Philosophy is predominantly white and predominantly male. This homogeneity exists in almost all aspects and at all levels of the discipline. The philosophical canon, especially in so-called “analytic” departments, consists almost exclusively of dead, white men. The majority of living philosophers—i.e., professors, graduate students, and undergraduate majors—are also white men. And the topics deemed important by the discipline almost always ignore race, ethnicity, and gender. Philosophy, it is often claimed, deals with universal truths and timeless questions. It follows, allegedly, that these matters by their very nature do not include the unique and idiosyncratic perspectives of women, minorities, or “people of culture.”

Astoundingly, many professional philosophers are perplexed as to why there aren’t more women and minorities in philosophy. While there may be no single reason why philosophy is so lacking in diversity, the fact that it is lacking is blatantly clear when we compare philosophy to other humanistic disciplines (and even to many STEM fields). One important step towards solving philosophy’s diversity problem is to figure out why so few women and minorities stick with philosophy for the long haul. My own experiences as a graduate student, while not necessarily representative, may shed some light on the matter. (Further discussion on this topic by professional philosophers can be found here and here.)

I used to be a philosophy PhD student at a well-respected department in the Midwest. After six and a half years of graduate study, I withdrew from my program and left academia altogether. Why? The dismal academic job market certainly had something to do with my decision. But, more importantly, as a person of color, I found myself increasingly uncomfortable in my department and within the discipline at large. Granted, a PhD program in any discipline will involve a certain amount of indoctrination, but the particular demands of philosophy were, in my view, beyond unreasonable.

As I discovered over the course of my graduate career, in order to be taken seriously in the discipline, and to have any hope of landing a tenure-track job, one must write a dissertation in one of the “core areas” of philosophy. What are these core areas? Philosophers quibble about how exactly to slice up the philosophical pie, but generally the divisions look something like this:

  • Metaphysics & Epistemology
  • Logic & Philosophy of Language
  • Philosophy of Mind
  • Value Theory
  • History

Such is the menu of choices available to the philosopher-in-training today. (See, for example, the PhD requirements at these prominent philosophy departments: Penn, Berkeley, and Duke.) On the surface, this might look like a wide range of options. But appearances are deceiving. For instance, the subfield of philosophy of mind does not typically engage at all with Indian, East Asian, African, or Native American ideas about the nature of mind. It’s as if non-Western thinkers had nothing to say about the matter. Similarly, those who work in the history of philosophy work almost exclusively on the history of Western philosophy—e.g., Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Russell, Wittgenstein, etc.

Why don’t Anglo-American philosophers engage with non-Western philosophical traditions? In my experience, professional philosophers today often perceive non-Western thinkers as inferior. Of course, few would say this explicitly. Rather, philosophers often point to non-Western philosophy’s unusual and unfamiliar methodology as the primary reason for the disconnect. Or, as a prominent member of my department once explained to me, philosophers literally can’t understand non-Western philosophy because they can’t read it: “Philosophers trained in English-speaking countries can’t read ancient Chinese or Hindi or some obscure African language, and given the existing demands on our time, it’s unreasonable for us to have to learn those languages.” (Somehow, though, it is perfectly reasonable for philosophers to spend years studying ancient Greek, or German, or French.)

The excuses for excluding non-Western thinkers from the philosophical canon are sometimes more obviously derogatory. For instance, philosophers often claim that non-Western thought lacks “rigor” and “precision,” essential characteristics of serious philosophy. As a result, many philosophers simply dismiss non-Western intellectual culture as (mere) religion, speculative thought, or literature.

As an Asian American, and as someone who grew up under the partial influence of Buddhist and Confucian culture/thought, I find this dismissive attitude towards “the East” to be personally and deeply offensive. At best, Anglo-American philosophers seem to regard most non-Western philosophy as a cute side hobby, but certainly not something deserving of serious attention. As one of my dissertation advisors told me, “Asian philosophy can be one of your several Areas of Competence (AOC), but not your Area of Specialization (AOS).” To be fair, this advice was given in response to the existing realities of the discipline and the prospects for an academic job. Considered in that light, this was not bad advice, but is problematic nonetheless because it simply accepts and even perpetuates the status quo. And what is the status quo? A quick glance at the course offerings of any top philosophy department (examples here, here, and here) reveals unambiguously where their priorities lie—most departments provide nothing by way of non-Western philosophy, and the ones that do will usually offer one or two introductory classes taught by visiting lecturers or affiliated faculty in other departments. The record of recent tenure-track hires by philosophy departments also confirms this overwhelming bias towards philosophers who specialize in the “core areas” of the Western philosophical tradition.

So, fairly early in my career as a PhD student I learned that certain ways of doing philosophy are acceptable, while others are not. Likewise, certain topics count as legitimate philosophy, and others do not. These disciplinary boundaries, by and large, are not up for debate. Any graduate student who ignores these basic facts about the discipline runs the risk of professional ostracism and, ultimately, failure. (Kristie Dotson’s paper on philosophy’s “culture of justification,” published in Comparative Philosophy, provides an excellent analysis of how the profession privileges certain approaches to philosophy over others. A similar analysis is offered by Yoko Arisaka, an assistant professor at the University of San Francisco, who writes about the lack of Asians and Asian women in academic philosophy.)

The current state of affairs in academic philosophy is, from an historical perspective, extremely curious. Most humanistic disciplines have gone through (a sometimes painful) process of self-evaluation and reconstruction. History and literature departments, for instance, were once primarily focused on the work, thought, and writings of white, Western European men. But throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, women, minorities, and other traditionally marginalized people have been increasingly incorporated into these fields, both as subjects and as practitioners, as explored in David Hollinger’s book The Humanities and the Dynamics of Inclusion since World War II.

Somehow philosophy got left behind. Walk around most philosophy departments today, and you’ll likely see just a sprinkling of women and minorities, with the vast majority of students and faculty being white men. This imbalance is also painfully evident in philosophical publications, citations, and overall disciplinary influence. Among the 266 most cited contemporary philosophers in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 10% are women and 3% are minorities. In order for things to change, philosophers need to see that there is a need for change. I worry that this is not happening.

In my own department, I tried to stimulate discussion about what could be done to increase diversity. The faculty and my fellow graduate students were, to their credit, perfectly happy to have more women and minorities in the department. In fact, many spoke openly about their desire to see a more diverse department. This desire, however, seemed to be a desire mostly for a cosmetic change in the look of the department. When it came to making changes that might bring about a much deeper sense of diversity—i.e., changes in the culture and intellectual environment—there was less accommodation. In attempts to open up a discussion about diversity, I found myself repeatedly confounded by ignorance and, at times, thinly veiled racism. To various faculty, I suggested the possibility of hiring someone who, say, specializes in Chinese philosophy or feminist philosophy or the philosophy of race. I complained about the Eurocentric nature of undergraduate and graduate curricula. Without exception, my comments and suggestions were met with the same rationalizations for why philosophy is the way it is and why it should remain that way. To paraphrase one member of my department, “This is the intellectual tradition we work in. Take it or leave it.”

The pressure to accept and conform to a narrow conception of philosophy was pervasive. When I tried to introduce non-Western and other non-canonical philosophy into my dissertation, a professor in my department suggested that I transfer to the Religious Studies Department or some other department where “ethnic studies” would be more welcome. When I considered exploring issues of race in my dissertation, my advisor remarked that she had always thought of Asian Americans as “basically white,” so she was genuinely surprised that I would have any desire to pursue such topics.

Underlying these remarks are highly problematic assumptions about who “we” are and what historical figures and texts comprise “our” intellectual heritage. This is certainly a complicated and contested set of issues. For the purposes of this discussion, I’ve vastly oversimplified matters with my naïve talk of West vs. East, and my use of broad categories like Asian philosophy and analytic philosophy. But one thing is absolutely clear and indisputable: “We” are no longer mostly white men of European descent. (In fact, it’s doubtful “we” were ever this.) At colleges and universities across the country, women and minorities are now frequently in the majority. While much of the rest of the academy has evolved to reflect these demographic changes, philosophy remains mired in a narrow conception of the discipline that threatens to marginalize philosophy even further.

So why did I choose to leave philosophy, instead of staying and advocating for change from within? It was certainly not an easy decision, but, by the end, my departure felt like an inevitability. I loved studying philosophy, and truly have no regrets about devoting nearly a decade of my life to it. But I also grew tired and frustrated with the profession’s unwillingness to interrogate itself. Eventually, I gave up hope that the discipline would ever change, or that it would change substantially within a timeframe that was useful to me professionally and personally. (Since I left graduate school, at least two philosophy departments—Rutgers and Georgia State—have implemented policies to improve the academic climate for women and minorities. Whether these policies will be effective, and whether similar policies will be adopted more broadly, remains to be seen.)

The lack of women and minorities in philosophy may be an anomaly in the academy, especially among the humanities, but it is not an accident. Philosophers have made, and continue to make, decisions that impact the demographics of the discipline. Until they acknowledge their own complicity in the problem, philosophers will continue to scratch their heads about the lack of diversity in their field. It’s not that women and minorities are (inexplicably) less interested in the “problems of philosophy”—it’s that women and minorities have not had their fair say in defining what the problems of philosophy are, or what counts as philosophy in the first place.

Further Reading:

Image credit: Sigfrid Lundberg via flickr

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  • Pat Churchland

    Well done. Your observations resonate with me and also sadden me. When I was chair of the department of philosophy at UCSD I tried very hard to convince my colleagues to hire an asian philosopher. I got absolutely nowhere with the vast majority of my colleagues. They had no clue, and did not want to learn even a small clue. When I visited Taiwan, for example, I found philosophers who were super talented and had so much to bring to a western department. Alas, many philosophers (but certainly not all) in the western tradition are oddly narrow in their intellectual vision.

    • Christopher Bartlett

      So you had an idea and affinity for eastern philosoph7 and you gave up as well, AS the CHAIR at UCSD. Sounds a little lazy. I would love to see an honest fight,

      • Christopher Bartlett

        as a side note am NOT a philosopher, just a man that likes to promote strength and discussion, a man that want to see the best man win and then consolidate each sides points and victories for the next one. like a boxer who wont give a man the shot at the belt. Boring.

        • You admit you are not a philosopher so I forgive you. However, your analogy is weak (but I guess you would only know that if you were a philosopher). Philosophy isn’t a boxing match and the point isn’t to just outscore someone. There is no belt, and after a particular methodology has been sufficiently torn apart it is cast aside. It doesn’t get another “shot at the belt”. Would you promote a healthy discussion as to the flatness of the earth or the geo-centrism of the solar system? Do you see why most would simply laugh off the suggestion? In western philosophy, there is a distinct methodology of succinct logical steps. I have yet to encounter such a thing in eastern philosophy, which is why I call eastern philosophy “mysticism” instead of philosophy. I suspect this is also the reason why most don’t even consider the topic.

          • Christopher Bartlett

            Yes but these Arguments/battles do take place, the argument is cast aside. Mysticism in western philosophy is growing, Yoga, self realization, alternative medicine, etc. Also in the realm of science there are strange things with metaphysics, the slit experiment, the God particle, things that in my eyes tend to blur the line between science and religion. I just think that we should blur the line between philosophy and mysticism to have a greater truth that isn’t regimented, because regimentation is stagnation. I would have a healthy discussion geo-centism, I am glad you brought that up really, because you remember at the time you couldnt talk about it or you would be killed by a regimented Church that allowed no discussion. So you are now the flat earth society in a way.

          • Yea, new age hippies keep writing books…which has absolutely zero bearing on truth. If alternative medicine could consistently reproduce beneficial results, it wouldn’t be alternative medicine, it would just be medicine. It sounds like you are confusing “things we don’t understand yet” with “mysticism is true”. There was a time when we didn’t understand lightning, and we though it was Zeus hurling lightning bolts. That would a mystical tradition being dead wrong. I have no indication that they have ever been right, and the realm of the spiritual and mystical has been ever decreasing as science has explained away almost all its phenomena. This is the god of the gaps fallacy that you fallen for. I am NOT a flat earther for not taking mysticism seriously. They are the flat earthers that have been proven wronger and wronger as the years have marched on. When one of them comes forward with something logical to discuss, I am game. Also, look up what metaphysics is, and then tell me how it isn’t just physics or isn’t just pseudoscience. Kant pretty much nailed the coffin closed on metaphysics. Before you discuss it, you should look to see what he had to say on the topic.

          • somelady

            Also not a philosopher but still wonder…
            Philosophy is beholden to, if it hasn’t pronounced scientific method, inadequate to it’s field. So isn’t it attempting to proclaim truths and ethics, without a “reality” to apply them to and have them spring from? Science needs more than an eternity to provide a scientific cosmology, doesn’t it? Or is cosmology not foundational to philosophy?
            Aren’t philosophers, therefore, relying on mystifying reason and logic… If they’re foundational to philosopy, then it can’t do its job of trying to be wise, because following its own guides, we can’t know til science knows and we all know what it does. The most it can aspire to is teaching others how to con others within it’s own tradition, which is mystical reverence for its methods. That’s what I get. But I dropped out of highschool 20 years ago. Bloody academics!

          • Roger

            “.. ..the slit experiment, the God particle” are blurring the line between science and religion, in your opinion? Christ on a bike. I gather physics was not your strong suit at secondary school?Did you know , the internet is a fine place to find out what you’re talking about, before making such an inane comment that makes you look like an ill educated (and obviously male) berk. Still, if you take in what your “Sun” headlines say as truth, before you get to the page of naked women, this can happen…

            It’s also somewhat imbecilic to bang on, as you are, when you consider the seriousness of the article your comment appears under.

          • Christopher Bartlett

            contentiously Newton invented (or discovered, another discussion) calculus. At the time he was thought to be one of the greatest scientists of all time. But it is coming to light that he was heavy into alchemy. A practice heretical at the time and wrote thousands of words on the subject. Some believe alchemy helped him discover how planetary bodies effected each other through gravity. so with that in mind….

          • This is totally non-sequitur. So what if most scientists through western history were christian, does that mean god is real? Absolutely no bearing on the conversation. Further, alchemy wasn’t mysticism. It was a protoscience, that has given way to modern chemistry over time. So with that in mind….

          • Arclighter

            What a pointless endeavor.

      • Yes Bartlett, clearly she was lazy as the CHAIR at UCSD. Clearly UCSD is a subpar institution that only promotes the laziest of philosophers…and not at all a public ivy school that promotes work…

        • Christopher Bartlett

          yah maybe that was a little harsh. i guess thats what i get for posting drunk

          • no worries there, drunk driving down the internet superhighway is the only way to fly IMHO.

      • jeffision

        “So you had an idea and affinity for eastern philosoph7 and you gave up as well, AS the CHAIR at UCSD”

        You clearly have no idea how university administration (including departmental funding) and the politics of academia actually work. Having worked in academic administration and taught at the graduate level I can tell you that department chairs operate within enormous constraints and making even the smallest of changes can be very challenging.

    • Pat Churchland,
      I would love to know the names of some of these eastern philosophers that you hold in high regard. This is by no means disingenuous. I am one of your former students, and I have told numerous people that the best classes I took in college were Pat Churchland’s philosophy of neuroscience and Paul Churchland’s philosophy of mind. I seem to remember the two of you being strict materialists (and if I am mistaken on that I apologize) which is a fact that would seem at odds with every form of eastern philosophy I have encountered (even now, living in Japan as I do). Hopefully at least one of these philosophers has a book in English, since my Chinese is pretty limited 🙂

  • Decadent Sympozium

    You should join Balkan Integrative Bioethics.

  • Chang-Seong Hong

    Change takes time, but it will eventually happen. The job description of my current position had nothing but metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and logic. I began to offer courses of Buddhist philosophy, however, a few years after I was tenured. It’s been several years and my colleagues like to sit in my Buddhist philosophy seminars these days.
    The rise and fall of philosophy has shown a tendency to follow the rise and fall of economic powers. This has happened in many places of the world throughout the history. As we witness the growth of other economic powers outside the West, I guess it might just be a matter of time for English-speaking philosophers to begin to pay more attention to non-Western philosophies. The change will take place – sooner or later.
    In the meantime, I will keep enjoying my green tea.

  • Jason Hills

    … sigh …

    I wrote a long response, but it was deleted by the software

    In short, Terra, you demonstrate the very problem that Mr. Park indicates. You require the other tradition to follow your own norms, which you call “philosophy” without qualification, without noting that those criteria are of a particular historical tradition of western philosophy, and not philosophy generally, let alone in the west. Thus, alternative traditions are erased–even those that do not challenge the basic definition of rationality or logic, etc. A philosophical traditions “religion and social norms” cannot be disentangled from it either in practice or in theory, and this problem is well noted in philosophy, including Anglo American philosophy, although in that case the feminist tradition is maligned for pointing it out.

    • Terra Mikael

      When I say philosophy, I’m talking about the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. A sort of ongoing investigation of the world around us.

      In that respect, eastern “philosophy” doesn’t even count as philosophy. It poses no questions, seeks no truths, and hasn’t had any changes for 2000 years. And nothing the author said has lead me to believe any different.

      I’m well aware of the norms, and if demanding logical thinking is out of the norm for your culture, I simply cannot sympathize. You can’t just say the basic tenets of rationality and logic are problems, when you are using them to argue with me.

      • jeffision

        This says the person who “took one eastern philosophy class and immediately dropped it”. lol…and we should take anything you say about Eastern philosophy seriously exactly why?

        • Terra Mikael

          You’re bring up religious texts about meditation? ! This is exactly why I dropped this garbage. Nobody is interested in your inner circlejerk except you. It’s like a Christian telling me how beautiful the book of psalms is. How exactly do these texts contribute to our fundamental understanding of the world?

          Answer: they don’t. Western Philosophy gave birth to the modern science that let’s you post frivolous garbage in the Internet. Eastern philosophy gives you a happy inner glow. Big woop, I’m not impressed.

          • jeffision

            “How exactly do these texts contribute to our fundamental understanding of the world?”

            They contribute to our fundamental understanding of the mind and refinement of perception.

            “I’m talking about the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence.”

            …which are all products of perception. How can these be studied without first studying their source, the mind. And what’s the most productive way to study the mind? By examining the workings of one’s own mind.

          • Terra Mikael

            You sound like a theologian. Let’s be honest, nobody is going to found any neuroscience off of the Seventy Verses of Emptiness. I’m glad it makes you feel warm inside, but you should understand that nobody really cares about your inner peace but you, and honestly sounds more like something that would go in a psychological profile that the NSA is keeping on you.

          • Terra,
            You nailed it, and saved me the hassle of correcting jeffision. IMHO Eastern “philosophy” isn’t philosophy at all…it is mysticism masquerading as philosophy. I majored in philosophy at UCSD, oddly enough took Pat Churchland’s (who made a comment about 2 posts up) class on philosophy of neuroscience and her husband’s class on philosophy of mind, and they pretty much convinced me of strict materialism based on logic and scientific findings. Incidentally, I live in Japan now and while I think eastern mysticism is interesting, and meditation is a useful exercise, it is NOT philosophy and there is a a good reason why western science propelled western culture ahead of the east.

          • Jason Hills

            You are now engaging in ethnocentrism. Sadly, there is no wholly rational way to justify moral value and thus ethics, and thus why one should not make such ethnocentric claims. I am not surprised that Terra did not include ethics in philosophy, as it would ahve been a counter-example to that vision of philosophy–as well as materialism.

          • If you were right, which you aren’t, then why do “western” philosophers include ancient Greeks? Not exactly white, not exactly Christian, and mostly from what is now recognized as Turkey. We include them because they were rational. That is the point being made here. Eastern so called “philosophy” is hardly rational in the commonly understood logical sense. Read the Socratic dialogues and compare it to any eastern philosophy and tell me there is not a marked contrast. It doesn’t matter the color or the culture. The Greek philosophical tradition survived by being adopted by Persia before being rediscovered by Europe and enabling the renaissance. Persia is/was an oriental empire. Again, not exactly white, not exactly Christian. Don’t muddle this issue with “ethnocentrism”. There is a method to the madness of Philosophy, and it is logic. Buddhist Koans aren’t logical. They are fun to think about, but they aren’t meant to be answered, but we know they do have answers and with a clear logical mindset it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to answer them. That isn’t ethnocentrism, unless you are really making the claim that only white Christian males are logical, which I take as offensive if you ARE making that claim (but I don’t think you are).

          • Jason Hills

            “We include them because they were rational” ignores the historical contingency. We include them for historical reasons that far outstrip rationality, and that is my point. Many of the classics were re-introduced in the late medieval period and became iconic of the early renaissance. Their cultural upsurge to iconic status and the need to establish the mythic historical continuity to the European past is why they get noted. Were they rational? Surely, but so much was LEFT OUT, and that gets overlooked.

            A koan is perfectly rational once one understands what it is and its purpose. It is meant to aid one in understanding non-duality. Classical western logic presumes that truth is binary, which is an axiomatic assumption without a rational foundation, as justification for the axiom relies on non-logical grounds. Rationality and understanding are not the same, as famously noted in one of Lewis Carrol’s ditties on logic if you recall it–the validity of an inference is not the same as requiring one to accept it. Validity is not truth.

            Please, I’m a philosophy professor. I do not require basic history or logic to be repeated to me. Also, turning an argument back upon a person as a ad hominem tu qouque is not charitable.

            As far as your example about ethnocentrism, that was not the point I was making. May I suggest a fantastic communicative tool for understanding my intent based on Donald Davidson’s principle of hermeneutic charity. Presume that what I say is true, and then think of what might or must be the case to make it true, aside from presuming irrationality or ignorance on my part. Find what you might take to be my presumptions or interpretation that differ from yours, for instance, rather than assume that I believe false ideas.

            I plan to block all further correspondence, as this is not constructive, and thus I apologize for not responding to any further posts.

          • I believed for exactly zero seconds that I was talking to
            someone with a PhD…especially since you clearly don’t know what a tu quoque
            argument is. A koan is NOT rational. “what is the sound of one hand
            clapping” and “what did your face look like before you were
            born” are irrational questions, period. They are DESIGNED to be irrational
            to break you away from “this world” and put you in a state of
            “great doubt” so that you can taste a little bit of fleeting enlightenment.
            If you reject the axiom that everything is either A or not A, then I don’t even
            know how you function on a day to day basis. It is a pretty damned good axiom
            even if I can’t directly prove it, because it explains literally every
            experience I have had on earth. I can’t even conceive of a world in which
            things are either A or not A. Truth, it turns out, might just be binary. I
            agree that validity isn’t truth, but you have a VERY long uphill battle to
            convince me (and it would seem, the philosophical academics) that A is also not
            A (of course, I assume if you could do that then you would be a zen master).

            I also like how you threw in your two cents, got your hand bitten, and are now
            blocking the conversation because after exactly one comment response (to
            something you obviously didn’t explain very well), you have decided this
            conversation is going nowhere. How terribly mature of a philosophy professor.

          • jeffision

            “I can’t even conceive of a world in which things are either A or not A. Truth, it turns out, might just be binary.”

            Binary thinking ignores everything that exists on the spectrum between “either A” and “Not A”. Not being able to conceive of the spectrum is a culturally conditioned pattern of thought that narrows perception and divides the perceived world into opposites that inevitably are seen as in conflict…which is why modern culture is in a state of perpetual conflict. Eastern philosophy acknowledges the spectrum that exists between perceived opposites and values the knowledge that’s available in that zone of perception.

          • asmodasmo

            “Everything is A or not A”
            This has to be one of the dumbest philosophical statements (yes I know it’s Aristotelian origins). Ever heard of gradients? What are you implying here really, no I’m actually curious. Maybe an argument of the following:

            That because binary numbers are a highly used working component of modern computers (Truth, Consequent) The philosophy “A or not A” must be a part of the natural order of the world? (Unverified & Very Suspect, Antecedent)

            That logical implication is just plainly …..! Anyone who would claim such a thing is committing such a gross and obvious logical fallacy which any decently smart undergrad (including myself) could disprove in seconds.

            Never have so many been so devoid of so much reason as in philosophy departments of “the west”. Greek philosophers could possibly only be ashamed to even be associated with the “modern” philosophy our time. Today it’s just all a bunch of mumbo jumbo classification .. language logic *snore* .. Chomsky was _actually_ using (as in actual application) the a scientific method to analyze language and come to his conclusions about generative grammar (ie. philosophy of language + mind). Being heavily discredited for his work (primarily from “scientific” philsophy departments) he rightly complained about their lack of actual scientific achievements back in the 70s & everything he said back then about the topic was, and still is 100% correct.

          • jeffision

            “Buddhist Koans aren’t logical. They are fun to think about, but they
            aren’t meant to be answered, but we know they do have answers and with a
            clear logical mindset it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to answer

            You are a barrel of laughs. lol. You clearly have no understanding of the mechanics / purpose of koans.

          • Oh zen master, please teach me then since you are clearly
            wiser and know more than I do. Please explain how “what was your face before
            you were born” isn’t the same as “what is north of the north pole”. The answer
            is “nothing” because the question is irrational. I don’t think you actually
            understand what logic entails. If you divide by zero, you get an error, not
            enlightenment. I also like how you decided to go the route of claiming I don’t
            understand something, but then provide exactly zero understanding of your own.
            Next time, when you say someone is
            wrong, try to supply an argument along with it so SHOW that someone is wrong
            and that you actually know what you are talking about.

          • jeffision

            Here’s a koan for you: What is the logic of the non-conceptual?

            You bore me…ping me when you’ve made some room in your mind for something else besides yourself.

          • I already answered that question: Null set.
            Again, you failed to explain anything but claim to know it all, just like your common everyday (and I really, REALLY mean this in the nicest way possible) bullshit artist.
            If you want to get anywhere in philosophy, you have to explain your position. Taking a position, claiming that everyone else just doesn’t understand you are right, but refusing to explain anything puts you in line with cult leaders, not philosophers.
            Ping me when you decide to get off your pedestal and actually engage your brain. The world isn’t going to recognize you while you remain on that high horse of yours, claiming to be so wise but doing nothing to justify your claim.

          • jeffision

            Do you seriously think that the logic of the non-conceptual can be explained here? I gave you a list of books above. If you want to understand the logic of the non-conceptual, read them, think about them for a few years, then come back and we can have a discussion.

          • If you can’t explain it, then you don’t understand it and THAT is why eastern so called “philosophy” is actually just mysticism. You are doing more harm than good for the cause of teaching eastern philosophy so I would advise you, for the good of the cause of broadening horizons in academia, just stop talking.
            To quote Terra Mikael above, “You sound like a theologian. Let’s be honest, nobody is going to found any new neuroscience off of the Seventy Verses of Emptiness.”
            NAILED IT, except I would call you a cult member or a bullshit artist. I don’t need to contemplate any book for years in order for YOU to understand and explain it. My brain is not your brain. Your inabilities are not my fault. Of course, I suspect that underlying all of this is an internet troll bullshit artist since anyone that was deeply committed to a cause would at least attempt to explain themselves instead of just throwing a book in my face and telling me to read it and come back after I have magically been swayed to their way of thinking. I couldn’t imagine any serious philosopher doing that…which is why you are not in the business of phisosophy, you are clearly in the business of cult worshipping mysticism…or just making up bullshit to troll people on the internet. In a way, I am almost hoping that the latter is true because that would make you rather successful, instead of totally incompetent. I tip my hat to you troll.

          • jeffision

            So you’re suggesting that the logic of the non-conceptual is something that doesn’t need to be learned one step at a time over an extended period of time, examined from a number of different views (like philosophy or physics)? You’re saying that it can be explained here in a couple of sound byte paragraphs? I’m starting to wonder now if you’ve ever been to university.

          • No, I am suggesting that either you have no idea what you are talking or you are a troll. The former stands to reason since you have an open forum to display a single iota of understanding but refuse to do so, and the latter stands to reason for the same reason. Fundamentally, the phrase itself, logic of the non-conceptual, sounds like round square to me, which is to say it is a null set. Purporting to have actual knowledge of a null set as if it were a real thing is like claiming to have successfully divided by zero. But you are welcome to stop with the bullshit already and show us all how wrong we are for having doubted your zen master abilities…

          • jeffision

            “Fundamentally, the phrase itself, logic of the non-conceptual, sounds like round square to me”

            …and you are too lazy and closed minded to do any research and study on your own…expecting someone else to do your homework for you and just hand it to you. Which, again, leads me to wonder if you’ve ever been to university.

          • and you are still dancing around the issue of you clearly being a bullshit artist, and wasting everyone’s time by supplying zero thought of your own. I keep asking for you to back up all your bullshit, but all you can do is sling insults. Clearly, a zen master you aren’t. I learned in philosophy how to ask questions, like “how do you know what you claim to know”. You haven’t demonstrated an angstrom of justification. I have already told you that all my research has turned up mysticism, not philosophy. You seem to be of the opinion I am wrong, but refuse to explain why. Well done, you are arguing like a 5 year old…or an internet troll. I keep asking for enlightenment, but you keep shoveling shit and hoping it sticks.
            Non-conceptual logic: If you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it. Don’t pretend to be a zen master and then act like a dumb ass, you do a great disservice to those you claim to represent. You had an honest to goodness real chance here to show that Asian philosophy is more than mysticism and you chose to piss it away. Good job, it is idiots like you that will perpetuate the author’s experience of eastern so called philosophy being dismissed.

          • jeffision

            “If you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it.”

            Do you seriously believe that understanding is dependent on conceptualization? That there aren’t ways of knowing and understanding that can be experienced in the absence of conceptualization? That can _only_ be experienced in the absence of conceptualization? Do you honestly think that everything can only be understood with words?

          • jeffision

            All of the texts I listed above describe the mechanics of mind and the refinement of perception and are only tangentially related to meditation. Meditation is merely a tool, a lens used to examine the mechanics of mind and perception that determine one’s vision and experience of the world and existence. Any “philosophy” or philosophical methodology that doesn’t include an experiential examination of mind and perception is nothing more than mental masturbation.

        • Christopher Bartlett

          crap, now I have to read all this. I am in.

  • Artem Kaznatcheev

    You write that “asian philosophies in almost every example I found started with completely arbitrary axioms, and were nearly always tied up with whatever religion was predominate in the country.”

    Have you ever considered that Western philosophy is just as equally tied up in the social norms of your country? But the country happens to be yours, and thus the norms seem reasonable and not arbitrary?

    You also write that “western philosophy has evolved and birthed modern science, medicine, etc.” so what? It should now rest on its laurels? The author wasn’t talking about the history of the west but about the behaviour of current departments of philosophy. Modern science and medicine is not (or, is seldom) practiced by modern philosophers, far from it, and the authors point was that even many of those ‘birthed’ disciplines often integrate women and minorities much better than academic philosophy does.

    • Terra Mikael

      Western philosophy is primarily an exercise in logical thinking. Logical thinking is hardly an exclusively western social norm. And in my philosophy classes, other students were just an average slice of the student body. It wasn’t like it was all old white people as my classmates.

      I imagine the author was probably told that his doctoral justifying women’s roles in confucian thought was atrocious by a white guy, so obviously it’s racism. Funny, if he would have stayed and convinced them otherwise it wouldn’t just be a room full of white guys anymore. Seems to be a self fulfilling prophecy.

      • natalie

        1. I think that the reason you feel your philosophy classes adequately represented the study body is because they were still at the undergraduate level. Many traditionally underrepresented students don’t go on to study at the graduate level, where populations are overwhelmingly white and male.

        2. Even though Western philosophical writing largely employs the use of reason and logic, this doesn’t mean that it remains free of ideology or isn’t influenced by the social values of the time or doesn’t also serve other ulterior purposes.

        For an example, I’ll refer to Descartes since you cited his argument in your earlier comment as being representative of an axiom that makes sense. In the Meditations, you encounter the Cartesian circle, in which Descartes argues that what he perceives distinctly and clearly must be true, and that he can be assured of this truth because of the existence of a benevolent God, since a benevolent God would not have him be deceived. You’ll notice here that that’s some tricky reasoning, since Descartes is already relying on the reliability of his perceptions for proof of God’s existence. I’ve read before that the reason Descartes relied so heavily on God in his argument is because he was afraid that the Meditations would otherwise be seen as far too radical and blasphemous at the time (1641). So he threw God in there, since he hoped that the Meditations would be used as the primary philosophy text in an elite school of the time. So this text isn’t just “an exercise in logical thinking”; it’s also influenced by the social values of the time (strong belief in theology) and ulterior purposes (Descartes’ own desires for prestige).

        In sum, I think that just because Western philosophical writing makes use of reason and logic, this doesn’t absolve it of the same criticisms you make of Eastern philosophies. As Artem notes above, the norms and ways of thinking that Western philosophy reflects just seem natural to you (and many others) because the discipline of Western philosophy treats them as such.

        • Terra Mikael

          Thanks natalie, but I think I understand this problem fairly well.

          It seems the real problem is that people can actually take graduate level philosophy, which seems to only perpetuate a vicious cycle of making generic white dude philosophy professors, as far as I can see. Now that I think about it, this cycle seems to have been going on for the last 2000 years…

        • American philosophy is even more parochial than even the dead-white-male-bashers will admit: it’s not just dead white males, it’s a certain small subset of dead white males.

          Jonathan Haidt has been talking about political bias in social psychology for a few years now. (In America, of course, politics takes on all sorts of cultural loading: it’s not just disagreement or economic interest, but rather us vs. them. Two different identities, which themselves contain many different cultures.) As a philosophy-major cracker whose radio hasn’t left the country station in years… well, I know where people like me aren’t welcome, and I won’t be going to grad school.

          Philosophy can rely on cultural intuitions, philosophers can pat themselves on the back for being from the one Sane And Rational culture, because they’re part of a self-perpetuating loop that they haven’t even recognized. And if they haven’t even recognized it, how good are they at thinking?

  • Robert

    “The paper struck me more as an exercise in expressing your own frustration rather than making any progress towards a real solution. Your points summed up might be:

    1) I’m not white.

    2) I feel like the viewpoints of non-white people are under-represented in academia.

    3) I can give no logical justification as to why my favorite ideas should be included, just that they should be because they aren’t right now.

    4) People didn’t take me seriously after expressing this, so I got frustrated and quit.

    5) Someone should step up and do the hard work for me.

    Every field of study has its own way of doing things and has a certain level of favoritism towards methods and ideas that reinforce the status quo. If you want to change something, you have to prove to them that they are overlooking something valuable, and prove that you can do things that they cannot using the tools and ideas they have overlooked. It’s the same everywhere.”

    • Christopher Bartlett

      Every great philosopher has met with adversity and trial, it only serves to strengthen arguments, without a fight there is no refining or nigredo. I would love to see Real philosophers arguing points in a public arena like the days of old. Debating in front of the populace and followers discussing points. Rise up GUY. Robert I agree!
      Also I read a quote were I think where hawking was talking about his favorite scientist, philosopher and musician, and they said why isnt there any diversity? “HE said something like (obviously not verbatim because im to bored to look) do you know anyone greater than them?
      become greater than them!

      • There are still debates that get hosted on a WIDE range of topics. I am sorry that you don’t attend them or watch them on youtube. They have always happened, they are still happening and I suspect they will continue to happen for as long as there are humans.
        Further, you just implied that in order to be great, you must have struggled with adversity and trial. I guess you think Epicurus wasn’t a great philosopher? I totally disagree.
        Just to reiterate, philosophy isn’t a sport like football or boxing. It is rather a slow and ponderous beast, based in logic and well reasoned arguments. You seem to have this weird notion that some philisophical Muhammad Ali is going to come along and “shake things up”. I am sorry to disappoint you, but that isn’t going to happen. You are expecting philosophy to become a sport. It isn’t. Philosophers write books and treatises. That’s pretty much the entire “sport” of philosophy. You write something, it gets critiqued. Sometimes you write something that moves people to action, like the new atheists getting moved my Richard Dawkins. There you go, that’s your Muhammad Ali. Not very exciting is it?

        • Christopher Bartlett

          I am your Muhammad Ali, hahaha and we are doing debate and argument now.

      • Jason Hills

        As a “real philosopher” who in fact does this, let me tell you that is not how it works. When “adversity” means “get out of the field or starve”–and I am not exaggerating in the slightest–then one gets out. Those who aren’t in the mainstream don’t get jobs, and must then do something else if they want to eat. Given the rarity of faculty positions and the terribly low employment rate, Mr. Park was wise. I also understand, empathize with, the pain of the choice.

      • Roger

        “Every great philosopher has met with adversity and trial” ? Balderdash and poppycock.

  • jeffision

    As if Western philosophy isn’t tied up with Western religions. Lol…

    • Terra Mikael

      Apparently you’ve never heard of Epicurus…

    • Lance

      It’s not really. Sure there’s philosophy of religion, which is mainly focused on the god of orthodoxy western monotheism. But philosophy of religion is a very small part of western philosophy. What part of *contemporary* western philosophy is bound up with any religion at all?

      • jeffision

        What part of *contemporary* western perception and cognition isn’t bound up with religion? Dominant Western culture is saturated with it…it deeply permeates all areas of discourse. Western patterns of thought are, usually unconsciously, thoroughly conditioned by religion, even for those who think themselves to be uncontaminated by it. I’ve never met a philosopher or aspiring philosopher that had sufficiently deconstructed their own patterns of perception and cognition in order to recognize how they’ve been unconsciously shaped, flavored, corrupted by religion’s influences.

        • Terra Mikael

          Yup, even if they recognize it, they are powerless to stop it. Suddenly all western philosophers are catholic!

          Now this is just getting silly.

        • So even though I am an atheist, and I have rejected the religion I grew up with…by the simple virtue of being raised with religion I am forever “bound up” in its grasp? Sounds like you have a nice little unfalsifiable thesis there…you should write it in a book and start a religion.

          • jeffision

            You underestimate the influence of centuries of religious cultural conditioning in shaping modern collective and individual patterns of perception and cognition. Just because you reject religion doesn’t mean that how you think is free from this conditioning. Countless atheists have no idea how religionized their patterns of thought are and as a result their atheism has the same affect as religion on their vision of existence and their place in it. They’ve stripped away the shell but still think like a religionist and they are unaware of this because they take their patterns of perception and thought for granted without seriously examining their mechanics.

          • Of course you totally missed my point about how your hypothesis is unfalsifiable and thus lands square in the realm of pseudoscience.
            Further, you seem to be hoist by your petard since no one, which would include you, seems to have any idea what influence centuries old religion has….or are you guilty of special pleading by claiming that no one ones except you?
            You are on thin logical ice here, and you should really think about what your claim is and how you are going to support it before it all comes crashing down on you.

  • Lance

    “For instance, the subfield of philosophy of mind does not typically engage at all with Indian, East Asian, African, or Native American ideas about the nature of mind.”

    Why should we? Do these ideas have rigorous argumentation to back them up? Has anyone written papers drawing from contemporary neuropsychology, to support these ideas about the mind? If you have a good idea and you put it out there, it will get critiqued. And your idea will suck. And if you have any sense you will throw it away and start over. And maybe after a lot of this, you will finally come up with something half decent. And then, if you’re very lucky and your ideas were especially worthy, future generations of philosophers will write their thesis about how you were wrong and pick your ideas apart. And maybe fifty years later someone much smarter than you will pick up the pieces of your idea, and make something great out of it.

    Has this all been done by you, or anyone from these non-western schools of thought? Until it has, you really have nothing to complain about.

    • jeffision

      “Why should we?”

      This is the arrogant anthem of entrenched Western dominant culture, which translated means:

      “We’re quite contented with our narrow closed minds and have no intention whatsoever to expand and open them to include views from people that we perceive to be different than us and therefore inferior. We need to make all “other” smaller so that we feel taller and secure in our adolescent-like insularity and our increasingly rickety hallucinations of superiority.”

      • Lance

        I’m sure you could have come up with a more intelligent response, had you actually read past the first sentence.

        • jeffision

          The rest of what you said really wasn’t worth commenting on.

  • Casey Williamson


    1. Make as many philosophy professors aware of this as possible; point them towards articles like this.
    2. Work towards translating more philosophical texts into English, complete with contextual understandings.
    3. Gift such books to professors, starting with the least radically different and most universal.
    4. If possible, find quotes from their precious Western philosophers that challenge their own myopathy.

  • O’Neal Buchanan.

    I like the photo in this post.

  • Christopher Bartlett

    every great philosopher overcomes adversity, use it as as an opportunity for growth. do not withdraw. Do not succumb, become THE great western philosopher teaching eastern philosophy with perfect arguments that challenge thought. You sound like you are whining. Dont mean to sound like a dick but man I would love to see you rise up for a fight. sounds like a great story.

  • Christopher Bartlett

    Every great philosopher has met with adversity and trial, it only serves
    to strengthen arguments, without a fight there is no refining or
    nigredo. I would love to see Real philosophers arguing points in a
    public arena like the days of old. Debating in front of the populace and
    followers discussing points. Rise up GUY.

    I read a quote where hawking was talking about his favorite
    scientist, philosopher and musician, and they said why isnt there any
    diversity? “HE said (obviously not verbatim because im to
    bored to look) do you know anyone greater than them?
    become greater than them!

  • Peter Segers

    well.. as someone who is going to take an philosophy master next september.. I do really like your article, but I must say that I do not fully agree with the point (I think) you are making.
    First of all philosophy is indeed a thing dominated by white (dead) bearded dudes.. but so is every branch of the academica.. every science and the philosophy around that science has it share of dudes and lack of ladies, but that does not bring discredit.. this is just an result of culture/history.. when science/philosphy as we now it was “created”, it was a plaything of the cultural elite, who happend to be white men.
    Since the culture of the european cultural elite for a time dominated the “world”, there is no wonder why so many of this select group of now dead men has set the frameworks of the academica.. they got the chance to do it.
    But this does not mean that these bearded dead men did ignore the philosophy and science of other cultures ( the east, etc).. there have been many succesful or not so succesful attempts to bring “cultural”infuences in to philosophy for example: Heidegger, who was very fond of buhdissm and tried to incorprate that in western thinking, he was not populair, in fact he was very impopulair.. but he is very infuential.. especially in the phylosophy of mind and neuroscience.
    science on the other hand is a bit harder, because it “wants” to rid it self of all cultural stuff and be pure knowledge.. lets say first of all.. without eastern influences there would be no science, since the acient arabs created the foundation of current mathematics and invented the number “0”. But this cant be seen as a cultural thing, since science cant and wont deal with culture.
    And to finish my rambling rant.. nowadays science and philosophy aren’t the play ting of the cultural elite anymore.. yesh it can feel like an bit of graerobbing/necromancy/parrting the dead when you keep on the surface level. But since education nowadays is ( or should be, is other discussion) not exclusive to white old men anymore woman and other etnicities/cultures do have a chance in the academica. Just renember if your institue is an serious self respecting institute who takes science an philosophy serious.. they will not care what your “geworfenheit” is as long as you can validate your claims throug research/logoc or both.
    So instead of seeing philosophy an science as an “white mans game”see it as an challenge to overthorw those old dead dudes.. because that is what they want.. to uncover the truth about what we know ans what there is to know… if you are correct it does not matter if you are man or woman/ west or east/ black or white.. those are trivia

  • Christopher Bartlett

    as a white man, i think the white mans “privilege” is being lucky enough to have the distinction to call my failures my own.

    • JosephLS

      If you mean what I think you mean by this, then this is very true. So, if a white man fails at something, no one thinks there’s something lacking in white males, but if a woman fails, or a person of color, people tend to think “maybe they (group) aren’t cut out for it.”

      • HH

        @JosephLS= it is just quite the reverse. In these days of feminazism and Political Correctness:- if a woman fails, then it must have to be a problem of system and patrairchy and blah and blah…… , because every woman is perfect. Every female is divine angel + victim, And every male is demonic patriarch+ root cause of every problem.

  • I like how I am double posting somehow as a guest…and as such I can’t delete the post because it apparently isn’t “me”…but it clearly is me…clearly there is something deep to be said here…clearly…

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  • I think the reason why Western philosophy is not taken seriously is because its sets of axioms seem pretty ridiculous. I majored in philosophy, specializing in political philosophy, and I found that, while Eastern political philosophy starts with well-thought-out axioms and builds from there, Western political philosophy, in almost every example I found, started with completely arbitrary axioms, and were nearly always tied up with whatever religion (or secularized ideology that clearly originated in a religion) was predominant in the country.

    I had to study the Eastern stuff myself. East Asia has had a certain set/clade of governing traditions for millennia and no one thought to mention it in any class but ‘Philosophy Around the World’. Plenty of lame American anarchists, but…

    (Then they tried to fix that by hiring someone who specialized in the metaphysical beliefs behind traditional Chinese medicine or something like that, which will only drive people off, but the head of the department was into mysticism. Maybe the Daoists will be covered, but the Confucians and Legalists, probably not — and those are the interesting ones, especially Han Feizi. Incentive structures! Practicality! All the ways a bureaucracy can screw up!)

    As for what it’s done: the Middle Kingdom, for one. China was ahead of Europe for most of history, with two major exceptions: the first was the Roman Empire, which they were quite impressed with, and the second was after the results of international competition on the peninsula drove a few countries to discover some land that wasn’t being used to anywhere near its full potential and that was easy to take over once most of the natives had died of smallpox, take it over, and start using it.

    The dead white men who created the vocabulary the author here uses have serious problems, but there’s still a very good reason not to ignore the philosophy of a place that’s been ahead of us for most of the time, and that will probably retake that place someday soon.

    • Terra Mikael

      Give it a rest wesley.

      Here you are, using electronics and the Internet, made possible by advances to western science, which has its very basis in western philosophy, which still shapes how science is done today, and changes methodologies we use. And yet people like you can rely on science daily to the point of complete ignorance of it’s existence. Eastern philosophy is what held back the east for the last 1000 years. Science is philosophy. Everyone is just so complacent in its comforting existence that they can post garbage like you just posted.

  • Glenn Kulbako

    I studied philosophy as an undergraduate. While on the one hand I consider much of philosophy a universal math of ideas, I agree that more points of view tend to enrich and strengthen any academic discipline. I agree for an additional reason, however: most departments require substantial study of historical figures (some would say *dead* white males) who clearly contributed to the foundation of philosophy, but don’t necessarily represent cutting edge thought. Too much of academic studies, in my opinion, is spent on the speculative dead-ends that these otherwise great philosophers came to. Frank Zappa painted classical musicians as dusty, cob-webbed stiffs in tuxedoes who resisted new composers, and in the same way so much of academia continues to emulate the culture of early 20th Century Eurocentric study. A balance has to be found between the proven tenets of the past, and an ever-seeking spirit of intellectual curiosity.

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  • Jason Hills


    I do not wish to engage in a lengthy conversation on the subject, as I don’t think it will resolve your concerns. Unlike the sad tale of the blog’s author, I did complete my Ph.D., although you presume that I am as knowledgeable as a freshman student. I will do likewise, though I hope with more loving-kindness, and with respect to exactly what you wrote.

    First, the “fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence,” is primarily the domain of physical science, not philosophy, so you make a category mistake. If you mean metaphysics, then that is not an empirical field, and relies upon axiomatic supposition that at core cannot be called rational. I do recall one of the passages of Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics wherein he notes that the fundamental principles must be intuited and are beyond all rationality, which we now call “axiomatic” as you earlier wrote. But then, the basic principles do not fit the rational criteria that you presuppose, which you also indicate are the core of (good) western philosophy. Surely the father of logic would not make that mistake … if it were a mistake.

    Logic concerns inferences and their valid use, but logic does not tell us what premises we may begin with except perhaps to eliminate invalid or mutually incompatible premises. The east knows this problem well, as Hinduism and Buddhist have studied logic for thousands of years, and speaking of “reality and existence,” I find Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way to be a damning critique of substance metaphysics. A key insight for a westerner, such as myself, to gain from that text is the realization that understanding “thingness” in terms of identity or non-identity, or similarly to understand “thingness” (determinate existence) in terms of non-relation to other things, is self-contradictory.

    The difference between the east and west on this point is in part is in how we understand relation and non-existence/existence. Buddhism culminating in Nagarjuna, just one such tradition mind you, reveals another path that the west might have chosen that is logically possible and not disconfirmed by the empirical evidence. But the west refuses to see this path, and its few representatives, such as in the work of A.N. Whitehead or perhaps GWF Hegel, are marginalized by mainstream English-speaking philosophy.

    In closing, I give you a response that is constructive as well as direct. I offer a response that does not deny the utility of classical or modern western logic, is rigorous, and even has (maligned) analogues in the west. If you would investigate it, you might find that I also offer a counter-example to the claim that there is nothing offered. I choose this path because vague responses, such as you give, offer no purchase for constructing an argument. I wish my original post would have been preserved, as I did offer a complete post. Sadly, such responses rarely work, as the professoriate in power continues to marginalize that with which it is not familiar. It’s a very human trait, and sadly intellectuals are not immune to it.

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  • SRR126

    I like how people sign-up for a team – agree to play in a league – then when the first game arrives – complain about the rules – which were entirely available for perusal before the initial sign-up occurred.
    Part deux – before you get to be Picasso the ground-breaker – you have to be Picasso the traditional figure artist.

    • jeffision

      Who’s tradition?

  • Ollie Austin

    To exclude Eastern philosophies is question-begging. It is not entirely clear why we ought construe
    only the Western philosophic tradition as rigorous and deserving of our attention and only the Eastern philosophic tradition as perhaps at best a synthesis of widely diverse yet scarcely divergent beliefs. The fact-value distinction is far less clear-cut and as Hegel noted formal logic cannot be self-supporting- there has to be some meta-logical justification (irrespective of whether that reasoning might be circular, for that would remain an appeal to logic). Logic is otherwise heuristic.
    In turn we risk mischaracterising the Western philosophic tradition, certainly Plato anyway. The conception of knowledge as virtue reveals ontological prejudices, that truth is a condition of being and that being is better than non-being i.e. the destruction of being (a value judgement). Certainly formal logic properly speaking is concerned only with propositions on Being. It doesn’t strike me that the crucial difference is then reason contra faith, but rather formal logic contra dialectic thought and so difference by degree in mode of argumentation.
    The fact-value distinction isn’t so great that any one tradition can attest with any more assuredness than the other to the truth. If there is a conflict, it is internecine. We ought heartily to engage with Eastern philosophies and not consign them to magnanimous references in bibliographies!

  • Ollie Austin

    To exclude Eastern philosophies is question-begging. It is not entirely clear why we ought construe

    only the Western philosophic tradition as rigorous and deserving of our
    attention and only the Eastern philosophic tradition as perhaps at best
    a synthesis of widely diverse yet scarcely divergent beliefs. The
    fact-value distinction is far less clear-cut and as Hegel noted formal
    logic cannot be self-supporting- there has to be some meta-logical
    justification (irrespective of whether that reasoning might be circular,
    for that would remain an appeal to logic). Logic is otherwise
    In turn we risk mischaracterising the Western
    philosophic tradition, certainly Plato anyway. The conception of
    knowledge as virtue reveals ontological prejudices, that truth is a
    condition of being and that being is better than non-being i.e. the
    destruction of being (a value judgement). Certainly formal logic
    properly speaking is concerned only with propositions on Being. It
    doesn’t strike me that the crucial difference is then reason contra
    faith, but rather formal logic contra dialectic thought and so
    difference by degree in mode of argumentation.
    The fact-value
    distinction isn’t so great that any one tradition can attest with any
    more assuredness than the other to the truth. If there is a conflict, it
    is internecine. We ought heartily to engage with Eastern philosophies
    and not consign them to magnanimous references in bibliographies!

  • Ollie Austin

    To exclude Eastern philosophies is question-begging. It’s not entirely clear why we ought construe only the Western philosophic tradition as ‘rigorous’ and deserving of our attention and the Eastern philosophic tradition as instead perhaps at best a synthesis of widely diverse yet scarcely divergent beliefs that might pique our interest a little. The fact-value distinction is far less clear-cut than that and as Hegel noted formal logic cannot be self-supporting- there has to be some meta-logical justification (irrespective of whether that reasoning might be circular, for that would remain an appeal to logic!). Logic is otherwise heuristic.

    In turn we risk mischaracterising the Western philosophic tradition, certainly Plato anyway. The conception of knowledge as virtue reveals ontological prejudices, that truth is a condition of Being and that Being is better than non-Being i.e. the destruction of Being (a value judgement). Formal logic properly speaking is concerned only with propositions on Being. It doesn’t strike me that the crucial difference is then reason contra ‘mysticism’, but rather formal logic contra dialectic thought (the Bhagavad Gita comes to mind) and so difference by degree, not kind, in mode of argumentation. Both have their merits and demerits.

    The fact-value distinction isn’t so great that any one tradition can attest with any more assuredness than the other to a particular conception of the truth. If there is a conflict, it’s internecine. We don’t benefit from narrow-mindedness. We ought heartily engage with Eastern philosophies and not denigrate them. ‘Magnanimous’ bibliographical references won’t do either.

    It’s all a little silly otherwise.

  • Maggie

    Some very interesting points, especially the criticism that the field is unwilling to interrogate itself. I feel the author misses a few important points that should be addressed as part of the decision. For example the fact that other areas of philosophy are often specializations in other departments. Eastern philosophy may be a degree in an East Asian department, African philosophy in the Aftrican studies department, etc. Should they be in the philosophy department instead? I think a good argument could be made.However, people in those disciplines would have to be included in the discussion. It certainly seems legitimate to say that comparative philosophy, for example, must include world philosophical systems.
    Other issues raised, like an interest in pursuing the philosophy of race also need to be considered. Is that really a topic for the philosophy department? Or is it a topic of sociology that can be viewed through the lens of philosophy but remains essentially a sociology department focus? The answers may not be what the author hopes for. But we certainly can’t answer the questions unless they are asked and seriously considered by relevant disiplines.

    • jeffision

      “For example the fact that other areas of philosophy are often specializations in other departments. Eastern philosophy may be a degree in an East Asian department, African philosophy in the Aftrican studies department, etc. Should they be in the philosophy department instead?”

      Don’t you mean “Should they be in the Caucasian Male philosophy department instead?” If all these other philosophies need their own department and department name that identifies how they are culturally / ethnically different from Philosophy, then shouldn’t the Philosophy department also be labeled by the cultural subgroup / ethnicity that it reflects until it is inclusive?

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  • Sol S

    I left the academic world in 1972, although I didn’t doubt the case, obviously little has changed. Academia was racist , sexist back then, and the changes since then have been at the margins. But I didn’t leave because they were; if I was to leave for that reason, I would have left a lot earlier. Park is correct that the vast majority of philosophy departments practice a close reading of dead Western white males, but he is wrong in thinking that this is based on racism or sexism. When I first entered undergraduate school I thought that philosophy was Sartre, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, etc. and as I remember they were all dead white guys. I was disabused of the notion that this was philosophy (as I would study it) within the first five minutes of my first class (symbolic logic.) That Park could last almost seven years in a graduate program with the expectation that there would be some substantial change in the way philosophy is done in most universities, strains my credulity since I figured he would have been eased out earlier. Perhaps it is because he is of Asian decent that they thought they might eventually been able to convert him, and thereby bring up their minority participation numbers.

    I figured out quite early, in fact as an undergraduate that philosophy departments (for all their purported aim of truth seeking) are basically ruled by strong departmental politics. You go along, or you get out. In that they are no different from any other business. Back in the late ‘60’s a good friend of mine was shown the door by the philosophy department at Brandeis. He was very popular with many students and they did a demonstration for him on campus, finally the department was forced to say “It’s like this, if we were a department of all gays and D… was straight, and we said D… had to go, he would have to go.” Liberal schools had such a way with words back then. The point here is that all academic departments have as their first and primary goal the preservation of power; the search for truth has nothing to do with it.

    Now specifically about Contemporary Analytic Philosophy (or whatever they call it 40 years later.) The overwhelming number of schools practice this branch of philosophy, and will tolerate a small amount of time for study of its Western antecedents. In large departments there will be less than 10% of the faculty that will have “other” interests. This exclusion is done on the basis of the “fact” that this branch purports to be the scientific study of philosophy. No emoting here; no touchy/feely. Just the facts. This branch of philosophy is based on logic, not conjecture. The rubric that ruled here was the counterexample. If you advanced a theory and someone could show one instance where we could imagine it being violated, then the theory was disproven. Just like in science.

    I was pretty good at this game, which is why I lasted as long as I did. I imagine Park was as well, because even if he helped the department fulfill its “quota”, he better be more than adequate at the game.

    I left the academic life because I thought the enterprise was fundamentally flawed, and I didn’t want to spend the next forty years of my life fighting with most of my colleagues. The short version is this:- this type of philosophy is based on the premise that you can state the necessary and sufficient conditions of a concept, and thereby define it. This is a static notion, and doesn’t allow for the complexity of most human ideas, nor does it allow for the fact that our ideas are refined over time. Because of this, even simple things like what it is be a chair can’t get a satisfactory definition (pointed out by Wittgenstein), and problems arise like Godel’s incompleteness theorem and Heisenberg’s indeterminacy principle.

    • jeffision

      deleted…posted in wrong place

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  • Your characterization of history is almost as painful as your characterization of western philosophy.

    Anyway it sounds like you were taking a class on studying eastern religions, not philosophy. What you are describing of eastern philosophy for the class which you “immediately dropped”, is exactly what you would have had to go through with western philosophy if you had studied anything from up to around 500 years ago including Descartes. A study of philosophy generally has to include, and usually start with its origins. Whether or not you’re blind to it, western philosophy was strongly influenced by Christianity in its development.

    By contrast, if you actually studied Buddhism, for example, you would realize it’s completely different from a theistic and dogmatic religion. It is more properly a philosophy because it is essentially a theory of mind/psychology that admits to being more a recipe to eliminate suffering (by explaining suffering and the mind), and specifically not an absolute truth or dogma. Something like Descartes’ cogito ergo sum is completely naive in comparison because he doesn’t even define the terms of his argument which end up being wrong.

    • Terra Mikael

      You don’t even understand Descartes’ argument, which is fundamentally sound. To be able to doubt your existence fundamentally proves you do exist – at least as far as mind is concerned. But I could see how this could be difficult for you to grasp – you somehow manage to say I took a eastern religion class, not, a philosophy class, then suggest a proper “philosophy” like Buddhism, all without a sense of irony. Buddhism is about as debatable as Catholicism, and equally pointless.

      The best thing about Western Philosophy in the past 2000 years? It’s moved on. Here you are typing nonsensical responses on a device given to you by the advance of western science, which is really just another branch of western philosophy – a branch which is actually answering questions about the nature of the world. Funny I don’t see eastern philosophy contributing anything in that department. Probably because they have been too busy cooking up recipes to eliminate suffering.

      • You know absolutely nothing about eastern philosophy, or religion, and yet continue to make unsubstantiated claims and meaningless comparisons to prove your ignorance. What is the point of continuing to spew this out when you already admitted your ignorance?

        Also, science is philosophy? We’re not in the 17th century. Philosophy includes science as a topic but science is not philosophy. You’re doing it wrong.

        Again, your characterization of philosophy is… surprising. How is it that questions from thousands of years ago are just as relevant to philosophy today as they were then? Equally surprising to find someone who is actually convinced Descartes is saying something profound. Did you ever wonder what the terms “I” and “am” or presence/”existence” mean that Descartes is using? You’re not likely to get a meaningful answer from silly axioms.

        Before continuing with your mischaracterizations of western philosophy, I suggest you also look into some continental philosophy which was clearly lacking from your education (same reasons as stated in the article I would guess). It proceeds in a similar manner to some eastern philosophies and addresses things that the analytic side tried to reduce to hard science, and ended up in failures like logical positivism.

        On second thought, it would probably go completely beyond you since it does’t fit in your neat little categories or characterizations. Carry on.

        • Terra Mikael

          To say science is not philosophy is profoundly ignorant. Perhaps you should read some Karl Popper, a philosopher who contributed massively to the way we do modern science, and he was alive this century, not the 17th (and there are other philosophers alive and well refining the scientific method today). Right now philosophers are debating everything from driverless cars to the consequence of living in a quantum universe. Science operates squarely in the realm of analytical philosophy.

          But you sound like a hipster on your criticism of descartes though. People like you are what make practicing philosophy a joke. You’re more interested in semantics like what “I” and “am” mean when it’s plain to see that the self exists in some form. Descartes reaching a correct conclusion on faulty axioms does not change the fact that he was correct. I suppose if he made the same conclusion while using buddhist axioms you would applaud him as being a “profound” eastern philosopher.

          As far as what the self is, science will answer that in due time, using the framework of western philosophy, and when they do it will have real world applications, not silly “profound” meditations on existence.

          But as far as categories go, you already know that eastern philosophy is entirely outside the realm of western philosophy. You’re obviously more interested in semantics than I, why not give it a name besides philosophy and teach it in a class that isn’t philosophy. Wouldn’t that make more sense than trying to fit a square peg in a round hole?

          • As I see it, if you don’t know what self/ego/I means or, “exist”, you’re playing with empty words. How could you not be concerned with meaning if you are using ambiguous or even misleading concepts. Phenomenology, which Buddhist philosophy could also be classified as, has a lot more to say on these things than analytic philosophy which tends to trap itself in language and therefore fails to see the extent that language and conventional meanings conceal as much as they reveal.

            Karl Popper is definitely not a scientist. Philosophers of science are not scientists. They are not using the scientific method, or in Popper’s view, the principle of falsifiability. Philosophers look at science from outside of scientific criteria. I’m glad you bring up Popper because if you take him seriously, in science you could never (in principle) make the metaphysical claim you just did that consciousness (self, first-person experience, qualia,…) can ever be reduced in full to 3rd person explanations on the mechanisms.

            Another philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn, takes a different view that science undergoes alternating periods of normalcy and paradigm changes or revolutions which overthrow much of the old theories and preconceptions. There’s no reason to believe the prevailing beliefs today will hold in 50 or 100 years or that Popper’s falsifiability principle won’t hit a brick wall. We’d like to believe we have arrived at the truth but history would suggest we are most likely mistaken.

            If you explain the mechanisms, do you explain the phenomena themselves? Certainly not in physics at least. Theoretical physics is 100% abstracted into mathematical models. What exactly the models mean (what is happening underneath the math) is a matter for philosophy/metaphysics, not science. As physicists themselves can tell you, there are an infinite number of possible underlying realities that could fit the mathematical models which they call “interpretations”. The models themselves are obviously incomplete and there’s no indication that science will ever be able to arrive at any single definitive model. At least it’s current approach shows no possible way this could be done.

            There’s no reason to even believe the universe can be fully modelled, or understood intuitively (as Einstein hoped). Given this, it seems at least as legitimate an approach, if not more, to start from the phenomena themselves exploring things like self, other, thought, belief, emotion, objects, perception, etc… using actual intuitive experience as the evidence for proceeding, rather than abandoning it and presume a metaphysical leap that hopefully one day (not today) this can all be fully reduced to 3rd person objective explanations.

            Philosophy obviously includes science and technology as topics of consideration but it would be a fallacy to equivocate philosophy as therefore being science (again, refer to Popper’s falsifiability principle). Science for example cannot tell you right or wrong ways to use or develop technology.

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  • HH

    by the way, in almost all the universities there are gender studies… departments; who are having 99% female employees . And they project themselves as feminist philosophers .
    Let me ask you, even though there are almost all males in your department But how many times you have discussed male issues – how many times you people have discussed the book “Myth of male power” – by Warren Farrel. But feminist studies and all kind of feminist chairs of any studies are day and night are just 365×24 hours just crying and crying about how world has been unfair to women. Has there been ever a discussion in gender studies department about- whether world was ever fair to males?

    Everybody wants to discuss about females/feminism, but who will talk about Mens Right activism, MRM, girlwriteswhat, why males suicide in far more number than females – is not an issue. Why male disposability is not an issue, what about female sex offenders? who will discuss about male victims. I have never heard any discussion on this – ever in supposedly “gender” studies department.

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  • Jon Jackson

    they need to stop offering philosophy degrees in all universities except a few private ones..absolutely useless in this market(or any market). The chemists and the physicists need to stop developing new theories, that are basically the old theory, at a cost of several hundred thousand tax payer dollars.

    The biologists need to stop stamp collecting crap that no one cares about. English graduate degrees useless…anyone can read. Graduate degrees in communications..bullfeces.

    Basically, we need (as a country) to stop allocating resources so a few privileged professors have a playground of intellectual masturbation and a solid supply of co-eds they can sexually harass.

    Academia is a septic tank, there is nothing to be learned there that will help you in industry.

    Personally, the idea of prosecuting these snake-oil salesmen and suing them for sexual harassment would be great. But it wont happen, cause its a bunch of “good ol boys”.

    I’ve got a phd in chemistry, but the chair of my committee, insisted i learn bull instead of market valuable skills.

    he lucky i am not a violent man.

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  • Agostinho Paulo

    since when great thinkers are made in academy? just because you graduate in philosophy don’t make you a philosopher, you a commenter and historian at best. Most great writers and philosophers never came from university halls anyway. They wrote on their own accord in spite of the status quo, and most were not even recognized while they still lived. If you have philosophy or technique to develop, do it. Do not complain that people aren’t being fair.

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