10 votes

Bad arguments against teaching Chinese philosophy

29 comments

  1. [6]
    han2k
    Link
    I think the real reason people oppose teaching Eastern philosophy is that they don't know enough to teach it! This is such a shame because Eastern thinking excels in dealing with highly complex,...

    ME: Have you considered teaching Chinese philosophy in your department?
    COLLEAGUE: Philosophy is by definition the tradition that goes back to Greece.

    ME: What Chinese thinkers have you read that you believe are not really philosophers? Mozi? Zhuangzi? Mengzi? Xunzi? Han Feizi?
    COLLEAGUE: I haven’t read any of them.

    I think the real reason people oppose teaching Eastern philosophy is that they don't know enough to teach it! This is such a shame because Eastern thinking excels in dealing with highly complex, messy, and connected systems. There is no absolute "centers" in many Eastern philosophies as there usually is in Western thinking. There's no such thing as the ideal Form of manliness or apple-ness, just different people collectively agreeing on what's manly or apple-y in different contexts. I believe by balancing the Western and Eastern worldviews, we can solve a lot of problems we currently face in our world.

    I began making youtube videos to introduce Eastern thinking from the Western point of view. I shared my first one on Tildes some time ago. I'm hoping the next one will come in about a month.

    7 votes
    1. [2]
      NaraVara
      Link Parent
      Out of curiosity, have you read any of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's work? He's regarded as one of the first Indian philosophers to articulate the discipline in Western terms, but I only know of most...

      Out of curiosity, have you read any of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's work? He's regarded as one of the first Indian philosophers to articulate the discipline in Western terms, but I only know of most of it second-hand.

      (Also very inconvenient that everything from Turkey/Arabia to Persia to India to China, four VERY different philosophical schools of thought all get lumped together as "Eastern." Makes it really hard to talk about something that's already difficult to taxonomize.)

      5 votes
      1. han2k
        Link Parent
        No, I have not, but I'll note the name for future reading. Thanks! Yeah I feel you. Western thinking is easy to categorize because it's the worldview that literally took over the world, but there...

        have you read any of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's work?

        No, I have not, but I'll note the name for future reading. Thanks!

        four VERY different philosophical schools of thought all get lumped together as "Eastern."

        Yeah I feel you. Western thinking is easy to categorize because it's the worldview that literally took over the world, but there isn't something as singularly dominant outside of it. I hope to make this clear when I try to explain some of the Eastern worldviews. I'm very ignorant when it comes to the thoughts coming out of Turkey/Arabia and Persia.

        2 votes
    2. [3]
      culturedleftfoot
      Link Parent
      That's surely part of it, but far from the only or main factor. This account is essentially anecdotal but it does reflect an assumption of Western superiority that it's hard to argue isn't...

      I think the real reason people oppose teaching Eastern philosophy is that they don't know enough to teach it!

      That's surely part of it, but far from the only or main factor. This account is essentially anecdotal but it does reflect an assumption of Western superiority that it's hard to argue isn't cultivated in much of Western society, let alone academia.

      I believe by balancing the Western and Eastern worldviews, we can solve a lot of problems we currently face in our world.

      I don't see why this should be regarded as an unusual viewpoint in any way, but maybe I'm being cynical.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        han2k
        Link Parent
        I think we agree for the most part. I view that any sense of superiority comes from ignorance. Clearly these academic people think otherwise :p

        I think we agree for the most part. I view that any sense of superiority comes from ignorance.

        I don't see why this should be regarded as an unusual viewpoint in any way

        Clearly these academic people think otherwise :p

        2 votes
        1. culturedleftfoot
          Link Parent
          Again, that's part of it, but there are also some less charitable factors in play which make things a little more complex than simple ignorance.

          I view that any sense of superiority comes from ignorance.

          Again, that's part of it, but there are also some less charitable factors in play which make things a little more complex than simple ignorance.

          2 votes
  2. [6]
    NaraVara
    Link
    Hoo boy this was a doozy. I don't understand how someone teaching in the Western tradition--including coursework from the likes of Kant, Heidegger, and even J.S. Mill (who is often cited as one of...

    Hoo boy this was a doozy.

    I don't understand how someone teaching in the Western tradition--including coursework from the likes of Kant, Heidegger, and even J.S. Mill (who is often cited as one of the less problematic ones)--is going to shoot back with "China is really racist you know?" What kind of meeting of pots and kettles is this?

    I've encountered many similar arguments from Western philosophy nerds when discussing Indian/Dharmic philosophy as well. I assumed this was a result of them simply being motivated nerds and not professors. It's a bit depressing to see that the tendency goes top-to-bottom even within academia.

    5 votes
    1. [5]
      grungegun
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I have no clue what Indian and Chinese philosophy really look like. I imagine the imaginary interviewee is similar. I intend on eventually catching up, but it's hard to justify making a large time...

      I have no clue what Indian and Chinese philosophy really look like. I imagine the imaginary interviewee is similar. I intend on eventually catching up, but it's hard to justify making a large time expenditure for something I don't know anything about. Aeon.co had a similar article, with similar arguments a couple weeks ago.

      I guess what I'd prefer is instead of saying generic things like -don't be nationalistic, there have been useful X from this place 500 years ago- I'd like a specific cool idea. Like the Gettier problem, which makes me say wow. This is important. I should read up on it.

      Edit: So, do you have a specific idea in Indian/Dharmic philosophy, not found in Western philosophy, that you have come to accept as true. Also, what did that idea replace?

      2 votes
      1. [4]
        NaraVara
        Link Parent
        I would push back on presenting this as a benchmark for making a subject worth studying. It baselessly centers the Western European intellectual tradition and implicitly treats all other...

        So, do you have a specific idea in Indian/Dharmic philosophy, not found in Western philosophy, that you have come to accept as true. Also, what did that idea replace?

        I would push back on presenting this as a benchmark for making a subject worth studying. It baselessly centers the Western European intellectual tradition and implicitly treats all other traditions as only being valuable insofar as they complement or add to it rather than respecting their value on their own terms. It's like asking "Why should I play tennis if it won't change how I play squash?"

        The fact is different traditions approach many of these questions from the completely different first principles and axioms about how the world works. You simply wouldn't understand what value they provide until you actually cultivate the mindset they espouse.

        Not all philosophy is even about solving or presenting "problems." That's very much a Western, and specifically an Analytic, approach. Most other schools present it as ways to rationalize and systematize our seemings and intuitions about what is true, even within the Western tradition and particularly in ethics. There is an acknowledgement of the subjective or experiential element in Eastern thought there that I find missing in a lot of Western thought, seemingly replaced with what I find to be an overemphasis on semantics and taxonomy.

        4 votes
        1. [3]
          grungegun
          Link Parent
          I take a broad view of what philosophy is, and a large part of Western philosophy is centered around the examined my life. So, where with tennis and squash it's like asking: "Why should I play...

          I take a broad view of what philosophy is, and a large part of Western philosophy is centered around the examined my life. So, where with tennis and squash it's like asking:
          "Why should I play tennis if it won't change how I play squash?" which is basically (looking up what squash is)
          "Why should I play tennis if it won't change how I hit the ball with a net in a four walled court?"
          in contrast, the question:
          "Why shouuld I learn Indian/Dharmic philosophy if it won't change something I believe from Western philosophy?" becomes
          "Why should I learn Indian/Dharmic philosophy if it won't change how I examine my life?"
          I think that this last question is reasonable, I could be mistaken, and if you tell me that Indian/Dharmic philosophies do not help you to examine your life better, I will accept that.

          Also, in the quote you took, I was asking for an idea that you had taken to be true. Are you saying that you don't have any examples of this?

          Thanks!

          3 votes
          1. [2]
            NaraVara
            Link Parent
            That's a much broader formulation of the question than your initial phrasing about "claims that you take to be true." When you zoom out that far, I think it's pretty obvious that it will change...

            "Why should I learn Indian/Dharmic philosophy if it won't change how I examine my life?"

            That's a much broader formulation of the question than your initial phrasing about "claims that you take to be true." When you zoom out that far, I think it's pretty obvious that it will change how you examine your life, but it's also pretty obvious that just about anything you delve deep into will do that. Adopting and training a puppy did that for me. Taking up martial arts did that for me.

            And this is something covered in Upanishads. They don't hew to the extreme mind/body dualism of Western traditions, so significant parts of the canon of focused on how to properly clear one's mind, what virtues one must cultivate, under what circumstances your head will be amenable to different methods of acquiring knowledge, etc. before you can even begin to explore the topics at hand.

            The emphasis on certainty in falsifiable truth claims is also a pretty Western way of thinking about it. So again that's kind of rigging the game to define only Western philosophy as a "proper" way of examining your life. And it's one that even the pre-Platonists didn't necessarily hold to either.

            2 votes
  3. est
    (edited )
    Link
    Ha, there's a good & direct counter argument here: What if Chinese philosophy is already heavily influenced by Greek philosophy? I am not making this shit up. Chinese philosophers, as the author...

    ME: Have you considered teaching Chinese philosophy in your department?

    COLLEAGUE: Philosophy is by definition the tradition that goes back to Greece.

    Ha, there's a good & direct counter argument here: What if Chinese philosophy is already heavily influenced by Greek philosophy?

    I am not making this shit up. Chinese philosophers, as the author listed, like Mozi/Zhuangzi/Mengzi/Xunzi/Han Feizi, were not really widely known until the end of Han dynasty, it was due to improvement of paper production, which replaced the expensive and heavy old fashioned bamboo scrolls, made the philosophers' work to spread in China.

    At that time, the bunch of scholars who dedicated themselves to learning and expanding philosophy gave it a dedicated name: 玄学. It basically means metaphysics and literally means abstruse or intricate shit.

    And guess what was the driving force of the systematic classification and unification of Chinese philosophy in the late Han dynasty? Mahāyāna happened. Mahāyāna was a revised branch of Buddhaism introduced by the Kushan empire. WTF is Kushan empire doing here you may ask? Well, Kushan empire was founded on a place called Alexandria Eschate, the furthest territory Alexander the Great was able to conquest. After he died, the Greek generals setup an empire there and stole this proto-Buddhism shit from local Nepal people, slamed Greek mythology and transformed it as Mahāyāna, and introduced this cult to China. Chinese scholars build a whole philosophy and religion structure on top of it. Chinese used to think those clever ideas behind 佛祖 were accidentally Greek philosophy in disguise.

    As much today's China hate "western values" or "western philosophy" in general, the irony is the pillar of Chinese ideology were largely influenced by Greek-style Buddhism and Soviet style Marxism. LOL

    Read more:
    Ancient Greek State in Afghanistan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQATsepKoLE
    Confucius (or, What to Do When Elites Break The Rules) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFeXJkcKYaU

    3 votes
  4. knocklessmonster
    Link
    Most of what I know of eastern philosophy is tied to Buddhism and it's various contexts (which are many, and change with the original local religion), and precisely one Eastern Religions course,...

    Most of what I know of eastern philosophy is tied to Buddhism and it's various contexts (which are many, and change with the original local religion), and precisely one Eastern Religions course, but a lot of it can be stripped of its various ethnic spiritualities and treated solely by its philosophical essence, just like western religion and philosophy can (obviously). In fact, the Soto Zen sect does a fair amount of work in this regard, and has for 800 years.

    If I can try an example here: Eihi Dogen, the sect's founder (really, more of a formalizer), answers a question from a follower who asks about Seneca (the Greek stoic), and argues that their goals are significantly different, and enters into an explanation of why. So, not only are east and west compatible, they're exploring the same concepts with different lenses. I believe Dogen's concern was to do with the goal of a given practice, Seneca being all about the ends of his practice, and Dogen being more about the means of his, which is an consequentialist/intentionality argument as old as time. I don't know my Stoics that well, but I'd wager there've been similar discussions in that realm, even between the originating Stoics.

    I guess my point is they're basically the same. The underlying religions are different, which shapes culture, and in turn shapes the conclusions drawn from similar observations. I'd think untangling eastern spirituality and philosophy, much like we've done in the west already, would only serve to further the understanding of western philosophy (I don't need to flip it, as they're already doing it in the east).

    2 votes
  5. [6]
    DrStone
    (edited )
    Link
    For a bit more context: The full interview from which the submitted excerpt was taken. Edit: Misunderstanding

    For a bit more context:

    The full interview from which the submitted excerpt was taken.

    [Q:] Common questions and criticisms you encounter when you argue that Western Philosophy is incomplete and racist? How do you respond to those questions and criticisms?

    Note that the arguments appear to be about teaching Chinese philosophy in Western Philosophy departments and not Western philosophy departments.

    Unless I'm misunderstanding the argument, it seems a bit weird to push for any focus on Eastern Philosophy in a Western Philosophy department beyond what is necessary to contextualize and understand the latter. At that level, it seems like a stretch to call it teaching Chinese/Eastern Philosophy.
    Edit: Misunderstanding

    1. [5]
      mrbig
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Isn’t that expression “western departments” used here for departments located in the west? Edit: additionally, do universities in the West commonly have departments called “western philosophy”?

      Isn’t that expression “western departments” used here for departments located in the west?

      Edit: additionally, do universities in the West commonly have departments called “western philosophy”?

      1 vote
      1. [4]
        DrStone
        Link Parent
        It's quite possible that I misinterpreted the situation. If it's about adding more Eastern/Chinese, or any other region, philosophy under a general Philosophy department with the existing Western...

        It's quite possible that I misinterpreted the situation. If it's about adding more Eastern/Chinese, or any other region, philosophy under a general Philosophy department with the existing Western Philosophy, then I'm all for it.

        1 vote
        1. [3]
          grahamiam
          Link Parent
          Yeah I'm pretty sure this means Western teaching of philosophy, or philosophy departments at western schools. I think the only subdivisions of philosophy departments I've seen is modern vs....

          Yeah I'm pretty sure this means Western teaching of philosophy, or philosophy departments at western schools. I think the only subdivisions of philosophy departments I've seen is modern vs. ancient. There might be more specialized majors or programs, but if there are more specific departments, then it's incredibly rare.

          1 vote
          1. [2]
            viridian
            Link Parent
            For what it's worth, even if the departments aren't named as such, different universities will have very different focuses and normative models from which they operate. Philosophy 101 may be...

            For what it's worth, even if the departments aren't named as such, different universities will have very different focuses and normative models from which they operate. Philosophy 101 may be taught roughly the same in Goethe and Cambridge, but the research focus, and the beliefs of the professors will tend to lean towards one specific school of thought.

            1 vote
            1. NaraVara
              Link Parent
              At the Bachelor's degree or survey course level I don't imagine the professor's schools of thought should impact things that much would it? Those differences usually come in when you go deeper.

              At the Bachelor's degree or survey course level I don't imagine the professor's schools of thought should impact things that much would it? Those differences usually come in when you go deeper.

  6. [9]
    culturedleftfoot
    Link
    I've seen all these same arguments used in opposition to African philosophy as well. Supposed philosophers being so unwilling to think beyond their own assumptions and narrow perspectives is peak...

    I've seen all these same arguments used in opposition to African philosophy as well. Supposed philosophers being so unwilling to think beyond their own assumptions and narrow perspectives is peak irony.

    1. [8]
      grungegun
      Link Parent
      OK, I'm willing. Sell me. Give a specific idea in African philosophy, not found in Western philosophy, that you have come to accept as true. Also, what did that idea replace?

      OK, I'm willing. Sell me.

      Give a specific idea in African philosophy, not found in Western philosophy, that you have come to accept as true. Also, what did that idea replace?

      4 votes
      1. [7]
        culturedleftfoot
        Link Parent
        I'm not the one to ask, as I'm not versed in African philosophy (it's on my to-do list). I'm just relaying what I've observed. This approach sounds much like an objection mentioned by the...

        I'm not the one to ask, as I'm not versed in African philosophy (it's on my to-do list). I'm just relaying what I've observed. This approach sounds much like an objection mentioned by the colleague, though:

        If they discuss the same issues, we don’t need to read them, because they duplicate what we already have in the West. If they discuss different issues, they are talking about a different topic, so we don’t need to read them.

        1 vote
        1. [6]
          grungegun
          Link Parent
          The people being interviewed might voice that, but that's not what I'm doing. I'm asking for a specific example of something great from <example foreign philosophical tradition> If they discuss...

          The people being interviewed might voice that, but that's not what I'm doing. I'm asking for a specific example of something great from <example foreign philosophical tradition>

          If they discuss the same issues, the author just has to bring up some line where a departure occurs, which is unexpected and surprising. (I assume that the two traditions didn't emerge in lockstep fashion.)

          If they discuss different issues. Then the author simply has to note how this different issue conflicts with a Western issue on a standard problem of the human experience. (morality is a great example here.)

          New things need starters. I ignored anime until OPM+Cowboy Bebop. Convincing me to watch anime based on generic statements about unique plot and visuals didn't work, an actual instance of something thrilling did. I believe that if the author came up with a starter, (Western Philosophy at least has tons of interesting thought cases to pull people in.) then people would have an easier time of caring.

          Like why read Aristotle? No clue, then our teacher made us read a section with the advert - Aristotle shows every major argument for and against private property that you've ever heard and better in two pages. It took one period, but at the end, I thought - I didn't care for Aristotle before, because there was nothing evidently of worth that he proposed and most people just rag on him as a historical artifact, but that was the best analysis of private property I've ever read.

          I am now interested in Aristotle.

          5 votes
          1. [5]
            culturedleftfoot
            Link Parent
            I'm not looking to offend here, but you're just explaining a closed-minded stance, and that's why I quoted that bit from the article - it's similarly closed-minded. "New things need starters"...

            I'm not looking to offend here, but you're just explaining a closed-minded stance, and that's why I quoted that bit from the article - it's similarly closed-minded. "New things need starters" insofar as people like hooks to become interested in stuff, but someone's (or some institution's, or some society's) lack of knowledge or appreciation about something doesn't make said thing inherently new, or un-valuable. I'm sure you recognize Aristotle didn't suddenly come up with something of worth when you discovered him.

            2 votes
            1. [4]
              grungegun
              (edited )
              Link Parent
              I would characterize it as efficient, rather than close minded. I have close to 150 books sitting next to me on my shelf. I have another 300 on my kindle. As I read, I will accumulate more books...

              I would characterize it as efficient, rather than close minded. I have close to 150 books sitting next to me on my shelf. I have another 300 on my kindle. As I read, I will accumulate more books to read from the ones I'm already reading. If I was immortal, I wouldn't be asking these questions, but I'm going to die, so I need to prioritize.

              lack of knowledge or appreciation about something doesn't make said thing inherently new, or un-valuable

              No, but it does make its value uncertain. I'm interested in mathematical philosophy (not philosophy of mathematics) It's unclear to me whether African philsophy will significantly impact my thinking in this area.

              To change the nature of the question somewhat, should I approach every reddit post with open-mindedness? That is, I should assume every single one has something potentially valuable in it. No, that would take me forever. Another example, should I read Lenin's books (if he wrote any)? No, they don't pertain to my particular situation. These are examples or what we might call useful close-mindedness.

              Your characterization of open-mindedness is to assign equal value based on hearsay. I need to prioritize, and currently I have strong evidence of worth through a short reading (Aristotle) and weak evidence of worth through hearsay, and people rattling off lists of names.

              Aristotle didn't suddenly come up with something of worth when you discovered him.

              I agree. The Expectation of value from my perspective increased. And without me being shown that specific instance of quality, my exception would have remained low. I think my opinion before that was rational and well-motivated based on current evidence, since almost everyone I had talked to considered Aristotle interesting in a historical sense, which was not a fit for me. I also choose books based on their cover, because in my experience, classic works have better illustrations, while books with shirtless men on their covers are generally poorly written.

              Edit: also, this is not intended to be snipey. I know that some people are concerned about hostility, but this is just my writing style.

              2 votes
              1. [3]
                culturedleftfoot
                Link Parent
                Uncertain to you, perhaps. No less worthwhile. Why not? You should approach life with open-mindedness. Open-mindedness is not an assumption of value in everything, it's more like reserving...

                No, but it does make its value uncertain.

                Uncertain to you, perhaps. No less worthwhile.

                To change the nature of the question somewhat, should I approach every reddit post with open-mindedness?

                Why not? You should approach life with open-mindedness. Open-mindedness is not an assumption of value in everything, it's more like reserving judgment until proven one way or the other. Of course one must prioritize, but when you take this approach:

                The Expectation of value from my perspective increased. And without me being shown that specific instance of quality, my exception would have remained low.

                ...you are essentially passing judgment on an unknown unknown. Which is foolish.

                Interestingly, a fair amount of Taoist philosophy explores the foolishness of man and the paradox between accumulating knowledge and acquiring wisdom.

                1 vote
                1. [2]
                  grungegun
                  (edited )
                  Link Parent
                  ok, the order I'll do this is: introduce bare bones definition of value -> introduce expected value -> introduce value of objects relative to a person -> use this to analyze my position -> use...

                  ok, the order I'll do this is: introduce bare bones definition of value -> introduce expected value -> introduce value of objects relative to a person -> use this to analyze my position -> use this to analyze how your arguments affect my definition. -> conclusion. Note that your arguments still apply to generic definitions, I will admit that. However, my point of argument is over the following definition.

                  Prioritization in time implies an implicit assignment of value (the definition I've been working with). So, if two events are ordered A <_t B, then I say their value is A >_v B. I'm taking value as an undefined term and assigning it a new meaning value'. I'm still going to refer to it as value, since I typed it up that way, but please have value' or expected value' in mind in everything I said previously and what i am about to say.

                  Using my definition of value, things which you do sooner are more valuable, this makes sense linguistically since both value and prioritization constitute total orderings. Now, the extension of this is expected value which comes from expected prioritization. Expected prioritization is the expectation of ordering what you are about to do.

                  Note that this is dependent on time and the person. Groups of things - reading book1 and reading book2 can not generally be ordered. Consider interleaving sessions of book1 and book2. However, if all sessions of reading book1 are expected to be sooner than all sessions of book2, then we can write reading book1 <_t book2 which is to say book1 >_v book2. That's with respect to a single person, in a specific moment of time, but it allows us to correlate types over our partial ordering.

                  Note that the domain of this ordering is everything you intend to do and that value is well defined on that.

                  Then, is is definitionally true that I assign some value to books I have not read, but intend to. In the same way, you assign value to African philosophy since you intend to do it. Further, you assign value to it relative to other things. Now, I want to emphasize here that this statement is true by definition, based on the my stated definition of value

                  Now, note that your objection from assigning value to an unknown unknown fails against this definition.

                  With this clarified definition in mind, by putting off studying African philosophy, you are valuing it less than whatever you do sooner than it. Similarly, I definitionally expect a certain value for African philosophy, and I believe that value is justified to be lower than Aristotle (this is not definitionally true). However, if I consider studying Aristotle separately from African philosophy, I implicitly expect different values from each one (definitionally true).

                  Suppose I take an unknown unknown as having greater expected value than a known over some afore specified domain. Since this argument is agnostic to the content of either activity, it generalizes to all activities, this implies that, using value*, I should never do anything in the specified domain that I have experience with, which would imply that I never build on knowledge. So, in value*, this leads to something rather ridiculous. Determining information about something ahead of time is however reasonable.

                  Notes:
                  Rereading books causes some issues, so I'm going to leave that out for now, unless you want clarification on that.
                  You may comment that my evaluation of your argument does not use your definition. That is true, I freely admit that, as long as your definition of value is not the same as my definition of value as value*, your argument that assigning value is nonsense holds. If you intend to critique my definition of value however, you have to critique value*.

                  Thanks for coming to my TedTalk :) again, no avarice. I tend to have different understanding of terms though due to my background. If you want to revise your argument to address what I gave, I'd be happy to respond. Just, as stated what you said doesn't address what I was thinking in my head on writing my post.

                  4 votes
                  1. culturedleftfoot
                    Link Parent
                    You lost me with this. However, @NaraVara has essentially detailed much of my objection way more succinctly than I could.

                    You lost me with this. However, @NaraVara has essentially detailed much of my objection way more succinctly than I could.