An Apology and Clarification

Anand Jayprakash Vaidya, Director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy at San Jose State University, California

Recently, two pieces of mine have come out in publication. First, an interview of me in 3AM Magazine by Richard Marshall called Hindu Syllogisms and Dark Necessities Go Fusion Here, and a book review of Jonardon Ganeri’s Attention, Not Self in the journal Mind. In both of those pieces I used the phrase “Cross-Cultural and Multi-Disciplinary Philosophy” to label both what I think the future direction of philosophy should be and what is important in that direction. This phrase in fact refers back to a piece I wrote on public philosophy called “Public Philosophy: Cross-Cultural and Multi-Disciplinary” which was published in the Journal of Comparative Philosophy.

It has come to my attention that I may have made some people working under the label “cross-cultural philosophy” feel excluded and feel that their work is less important than the kind of work I put under the label “cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary.” One reason a person might feel excluded is that the term “cross-cultural” is more inclusive than the term “cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary,” since the latter involves a conjunction, thus picking out a subset of “cross-cultural.”

So, let me begin with an apology. It was not my intention to exclude, and the fact that I did not intend to exclude does not mean that I did not exclude, and so I wish to apologize to all of those who felt excluded. I hope that you accept my apology and realize that this was something I said, and a phrase I used, because I failed to take into consideration the very thing that I am aiming for, greater inclusion of philosophical work. So, sorry.

            Now to the clarification. I agree with Jay Garfield when he says:

The goal of cross-cultural philosophy is not so much to juxtapose texts from distinct traditions to notice similarities and differences as it is to do philosophy, with lots of texts, lots of perspectives, and lots of hermeneutical traditions—to make the resources of diverse traditions and their scholars available to one another and to create new dialogues. (Garfield, Empty Words(OUP 2002) pp. viii)

Relatedly, I think that the most important next step for philosophy is to go cross-cultural in the sense defined by Garfield. I absolutely believe that work in cross-cultural philosophy that does not engage with non-philosophical disciplines is valuable and of current relevance and importance. In addition, I think collective agreement on the broad definition of “cross-cultural philosophy” mentioned above helps the cause by promoting solidarity. Whatever differences or preferences that people have after we reach that agreement should be discussed as coming as the step after the next step. When I spoke of the importance of “multi-disciplinary” work and mentioned work by Jonardon Ganeri and Evan Thompson, I forgot to mention that I was thinking and talking about philosophy of mind, an area in which I work and where I see that one should aim to engage cross-culturally and multi-disciplinarily, where the emphasis is on cognitive science and related disciplines. In this respect the work done by Ganeri and Thompson is fascinating and really ground breaking.

My combining of the phrases “cross-cultural” and “multi-disciplinary” comes from a reaction to the relationship between analytic philosophy and experimental philosophy. In speaking to the debate between these two camps I was forwarding the idea that cross-cultural philosophy is a corrective to the debate between these two groups. However, for those that are working, and have been working in comparative philosophy, and who are moving toward cross-cultural philosophy, I did not intend to say that work done in that area needs to engage scientific disciplines if that is not necessary or relevant to the work being done. Nor did I mean to say that it is not important.

In fact, the point could be made about all three areas. Experimental philosophers need not engage analytic philosophy if that is not necessary or relevant. And analytic philosophers need not engage experimental philosophy or non-western traditions if they are not necessary or relevant. However, what I don’t want anyone to do is read that as an open invitation to assume from the outset that they aren’t relevant. Rather, my hope is that others will see that if they look hard enough and try, they often are relevant. And sure, not everyone can be multi-disciplinary in every piece—I don’t even do that, but surely, we can acknowledge the reasons why we don’t, while at the same time agreeing that in some places multi-disciplinarity is relevant and necessary.

Most importantly, no matter what defense I have given here, I am sorry if I excluded you simply because you do cross-cultural work that isn’t multi-disciplinary.

4 thoughts on “An Apology and Clarification

  1. Thanks, Anand. Personally, I feel a little puzzled by philosophy that isn’t multi-disciplinary. Traditionally in the West, what we now think of as the sciences all were once part of philosophy. Even now, most other disciplines I’ve been affiliated with – religious studies, geography, sociology, political science – all describe themselves as inherently interdisciplinary. It puzzles me when philosophers don’t do the same.

  2. Hi Anand,

    I think you’re definitely right that in the interests of solidarity, we should err on the side of adopting a broad understanding of cross-cultural philosophy that encompasses various approaches, including the multi-disciplinary one. I’d also recommend Ethan Mills’ excellent essay, “From Comparative to Cross-Cultural Philosophy,” which argues along similar lines.

  3. Thanks Anand. It is true that in my recent book on the philosophy of attention in Buddhaghosa I drew extensively on empirical work about attention, and it hardly seems possible to discuss the philosophy of attention without doing so; so this book is multi-disciplinary as well as cross-cultural. But it seems to me that cross-cultural work about any topic in philosophy must draw at least on the methods and techniques of philology, history, linguistics, hermeneutics and similar disciplines, though not necessarily the empirical sciences. So I take the “and” in the controversial phrase to stand for implication rather than conjunction: “cross-cultural and therefore multi-disciplinary”.

    • Hi Jonardon,

      Yes what you say about ‘and’ is true. It can be read in both ways as conjunction and as implication/conjunction. In addition, there is both a narrow and broad reading of ‘multi-disciplinary’. If you read it in the broad sense, then clearly it does not refer only to the sciences. If you read it in the narrow sense, then it just depends on the disciplines you are aiming to pick out. It seems to me that these days it is hard to not be multi-disciplinary, since as you point out, and as I thought, there are many cases where one must to some degree rely on the work of other disciplines to accomplish what they are doing at a scholarly level.

      Nevertheless, because of my nature, I want to be sure that others do not feel excluded by my comments and that they realize that the battle I am signed on for, first and foremost, is a highly inclusive one that allows for people to do cross-cultural philosophy in a wide variety of ways. What I, and many of us, are fighting for is that more traditions be brought to the table. This is something you have done amazing work in pushing forward.

      Thanks!

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