The Geography of Philosophy

As many of you may have seen on Daily Nous, Edouard Machery (Pittsburgh) and Stephen Stich (Rutgers), along with anthropologist H. Clark Barrett (UCLA) have just been awarded a US$2.5 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation. It will fund a project titled, “The Geography of Philosophy: An Interdisciplinary Cross-Cultural Exploration of Universality and Diversity in Fundamental Philosophical Concepts.” We have posted about conferences related to this topic before, and both Anand Vaidya and I have been involved in some of them (most recently, for me, at least, the International Conference on Ethno-Epistemology, Kanazawa, Japan in 2016).

It will be interesting to see the methodology they pursue and to what extent they make use of experts in (Indian, Chinese, African) philosophy, as contrasted to what analytic philosophers often call “folk intuitions” about concepts like knowledge and truth. A description of their project:

Throughout the history of philosophy, many thinkers have urged that some fundamental philosophical concepts are universal–used by all rational people. Historians and anthropologists have often been skeptical of these claims. Recently, cultural psychologists and experimental philosophers have begun to explore empirically whether fundamental philosophical concepts are shared across cultures. The results of these studies have been fascinating, provocative and equivocal. The goals of this project are (i) to move this exciting endeavor forward by dramatically expanding the methodologies, the range of cultures considered, and the cultural and disciplinary diversity of the investigators engaged in the inquiry; (ii) to motivate and enable researchers around the world to become involved in cross-cultural, interdisciplinary research on philosophical concepts by sponsoring workshops in Africa, Asia and South America where our research teams can interact with scientists and scholars in the region; (iii) to present our findings both in scholarly publications and in an integrated format accessible to non-specialists; (iv) to foster discussion about the implications of the findings for venerable philosophical debates and for practical contemporary issues.

About Malcolm Keating

Malcolm Keating is Assistant Professor of Philosophy in the Humanities Division at Yale-NUS College, Singapore.

9 Replies to “The Geography of Philosophy”

  1. I saw this on Daily Nous and was initially intrigued, but I wonder if “expanding methodologies” will really involve much beyond “folk intuition”- based experimental philosophy, which often seems to me to have little room for the history of philosophy in any tradition. I’ve also never quite understood why some experimental philosophers seem to believe that say, American analytic philosophers share “folk intuitions” with non-philosopher Americans. I’m pretty sure that philosophers are weird in any culture! I would be happy to discover that my impressions of either experimental philosophy or this project are wrong, though.

  2. I think this project is going to be good. And I hope they get more people from Asian philosophy to help execute the experiments. I have a new paper coming out soon on integrating x-phi with comparative philosophy.

  3. For those commenting, you might want to follow Matt Dasti’s link to the latest JICPR. The guest editorial which opens the volume closes this way: ” As a quick glance at the institutional affiliations of our authors will reveal, experimental philosophy has become a worldwide movement. Only one of the authors represented in this volume is a member of the large and distinguished Indian philosophical community. It is our hope that this Special Issue of the Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research will encourage many more Indian philosophers to contribute to experimental philosophy” (Joshua Knobe, Edouard Machery, Stephen Stich).

    The author they refer to is John Turri, who wrote “Experimental, Cross-Cultural, and Classical Indian Epistemology”, and whose abstract follows: “This paper connects recent findings from experimental epistemology to several major themes in classical Indian epistemology. First, current evidence supports a specific account of the ordinary knowledge concept in contemporary anglophone American culture. According to this account, known as abilism, knowledge is a true representation produced by cognitive ability. I present evidence that abilism closely approximates Nyāya epistemology’s theory of knowledge, especially that found in the Nyāya-sūtra. Second, Americans are more willing to attribute knowledge of positive facts than of negative facts, especially when such facts are inferred and even when the positive and negative “facts” are logically equivalent. Similar suspicions about knowledge of negative facts (absences) seemingly occur in classical Indian epistemology, suggesting that the asymmetry might not be an American quirk but instead reflect a cross-culturally robust tendency in knowledge attributions. Each of these themes—abilism and the positive/negative asymmetry—presents an exciting opportunity for further research in experimental cross-cultural epistemology.”

    This gives at least some sense of what the project is after. Perhaps we could get John Turri or Machery, Stich et al to write a short guest post explaining the way they conceive of history of philosophy working with x-phi.

    And to John Hoffman, I’m not sure about the time stamps, but I am actually in the future (compared to those in the US and Europe), since I live in Singapore!

  4. They should come to the East-West Center in Honolulu where we’ve been doing this sort of comparative and trans-cultural philosophy for several decades now with the East-West Philosophers Conference.

  5. Regarding the geography of philosophy, Dvaita vedanta have, through
    their luminary Sri Vadiraja Theertha published a detailed sanskrit work
    called Bhugola Varna. Bhugola is geography. In every verse there is
    a philosophical message

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