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I have been browsing these philosophical pages on web for some time.

Can someone explain this taboo regarding Indian philosophy when ever it comes in discussion.

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If you enter "Indian philosophy" as a search criterion you find more than 70 posts. Hence there is no taboo concerning Indian philosophy. It would be interesting to know which specific question you have concerning Indian philosophy. Please let us know. – Jo Wehler Feb 25 at 7:43
I quote from page xxxvi of Olivelle, Patrick: Upanishads (1996): "The scholarly consensus, well-founded I think, is that the Brhadaranyaka and the Chandogya are the two earliest Upanisads. [...] The two texts as we have them are, in all likelihood, pre-Buddhist, placing them in the seventh to sixth centuries BCE may be reasonable, give or take a century or so." Subsequently Olivelle gives a chronology of the other classical Upanishads. Olivelle's translation is often used in academic contexts. – Jo Wehler Feb 25 at 8:09
I think unfairness is a bit strong - ignorance in the sense of lack of knowledge about it is much more accurate. Beside some exceptions (e.g. Schopenhauer who studied the Vedas as early as around 1800) eastern philosophy entered academic consideration as late as the 1950's in Germany through some exiles coming back (e.g. Löwith) and is still rare to be seen. – Philip Klöcking Feb 25 at 9:09
"taboo regarding Indian Philosophy" - can you edit your question with a couple examples? It seems like a pretty strong claim. – James Kingsbery Feb 25 at 14:29
I would like to point out that looking at your posting history you have had negative experience on this SE because you haven't always followed the rules of the community. Also, in one of your answers you state: "It is the main reason why Indian philosophies look different from western point of view". I just don't think this is the right attitude - nobody is attacking Indian philosophy here or saying it's incorrect, outdated, or incomprehensible. Just look at user Swami Vishwananda, he provides excellent answers from Indian philosophy all the time and has great reputation to show for it. – syntonicC Feb 25 at 20:50
up vote 2 down vote accepted

It is not taboo, it is just generally outside of the sphere of understanding of most Westerners, including those that study philosophy. The problem arises for the same reasons that clashes occur between Western culture and other cultures. Western culture 'universalism' gives Westerners the underlying belief by their very upbringing and thinking--whether you are talking philosophy, politics, laws, teaching methods, learning, or any other cultural manifestation--that their system of beliefs and methodologies are the only true and correct one; that their way of 'doing things' is the one that can be applied universally to all peoples.

This underlying belief has arisen through a number of different causes. Western culture has been the predominant world culture for the last 200 years (regrets, contrary to everything that you have been taught in history, Western culture hasn't been predominant culture since the age of the Greeks, or the Romans, or the Christian, or even the age of modernity. China was the dominant culture and country until 200 years ago for about 2,000 years, yet Chinese culture and history is mostly ignored). As with any culture, Western culture will teach, talk about, and write about what it knows best, its own culture. Western culture is the most powerful, rich, and predominant culture in the present world, and this reaches throughout the culture in a unconscious but systemic means. So Westerners are taught Western philosophy by Westerners, see a lot of books published on the subject, etc. People see little about Eastern traditions, so it is perceived as of no value in studying other cultural traditions. When it is seen is perceived as inferior traditions, with no rich tradition like the West. If they had anything of value, we would have them in our world beliefs already!

Another cause arises from how knowledge of the East first arose in the modern age and how it is studied today. The first scholars that studied the Eastern philosophies were blatant Christian apologists. In the 19th century they were called Orientalists. Their funding came from the European governments, primarily English. Their studies were grounded in the concept of 'White Man's burden' and the superiority of Westerners, both biologically and culturally, and used as a justification for English rule over the English empire. Today's world is just an extension of that. We now have American carrier groups purveying the waters around China. What would be the cry of the Western governments if China had carrier groups cutting through the Mediterranean or the English channel? Is this not just a modern version of White man's burden?

How many people that study philosophy have studied anything of Eastern philosophy? When it is studied, it is usually through a Western interpretation with the belief that Western interpretations are unbiased. How many people even in the answers and comments to this question, still hold the belief that Eastern religions are polytheistic? Despite my many decades of study and reading, I have never read a polytheistic text.

Two good book that expose these modern day faults are Invading The Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America (a free download here - and Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines (not a download. Available here - and through Amazon).

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No, it's because this answer is biased. It also makes strong assertions without any references. – Tomáš Zato Feb 26 at 10:25
@syamal Actually after reading your comments I realized you were really looking for confirmation of your own bias rather than honest answer. When people said anything but what you wanted to hear, you accused them of trolling. – Tomáš Zato Feb 26 at 10:30
@syamal Next time don't use question to start rants and arguments. Also, do calling all people across the globe "you guys" makes you sound like a very biased person with no sense of individuality. I do not think you're ready for the open SE community as you do not accept other ideas and instead of argumentation seriously, you're using typical argument faults and steering from the original topic. – Tomáš Zato Feb 26 at 10:41
How is addressing the blatant anti-Telugu and anti-Tamil racism, and dealing with the oppressive cast system "breaking India"? Is addressing the racism in the US against African-Americans somehow "breaking America"? – Alexander S King Feb 26 at 17:41
"China was the dominant culture and country until 200 years ago for about 2,000 years." Dominant in East Asia, perhaps. Dominant in Europe, Africa, or the Americas (or even Western Asia,) not so much. There was no worldwide "dominant culture" 600 years ago. From about 500 years ago on, Western exploration and imperialism started spreading Western culture around the world, but I suppose it's accurate to say it didn't really reach the level of 'dominant' until ~300 years ago. – reirab Feb 26 at 17:46

I think you may be mistaking the kind of critical questioning demanded by philosophy for a kind of cultural insensitivity. The two aren't the same--although of course some philosophers are culturally insensitive.

Philosophy is about finding out the truth and philosophers use a variety of methods, methods from the natural and human sciences, as well as formal, logical methods, as well as common sense, to try to discover the truth.

Here's one of the most important methods in philosophy---you don't simply take somebody's word for something. You want to ask: "But what is the reason to think this is actually true?"

Such a question might come across as insensitive. For instance, if you revere the Hindu sages who say that the Upanishads are 5000 years old, then you might think the question, "Well how can they think that given the archaeological, linguistic, and other evidence that shows the texts are much younger?" is insensitive. However, the question is perfectly legitimate---the sages want us to believe something and we are asking why we should do so when there's contrary evidence. That's certainly a rational response---the response I suspect that you yourself would give to sages of another religion.

There's no disrespect intended---philosophy aims to submit all of our beliefs, no matter our culture to the same treatment.

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The comments do not appear to be comments on the answer -- but rather all sorts of arguments that while related to the general topic are non-productive. – virmaior Feb 26 at 14:12
@VSO if the comments were about "getting to the root of the question" or "they answered the question", then they should either be comments on the question or an answer in their own right... They weren't comments on this answer. – virmaior Feb 26 at 23:34
The sages don't say how old the Upanishads or vedas are. How old they are is a specious argument. In his book, "The Upanishads", Swami Nikhilananda says: "Max Muller, for example, supposed the date to be about 1200 BC, But Haug, about 2400...Bal Gangadhar Tilak, an eminent Indian scholar, calculating from astronomical data and suggested that the mantras of the Rig-Veda were brought together about five thousand years before the Christian era,..." The Sanskrit used in the earliest Samhitas is a very archaic Sanskrit, not anything like the later Sanskrit...and dead in Buddha's time - 500BC. – Swami Vishwananda Feb 28 at 6:10
@SwamiVishwananda I'm just using the case that the OP mentioned. Nothing important hangs on the choice of example. Suppose, for instance, that what I want to question is the doctrine of reincarnation. If I ask, "What evidence is there that reincarnation is real?" I have not done anything culturally insensitive, even if my question is disturbing to some people who consider reincarnation true and important. – shane Feb 28 at 14:19

I am of Indian ancestry but 3rd generation in America. I have been exposed to both East and Western philosophy/science in my family life but exposed to Western science due to my graduate school training. I identify far more with the Western approach culturally but I hope I can provide some insight.

Cultural, academic, and scientific standards have shaped modern philosophy.

All philosophers are, to some extent, attempting to understand what truth is. But how does one do this? This is also up for debate among philosophers and has evolved alongside scientific thought in the West. Many of the classic 1600-1800 philosophy that you might study as an undergraduate in the U.S. focuses on the struggles that philosophers had in the wake of scientific discoveries and the diminishing importance or explanatory power of Christian thought. Empirical evidence from science has wholly shaped modern Western philosophy from the beginning. If you were to look in the 1800s, you would be much more likely to find philosophers receptive or similar to Indian philosophical ideas. For example, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Hegel.

Since the modern era (1900's and beyond) scientific thought shaped both culture and philosophical thinking. Analytical philosophy (for example, the logical positivists) was heavily influenced by science and empirical data. Modern academic philosophy has standards that are typically followed and many of these ideas come from work done in the 20th century that was influenced by science. It's no wonder that many of the ideas from older philosophies seem foreign - they are from a different time and different culture from the way modern thought has evolved in the West. And as others have pointed out, when the West discovered Indian philosophy, they tried to understand it from the perspective they were familiar with. Can you really blame them?

As a side note, Continental Philosophy (particularly Postmodernism) has always slanted more in the direction of Eastern thought. There's a lot of attacks within the field of philosophy against many of these thinkers. Russel's critique of Hegel, Carnap's critique of Heidegger, Searle's critique of Derrida and so on. It's a particular approach to rationality and logic that is being attacked not the philosophies themselves.

"Scientific" means scientific from the perspective of modern Western science methods.

You argue in the comments that: "Lets take vedanta. Those upanishads are not religious. They are 100% scientific." Scientific means that it follows the scientific method which is a way of getting closer to the truth through falsification of claims and evaluating the strength of opposing models to explain evidence. My mother has studied both Jyotish and Ayervedic medicine professionally and I can tell you that neither of these sciences have published their methodologies behind their claims. We do not have access to the methods used to determining truth. We just have their claims of what is true. Any philosopher or scientist would not just take this at face value. This is not how modern science or philosophy works. The methods we have now were not available to cultures 3000-4000 years ago. It doesn't mean they were wrong but it does mean we should be skeptical when we approach their ideas and they are certainly not "scientific" as we understand it.

You argue that "you guys" (Western scientists?) have more authority on the dating of scriptures than the culture that dated them? First, of all, this isn't an us v. them scenario. The scientific method is supposed to be universal and objective. The methods used a few millennia ago are not as accurate and do not stand up to the reproduciblility of modern methods and statistics. So yes, modern science does have more authority but there's no "we" claiming it. It's an objective look that anyone in the East could adopt because it's true irrespective of your cultural orientation.

There are plenty of interesting insights to be found in Indian philosophy but cultural context of it's creation as well as it's approach is not as popular as the modern approach. It's not a taboo, it's a question of popularity with regards to the chosen approach of understanding truth.

It's not a competition. It's about understanding the world.

Whenever I am shown videos from my extended family about, for example, Ayurvedic medicine, the teachers and practitioners always go to great lengths to legitimize their claims by saying "See! We reproduced the effects that Western medicine discovered! That means we did it first!" It's not a competition. It's about understanding what is true - not proving that one side is right (or right first) and the other is wrong.

If I ever talk about my views to other Indians they say I am betraying my culture. I find this really offensive because I develop my worldview on what I think brings me closer to the truth, not on what some arbitrary blood tie determines for me. I find Western science more convincing than Eastern science. I find Eastern philosophy very insightful at times and the same goes for Western philosophy. I think the Western philosophy could certainly benefit from looking into Eastern philosophy. But I don't think it's wise to view it as being attacked by Western philosophy as you suggest in your comments.

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"It's not a competition. It's about understanding the world." I wish I could upvote 100 times just for this – falsedot Feb 25 at 18:55
The books I had read have some serious undermining of Eastern philosophies. That is where I base my arguments, not in my pride or some other feelings. I am still very new to this field and want some genuine info regarding ours.. – syamal Feb 26 at 2:32
TL;DR Science is a method of inquiry. – Tobia Tesan Feb 26 at 9:28
I would be interested in reading some of the these texts to get a better sense of what you mean by "undermining". The problem for me, and I imagine many others, is that the methodological approach in some Eastern philosophies is rooted in a more subjective or relativist stance that does not emphasize absolute truths. Much of the language is also very metaphorical which makes it intentionally open for interpretation. This is simply axiomatically different from modern Western philosophy. This doesn't mean it's wrong or that it lacks insight but it requires a different approach. – syntonicC Feb 26 at 17:21
Coming from Hot Network Questions, I want to point out an important part of this answer from someone who isn't very interested in philosophy: "If you were to look in the 1800s, you would be much more likely to find philosophers receptive or similar to Indian philosophical ideas. For example, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Hegel. " - Those names are among the ones taught in the philos. courses I've taken, instead of any more recent.... – Izkata Feb 26 at 19:04

There is such a thing as cultural chauvinism: I note for example, you are not asking why philosophy of the aborigines of Austranesia not represented.

I take it, you are of Indian ancestry; and this is why you're asking about why it's under-represented.

Turn this on its head; and you'll understand why Western philosophers appear to be unfair; because they are - in most part, in the same unfair way that cultural chauvinism always is.

Again, this can be observed elsewhere; the symbol for China, for example, is simply a square quartered, to show that China is the centre of the world.

Hence one also needs to take into account, the intellectual and cultural dominance of the western episteme: after all, I am writing this in the Roman alphabet, which presupposes a western or Western-inflected education; which will then carries with it, incidentally, an understanding of a Western world-view, or philosophy.

This view shouldn't be taken as some hard and fast binary opposition; there has been times when the two have had a rapprochement, easily seen for example in the syncretic statuary of Graeco-Indian Gandara.

Later, in the world spanning colonial empire of Western Europe which brought into existence scholars whose raison d'être was to understand the East, at first in Western terms, then latterly, in its own terms, to the West; this view, though was critiqued by the Christian-Palestinian scholar Edward Said, who called this form of scholarship, Orientalism; where it, rather than reflecting truthfully, the East - it's project; it represented the West, in distorted form.

It's rather like reading a historical novel of Roman Antiquity by a Londoner; and finding it, when comparing it to accounts written by those living then, of contemporary Londoners dressed in roman togas - rather like the pastiche or parody carry on up the Tiber.

To be fair; there are philosophers of the margin - such as Derrida or Deleuze who make a point of representing the margins; but this still appears, generally, in the margins of the West - this is why for example, Badiou can say, in passing, Islam has a great philosophy - but one looks in vain, in his oeuvre, for a real reading of it, by him.

Still, too - it's worth noting - as a cautionary tale - what Tagore had to say about Indian Philosophy, and Indian chauvinism (he was writing in Bengal, over a century ago) in an essay on education:

... The same thing happens in the case of Indian culture; because of the want of opportunity in the course of study, we take it for granted that India had no culture, or next to none; then, when we from foreign pundits some echo of the praise's of India's culture, we can contain ourselves no longer and rend the sky with the shout that all other cultures are merely human, but ours is divine - special creation of Brahma! And this leads us to moral dipsomania, which is the hankering of continual self-flattery...

Note: Chauvinism, as a word, has pejorative overtones; but need not - see Alexander Kings answer; but can do: see any book of Chomsky on the 'manufacture of consent'; or has both - see above.

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Please take discussions, debates and arguments to chat. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 25 at 15:30

The search for truth and knowledge tolerates no restraints, no notion of the "sacred" and no "unquestionable" ideas.

Western philosophers have questioned, among other things:

And those admittedly extreme viewpoints have been variously defended and attacked by established, respected philosophers!

Surely one must concede that questioning the factual accuracy of traditional scripture dating is minor compared to the Universe-doubting points above. There is no cultural imperialism and no post-colonial sentiment going on here – questioning and doubting is just what (modern) philosophers do.

And of course, those doubts are not limited to Eastern religion and culture. As an obvious example, whether figures central to the Western canon such as Homer, Socrates and Jesus ever lived and what they did has been doubted again and again.

As a matter of principle, there is nothing that can ever put those doubts fully at rest. Referring to Homer, Heinrich Schliemann followed the Iliad's descriptions to find ruins of an ancient city in 1871, but although those ruins, their location and the objects found within closely matched the epic poem, whether or not he had actually discovered the legendary Troy is hotly debated to this day. "Historical truth" is an oxymoron.

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I welcome questioning and doubting. Our books are full of fantasies and mythical stories. But at the same time, we have some good number of books which are genuine scientific works. In fact, there existed a branch of Sages called Sankyans who are very keen on realistic details about things. They wrote many books. But western people don't give any consideration to them. – syamal Feb 25 at 15:37
@syamal: I do not know these books. Any source or example available? I mean, I know the position generally. For me, it is more like "There are tons of great german philosophy in the 20th century and the analytic tradition is so ignorant of it!" But until now, you only claim. I personally would like to experience myself what you claim. – Philip Klöcking Feb 25 at 16:07
@Philip Klöcking [link] This can give you some pretty good insight into things. – syamal Feb 25 at 16:31
@syamal: It is not quite fair to say that western thinkers completely ignore works by Indian philosophers. There are quite a few examples in mathematics (arguably a branch of philosophy) and one famous example in linguistics of ancient Indian texts that have been rediscovered by western philosophers in the modern era. The most famous is perhaps the study of Indian grammarians like Panini which revolutionised modern linguistics. Modern programming language theory used in computing is in part derived from work done by Chomsky which is a direct continuation of ancient Indian linguistics. – slebetman Feb 25 at 18:15
@ syamal These texts are not "scientific" in the modern sense of the word. Aspects of these texts may use scientific reasoning but without statistics and repeatable methodology they should be treated with skepticism from the scientific perspective. That in no way invalidates them or the potential for insight but there are so many unsubstantiated claims in that text. They might be used for a reasoned philosophical argument but they are not scientific. Again, that does not devalue them. But (falsifiable) scientific claims must be backed by methods, statistics, and survive repeated testing. – syntonicC Feb 25 at 22:00

First of all, you mention a 'Taboo regarding Indian Philosophy'. There is no such Taboo. A Taboo is something that people are not allowed to discuss by religious or social custom. Nobody is worried that they would get banned or censored from the Philosophy SE, or from their university's philosophy department, if they brought up the subject of Indian Philosophy. Contrast that to what would happen if someone tried to discuss a philosophy justifying racial superiority, or pedophilia, or some such topic, then you will come up against a real taboo.

Second, you state that Western philosophers are 'unfair' to Indian Philosophy. Well Western philosophers are in the business of doing Western Philosophy, so of course they are biased, by definition, towards their own discipline. Are physicists 'unfair' to biology? Are Classical musicians 'unfair' to Jazz music? Or are they simply doing what they are trained and paid to do? In the same way, in true Dawkinesque fashion, Western philosophers are simply doing what Western Philosophy wants them to do, which is perpetuate Western Philosophy.

Finally, you mention in your comments that Western Philosophers have been unduly critical of Indian scripture and religious texts. I would like to point out that Western philosophers have been far more critical of their own Judeo-Christian traditions, then they have been of any Eastern Traditions.

If anything you can argue that Western philosophers and academics have taken Indian philosophical traditions way more seriously than they have a lot of their homegrown ideas: When was the last time you saw a treatise on Valhallic philosophy or the divinities department of a major Western university include serious Scientology studies course?

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A couple thoughts on this whole conversation:

Indian Philosophy is not "Taboo"

There are specific courses available on Indian philosophy at most U.S. universities - Indian philosophy is not on the same level of taboo as Divination or Alchemy. In fact, one of the philosophy profs at my school (a relatively average, white, male philosophys PhD) specialized in it! It's definitely a current in scholarly thought, though it's not the focus of contemporary philosophy.

In modern philosophy, it's no more "taboo" to discuss Indian philosophy than it is to discuss zombies, trolleys killing masses of people, or super-intelligent computers. It is taboo, however, to assert "The world is this way" in any philosophical discussion and then to claim there is a bias against you when people inquire as to why you believe that. From your comments, it appears this is a trap you are falling into, and it doesn't have to be that way! Philosophy is a sport only for the inquisitive, the respectful, and the open-minded - people with strong preconceived notions or beliefs that can't fully be explained often get frustrated.

There is not only a single reason for this, as others have noted. Below are some reasons:

The Western World is Largely Concerned with a Single Branch of Philosophy That Is Also Highly Western

It is true that the West is rather "egocentric" about our own contributions to philosophy. It is also true that we're excited about analytic philosophy, something that India is not well known for (nor is any country, prior to the last couple of centuries). We love logic and argument and proof and debate just about anything. This branch of philosophy is motivated largely by Enlightenment era thinking and modern science - two (largely) Western artifacts themselves! Because of this strange obsession, we're unable to pit many of India's great, ancient thinkers against today's analytic philosophers - it's not a fair fight in terms of what they know or how they make their arguments. The same is true of Aristotle - while he was undoubtedly a great thinker, he was simply wrong about some stuff, and that's ok - we still like him! We just don't take our beliefs about everything from him, especially when other thinkers have improved on his arguments.

NOTE: People from all over the world contribute to science despite differing backgrounds and beliefs. It's dumb for me to insinuate this is not the case.

Religion And Philosophy Mix Poorly

It is also true that Indian philosophy is closely related to Indian religion. Because of this, many philosophers prefer to leave this branch of philosophy for religious scholars and experts to research. The same is true of other religious ideas as well. Outside of "Philosophy of Religion" classes, Christian philosophy is rarely, if ever, discussed, despite the fact that Christianity is a huge part of the Western tradition. The reason is largely the same as with Indian philosophers or Aristotle: Christian philosophers of yore just don't know as much about the world as we currently do and some of their arguments rest on faulty assumptions. Furthermore, religions often require a degree of faith or belief contrary to evidence that is not conducive to the act of "doing philosophy". Preconceived notions like these are widely regarded as counterproductive to debate and truth-seeking.

It's worthy of note that in my experience in philosophy, Judeo-Christian ethics, beliefs, and worldviews receive far more scrutiny, far more disagreement and far more time and attention than does Indian philosophy - which most people in the West simply know little about.

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Possibly helpful note: bold works well already as emphasis, so there's no need to increase font-size too; doing so, looks like shouting...which one ought to avoid in a philosophy, or in a scholarly setting. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 26 at 2:05
Claiming that modern science is a purely Western artifact ignores the contributions of Indian, Persian, and Arabic science and philosophy to Western Science and ironically somehow enforces the OP's point that Western Intellectuals are somehow 'unfair' to Indian and other non-Western thinking. – Alexander S King Feb 26 at 2:11
@AlexanderSKing you're actually very right, that was a dumbass point on my part. Editing. – Derek Janni Feb 26 at 16:19
Western religion is deeply embedded in Western philosophy and though. See, for instance, John Gray's Straw Dogs. Beyond that, "We love logic and argument and proof and debate just about anything" -- that's not something only a "couple of centuries" older. See, for instance, the Zhuang Zi arguments against the "hard" and "white" debates of the other schools of ancient Chinese philosophy (2500 years!). – Rodrigo Feb 26 at 16:36

The so-called West is very "egocentric". Look for "encyclopedias of philosophy", you'll find almost no entry for Eastern thinkers (even the most famous, like Confucius or Laozi). Our schools teach "philosophy" and "mythology" as if it only existed in Ancient Greece and Roman Empire. Even the technical developments are taught as if made with no help from Indians, Arabs, Chineses, etc. I could cite a reference, but that's a rule for the vast majority of works.

I've made a similar question once, regarding China, which I study more. But I think it may be useful to you: Why is chinese philosophy usually ignored in western philosophy courses?

There's also another point. The West is defined by it's monotheistic, Judaic-Christian mythology. While politheistic mythologies (such as those from India, China, Polinesia, Africa, Americas) usually benefit from the contact with other such mythologies, that's not usually the case for monotheism. Monotheism doesn't even admit it's a mythology, it gains power from the mythological ignorance of its peoples, obliged to think it is "Truth". Thus the supposed need for self-isolation.

Most Western philosophers were, and still are, defenders of the Church, as denounced by Nietzsche (in the Anti-Christ, among other works).

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A search of the stanford encyclopedia of philosophy reveals 47 entries relevant to confucianism. – shane Feb 25 at 18:54
A similar search on the Internet encyclopedia of philosophy returns 86 entries. – shane Feb 25 at 18:55
Could you provide a citation for the line "Most Western philosophers still are defenders of the Church"? – corsiKa Feb 25 at 23:59
@corsiKa, if you can understand why Atheism defends Monotheism (by defining itself from the perspective of the adversary), then you'll understand how John Gray's Straw Dogs is part of your answer. I'm on a cell phone now, will search more later. – Rodrigo Feb 26 at 0:29
As an atheist myself, I do not define my views from the perspectives of any theist. So I'm not sure what you mean by that. – corsiKa Feb 26 at 0:32

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