Clickbaiting and the evils of Western philosophy

The title of this blog is Footnotes to Plato. This is not because I am inordinately fond of Plato (among the ancients I prefer the Stoics, as many readers know), nor because I literally believe the famous phrase by Alfred North Whitehead from which the blog title derives: “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato” (Process and Reality, p. 39, Free Press, 1979). I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean it seriously, or at least I hope so.

The quip, however, does hint at a historical reality: Plato is — for good and for ill —the single most influential Western philosopher, in good part because he touched on pretty much every major topic that subsequent philosophers have been preoccupied with. The reason for this, in turn, is arguably twofold: on the one hand, he truly was a towering figure, who had a lot to say about all sorts of things; on the other hand, he was one of the earliest philosophers, which means that the field was completely open and ripe with a bunch of low hanging fruits. This isn’t a thing peculiar to philosophy: Galileo made a huge number of discoveries, from the craters of the Moon to the rings of Saturn, simply because he was the first one to use a telescope.

[Yes, I’m aware that we still study Plato in philosophy, but we don’t study Galileo in science. There are good reasons for this, which have nothing to do with an alleged superiority of science and everything to do with the fact that science and philosophy are different kinds of disciplines, with different methods and concerns. So is mathematics. And literary criticism. See here for an entire book devoted to that topic.]

Back to Whitehead: notice that the phrase specifically refers to the European philosophical tradition. An obvious acknowledgment of the existence of several other traditions, over which Plato had little or no influence. Which brings me to the point of the current post. During the last several weeks I’ve been sparring on Twitter with Bryan van Norden, a self-described “leading scholar” of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, based in Singapore. He has written a book, just out, entitled Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto, in support of which he has published a piece in Aeon magazine. It is that piece that has triggered our back and forth, which has, unfortunately, reached rare levels of unpleasantness.

The title of the Aeon article is “Why the Western Philosophical canon is xenophobic and racist,” a rare instance of vilification of an entire field and of an indiscriminate attack on every professional working within it. Is van Norden justified in his accusations? Is such an obvious clickbait the best way to foster a constructive dialogue about the problem? Let’s take a look.

First though, let me make clear that I agree with some of the substance of van Norden’s article (and, presumably, book). Philosophy departments the world over — not just in North America or Europe — should indeed be teaching as many of the varied philosophical traditions as logistically possible. Then again, that goes also for history departments, or literature, and so forth, I would think.

Second, the crucial kernel of truth in van Norden’s argument is the problem famously identified by Edward W. Said in his 1978 book, Orientalism. Said defined Orientalism as a patronizing attitude on the part of “the West” in its representations of “the East,” an attitude that is inextricably tied with Colonialism between the 16th and 19th centuries. Some of the victims, according to Said, have been complicit with the West, as for instance in the case of the romantic aura surrounding descriptions of Arab Culture, which originated with French, British, and American writers, but was then deployed by Arab elites for their own repressive purposes.

Said’s work is important and well known in Western departments, though it has to be noted that it targeted primarily literature (not philosophy), and that it has in turn been criticized in part because of its over-reliance on questionable poststructural methods of analysis. Be that as it may, I know of no one in contemporary philosophy or literature departments in the West who is not aware of Said’s work and very sensitive to potential charges of Orientalism. van Norden clearly disagrees, so let’s take a look at what he says in some detail.

He begins his article with a statement just as bald (and as false) as its title: “Mainstream philosophy in the so-called West is narrow-minded, unimaginative, and even xenophobic. I know I am levelling a serious charge. But how else can we explain the fact that the rich philosophical traditions of China, India, Africa, and the Indigenous peoples of the Americas are completely ignored by almost all philosophy departments in both Europe and the English-speaking world?”

Of course, van Norden provides little empirical evidence for that gross generalization. He relies heavily on a survey of graduate programs in American departments, according to which 10% of those programs have a specialist in Chinese philosophy, and many don’t have courses on other non-Western philosophies. That’s not good, but note that it refers to graduate programs (which tend to be highly specialized), and that we are not given comparative numbers of how many Chinese, or African graduate programs feature specialists in Western philosophy. Many graduate programs in the US also lack specialists in philosophy of science, say, or in aesthetics, and so forth. Moreover, at the undergraduate level things are certainly better, with many departments featuring regular offerings in Chinese, Indian and African philosophy.

While the situation can and should be improved, this is hardly good evidence of racism and xenophobia. More likely, it is the result of lack of training (until recently) in those areas, as well as of budget cuts in the humanities in general, which makes it increasingly difficult to hire full time faculty, in any specialty. And of course, while American society is indeed culturally diverse, it is still made of mostly “Western” students (and faculty), which is the simplest explanation for why there are similar biases also in history and literature departments. Simply put, the charge of racism and xenophobia is vicious, smells of moral grandstanding, and is entirely counterproductive. I’m squarely on van Norden’s side when it comes to increasing multicultural courses, but my case is hardly going to be helped by indiscriminately accusing my colleagues of racism and xenophobia.

The bulk of the Aeon article, in facts, is a concession to the fact that Eastern philosophy has been taken seriously by a lot of authors in the Western tradition, from the translations of Confucius curated by the Jesuits to Leibniz’ interest in Chinese philosophy. Who, then, is the culprit for the current sorry state of affairs? Kant, of course. van Norden presents his own version of the recent history of Western philosophy, in which Kant is made to be a racist uber-villain. There is no doubt that Kant was “racist” from our standpoint, and racist comments are easy to find in the writings of Hume and Mill as well, to mention just a couple of other prominent figures of modern philosophy. This is not surprising because they were all products of the Enlightenment, and the Enlightenment was the time when “scientific racism” was developed, the notion, allegedly based on the best science of the time, according to which most non-Western “races” were clearly intellectually inferior.

Now, I completely agree with van Norden that scientific racism was shameful, though many progressive thinkers endorsed it at the time, just like in the early 20th century it was mostly progressives who powered the eugenic movement. Moreover, I do think that race is not, in fact, a biological category (as I’ve written on several occasions, for instance here). I also certainly do not deny that there is racism in our society and I don’t think that individual philosophers are exceptional in that respect.

But it is like for van Norden time has stopped at the Enlightenment. The Romantic backlash never happened. Continental philosophy is ignored, even though many of its exponents have been influenced by Eastern writers. And the postmodern (mostly, but not entirely, unfortunate) uprising never took place either. Truly, it is only the analytic tradition that downplays non-Western (and Continental) contributions, and that’s largely because, in fact, those are hardly compatible styles of doing philosophy. But I for one fervently hope that analytic philosophy is on its way out so that we can get on with the business of doing relevant (as opposed to logic chopping) philosophy.

Back to Kant. van Norden writes: “Kant is easily one of the four or five most influential philosophers in the Western tradition. He asserted that the Chinese, Indians, Africans and the Indigenous peoples of the Americas are congenitally incapable of philosophy. And contemporary Western philosophers take it for granted that there is no Chinese, Indian, African or Native American philosophy. If this is a coincidence, it is a stunning one.” It is not a coincidence because a crucial part of that statement is utterly false. Yes, Kant certainly is one of the most influential modern philosophers. But definitely not because of that sort of statements, which he did, unfortunately, make. That said, where on earth did van Norden get the idea that “contemporary Western philosophers take it for granted that there is no Chinese, Indian, African or Native American philosophy”? On what planet is he living in? Surely not the one in which the philosophers and departments I know of actually exist.

van Norden offers no evidence for that sweeping statement, of course, except a couple of anecdotes, one of which features Derrida going to China in 2001 and telling his stunned hosts that “China does not have any philosophy, only thought.” Well, I never had a high opinion of Derrida (to put it mildly), and this is one more confirmation that I was right. But so what? Why not focus instead on people like my CUNY colleague Graham Priest, one of the top logicians in the world, who has been blending Eastern and Western philosophy in his work on paraconsistent logic? Because that wouldn’t fit the clickbait narrative, of course.

Let’s analyze for a moment how the issue of, shall we call it “great men’s blunders” is treated outside of philosophy. Take physics, and in particular Newton, a figure that, ironically, strongly influenced Kant, who famously wanted to put moral philosophy on the same firm footing as the sort of natural philosophy that was being done by Newton. It turns out that Newton was a nasty little man, prone to vengeance and abuse of power, and that moreover he spent (wasted would be a better term) a larger portion of his life doing alchemy and Biblical criticism rather than physics. But nobody today focuses on Newton’s personal failures, nor do we read what he wrote about alchemy and the Old Testament. Why not? Because a healthy approach to people’s personal and professional failures is to acknowledge them while at the same time focus on whatever it is of good that they produced in their fields. I’m not about to discard Newtonian mechanics because of Newton’s failures in other respects. Similarly, we shouldn’t revise the history of (Western) philosophy and downplay the positive contributions of Hume, Kant and Mill, among others, because they also said things that by contemporary standards are racist.

Moreover, and this goes conveniently unmentioned in van Norden’s article, Kant was also an anti-colonialist and endorsed a general philosophy of cosmopolitanism. Similarly, Mill did make racist comments, and yet he wrote On Liberty, as well as — with his wife Harriet Taylor Mill — The Subjection of Women. Hume did utter racist remarks, but also wrote cogent, and very modern sounding, essays on moral and political philosophy. Go figure, people are complicated! (Want one more example? Plato did not question slavery, unlike, say, Zeno of Citium. But he advocated for the intellectual equality of women. Which part should we discard and which adopt, you think?)

Perhaps feeling a bit short in terms of overtly “Orientalist” philosophers, van Norden even mentions Antonin Scalia, who apparently referred to the thought of Confucius as “the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.” I got news for van Norden, besides being a first class asshole, Scalia was not a philosopher, nor was his thought representative of philosophy departments.

van Norden ends his article by suggesting that we should add more coverage of non-Western philosophies in the curricula offered by American universities. Yes! And that is precisely what we are doing. But we also have to deal with the realities on the ground, meaning mostly that a lot of philosophy departments simply do not have the resources necessary to do a good job as it is, let alone to branch out in new directions. And yet, I don’t know a single colleague who is both not aware and unsympathetic to van Norden’s worry. If we really want to make progress, are clickbait titles along the lines of “the Western Philosophical canon is racist and xenophobic” going to be helpful? Do we really think that conversations get started and progress gets made that way?

In response to one of my tweets asking for hard data, van Norden replied by quoting an article in the LA Times that reports the following statistics: “African Americans constitute 13% of the US population, 7% of PhD recipients across fields, 2% of PhD recipients in philosophy, and less than 0.5% of authors in the most prominent philosophy journals.”

This is bad, obviously. But van Norden’s reading at face value of what the numbers mean is naive at best, willfully ignorant at worst. Let us set aside the obvious observation that correlation does not imply any particular causal scenario. (I mean, the ratio of female to male nurses in the US is a whopping 9.5:1. Surely nobody in his right mind is going to make an argument based on that figure that hospitals engage in reverse sexism and discriminate against male applicants, right?) The most likely explanation for the philosophy figures isn’t structural racism within the profession, but rather a combination of two other factors: structural racism at the pre-college levels, and culture. I have been on plenty of search committees hiring faculty, as well as on admission committees looking for graduate students. You have no idea how much at pains my colleagues and I have always been to look for minorities (and women). Every. Single. Time. The problem is that blacks and Hispanics are at a structural disadvantage from the very beginning, meaning from kindergarten, and things hardly get better in grade school. That’s a major reason why by the time we get to graduate school and tenure track positions the numbers are abysmal. The issue is not structural racism within the philosophical profession, it is structural racism in society at large.

The second reason for those numbers is culture, as in many of my minority students telling me that they experience strong pressure both from peers and from their families to drop philosophy and major instead in a “real” field, like engineering, pre-med, or pre-law. There are good reasons for this, having to do with the increasingly stratospheric cost of a college education, even in so-called public schools (which nowadays get only a fraction of their budget from States), and with the fact that many of these students are the first in their family to actually go to college. If I were one of their parents I would be concerned as well about “wasting” my tuition money on something as “useless” as philosophy. (Even though, turns out, majoring in philosophy is an excellent bet in terms of post-graduation employment.)

Does any of the above prove that philosophy, as a profession, does not have a problem with racism (and sexism)? No, it doesn’t. But van Norden has done very little to show that it does, relying on selected anecdotal evidence and hastily interpreted surveys to level what he himself recognizes as a “a serious charge.” As Hume would have put it — in his frequent non-racist moments — a wise person’s belief should be proportionate to the evidence, and van Norden’s most certainly is not.

By all means, let us fix whatever is wrong with the philosophical profession. But let’s do it by engaging in constructive and nuanced discourse, not in blatant clickbaiting for the sake of selling books. Let’s do it because we are genuinely concerned about future generations, avoiding the temptation of putting ourselves on a high moral pedestal. And above all let’s do it fairly, without tainting countless people with broad accusations of racism.

67 thoughts on “Clickbaiting and the evils of Western philosophy

  1. SocraticGadfly

    Garth, actually, there ARE eastern schools of philosophy. Unfortunately, Van Norden doesn’t mention them. Charvaka, an Indian school of skepticism largely secularist in nature, that arose about the time of Buddhism and Jainism, is one.

    That said, don’t forget that many a Western philosopher discusses issues metaphysical within a dualist framework.


  2. Massimo Post author


    Right, but Confucius is also taught in undergraduate courses, in some cases even in intro ones. By contrast, what do you think of Native American philosophy? Because that one seems to me to come much closer to what Garth is calling “wisdom traditions.” Something similar may go for African philosophy, unless one includes Arabic philosophy in it. Indian philosophy, by contrast, is in the same ballpark as Chinese, i.e., it is actually philosophy.


  3. saphsin

    There’s much more to Daoism if you actually study it carefully, at least that’s my impression. Many people who don’t know anything about Kant write him off because of what he says about the mind’s categories is superceded by modern understandings of science (such as space & time) and don’t see the point, but there is much more to it. In fact, a lot of Historical Western Philosophy looks absurd if you don’t understand the foundational concepts they were trying to engage with.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. SocraticGadfly

    Oh, and duh, I forgot issues of logic around koans and other things. Remember, Smullyan wrote a book titled “The Tao is Silent.” To quote Shakespeare, Garth, “There is more in eastern philosophy than you may want to have meet your eye.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Massimo Post author

    To me “philosophy” indicates any kind of reason-based discourse about foundational matters, in ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and so forth. By that definition, a lot of “Eastern” philosophy counts (but some doesn’t) and some “Western” philosophy does not count.

    I’m more uncertain, largely out of my own ignorance, about much African and especially Native American philosophy.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. synred

    Kant might not be wrong about ‘synthetic a prior’ status of space and time in the sense that it maybe ‘hardwired’ into our brains as it is a good approximation to the world we live in. His mistake would be assuming, it applied strictly to what could be real.


  7. Daniel Kaufman

    As I said to van Norden in the dialogue, contemporary analytic philosophers are just as liable to dismiss Montaigne or Pico as “essayists” and as “not doing real philosophy” as they are to dismiss Confucius, which indicates to me that the problem is more one of philosophy having becoming excessively — in my view pathologically — disciplinary and ultimately, philistine, then it is of any sort of explicit or implicit racism or xenophobia.

    In that sense, I think that his critique should be seen as one piece of a broader criticism that people like Bob Frodeman (and I) have been making for years, now, and it is one that I think is very important. Indeed, I am of the view that philosophy’s life and its place in higher education and the broader society depends on recognizing this and working to restore the humanistic and literary dimension that were always a central part of philosophical writing until it became a discipline, modeled after the modern sciences.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Massimo Post author


    As you know I’m sympathetic to your views on this. So far as I can tell van Norden is making three statements: (i) not enough non-Western philosophy is taught in Western departments; and (ii) this is because Western philosophy is xenophobic and racist; (iii) the latter is mostly Kant’s fault.

    I completely agree with (i); I don’t think there is any serious evidence of (ii) and much more mundane expalanations are available; and I think (iii) is preposterous.

    Hence my accusation against him that he is (a) engaging in moral grandstanding / virtue signaling; and (b) that if he really cared about (i) this is the most obnoxious, and therefore unlikely to succeed, way possible.


  9. wtc48

    garthdaisy: “Philosophy is a human endeavour. There is no eastern philosophy or western philosophy there is just philosophy. It is a method of inquiry not a collection of ancient truths.”

    I would agree with that, but in your next paragraph, you seem to narrow the scope of philosophy. If Socrates was not doing philosophy, I don’t know who was; but in his interrogative method he seems to be trying to bring out the underlying assumptions of the attitudes professed by his subjects, without any constraint on the material, which seems to me the essence of philosophy.


  10. Daniel Kaufman

    Massimo: Yes, I agree with you about van Norden, and I pushed back pretty hard against the racism charge in the dialogue. Ultimately, however, I thought it more productive to try and re-conceive his critique within the broader framework that I indicated and with which I know you are at least partly in agreement, and I think the dialogue was better for it than if we had just hammered on one another. In many ways, it seems to me that he largely conceded the point and it led to what I thought was some of the most interesting material in the discussion that occurs towards the end.


  11. SocraticGadfly

    So, Massimo, there is theoretically such a thing as “philosophism”?


    I am fairly familiar with American Indian religion, though not philosophy, in the US Southwest, where traditional belief systems are still fairly, but by no means totally pristine vis-a-vis pre-Columbian times. As far as ethics, we should be careful not to backwardly project Iron Eyes Cody on American Indians. For example, they could at times be what some modern environmentalists would call “wasteful.”

    On metaphysical issues, that would be considered more religion than philosophy, we should also note that there is no one single American Indian religion. Not even in one geographic area. For example, death and things like that aren’t a big deal to Puebloans, but they’re huge to Navajos. Traditional Navajo belief says that if a person dies in a hogan, it must be permanently vacated, then boarded up. And, contra Puebloans, they have a strong belief in were-creatures and other things that go bump in the night.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Bunsen Burner

    I really enjoyed Dan’s dialogue. It was the kind of meeting of minds that was a lot more prevalent in the early days of bloggingheads but that has become so rare these days. One thing that no one wants to discuss is what is philosophy for if it’s okay do ignore the majority of human thought? You can try taking the scientific stance that philosophy has discovered truths that go beyond any individual culture, or the facile stance that philosophy is just the propagation of western intellectual traditions and nothing else. I suspect hardly anyone find these acceptable. So if it’s okay for philosophy to ignore the vast majority of human thought, what is it actually doing?


  13. brodix

    To add to Dan’s comment that the issues are more conceptually deeper than just racism, one overwhelming feature of Western philosophy is it has become an entirely separate field from Western, monotheistic religion, whereas Eastern philosophy and religion are still closely bound.

    Perhaps it is not so much the eastern approach is nativist, but that the western approach is absolutist and while western religion peeled off into moral idealism, under a absolute authority figure, western philosophy is still looking for the singular ideal of being, order, morality, etc, rather than the relationships that bind and contrast reality and are the basis of eastern philosophy. As in Yin and Yang.


  14. labnut

    So far as I can tell van Norden is making three statements: (i) not enough non-Western philosophy is taught in Western departments; and (ii) this is because Western philosophy is xenophobic and racist; (iii) the latter is mostly Kant’s fault.

    That is a nice summary.

    But there is some little substance to (ii), though, for van Norden to call it xenophobic and racist is wildly over the top and you are right to call it moral grandstanding.

    Why do I say there is some substance to (ii)?
    1) Western philosophy has been very successful in the sense that it has developed the subject further and generated a large literature.
    2) The bulk of the literature is published in English, giving it a large reach.
    3) The competitive nature of the Western academic endeavour results in voluminous production of papers.
    4) The citation system encourages reference to papers well known to the readers or peer reviewers.

    The natural outcome of these factors is that Western philosophy has acquired a large and dominant presence which naturally tends to preclude the examination of alternatives. It is like a large, strong and dominant man walking into a small and crowded bar. He might not intend to but he inevitably dominates the entire bar.

    This is not about merit, but about size and dominance crowding out other perspectives.

    I, for one, welcome van Norden’s paper as a way of drawing attention to the situation, even if he is wrong on so many points. You might call him a ‘shock jock’ 🙂

    Abrasive, unpleasant contrarians are never liked but they perform a useful social role by provoking necessary conversations and I am happy to see that the conversation has started..

    Liked by 2 people

  15. labnut

    When I say that I am happy that the conversation has started, I am not happy that the conversation has become so defensive.

    An important reason for the way Western philosophy has developed is that it is the product of melding four great traditions, 1) Greek thought, 2) Roman thought, 3) Jewish thought and 4) Christian thought. The outcome has been radically transformative, setting the stage for the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution and the liberal revolution.

    But this is not an occasion for hubris but rather an acknowledgement that melding different traditions can have large and beneficial consequences. It is time to consciously set aside hubris so that we can examine and learn from other traditions. It is time to return to an ethos of burning, driving curiosity that motivates us to learn as much as we can about how other peoples think.

    Who knows what we might discover? Martin Seligman did important work in this regard when he investigated the underpinnings of moral thinking in all the main traditions. His main finding was that one form or another of virtue ethics provided commonality throughout the main traditions. This is an important finding because it indicates that virtue ethics is our most basic understanding of morality.

    Every new idea we are exposed to changes us subtly, even when we are not aware of the change. We need to expose ourselves to change. We can only become better.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. labnut

    A small correction is in order. As Dan-K and I have discussed before, Christian thought is merely a branch of Jewish thought. Thus Western philosophical thinking is largely the result of melding Jewish, Greek and Roman thought.


  17. Philosopher Eric

    I very much enjoyed your interview of van Norden. It helped show me why each of you have such passion for literary and humanistic philosophy. Though I’m not educated sufficiently to even potentially have such an appreciation, it is quite clear to me why you do. Furthermore you’re surely correct that it’s not racism or xenophobia which restricts your vision of philosophy today. Instead it should be that there are many who want the field to develop various agreed upon understandings, such as myself.

    I do not consider us natural enemies however. In fact I’d even conditionally grant you your vision for philosophy if I were able to. I’d let you banish every person who desires merely what I desire for the field, and regardless of who they are or how they were educated. From then on there would only be literary and humanistic philosophers such as yourself and van Norden. (I presume that Massimo would qualify as well, since you’d be setting the criteria.) If it were up to me, all non-philosophers would accept their exclusion.

    The condition however, is that you’d permit non-philosophers to ponder metaphysics, epistemology, and value, as a “destination” rather than “journey”. Note that it wouldn’t matter if some of us were Philistines, since the promotion of art and culture would have nothing to do with our particular goals, unlike yours. If someone were to tell us that we should consider the ideas of this or that civilization, we might smile and suggest that they solicit philosophers – our concerns would be different. So the group that you believe is destroying philosophy today, would be banished forever from your field.

    This makes tremendous sense to me. Thus people could follow their passions without the nonsense bickering that separate visions can incite. But would you also make such a deal?


  18. Massimo Post author


    You could make exactly the same argument about the dominance of English-written papers in the sciences. Still no reason at all to talk about xenophobia and racism. And van Norden seems to be abrasive for the same of clickbaiting, an attitude that I think is despicable.


  19. labnut

    Still no reason at all to talk about xenophobia and racism

    Yes, absolutely. Which is why I said “for van Norden to call it xenophobic and racist is wildly over the top“.

    But that does not change my conclusion that he has started a necessary conversation, even though he chose rather unsavoury means. We can hold our noses and deal with whatever substance we find in his writings. After all

    Remember that it is we who torment, we who make difficulties for ourselves – that is, our opinions do. What, for instance, does it mean to be insulted? Stand by a rock and insult it, and what have you accomplished? If someone responds to insult like a rock, what has the abuser gained with his invective?


  20. Massimo Post author


    The problem is that most people are not Stoic. So if someone begins the conversation as van Norden has it is far more likely to lead nowhere, or even to a backlash. Moreover, that “conversation” has been going on for many years before van Norden jumped in, and progress has been made, regardless of the fact that he conveniently ignores it.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Paul Braterman

    Labnut: “Christian thought is merely a branch of Jewish thought.” Thinks: there is something missing here. Thomism at least in part derivative of Maimonides influenced by Muslim versions of Aristotelianism. There are also, of course, interesting strands of Muslim thought explicitly opposed to Aristotle, ranging from al Ghazali to al Biruni.

    One could make a case, though preferably in more civil a manner than van Norden adopted, that our society, and perhaps (can anyone here give an informed opinion?) contemporary Muslim societies, are impoverished by lack of awareness of these philosophical tradition.


  22. labnut

    there is something missing here. Thomism at least in part derivative of Maimonides influenced by Muslim versions of Aristotelianism

    Indeed. And Avicenna comes to mind. In more modern times the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, was greatly influenced by Buddhism.

    There were many influences but the really large influences on Western thinking were Jewish, Greek and Roman thought with Christian thought being largely derived from Jewish thought. Western thinking has always been eclectic, ready to absorb the good it finds around it. But becoming dominant reduces the willingness to examine and absorb other strands of thought. This is what the debate is really about, recovering the openness and receptiveness to other modes of thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. labnut

    The problem is that most people are not Stoic

    Agreed, but I probably also had you in mind when I made that comment. I should note that I think the work you are doing to spread the influence of Stoicism is most admirable.

    the conversation as van Norden has it is far more likely to lead nowhere, or even to a backlash

    Yes, I can see that is a possibility but, given the robust conversation which is quite normal in academia these days, it is probably unlikely. We are not dealing with shrinking violets.

    has been going on for many years before van Norden jumped in, and progress has been made

    I am happy to hear that, but is it even nearly sufficient? We are dealing with a most considerable inertia and the occasional prod will hardly move it. A rather painful jab might be appropriate. After all I see no reluctance to dish out the punishment to other targets.


  24. brodix


    “The natural outcome of these factors is that Western philosophy has acquired a large and dominant presence which naturally tends to preclude the examination of alternatives. It is like a large, strong and dominant man walking into a small and crowded bar. He might not intend to but he inevitably dominates the entire bar.”

    Which suggests a logical first step would be to examine the particular conceptual biases this presence assumes, rather than make it a political and ethnic conflict.

    “with Christian thought being largely derived from Jewish thought.”

    I would argue that while the central, monotheistic premise is Jewish, the degree to which it was filtered through Greek pantheism provides an equal, if not larger stamp. For instance, the Trinity is directly attributable to the Greek year gods, no matter how much this was fudged by the Catholic church.
    Father-Son-etc. is rather explicitly generative, but the church, as an eternal institution, found it inconvenient. Consequently the bottom up Christian social dynamic found voice in protestantism.

    An interesting book on the subject(one I’ve linked to before):
    Five Stages of Greek Religion, by Gilbert Murray


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