I have been suggesting (here and here) that the reason to have non-Western authors in the curriculum is not to satisfy identity politics, but precisely so that non-whites can gain reflective distance from their background. In order to reflect on the assumptions of one’s background, one has to engage with those assumptions. Eurocentrism is thus an obstacle to many non-whites gaining philosophical reflection.
Consider the analogous case of feminism. The reason to have women authors isn’t just so that women are pacified. Given the generally patriarchal structures of society, for many women (perhaps not all) as they come to philosophical self-consciousness, their being women – that they are different in that way from the famous male philosophers – is central to their initial perspective on philosophical questions. This is neither right nor wrong; it is a matter of psychology. The way for someone who is conscious of the male dominated structures to do philosophy would be for her to start by reflecting on the situation of women in philosophy. That is her starting point into philosophy, a starting point which might be very exciting to her as philosophy. As illuminating not only her condition as a woman, but our shared condition as human beings.
Suppose I feel Eurocentrism is wrong, and I feel frustrated by the Eurocentric structures of academic philosophy. What is the best way for me to contribute to progress?
It is to set aside blame and to convert my thoughts and feelings into philosophical questions which raise the issues that are bothering me.
In the previous post I distinguished standard racism from philosophical racism. Standard racism claims that all people are not equal. Philosophical racism claims that all philosophical traditions are not equal.
There are many ways to be a philosophical racist, depending on the philosophical tradition one claims is the best. And many great philosophers have been philosophical racists. Hegel was a philosophical racist, since he thought that Western philosophy was the epitome of human rationality, and the philosophical traditions of other races were less sophisticated steps towards Western philosophy. Aurobindo was a philosophical racist but in the other direction, since he thought Indian philosophy was the epitome of human excellence, with, as he saw it, rationalist Western philosophy being only a step in the direction of Indian philosophy.
If someone said to me, “Indians are less intelligent than Europeans,” I wouldn’t engage in argument with him to change his mind. I would just think he was a racist, that he had a backward view. If he was open to talking about it, I might talk to him. Not in the sense that maybe there is something right about his view, but in the sense that he is just mistaken. I would ignore him if I can, and if I can’t, then I would act out of moral indignation. If he was in a position of power over me, I would engage in activism to get him out of that position.
True, one can have a philosophical discussion about any topic. Even about whether one group is smarter than another. It’s pretty easy: you just ask, “what is intelligence?”, “who is a European?”, and so on and you are off to the philosophical races.