Garfield and Van Norden in the NYT

. . . we ask those who sincerely believe that it does make sense to organize our discipline entirely around European and American figures and texts to pursue this agenda with honesty and openness. We therefore suggest that any department that regularly offers courses only on Western philosophy should rename itself “Department of European and American Philosophy.” This simple change would make the domain and mission of these departments clear, and would signal their true intellectual commitments to students and colleagues. We see no justification for resisting this minor rebranding (though we welcome opposing views in the comments section to this article), particularly for those who endorse, implicitly or explicitly, this Eurocentric orientation.


Article here.


About Matthew Dasti

Matthew R. Dasti is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Bridgewater State University.

14 Replies to “Garfield and Van Norden in the NYT”

  1. The comments to the article are sometimes even more interesting in that they reflect various attitudes towards philosophy and what is understood as such. I wonder whether they have thought of all implications when writing the article.

    • I agree. I wonder if they were expecting more of a sympathetic audience with the NYT readership, but to see how many people, likely self-described intellectuals, are so hostile to philosophy or unable to understand basic distinctions between philosophy and religion, is pretty disheartening.

      • Some of the comments are (so far) predictably depressing. I always find it odd that people feel the need to pontificate about “Eastern philosophy” after reading a couple texts (or in one comment, a Wikipedia entry). It would be like making pronouncements about “Western philosophy” after reading only Thales and Book X of Plato’s Republic. I don’t know if I’ll have the time or wherewithal to wade into the NYT comments section, but perhaps somebody ought to. Maybe Garfield and Van Norden will do so.

  2. I find this issue to be ever more important. And I think we should be proud of the fact that this blog is doing something about the issue. The comments are depressing. This past year as I have traveled around and talked to various philosophers I can honestly say the road is hard and there are lots of things to be depressed about. But thanks to this blog and everyone who contributes we are doing something. I am hoping that by linking these discussions with other blogs we will eventually get some key people to change their mind. Thanks for posting Matthew.

    • Thank you, Anand. Offering a forum for philosophical discussions about Indian philosophy is in fact the main purpose of this blog and even occasional readers, I find, will have a hard time explaining that what authors and readers are doing here is not “philosophical”.

  3. I have to confess that in some cases, I almost understood the point of view of some people commenting about what is philosophy. I believe it is more difficult to define this discipline than we might think. As a consequence, it is rather difficult to defend Garfield and Van Norden’s positions. On the other hand, I do agree also with comments about chairs for Gender Studies, which in my opinion should be taught across different faculties–i.e. gender studies courses in the department of history, philosophy, literature etc. It is true that Gender Studies chairs and departments have been set up due to political pressure, and they drain funding that could go to other disciplines which have a broader focus. Along this line of thought, one could then argue strongly for including Indian or Arabic philosophy chairs and courses in departments of philosophy and not in area studies. Long story short, Garfield and Van Norden miss the fundamental point: sadly, it is more a matter of power and distribution of resources, rather than an educational matter. What do you think? (I like to end a comment like Elisa ends her posts!)

  4. This is very much the case in departments I’ve seen. I earned a degree in philosophy and then went to Buddhism because in Buddhist Studies [in Bristol, UK at least] *philosophy* was highly valued, while in very few philosophy departments is Buddhism taken seriously.

    I’m slated to teach an ethics survey course for a local Catholic college and asked if I could include just one week on non-Western topics and was happily given the go-ahead (I’m planning to all-too-quickly skim Hindu, Buddhist, and either Daoist or Confucian ideas).

    One pretty good comment:

    Pat McGuire Washington, D.C. 22 hours ago
    In my early years as a college president, I asked the academic dean, an historian, why the English curriculum did not include literature beyond the standard texts of major British writers and a handful of American authors. “My dear,” she said, when I asked about adding readings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “that’s why we call it ENGLISH.” The venerable canon of the liberal arts is largely built upon the hegemony of western, European, and British writing, art, culture and perspectives. Many faculties, including ours at Trinity in Washington, have done great work over the years transforming courses and curricula to include many more voices and contributions from a remarkably broad range of cultures and traditions. These changes have strengthened and enriched the entire liberal arts curriculum, making it more open and accessible to a significantly more diverse generation of students. Let’s face facts: there’s a Muslim Mayor in London, signifying the fact that even those who revere All Things British need to catch up with the now-settled reality of great diversity in contemporary life. The canon of learning should reflect that, including Philosophy.

  5. FYI I’ve written two posts about this, coming out in the next couple weeks, so what I have to say about it is there. They are timed with Love of All Wisdom’s posting schedule, so one a week from Sunday and one two weeks from then, but they will be posted here as well as there.

  6. Thanks for posting this contribution, it is very smart and goes to the point immediately. Alas, the problem faced by philosophers dealing with non-Western philosophy is not unique, in fact it involves all areas of humanities dealing with non-Western cultures. If I look at the small field in which I am active, manuscript studies, I stumble upon this definition from the recent volume ‘Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies: An Introduction’:

    ‘Oriental’ in the COMSt perspective actually embraces
    all non-Occidental (non-Latin-based) manuscript cultures which have an immediate historical (‘genetic’) relationship with the Mediterranean codex area. This definition first excludes all East-Asian manuscript cultures, which are also ‘oriental’ in a broader sense but which do not share the relationship with the Mediterranean codex area.

    Again, we are banned even from the Orient. Why? I believe it’s simply a matter of resources and funding. Less competition is better to get funds, or am I wrong?

  7. You are certainly right, Camillo. The point is: Given that Indian studies are not backed up by the Indian government (unlike with Chinese studies), what can we realistically do to change the status quo?
    At least, I think, repeating in the relevant fora that it is intellectually dishonest to speak as if philosophy (philology, manuscript studies, literature…) stopped at Königsberg. What would you suggest?

    • Uhm, I believe we could do more. I was thinking about starting to map area studies departments in Western universities (again, whatever this means), and then make a census of the different chairs etc. in humanities and social sciences departments of Western universities. Cross-checking who is doing what, where the funds go, if and how there is communication between different departments, i.e. area studies and other department of humanities, could be a good start to underpin stronger claims about opening departments to non-Western traditions. In short, we need facts and numbers first, then we could devise a strategy.

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