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Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto


In his recent book Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto, Bryan W. Van Norden—an expert in Chinese philosophy who teaches at Wuhan University in China, Yale-NUS College in Singapore, and Vassar College in the US—asks why most philosophy departments in Europe and the US continue to teach exclusively Western philosophy. Despite the rich philosophical traditions of China, India, Africa, and other non-Western cultures, Euro-American philosophy department act as if these traditions aren’t worth studying, thus implying that only white Westerners have anything important to say about the biggest questions of human existence. In an excerpt from his book featured at Public Seminar, Van Norden demonstrates that Western philosophers weren’t always this Eurocentric; it was the cult of Kant that narrowed their viewpoint. Here’s a snippet from the excerpt:

As Park convincingly argues, Africa and Asia were excluded from the philosophical canon by the confluence of two interrelated factors. On the one hand, defenders of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) consciously rewrote the history of philosophy to make it appear that his critical idealism was the culmination toward which all earlier philosophy was groping, more or less successfully.

On the other hand, European intellectuals increasingly accepted and systematized views of white racial superiority that entailed that no non-Caucasian group could develop philosophy. So the exclusion of non-European philosophy from the canon was a decision, not something that people have always believed, and it was a decision based not on a reasoned argument, but rather on polemical considerations involving the pro-Kantian faction in European philosophy, as well as views about race that are both scientifically unsound and morally heinous.

Image of Kant via


This is interesting, apparently in the eyes of Kant there was a great, universal race, the white race and lesser, non-universal races, the non-white races. The great race would then produce great Philosophy, great Science and great Art by its very nature. The fact that in the West, students literally know nothing about non-Western philosophies, sciences and arts (except that they are different therefore inferior) seems to make them vulnerable to a state of white suprematism by default, as they are not initiated to the appreciation of the comparative advantages and disadvantages of the non-white philosophies, arts and sciences. It’s actually quite dangerous for the westerner themselves, e.g. nobody apparently, in the West, did see the chinese economic development coming at the speed it demonstrates. Even Hitler was vulnerable to that blindspot e.g. when complaining about not having suspected the tanks build preventively by the soviets in his conversation with the Finnish military commander Mannerheim in 1942.


One convenient method to understand the links between the different philosophies of the world is to investigate the people that managed to find crossovers between the highest spheres of western philosophy or science and eastern philsophies. Matthieu Ricard is a case in point, he is the son of the french philosopher Jean-François Revel, and completed a P.hD in molecular genetics at the Institut Pasteur. Afterwards he studied thibetan buddhist philosophy (a full-fledged philosophy according to the thibetan buddhists) and now is a teaching lama.
When listening to him, one might realize that the distinction between belief and proven truths is similar in thibetan philosophy and in western culture. For example, unless we prove for ourselves by studying chemistry or physics and run the appropriate tests, the fact that the atom of carbon has six protons is just a belief in the sense that we believe that the specialists in the field are telling the truth. As we see that the probability that scientists in all countries, often from transitorily enemy countries are lying about it is very low, and as we know that we can potentially just go to study chemistry and prove it to ourself, we interpret our belief for all practical purposes as knowledge.
The point that is not often seen is that other populations are in the same position, but for other types of truths. For example the thibetan population broadly believes that there is such a thing as reincarnation, but as from their point of view, the probability that their specialists of what the thibetan buddhist call not only a philosophy but also a science of the mind, are lying to them since at least a thousand years, when Karmapa reincarnated and self-recognized himself consciously, is very low and they also know that they can go to study themselves and find out by themselves about the nature of the mind and reincarnation, which they see being done on a regular basis around them. Those having gone successfully through the training of the mind all claim that there are four veils of unconsciousness or duality that have to be destroyed successively in a sort of descent, before reaching awakening, in short the mind not only is immaterial but it can be brought to bloom in an irreversible manner and has the same constitution in each person. Buddha is reported to have said: There is a non-born, non-done, non-become, non-composed, if there was no non-born, non-done, non-become, non-composed, there would be no possible freedom from the born, the done, the become, the composed. Possible similarities can be found in physics, e.g. in “Time from quantum entanglement: an experimental illustration” were time is observed as an emerging phenomenon in a very simple model of a universe, existing for the internal entangled observer, non-existing for the external non-entangled observer.
The thibetan buddhists also claim that some events that many westerners tend to interpret as shams are not actually shams, for example reincarnations are found somewhere somehow and when brought back to their distant monastery, they indicate locations around their monastery where their precedent incarnation buried personal belongings that they can’t possibly be aware of unless the whole thing is a sham or reincarnation is real. Theoretically, it should be possible to objectively verify by a third party by following each and every steps of those processes if this kind of demonstrations are shams or not, the obstacle being both the potential resistance to intrusion by the lamas as well as the lack of interest in non-technology based immortality in the west. There seems to be also a lot of confusion in the west about what is identity and immortality, for example, it is possible to clone human beings, and thus render them immortal, but we don’t even tend to consider that twins are really the same person, while ignoring the fact that if identity is purely material, each second modifies us and our brains through neuronal and synaptic plasticity, in other words, if we could produce instant perfect doubles of ourselves, with each sub-atomic particle doubled and at the same position, each second passing would shift away our double into another identity just as we ourselves shift away at each instant from our instant former identities that we perceive as one constant identity.
Another interesting way to see the abyss between the west and the east is to listen to this debate on youtube: “The Nature of Reality: A Dialogue Between a Buddhist Scholar and a Theoretical Physicist”, where a western buddhist scholar that is also a trained physicist, debates with a quantum physicist.
Each era and civilization might develop the philosophy that is appropriate to its situation, for example, you don’t want to come up with a non-racial supremacist philosophy when at the same time at work colonising or ethnically cleansing entire continents e.g. north America. However, now that for the west there are little opportunities of such actions, the basic tenets of western philosophy and culture might gain new grounds by reconnecting with non-western philosophies, at the very least to know your, e.g. chinese, customers. Westerners living on the European continent though, given the temporal proximity of the Shoah, will possibly need to stay under the cover of radical materialism for longer, as the whitewashing allowed by it, in short the ethnic germans are free will free bio-mechanisms that just happened to exterminate the ethnic jews, themselves free will free bio-mechanisms and everybody is essentially irresponsible, is itself based on white supremacist assumptions e.g. thibetan buddhists are just lying about free will and the mind, or having illusions and will soon come to the light of the master culture if guided with empathy and patience.


Famously, Marxism cared enough about the brain-rot that is Kantianism to have the words “Here ends the age of Kant” in the words of the Internationale.
All those interested in getting their philosophy on the right track should read Lenin’s work -
Materialism and Empirio-criticism, Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy (Published May 1909 in Moscow). Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 14, pages 17-362. You can find this on the Lenin Internet Archive at It is a great refutation of Kant and all idealist philosophies.
We live in a universe of matter in constant motion. Nature may be weird and wonderful but it is not mystical, it is real. Buddhism, like any religion, is barmy mystical gibberish removed from material reality.
Buddhism gets an incredibly good press in the West precisely because too many minds are wanting to escape from the global realities of capitalist rat-race stress, economic crisis and crazy imperialist warmongering, and Western religions are too compromised with child abuse or stuffy Establishment boredom to do it for them.
Buddhism is just a variety of the opium for the masses, as Marx famously put it.