About the Blog

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.

2 thoughts on “About the Blog

  1. Grad Student

    I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to say that “[i]n most departments the focus 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 most departments, that’s certainly the focus of the part of the department that studies the history of philosophy.

    But in the Anglo-American world, that’s not all of the department—usually, it’s not even a majority. In the rest of the department, the focus is on a set of specific philosophical problems considered non-historically, and the literature that gets read is overwhelmingly contemporary.

    Of course, even in the non-historical section some non-contemporary texts get read—particularly in undergraduate classes. But usually these are chosen not because of their historical importance but because they provide simple introductions to debates that have since grown much more complicated and technical. (In a class not focussed on history, we would probably not give undergraduates Metaphysics Γ or “On Denoting”, despite their canonical status and importance in the development of Western philosophy, because they’re not easy ways into thinking about substance or descriptions; we might give them the First Meditation, however, because it’s a fairly easy way into thinking about scepticism. But we’re ultimately not interested in imparting knowledge about the history of these topics to them.)

    Now of course one can object to this, and many people do. But there are two different objections here, focussing on two facts that shouldn’t be confused—(1) the fact that a big part of mainstream philosophy is not historical and (2) the fact that another part of mainstream philosophy is historical but not at all pluralistic. Both (1) and (2) contribute to the result that very little non-Western history of philosophy is studied, but they do so for very different reasons.


    1. Bharath Vallabha Post author

      That’s a good point. I have changed the wording to emphasize I meant the focus of departments regarding history of philosophy.



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