NYT Op-Ed: Supremacy Of Western Philosophy 'Hard to Justify'

May 12th, 2016 11:41 AM

Western civilization and its philosophical underpinning are overrated, according to leftist university students and faculty as well as many members of the media. Each year they try their best to take Western philosophy courses down more than a few pegs in academic importance and sometimes even replace them.

The New York Times’ online opinion page featured a column Wednesday undermining the value of Western thought and suggesting that it is no more relevant than the philosophical traditions of other cultures.

Most philosophy departments teach only schools of thought originating in “Europe and the English-speaking world,” remarked authors Jay L. Garfield and Bryan W. Van Norden.

The authors provided a list of underappreciated philosophical traditions: Chinese, Africana, Indian, Islamic, Jewish, Latin American, and Native American.

They cited the “importance of non-European traditions in both the history of world philosophy and in the contemporary world” and the “increasing numbers of students in our colleges and universities from non-European backgrounds” as reasons to implement more diverse philosophy curricula.

“The present situation is hard to justify morally, politically, epistemically or as good educational and research training practice,” the column concluded.

The authors claim to have refuted “Eurocentrism,” which some professors argue for.

In fact, “Eurocentrism” means merely the superiority of the philosophical traditions of Western culture.

In the comments user Rich pointed out that the article treats philosophy like literature, which is more amenable to diversity since its purpose is not to seek the truth. He disagreed with the idea that “you can argue for including all the other flavors out there because none are superior to the others.”

The authors suggest that philosophy departments rename themselves “Department of European and American Philosophy” and become part of the assembly line of “area studies” like “Latino studies” or “Indian studies.”

“It's fine to re-name a department or a few classes to better define its intellectual origins, but please do not devalue European ideas to pander to modern sensibilities ... unless the other traditions have something equally significant and compelling to offer,” wrote commenter Springtime.

The piece also complained that women and minorities are underrepresented among both students and faculty in philosophy departments. The reason, the authors surmised is that these courses are seen as “temples to the achievement of males of European descent.” Perhaps, but this has no bearing on whether the philosophy is true or not.

“Philosophy has always become richer as it becomes increasingly diverse and pluralistic,” said the authors, citing St. Thomas Aquinas, who built on the ideas of the pagan philosopher Aristotle.

This statement is rather baffling since the point of philosophy is to seek the truth, not to include as many schools of thought as possible. Aquinas accepted Aristotle because his philosophy was largely accurate in matters of logic and natural law, among other things.

Many comments on the piece were supportive of more diversity, but some very pointed ones called out the inherent political correctness of the article.

“Please preserve us from your political correctness,” wrote user Josh Hill. “There is much that is of historical interest and value in non-European philosophy, but come on, there's a reason that Europe leaped ahead of the rest of the world. I do not believe that we should sacrifice that merely because of an ooshy gooshy need to pretend that all cultures are equally advanced.”

The piece appeared in “The Stone,” a forum for contemporary philosophers moderated by Simon Critchley. Critchley teaches philosophy at the New School for Social Research, which prides itself on teaching “social sciences and humanities that go beyond mainstream thought.”

Tell the Truth 2016