Philosophy is supposedly universal, but nearly all of the accepted western philosophical canon has been created by affluent white European men. Are there (canonical) philosophers who have directly interrogated how their own position in society (in relation to race, gender and privilege) affects the way they think and the conclusions they reach? If so, who are they, and what conclusions have they reached?

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    Western philosophical tradition ...white European men. It seems unavoidable. Indian phil ... Asian men, and so on. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Sep 21 '16 at 10:22
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    Yes, but I'm not asking about how the situation came about, the question asks whether any philosophers have addressed the problem of the limited perspective from which their philosophy is carried out. – Isaacson Sep 21 '16 at 10:27
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is an accusation and not a question. – user9166 Sep 21 '16 at 17:01
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    @jobermark I recently heard about this very topic in a lecture and I think it is legitimate. Foucault talked about this, and others since then (Cornell West, Edward Said, and some Indian-American philosopher whose name I forgot) – Alexander S King Sep 21 '16 at 17:25
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    @AlexanderSKing The heading question is good. But as laid out in detail in the post, this is so condescending it is basically an 'agree with me!' question. It needs a better 'clarity to criticism' ratio. From Plato speaking through Socrates speaking through Diotima, this is a topic, but never a major one until this century. We officially disapprove 'laundry list' questions. So what is being asked for? – user9166 Sep 21 '16 at 17:47

Among recognized philosophers who have specifically addressed issues of race and gender in relationship to exclusion from the accepted intellectual canon, two of the best-known, best respected and most influential are (Afro-Caribbean) Marxist Franz Fanon, and feminist existentialist Simone de Beauvoir. Both of them took some inspiration from Hegel's concept of The Other as a necessary counterpart to the normalized self, a philosophical concept that has become foundational to theories of the systemic exclusion of minority voices from intellectual conversations.

For a very different reaction to some of the same basic issues, John Rawls' influential Justice as Fairness introduced the concept of a "veil of ignorance." The idea is that we should constitute society as we would choose if we had no idea which person we would be in that society. Behind the veil, you don't want anyone to be too poor, or too hopeless and you want everyone to have a fair shot, because once you leave the veil, you might well find yourself as one of the people on the bottom of your new system, not the top.

In today's globalized society, which necessitates a certain level of comfort with diversity, there is no dearth of thinkers to address the subject. There have also been moves towards integrating Asian figures such as Lao Tzu and Confucius into the canon, as well as greater visibility around the fact that there are traditional members of the Western canon, like Saint Augustine, who were not actually white Europeans, and that Islamic philosophers like Averroes were instrumental in keeping the tradition of Greco-Roman philosophy alive during the European Middle Ages. It's additionally well worth noting that the current conception of a single unified "white European race" considerably postdates most of the canon. Accordingly, a cause of greater concern for many than the historical paucity of non-white-male figures in the philosophical canon is the fact that disparities continue into the present day. The reasons behind this remain obscure and controversial, as do the proposed solutions.

  • "... as great or greater as their European counterparts," - What does this mean? – Era Sep 21 '16 at 19:21
  • Thanks for the links they are an interesting read. I've read Simone de Bouvoir, but have not heard of Franz Fanon, so I'm grateful for the suggestion. I was reluctant to ask this question because I knew the sort of response it would get. Questioning the way philosophy is done is not popular here, but having read your answer I'm glad I did. The rest of you can safely close this question now, hopefully if you shut your eyes it will go away. – Isaacson Sep 22 '16 at 6:35
  • The claim that Greco-Roman philosophy would be lost is wrong. Greek philosophy (specifically Aristotle) would have been missing over half of its text, but Roman texts survived. – virmaior Sep 22 '16 at 14:01
  • For anyone who downvotes, I'd appreciate a comment explaining why. This answer is sourced, objective, on topic and factual, and I've edited to respond to all concerns actually raised in the comments section. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Sep 23 '16 at 13:31

In its current form (9/22), you make a big assumption that seems deeply inaccurate when you state It seems unlikely that only affluent white men have anything interesting or useful to say about life. I don't know anyone who ascribes to that position. The argument is about whether all things that are "interesting or useful to say about life" are per ipse philosophy OR whether philosophy refers to a particular tradition that descends from Plato and considers these questions. And then whether similar traditions elsewhere should be included by extension or not.

Stated another way, no one faults biology for not being physics, and several people who oppose including other traditions in the definition of philosophy do so not because they think such things are uninteresting but because they don't think interesting = philosophy. (This seems to be for instance the position maintained by both Leiter and Tampio in their dissents from the need to include everything and anything interesting in philosophy).

Or to give a second analogy, is learning Danish philosophy? I find learning Danish to be very interesting and raise questions about how life works, but I don't for a second imagine that it should be a required part of any program.

There's been quite a lot of discussion about how white, dead, and male the canon is. But when I say discussion I mean I've seen it the most not as philosophical treatise but as question concerning the profession (i.e. teaching in universities, publishing in journals) than in actual books and publications..

  1. Several recent discussions at the dailynous: http://dailynous.com/2016/03/10/teaching-and-the-philosophical-canon/

  2. An argument about how/whether Chinese philosophy fits in the canon. I'm familiar with HUANG Yong having written a piece for the APA newsletter. Bryan van Norden and Jay L Garfield wrote something in the NY Times. Tampio (who I'd never heard of when I was at Fordham) defends the current balance in terms of teaching. Some responses: Brian Leiter Brian Leiter again. Twitter world: https://storify.com/BryanVanNorden/getting-started

It comes up very frequently on the warp weft way blog.

But in general it comes up from the side of people do areas of philosophy that feel excluded.

(I think there's similar stuff in African / African American philosophy, etc., but since I don't work in those areas I don't run into it -- (this in turn happens because there's a difference between getting/holding a job in philosophy and "doing philosophy." The former necessitates brand maintenance and publishing in sufficiently prestigious journals and presses; the latter does not. ))

I'll repeat because maybe it's not clear enough. I publish in Chinese and comparative philosophy inter alia, but I can at least see what is being debated.

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    @Isaacson People routinely do direct ethical questions to professional Buddhists, and to the Christian clergy, who often use the traditional inclusion of theology in philosophy to answer from an equal footing. So the comment is just more accusation and not a reflection of anyone's actual behavior. – user9166 Sep 22 '16 at 19:11
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    @ChrisSunami Dead people are dead. We can try to find the ones that were not successfully erased. But no. Gone is gone, and there is no problem with the statement. However much remediation we manage, the damage is permanent. Pretending otherwise is more racist/sexist/etc. than being clear on the issue. – user9166 Sep 23 '16 at 1:57
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    @virmaior - It was my understanding that the comments section is for the clarification of answers, your answer seemed to contain two contrary positions, I asked for clarification. That you don't like the conclusions I'm drawing has no bearing on whether my comments have any place in SE. No-one is forcing you write comments, if you feel you're wasting your time then by all means stop. – Isaacson Sep 23 '16 at 6:34
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    @Isaacson Your answer displays a warped sense of objectivity and a problematic perspective on science. This is something not suitable to address in a comment. See Feyerabend or someone, or read other posts on science and objectivity here. – user9166 Sep 23 '16 at 16:18
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    @jobermark Could you clarify to which answer you are referring, none of my comments mention objectivity. Also, if it's not something that can be addressed in a comment then perhaps refraining from comment might be a better strategy than just telling someone they're wrong and not explaining why. – Isaacson Sep 23 '16 at 16:29

There is a substantial amount of material about creating knowledge in general in some recent writing with philosophical content. Creating knowledge requires generating variations on current knowledge and then selecting among them. The selection can take the form of adopting ideas. But you can also select ideas by refusing to provide material support to people advocating such ideas.

So the best way to ensure that disadvantaged people can affect philosophy is to allow them to critically discuss any idea they like, and to deny material support to people whose ideas they disagree with. Denying material support to academic philosophers is not really an option at the moment since they are funded by tax money. Universities get grants, many of them from the government, and put some of that money toward philosophy. You can't refuse to pay the taxes for this activity without being fined, going to prison and that sort of thing. So one way to make it possible for disadvantaged people to affect the philosophy is done would be to abolish all government funding of universities.

This is part of the more general insight that poor people benefit from free markets, not from government control of the economy. See "Capitalism" by George Reisman for more explanation.

Since philosophers are not advocating this, they have not done everything possible to allow disadvantaged people to correct them.

  • This doesn't really address the question asked by the OP. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Sep 23 '16 at 13:34
  • I have changed the answer to say explicitly that philosophers have failed to do everything possible to take account of criticisms poor people might have of their ideas. – alanf Sep 23 '16 at 13:47
  • This still doesn't address the question, which asks for canonical responses, not your own personal solution. If you are proposing George Reisman as an answer, you should make that more central and less of a sidenote. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Sep 23 '16 at 17:01
  • It's bad practice to post a citation without explaining it. I posted the gist of the explanation and a place where you can find more details about the underlying ideas. – alanf Sep 24 '16 at 9:59

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