1900, and European and American philosophy from the 20th Century. In some places the Medieval period between 400 and 1600AD is taught as well. I will call this general focus on Europe in the curriculum Eurocentrism.
The historical reason the philosophy curriculum in America is Eurocentric is obvious: because the people who established the first modern universities in America were from Europe. They left Europe behind, but not its intellectual culture. The historical reason why the curriculum has remained Eurocentric is also obvious: because until about 50 years ago, the students and professors at the universities were mostly males whose family background was Western Europe.
Things have changed radically in the last fifty years. The Civil Rights Movement enabled African-Americans to become part of the broader American society, including colleges. A more open immigration policy in the 60s brought more Asians, Latin Americans and others to America, and soon their children were attending college. The economic development of many nations has meant that more international students are attending American universities.
Given that students taking philosophy classes have such a plurality of racial and cultural backgrounds, is it justified for the philosophy curriculum to be Eurocentric? If not, what is the alternative? What would it mean for the alternative to be fully inclusive? And how can such as ideal be realized? These questions are the focus of this blog.