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European and American analytic philosophers argue that the values and aspirations of the analytic tradition, such as clarity and rigor, are meant to be universal. Some even say that analytic philosophy has already taken roots in Asian and African academic societies. But when we study the history of analytic philosophy, we almost never hear about any non-western thinker who may have been involved in the development of the tradition. In fact, in most philosophy books or online sources, the term "analytic philosopher" refers almost exclusively to British, American, and other European thinkers.

Is this still the state of contemporary analytic philosophy? If not, can you give some non-western analytic philosophers?

  • Can you specify who says this for your "some say"? While I'd agree that some people in just about any country do "analytic philosophy", it has not been my experience on the ground in Japan that this has "taken root." – virmaior Nov 1 '16 at 11:23
  • Please see "The Bloomsbury Companion to Analytic Philosophy". And by the way, let's not limit ourselves to one Asian country. – user23987 Nov 1 '16 at 11:27
  • Moreover, can explain what your criteria are for calling someone an "analytic philosopher"? (do they need to be as famous as David Lewis? Do they need a publication in a top tier journal?) – virmaior Nov 1 '16 at 11:27
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    Maybe to explain my concerns better, (1) I assume your question is non-trivial. (2) if the bar for "analytic philosopher" or "taken root" is set quite low, then clearly the answer is "yes" and hundreds if not thousands of non-Western analytic philosophers can be found (going down to say undergraduate students who took one course), but then this is trivial and doesn't identify something interesting. (3) So we need to know the bar to know how to answer this question or we need to close it as too vague. – virmaior Nov 1 '16 at 11:29
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    Hao Wang, born Shangdon China 1921, later moved to US, wiki says he is known for Wang Tiles. Also for some reason N.V. Banerjee, b. 1901, India, but I'm less sure about him. – Gordon Jul 30 '17 at 22:23
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I'd say no, but this is mostly just a matter of definition. Analytic philosophy is a particular modern strain of the western philosophical tradition. Its canonical writers are all Europeans and Americans writing in response to each other and earlier generations of European philosophers. "Western" denotes a cultural and historical group. There aren't non-European members of the western philosophical canon1 for the same reason great non-European writers aren't considered part of European literature.

This is historically contingent and subject to change as time goes on. If there were an academic philosopher in China whose work is a direct response to let's say John Searle's theory of mind, then I'd call them a non-western analytic philosopher. If they became famous enough to join the canon of academic philosophers, then the answer to your original question would be an unambiguous "yes". To my knowledge that just hasn't happened yet. Also if Bertrand Russell had framed his philosophy as a direct response to, say, specific Zen Buddhist writers, then the answer might arguably be "yes". Something like that is possible, but I don't think it was ever the case.

However, if we were to read some 10th century Chinese philosopher and find striking parallels to analytic philosophy, we wouldn't say that person had been doing analytic philosophy all the time and just didn't realize it. Again, no more than we'd say The Tale of Genji belongs to European literature because it's arguably the first novel and novels later became very important in Europe.

The Wikipedia article Buddhism and Western Philosophy matches my sense of things. There's maybe some cross-pollination of ideas and admiration from afar, and instances of conceptual similarity, but separate philosophical traditions remain separate.

1 I'm avoiding the complication here that there are writers from thousands of years ago–Plato, Aristotle, and so on–who we identify as central to the western philosophical tradition even though the world they inhabited arguably preceded "western" culture and definitely preceded any notion of a unified European culture.

  • I would like to mention Hao Wang again. I mentioned him above in a comment. He was born in China in 1921. It appears that he got his undergraduate and masters degrees in China, and then he went to Harvard for his Phd. He spent the rest of his life in America I think. There is a wiki and project Euclid article on him etc. Does this qualify him as non-Western? It is a matter of definition I guess. – Gordon Aug 2 '17 at 17:10
  • Certainly. Just because I haven't heard of a particular Chinese philosopher doesn't mean they don't exist. :-) – W.P. McNeill Aug 2 '17 at 17:28
  • The reason I remembered him is that I had seen him cited in articles in this field through the years. It appears that at least one of his books is still in print: "Beyond Analytic Philosophy" MIT Press. There are interesting reviews (or really snippets of reviews) of the book scattered around on the internet and I wouldn't mind reading it. – Gordon Aug 2 '17 at 17:49
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Engagement with modern analytic philosophy outside the Anglo-American world is indeed limited and relatively recent, but far from non-existent. See, for example, the Tokyo Forum for Analytic Philosophy.

A central feature of analytic philosophy (as opposed to continental European as well as non-Western traditions) is that it emphasizes theoretical rationality (as opposed to practical rationality). The assertion made in the question that clarity and rigor are universal values that exist in every human culture is hinted at by sociologist Max Weber's discussion of theoretical rationality.

This type of rationality involves a conscious mastery of reality through the construction of increasingly precise abstract concepts rather than through action. Since a cognitive confrontation with one's experience prevails here, such thought processes as logical deduction and induction, the attribution of causality, and the formation of symbolic "meanings" are typical. More generally, all abstract cognitive processes, in all their expansive active forms, denote theoretical rationality [emphasis added].

So we should not simply treat analytic philosophy in particular as if it were identical with theoretical rationality in general. Analytic philosophy is an originally Anglo-American tradition that not only emphasizes the value of theoretical rationality, but develops and applies it in particular ways.

One defining feature of most analytic philosophy is that its formal logic, following Aristotle, assumes a logical binary of true and false. It has been proposed that an alternative approach to formal logic can be found in the Buddhist tradition. Whether or not this would count as "analytic philosophy" might be open to interpretation.

  • Well, It's dubious that "most analytic philosophy" has in any sense a logic so fully developed that it would reveal whether it's dialethic or not. – ChristopherE Jul 30 '17 at 21:41

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