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BryanVanNorden
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I am grateful to the support Brian has given to the field of Chinese philosophy by including it in the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR) from very early on. Full Disclosure: I am a member of the Advisory Board for the PRG and was recruited for this position by Brian. However, I must respectfully disagree with him on this topic. The Comparison to Continental Coverage I agree completely that there are many Continental figures who are understudied in US philosophy departments. However, consider the following figures. The PRG ranks 13 schools that have expertise in "20th Century Continental philosophy." An additional 11 schools are unranked but "recommended for consideration by the Advisory Board," for a total of 24. (http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/breakdown/breakdown29.asp) In the area of "19th Century Continental Philosophy," the PRG ranks 20 programs, and lists an additional 4 programs as "recommended," for a total of 24. (http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/breakdown/breakdown27.asp) Now let's turn to Chinese philosophy: the programs are not ranked but simply grouped, "due to the small number of evaluators." Eight programs are "grouped," and an additional 5 are "recommended," for a total of 13. (http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/breakdown/breakdown33.asp) If the numerical disparity between the coverage of Continental and Chinese philosophy is not immediately obvious, consider these additional facts. Chinese philosophy is a tradition that is over two millennia long, and is as diverse as all of the Western tradition. So the PRG lists 24 doctoral programs as at least recommended in 19th century Continental philosophy, 24 at least recommended in 20th century Continental philosophy, and 13 at least recommended in all two thousand five hundred years of Chinese philosophy. Hmm. When we consider Indian philosophy...oh, there is no ranking for that at all. So, yes, Continental philosophy is understudied in the US. But it is worse in Chinese and Indian philosophy. The Quality Argument In an interview done by Skye Cleary and forthcoming in the APA Blog I make the following point. If someone tells me that Chinese philosophy (for example) is "not really philosophy" or is not sufficiently argumentative or "rational," I like to ask him: why he thinks that the Mohist state-of-nature argument to justify government authority is not philosophy? What does he make of Mengzi’s reductio ad absurdum against the claim that human nature is reducible to desires for food and sex? Why does he dismiss Zhuangzi’s version of the problem of the criterion? What is his opinion of Han Feizi’s argument that political institutions must be designed so that they do not depend upon the virtue of political agents? What does he think of Zongmi’s argument that reality must fundamentally be mental, because it is inexplicable how consciousness could arise from matter that was nonconscious? Why does he regard the Platonic dialogues as philosophical, yet dismiss Fazang’s dialogue in which he argues for and responds to objections against the claim that individuals are defined by their relationships to others? What is his opinion of Wang Yangming’s arguments for the claim that it is impossible to know what is good yet fail to do what is good? What does he make of Mou Zongsan’s critique of Kant, or Liu Shaoqi’s argument that Marxism is incoherent unless supplemented with a theory of individual ethical transformation? Of course, the answer to each question is that those who suggest that Chinese philosophies are irrational have never heard of any of these arguments because they do not bother to actually read them. Or, if they do bother to glance at them, they hold them to a higher standard of explicitness and clarity than they do Aristotle or Kant. (We are so used to reading Aristotle and Kant that we forget how unclear and unmotivated their claims will seem to someone who has not studied them in context, or with the guide of secondary sources and teachers.) Other arguments on this topic can be found in the excellent essays by *Eric Schwitzgebel, "Why Don't We Know Our Chinese Philosophy?" http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~eschwitz/SchwitzAbs/NotKnowChinese.htm *Justin Tiwald, "A Case for Chinese Philosophy," http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.apaonline.org/resource/collection/2EAF6689-4B0D-4CCB-9DC6-FB926D8FF530/v08n1Asian.pdf The Diversity Card If anyone has any doubts about the role of implicit racism in maintaining the status quo in philosophy, I would invite her to read Eugene Park's essay, "Why I Left Academia: Philosophy’s Homogeneity Needs Rethinking" (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hippo-reads/why-i-left-academia_b_5735320.html). Park was a doctoral student in a top-ranked philosophy department who was passionate about Western philosophy but also interested in exploring insights from non-Western philosophy. He was told that he should transfer to a program in "ethnic studies," where this approach would be more welcome. In the face of ethnocentrism like this, Park eventually dropped out. As Myisha Cherry and Eric Schwitgebel point out, philosophy has a diversity problem that is actually worse than that in other fields in the humanities, and it shows no signs of getting better. We must address issues of diversity if we wish for our field to survive in the future. (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0306-schwitzgebel-cherry-philosophy-so-white-20160306-story.html) I agree that linking the call to study non-Western philosophy to issues of diversity will politicize it in ways that may lead to outcomes I would not prefer in an ideal world. Sadly, we are not in an ideal world. I and many others have been fighting with rational arguments for decades to try to get greater acceptance of non-Western philosophy into the curriculum. The rate of change has been glacial. Consequently, I increasingly think that the only way to effect change in philosophy is by appealing to students to mobilize and demand changes. For Moderate Change If philosophers want moderate, rational change, they can take simple steps. For one thing, the next time you have an opening, consider whether you need yet another person studying the philosophical traditions that grow out of Plato and Aristotle (both of whom I deeply, almost reverentially, admire). Wouldn't the field, and your students, be better served by someone teaching Indian, Chinese, or some other non-mainstream form of philosophy?
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Sep 18, 2015