O.P. Recommends: If Philosophy Won’t Diversify… A Critique of Philosophy’s Lack of Diversity

School of Athens by Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (cropped)

‘Old dead white guys’ – yes, we should study their great contributions to human thought, but what about the rest of the world’s great thinkers?

In this New York Times op-ed for the Stone (NYT’s philosophy forum), Jay L. Garfield and Bryan W. Van Norden critique philosophy’s lack of diversity, and point out the serious problems with calling an academic philosophy department simply a ‘Philosophy’ department while focusing almost exclusively on European and American philosophy.

Their point? If academic philosophy departments want to imply that their students will receive a thorough education in philosophy department by using the broad term ‘philosophy’, then the education they offer should likewise be broad. If not, then they need to be up front and call it what it is: ‘European and American Philosophy’ (…’with a smattering of Islamic Philosophy’: in my undergraduate philosophy courses, Eurocentric as they were, we inevitably received some, if severely limited, instruction in Islamic philosophy, given its strong influence on medieval European thought).

I, for one, look forward to the diversification of philosophy departments. It’s not only desirable but necessary, if philosophy is going to remain the relevant and dynamic pursuit it could and should be.

If Philosophy Won’t Diversify, Let’s Call It What It Really Is‘, by  Jay L. Garfield and Bryan W. Van Norden. New York Times: The Stone, May 11, 2016

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2 thoughts on “O.P. Recommends: If Philosophy Won’t Diversify… A Critique of Philosophy’s Lack of Diversity

  1. Barely anyone (in the philosophy department) at my university knows anything about Eastern philosophy, which surprised a freshman me, but I then thought that claiming the Eurocentric curriculum as philosophy holistically may be sufficient because it focuses on strict analysis and sees to progression.


    • Hello Tang, thanks for your comment!

      It seems that the critique is not so much that philosophy departments focus on Western philosophy and the analytical tradition per se, it’s the intended or perceived implication that this approach to philosophy is ‘philosophy proper’ so to speak, and other kinds are not. To specify that this, too, is one particular approach with a particular tradition among many, would be to place it on equal footing with other branches that do specify this, such as ‘Eastern’ or ‘Africana’. It’s up to the discipline itself, then, it prove its strengths, rather than having its primacy assumed at the outset.

      Liked by 1 person

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