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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
Mon June 11, 2012
Beyond The Western Bias In Philosophy
Originally published on Mon June 11, 2012 1:57 pm
Does all our deepest thinking about life, the universe and everything merely show our deepest biases? Is the philosophical ground that grounds everything from morality to physics deeply mired in a narrow vision that ignores the grand sweep of human history and evolution?
In a recent post to The New York Times blog The Stone, writer Justine Smith raises exactly these points.
"The goal of reflecting the diversity of our own society by expanding the curriculum to include non-European traditions has so far been a tremendous failure. And it has failed for at least two reasons. One is that non-Western philosophy is typically represented in philosophy curricula in a merely token way. Western philosophy is always the unmarked category, the standard in relation to which non-Western philosophy provides a useful contrast. Non-Western philosophy is not approached on its own terms, and thus philosophy remains, implicitly and by default, Western. Second, non-Western philosophy, when it does appear in curricula, is treated in a methodologically and philosophically unsound way: it is crudely supposed to be wholly indigenous to the cultures that produce it and to be fundamentally different than Western philosophy in areas like its valuation of reason or its dependence on myth and religion. In this way, non-Western philosophy remains fundamentally 'other.'"
I could not agree with Smith more.
As a physicist with an interest in philosophy there are a wealth of profound and profoundly original conceptions of nature that simply do not appear in standard discussions. I am not referring here to "Eastern Philosophies" as they pop up in the New Age sections of bookstores. Instead, there are the quite rigorous conceptions of Causality, Logic and Mind which arose in other centers of civilization than those we consider the "West." In a globalized culture in need of all the wisdom it can get, it seems to me that we ignore or marginalize these other philosophical traditions at our own peril.