Jonardon Ganeri has recently posted an online blueprint for an “Institute for Cosmopolitan Philosophy in a Culturally Polycentric World”. He suggests an institute with autonomy from the traditional academy’s disciplinary and area-studies boundaries, structured as a network spanning different cultural locations.
Ganeri is reflecting on what sort of institution would best encapsulate the ambitions and promise of the cross-cultural approach in philosophy, and is openly seeking discussion – whether privately (his email address is on the blueprint), or publicly in a blog forum like this one. We’re posting it here to spread the word, and would like to hear your thoughts.
Laudable and free thinking, this is. But the real problem is that these schematic distinctions, which then oh-so-obviously lead to the triumphant culmination in ‘cosmopolitan philosophy’, are not self-evident in their examples. Ok, anyone recognizing themselves as ‘imperial philosophers’ will close their eyes and move on. The trouble, as I see it, is that Jonardon connects what look to be ‘objective’ descriptions of different philosophical methods to normative, evaluative descriptions of the intellectual attitudes that are held to go with them. So, only the ‘cosmopolitan’ philosopher is the rare creature not subject to ‘oscillation between reverence and autonomy’, ‘free to criticise cultures’ even when being ‘immersed’ in them, who appeals to a ‘plurality of intellectual cultures’ to ‘avoid parochialism’. But why should anyone who works on texts and ideas across cultures and traditions, who might hitherto have thought of themselves as ‘comparative’, or even (if the terms had occured to them) ‘synthetic’ or ‘diasporic’, think other than that they have always already done what the ‘cosmopolitan’ alone is held to do? In other words, who is going to deliberately see their work as bound by ‘traditionalism’, somehow limited in a way that contrasts with the ‘cosmopolitan’? Or grant that they do not write critically of the texts with which they relate (again, something only the cosmopolitan is supposed to do?
Besides, nobody does exactly the same thing in the same way across their careers, and looking carefully at a classical text from its own commentarial perspective need not rule out other perspectives within the same book or in other publications. Difficult enough as the schematization is, to suggest that this is one about people rather than approaches is a rhetorical point too far.
So, I am unsure of the persuasiveness of the main point – that there is a need radically to reconceive all the current bases for doing philosophy, the implication that most non-imperial philosophers are locked in other/own distinctions, and that only a specific ‘cosmopolitan’ approach can do it. Also, I think this is a needlessly divisive way of structuring it (‘gosh, am I merely a comparativist? Would I be invited to this new institute, or am I locked in my own tradition’?), even if entirely unintended by Jonardon, that most open-minded, pluralistic and thoughtful of philosophers.
I’d much rather that the plea for such an institute be made, not on a schematic and contentious taxonomy, but on the special demands of polycentricity – on which there is nothing here. An Institute of Polycentric Philosophy would not only not tie Jonardon’s laudable goals to the contested and particularist rhetoric of cosmopolitanism in its various guises (much of it irrelevant to Jonardon’s description anyway), and not only not – even accidentally – tar a lot of people for lacking the virtues put solely under the category of the ‘cosmopolitan philosopher’. It would focus attention on the failures of current institutional categories to do justice to the reality of polycentricity, and bring people to pay attention to the already inescapable decentring of life today, and the need for a broad and inclusive approach to philosophy appropriate to that condition.
Thanks Ram. One point of clarification: I use the term “reverence” in the specific sense it is employed by K. C. Bhattacharya in his “Svaraj in ideas” – he speaks of a “reverence for traditional institutions through which customary sentiments are deepened into transparent ideals” (I’ll be giving a talk about this at the Tagore Centre for Global Thought in King’s College London in December). As his own work testifies, the term carries no implication of being “locked into a tradition”. My aim is to identify philosophical skills unappreciated in mainstream academic philosophy, of which the cosmopolitan skill of switching cultural attention is but one, on a par with several other important but unacknowledged kinds of philosophical skill. Just as binocular vision enables one to see aspects of one’s perceptual environment that are invisible in monocular sight, so plural encultured attention enables one to see aspects of the conceptual terrain that go unobserved otherwise. For just this reason I do indeed think that current practices of philosophical conduct need serious reform, and one way to appreciate what reforms are needed is by imagining institutions that embody them.
That makes sense, Jonardon, and indeed, I think the way you put it here could fruitfully be worked into your document? I would say that the view that ‘reverence for tradition’ is exactly to not be ‘locked into tradition’ is something I (of course) would endorse; might that then fruitfully complexify your taxonomy, and perhaps make clearer the way in which that taxonomy is possibly a pedagogic tool rather than, as it may appear to the reader as it stands, a description of actual groups of philosophers? Then, to take an example already given, we could see Frank Clooney in a way consistent with what you are asking us all to aspire to. The reader could then focus on the specifics of the approach (no matter its naming) you are asking for, which is surely the heart of the matter.
Specifically related to this, the notion of a ‘cosmopolitan skill’ seems to me to point to the core of what you are saying, without drawing in the other associations with cosmopolitanism that Matthew draws our attention to.
Next, Christian has expressed rightly the point that what we should all certainly be thinking of is the importance of philosophical skills ‘unappreciated’ in academic philosophy, as you say.
Finally, I suppose that will then enable a more general debate over the potency of imagining an alternative institution, as you suggest, versus the reworking of institutions suggested by others.
Thank you for getting so much discussion going, anyway! Matilal would have been happy with just this sort of opening up of views, as both of us well remember.
Thinking of philosophy in institutional terms has inevitable political consequences (institutions are hierarchical entities). It seems to me with this proposal, Jonardon is as much wading through the existing rhetoric about ‘encultured philosophical skill’ as he is advancing some of his own. As Ram-Prasad noted already, the ‘cosmopolitan’ philosopher does not dwell, free of any normative concerns, at the top of the taxonomical heap. The Lyceum is not Aristotle’s attempt to democratize Plato’s Academy, but an effort (and a brilliant one at that) to enforce endoxa. I don’t mean to suggest that this schematization tracks common views of what ‘synthetic,’ ‘autonomous’, ‘diasporic’ etc. philosophers are up to, but simply to show that there is antinomy in such oppositional taxonomy. Solving these antinomies does not place the ‘cosmopolitan’ philosopher outside the fray (where the hubris of the imperial philosopher’s smug ‘self-confidence’ and ‘other-blindness’ is shamefully exposed).
Cosmopolitanism is a legacy of a certain kind of institutionalized peace (Pax Hellenica, Pax Romana, and most recently of Pax Americana), and the cosmopolitan philosopher’s ability to ‘switch between cultural perspectives’ cannot ignore the terms of that peace. Under those terms, it’s precisely those ‘old philosophical institutions’ that provide the very cosmopolitan environment in which new ideas thrive, so their ‘failure to make progress’ might in effect result in a failure to keep the peace.
I am, however, in agreement with Jonardon that a vision for the future of philosophy should correct for various kinds of blindness and neglect with regard to what “heretics, outsiders, dissenters and those on the margins” have contributed so far. In that sense, I think it might work better if billed simply as a manifest for good practice in the profession rather than a blueprint for institution-building (which is how I read it in the first place).
Do I think we can do philosophy by committee (so to speak)? I don’t know. My sense is that philosophy doesn’t work that way, for what matters at the end of the day is how well we reflect on the pressing issues at hand, not how many issues should be reflected upon if philosophy is to remain relevant in a globalized world (I think the growth of siddhānta-s or philosophical summaries, reflects a similar trend in pre-modern India).
Science and culture are still the two most dominant forces in our society, but there is no secret that the majority of philosophers nowadays regard the first mostly as a source of insight and the latter mostly as a target for criticism. But even when one draws inspiration from the latter and is critical of the former, the aim, I take it, is still the truth rather than defending some ancient position for its own sake.
I agree with much of what Ram-Prasad has to say above although I want to speak in the main to one possible virtue of the proposal: the idea of an Institute outside the academy. There are a host of reasons I find this appealing, one of which has to do with criticisms of the current nature of professional philosophical practice insofar as it gives priority to “the problems of philosophers” and not the “problems of man” (used here in an anthropological sense). This criticism is more or less captured in the following observations from philosophers themselves:
“Individual understanding is…the primary aim of the activity thinking about life. Though you can indeed learn from those more experienced and wiser than yourself, you won’t count as learning at all if you can’t take on board what you hear from them. Understanding here is…manifest in what you can say only in the sense that your words are among your deeds. There must be some relationship between thinking well about life and living well, and the goal of the first is typically the second.
Here, then, is a parallel between thinking about life and thinking philosophically: the primary aim of each activity is individual understanding. [….] There is a sense in which a contemplative attitude is to be aimed at both in thinking about life and thinking philosophically, and a guiding principle of both activities is, or ought to be, to look to the bigger picture. [….] The relevance of philosophy to real life, and to the ancient philosophical question ‘How should I live?’, has more than one aspect; but…one way in which philosophy is relevant to life would seem to be that thinking well about life and thinking well philosophically require similar traits of mind and character. Philosophy is not just something done by professional philosophers: any remotely reflective person philosophizes from time to time. And it is good for a society or a culture if the habit of philosophizing is generally valued.”—Roger Teichmann in Nature, Reason, and the Good Life: Ethics for Human Beings (2011)
“’There is no time for playing around,’ says Seneca, attacking philosophers who devote their careers to logical puzzles. ‘…You have promised to bring help to the shipwrecked, the imprisoned, the sick, the needy, to those whose heads are under the poised axe. Where are you deflecting your attention? What are you doing?”—Seneca (Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, 48.8) quoted in Martha Nussbaum’s Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (1994)
“Philosophy recovers itself when it ceases to be a device for dealing with the problems of philosophers and becomes a method, cultivated by philosophers, for dealing with the problems of men.”—John Dewey (1917)
“… [Plato] speaks of a descending as well as an ascending dialectic and he speaks of a return to the cave.”—Iris Murdoch, “The Sovereignty of Good Over Other Concepts” (1967)
“… [It is no accident] that more and more philosophers are now being drawn into debates about environmental policy or medical ethics, judicial practice or nuclear politics. Some of them contribute to those debates happily: others look back at 300 years of professional tradition, and ask whether oral, particular, local, and timely issues are really their concern. They fear that engaging in ‘applied’ philosophy may prostitute their talents, and distract them from the technical questions of academic philosophy proper. Yet, one might argue, these practical debates are, by now, not ‘applied’ philosophy but philosophy itself. More precisely they are now (as Wittgenstein put it) the ‘legitimate heirs’ of the purely theoretical enterprise that used to be called philosophy; and, by pursuing them, we break down the 300-year old barriers between ‘practice’ and ‘theory’ and reenter the technical core of philosophy from a fresh and more productive direction.”—Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (1990)
“What, however, about philosophy? Here the subject-matter is the maps or structures by which thought works, and—as would probably be agreed today—thought is not something separate from life. Yet, from the first beginnings among the Greeks, there have always been some parts of philosophy which were fiercely technical. Is it possible both to handle these properly and do justice to the full richness of the questions as they arise in the life around us? Can anyone speak both as a fully instructed professional and as a whole human being? [….] For a long time, the English-speaking philosophical tradition mostly nailed its colours defiantly to the post of wholeness and life. Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Mill all emphatically meant their writings to be widely read and to affect people’s lives. Even Bertrand Russell still often did so. But William James and John Dewey were among the last influential figures to follow this track whole-heartedly. In the twentieth-century, philosophy has largely gone with the rest of the academic world in accepting thorough specialization.”—Mary Midgley, Utopias, Dolphins and Computers (1996)
“A good many academic philosophers, for much of our own century, have strenuously resisted the idea that philosophy can help us with how to live. And while others, particularly in more recent times, have addressed questions about happiness and well-being, for the most part they have shrunk from offering more direct guidance on these matters to their fellow citizens. This generalization, like most, is subject to notable exceptions, but it remains true that the bulk of work on philosophical ethics is now addressed to those within the specialist confines of the academy. As far as the educated public is concerned, philosophy may, in the growing field of applied ethics, be perceived as making an increasingly important contribution on matters of public policy (problems concerned with such issues as the distribution of resources, the justification of punishment, the morality of abortion, and so forth); but few probably now expect much help from philosophers in the task of trying to live fulfilled lives. If they are miserable, or find their lives in a mess, they much more likely to turn to psychotherapy than to philosophy for guidance. [….] The aspiration of philosophical reason to lay down a blueprint for how we should live tends to run aground when trying to deal with that side of our human nature which is largely opaque to the deliverances of reason—that affective side which has to do with the origins and operation of the emotions or passions. It is here that the contributions of psychoanalytic theory play a vital role. Though largely ignored by most specialists in moral philosophy, the concept of the unconscious turns out to have profound implications for the traditional task of ethics to seek out the conditions for human fulfillment.—John Cottingham, Philosophy and the Good Life (1998)
In other words, perhaps an Institute of this sort can make wider and deeper connections to the general public (the sum total of myriad publics in civil society) and be used to encourage and facilitate philosophical reflection that is relevant to both the enduring (e.g., of the existential sort) and urgent problems of humanity. This may be especially necessary to the extent we’re convinced of the deleterious direct and indirect effects of the “corporatization of the university” and the perverse incentives associated with careerism in the academy noted by Left critics like Russell Jacoby (‘The Last Intellectuals’).
And perhaps a beneficial and not unrelated by-product of such an Institute would be the normative clarification and exemplary practice of a non-agonstic conception of philosophical argumentation and debate, one not currently conspicuous in the academy (this could be explicitly linked to our ‘polycentric’*conception of philosophy*). Philosophical disputations between philosophers and schools can remain vigorous and in some sense “heated” while nonetheless abandoning the notion that the outcome is tied to “winners” and “losers,” thereby demonstrating our commitment to the proposition that the search for truth is at once individual and collective. In short, philosophical debate need not and should not be combative and thus hominem in the fallacious sense. So-called regulative epistemology might be of service here insofar as it elaborates what are called intellectual virtues: love of knowledge, courage, humility, autonomy, practical wisdom, and so forth (of course these cannot be institutionally ‘willed’ into existence, but we might create the sort of institution that is a propitious or conducive environment for their emergence). This is not a problem unique to Western philosophy: consider for instance the monastic style of debate in Tibetan Buddhism, which can be rather (to put it feebly) aggressive. In short, philosophical arguments and debates should not resemble the adversary legal (or ‘courtroom’ model for the discovery of truth(s). If I understand it correctly, debate in Indian philosophy appears to have begun along the lines of a conversation between friends but over time not infrequently degenerated into quarrelsome forms that relied on tricks and clever devices designed to confound and defeat one’s opponents, individuals no longer viewed as equal partners engaged in the pursuit of truth (cf. the two types of debate found in the Meno). Even the intellectually combative Cārvāka appreciated that form of debate Socrates said took place between “friendly people,” referring to such debate as sandhāya sambhāsā, “debate among fellow scholars who are friends” (B.K. Matilal), by way of contrast to debate conducted in “the spirit of opposition and hostility.” A fourfold classification of forms of debate by a Nyāya philosopher, finds two forms characteristic of “seekers after truth,” and the other two forms employed by “proud people” who merely intend to defeat others, and thus “tricky devices” are permissible in the latter two forms. I would go so far as to say that Jain epistemology and philosophy more widely (anekāntavāda, syādvāda, and nayavāda), to the extent that it models the need for a polycentric philosophy, rules out the notion of an agonistic or combative mode of philosophizing wherein one imagines the goal is merely to refute or defeat the arguments of one’s opponents (this might reflect ‘para-propositional’ truths and values). “Standpoint” epistemology and perspectival rationalism stress the relative truths of all genuine philosophical arguments at least insofar as they are all beholden to sundry presuppositions (the hidden parameters of belief and assertion) that preclude our absolutizing their truths and encourage us to appreciate respective degrees of partial or relative truths.
* Cf., for example, the following from Hector-Neri Castañeda’s essay, “Philosophy as a Science and as a Worldview” (in Avner Cohen and Marcelo Dascal, eds., The Institution of Philosophy: A Discipline in Crisis?, 1989):
“The interdisciplinary connections of philosophy, the broader view of ordinary language [in comparison to ‘the monolithic days of lexicalist ordinary language philosophy’], the richer view of experience fomented by existentialism and Wittgenstein, the re-discovery of the immense treasures of the history of philosophy, have all connived to break the conventional barriers among problems—let alone philosophical problems. They have also conferred on the current practitioners of philosophy a hitherto unbeknownst freedom to apply to each problem whatever tools we deem appropriate. Thus, in current philosophizing there is a boundless methodological pluralism.
[….] All topics are available; all its applications are legitimate; all methods are feasible; all interdisciplinary connections are accessible. [….] Moreover, contemporary philosophers have never had so many opportunities for a superior training as they have today. [….]
…[I]n the practice of philosophy there are two major tendencies, each correct—up to the point where the other tendency is not joined but shunned. One is the forest approach, the tendency to see very general structural lines of the world or of experience. The other, the bush approach, is the tendency to dwell upon small aspects of experience. Each approach can be, and has been, exercised in varying degrees. This is not bad. What is bad is the policy of merely exercising the extreme degrees. [….] Fruitful philosophical experiences are combinations of the two approaches: taking a full attentive look at the forests of the structures of experience and seeing their measure and reach in their realizations in the particular trees and bushes of experience: the pervasive general in the particular; the abstract structures within the concrete empirical. We want to understand the very large structures of experience, but we must understand them in their concrete settings in human life in its full social niche within the world at large—with occasional considered guesses at what things might be outside the human situation.
Some philosophers do not see the large picture of the theories or approaches within which they attempt to shed light on some small pieces of philosophical topics. This happens not infrequently in some exercises of so-called analytic philosophy: refined little lamps are set to cast the most intense lights on the smallest aspects of human experience. Sometimes the light is lost on the empty spaces surround the miniscule points under consideration. No wonder, then, that even many of those philosophers working within a school, or approach, whose scope and organization they see fully, may yet fail to appreciate the contributions by philosophers in other schools. Some fail to see the richness and complexity of human experience, yet, more importantly, some fail to see that the world is capable of being different in different contexts or perspectives [a point made rather systematically and emphatically in Jain epistemology]. Often the presupposition is straightforward: there is one world and an indivisible unity of man and world, hence, they assume, there is just one theory of the structure of man and world [thus imbibing the more intoxicating parts of both scientism and crude realism]. This…gives us the polemical approximation unity of the philosophical profession.
Here I wish neither to defend nor to attack this assumed view of philosophical truth. I submit instead a first-order philosophical pluralism: to understand human nature we need all the theories, all the models we can invent. I am not proposing a relativistic Protagorean metaphysics. I am recommending, first, a methodological theoretical pluralism. [….]
Perhaps human-world reality is not a monolith, but a many-sided perspectival structure. Perhaps the greater understanding will be achieved by being able to see human reality now one way and now another way. Thus, we need ALL philosophical points of views to be developed, and ‘developed’ is meant in earnest: the more it illustrates the harmonious unison of the encompassing Forest Approach and the riches of the Bush Approach. Hence, all philosophers are part of one team collectively representing the totality of philosophical wisdom, and individually working the details a point of view: we are ALL parts of the same human project. Looking at things this way, we realize that we need not polemicize against the most fashionable views hoping to supplant them with our own view. [emphasis added] Instead, with a clear conscience, we may urge the defenders of those views to extend them, to consider further data to make them more and more comprehensive, pursuing the goal of maximal elucidation of the structure of experience and the world. At the same time we urge other philosophers to develop equally comprehensive views that are deliberately built as alternatives. The aim is to have ALL the possible most comprehensive master theories of world and experience.
To be sure, we cannot foretell that such a plurality of view as envisaged is ultimately feasible. But neither can we prove that in the end there must be just one total view, bound to overwhelm all others. If many master views are feasible, then the greatest philosophical illumination will consist alternatively to see reality through ALL those master views. It would be still true that the greatest philosophical light comes, so to speak, from the striking of theories against each other, but not in the destruction of one theory in the striking process, but rather in the complementary alternation among them. Each master theory would be like a pair of colored glasses with different patterns of magnification so that the same mosaic of reality can appear differently arranged [this calls to mind my youthful experimentation with psychedelics!]. Here Wittgenstein’s reflections on the duck-rabbit design are relevant. The different theories of the world give us different views, the rabbit, the duck, the deer, the tiger, and so on, all embedded in the design of reality. The analogy is lame on one crucial point: the master theories of the world and experience must be forged piecemeal: with an eye on the Bush Approach, patiently exegesizing the linguistic and phenomenological data, and with another eye on the Forest Approach, building the theoretical planks (axioms, principles, theses, rules) carefully and rigorously.” [….]
Among the consequences of “pluralistic meta-philosophy” noted by Castañeda is a “later stage in the development of philosophy” in which we will be rendered fit to engage in a “comparative study of master theories of the world and experience,” or what he terms “dia-philosophy.” In other words, our master theories of philosophical structures will be sufficiently rich and comprehensive for us to be able to articulate holistic and dia-philosophical critique: “compar[ing] two equally comprehensive theories catering to exactly the same rich collection of data, and, second, assess[ing] the compared theories in terms of their diverse illumination of the data.”
“The natural adversary attitude” will take the form of “criticisms across systems or theories,” but “not as refutations or strong objections, but as contributions of new data as formulations of hurdles for steady development.”
I sympathize much with Jonardon’s vision of what the good fruits of this visionary undertaking would be. For the sake of delving deeper into his vision, I’d like to share some prima-facie concerns. Some of these were already expressed by Christian and (especially) Ram above.
I wonder if Jonardon could find a way to advance the results of vision without relying on such a heavily theoretical notion of cosmopolitanism that has the drawbacks of (i) alienating allies who are denigrated as “mere” comparativists, etc., (ii) running the risk of perpetuating the pattern seen throughout history where a new synthetic or universal approach to x ends up simply becoming one more specific tradition of x, despite the founder’s intentions. Finally, (iii), it only seems to create possible distractions if one has to defend such a taxonomy when the goals of this vision seem like they can be well motivated without it.
I also think that regarding the theoretical taxonomy, there is something to be said for the depth of work by someone who self-identifies as a member of a tradition, yet has the tools and self-awareness to realize the limitations and strengths of such identification. Francis Clooney is one of the people in our field who is quite literally a member of a tradition with both theoretical and practical allegiances, and yet could anyone doubt his contributions to Indology and Indian philosophy? (Jonardon himself notes Clooney’s importance in a footnote in his recent *Lost Age of Reason*). Clooney’s attitude is that his deep, self-aware, and self-critical membership in a tradition is the basis of deep engagement with other traditions. I think that his Catholicism probably helps him understand certain elements of Vaishnava praxis and theology better than one without that personal tie to tradition. (Indeed, the same could be said of another brilliant Ganeri in our field!)
Finally, there is one practical question: Should we run such an academy, where would our academically-oriented students go when they are done? To the degree that we will train specialists, are they to be hired by contemporary academic departments? If so, then in some way, we won’t be that different from them, will we?
Thanks Matthew. In appealing to the notion of cosmopolitanism, I don’t mean that cosmopolitan universalism which is the legacy of Kant so problematically entangled with the emergence of European modernity, but rather a notion more akin to what Mignolo describes as “decolonial cosmopolitan localism” (Walter Mignolo, “Cosmopolitan localism: A decolonial shifting of the Kantian legacy,” Localities 1 (2011): 11–45). Given the notion’s tremendous power, I’m reluctant to allow its semantic range to be determined by the history of its use in Europe.
Frank and I recently discussed the concept of philosophy by email. Let me reproduce here the working definition I eventually suggested to him:
“What makes a practice philosophical is the use of distinctive human capacities to find orientation in the space of reasons (that is to say, to move from perplexity/confusion/saṃśaya to clarity/nirṇāya), and that orientation can come either in the form of a reasons compass, which enables the activity of going step by step engaging one’s powers of deductive manoeuvring, or else in the form of a concept map, which engages the imagination and enables one to make a survey of the terrain. Seeing interrelatedness is as creative a philosophical act as drawing consequences. (Perhaps one can say that it is a matter of evidence and what is evident).”
Thanks for your further thoughts, Jonardon, and for initiating this important samvada. Thanks also for participating in the blog.
Many thanks to everyone here for extremely helpful feedback. Version 2.0 of the Blueprint is now online.
Jonardon, truly touched (and of course impressed) by how you have preserved your vision while meaningfully responding to the comments made in this blog.
I don’t think I am being presumptuous in thinking that the participants and readers on this blog will be wishing you the best in your pursuit of any institutional realisation of this idea. I for one endorse it.
Agreed on your thoughts, Ram, and if there’s anything we can do to continue to help in some way, Jonardon, please let us know.
I was very happy to read this for two reasons:
1. I’ve read Ganeri’s work closely for a number of years (as well as Ramprasad’s and a few others on this great blog) and I felt he needed to reflect theoretically on his own “cosmopolitan work”
2. More selfishly, I have thought many of these thoughts for many years and written about them, and until recently felt rather isolated in doing so.
I started out in my career arguing for and doing the sort of philosophy – even if poorly, imperfectly, sloppily, etc. – that Ganeri calls “assimilative.” But I think I found that to move ahead in the profession, at least in the USA, one must do the sort of philosophy Ganeri calls “imperious” – completely focused on one tradition, blind to others. While the American academy gives lip service to inter-disciplinary studies, most feel that it is fraudulent, if not impossible, to become competent enough in more than one philosophical tradition so as to even do comparative philosophy well, what to speak of cosmopolitan or assimilative philosophy. I think this is an important question: “Is the cosmopolitan philosophers a jack of all trades, master of none?”
One must also consider, and Ganeri doesn’t, the practical time constraints that scholars have. I’ve tried a number of times to interest “Western philosophers” in Indian though (“did you know x Indian philosopher also dealt with y concept in z way?”) and most are willing to discuss, but say they are far too busy keeping up with the literature in their own area to pick a book outside of it. These are not just lazy philosophers at weak schools, but sometimes it is those at the best schools – with the greatest demands in publishing – that express this the most forcefully.
Nevertheless, I like the idea of cosmopolitan philosophy (and theology for that matter), and would surely, humbly, try to join that sarva-loka-nagara-samvad.
Thanks Jonathan; much appreciated. Surprisingly many people have contacted me with your point 2. – it’s very good that there are now forums like this blog and Amod’s excellent Love of All Wisdom (http://loveofallwisdom.com) where the scholarly community can meet and share insights.
I’m beginning with the assumption that institutions shape intellectual identities, not least through structures of reward. Current institutions reward deep specialisation on a particular topic (tenure, promotion, etc). My idea is to turn things round, and begin by asking which sorts of intellectual identity we want to value, and then to think about how to design institutions that enable and support them. So I think that expertise is preferable to specialisation, an expert being someone who not merely knows the details but also the point and purpose of the concepts, their place within a bigger picture. Knowing about Buddhism, to give a simple example, is essential if one wants to understand Hinduism: knowing Buddhism just is what expertise in Hinduism in part consist in; and vice versa.
In current institutions expertise is, you are absolutely right, a more time-costly skill to acquire than specialisation. That’s not surprising if what I have said about the structural arrangement of those institutions is correct – they aren’t designed to facilitate the acquisition of these kinds of skills. This is why I have formulated my Blueprint-cum-manifesto as a proposal about institutions rather than as a methodological claim. We need institutions in which the acquisition of cross-cultural and cosmopolitan skills is not as costly, in terms of time and effort, as it is at present.
To put the point another way: Each of the cross-cultural skills I mention in the Blueprint is sui generis. What we are told is that such skills are reducible to pairs or multiples of specialisations. Then, of course, the cost of acquiring one comes to seem excessive. We should resist this reduction claim, however. Cross-cultural skills are hard to acquire but no harder than other intellectual skills, provided that the right support mechanisms are available.
I am sorry for the provocative question and also for stepping in the discussion so late (I was abroad for a conference). I deeply appreciate Jonardon’s effort and would volunteer to help the Institute in any possible way. However, I cannot but resist the Marxist-oid approach that structures create intellectual sovrastructures. I am not sure that a suitable institutional environment would automatically yield the desired outputs. As already hinted at, personally I am more inclined to think that we need to win people’s minds and hearts.
Thanks indeed Elisa. So here’s an example. I have been working for quite some time on K.C. Bhattacharya and his use of the notion of reverence as a technique in anti-colonial resistance, managing to remain oblivious all the while to Kwasi Wiredu’s sophisticated analysis of conceptual decolonisation. Pathways in the infrastructure of knowledge that ought to be broad and brightly lit avenues are instead half-concealed back-alleys. In the absence of the bridge that ought to exist between these two important anti-colonial thinkers, one has to spend great time and effort in search of a detour.
Version 3.0 of the Blueprint-dash-manifesto is now up, and let me take this chance to thank especially Chike Jeffers, Yang Xiao, Victoria Lysenko, Evan Thompson, Nicholas Taylor, Nidhi Srinivas, Prasanta Bandyopadhyay, Monika Kirloskar-Steinbach and Matt Mackenzie, as well as everyone here.
Touchée. I also do not know Kwasi Wiredu (but will check now what I can find of him in my library), although I would have said that this depended on my lazyness to look beyond the confort zone of Indian and Western philosophy. Look forward to enroll in your institute:-)
Thanks, Jonardon, for your replies. I basically agree with you that it is the institutional structures that preclude a lot of the work you are envisioning. In more well established traditions, like Christian theology and Western philosophy, the larger, more wealthy institutions do seem to branch out, supporting trans-dicplinary thinking, but they often focus on the Western traditions.
A practical step forward might be the generation of a center associated with a university, or work with an existing center that is aligned with your goals. Probably you’ve already thought of that.
I’ve worked with, received money from, and plan to work further with the John Templeton Foundation and the Henry Luce Foundation, both of which are willing to give grants that support scholars cultivating the sorts of skills of which you spoke.
Like Eisa, I’m happy to help in anyway.
Having reread the newest version, let me agree with those who’ve mentioned that it is deeply gratifying to see how deftly you have integrated the spirit of some of the comments here into the blueprint. And as a fan of John Henry Newman who thinks that he (like Simone Weil and some other liminal figures) isn’t included as much as he should be on the rolls of philosophers proper, it was a very pleasant surprise to see him too.