Fermented Ph.D. Dump: "What is Philosophy?" as a Political Question

A Tactical Recap to the Fermented Ph.D. Dump

Dump I | Dump II | Dump III | Dump IV | Dump V | Dump VI/Africa I

In the previous Ph.D. dump, I introduced the notion of What is African philosophy? as a very particular question that can be very problematic. This week, I will begin to look at the notion of questioning what is western philosophy as per definition an African philosophical problem. This is in some sense turning the tables around. Normally in western philosophy, one would ask "What is philosophy?", many books in fact deal with this very question. But few western philosophical works ever ask the question: What is western philosophy? In this post, I want to discuss some implications or reasons why questioning what western philosophy is can be an African philosophical problem.

"What is western philosophy?" as an African Philosophical problem

Western philosophers usually ask the question: What is philosophy? Many books attest to this fact. One can merely search this phrase and a bunch of books and articles will pop up. But the question in that format is extremely problematic and can actually reinforce problems we are dealing with in the academy. It is important to (i) problematize this question, and (ii) to situate it. In other words, we need to add some "place" from where one can philosophize.

Because, in trying to answer the question of what philosophy is, we are in fact giving credence to the notion that we can abstractly and devoid of human situatedness philosophize about the world.

We should thus recognize that we cannot in fact ask this question in this way because we are always already speaking from a place.

It is thus imperative to ask: what is "western" philosophy?

When we ask the question in this way, one already begins to see that the claim to talk abstractly about philosophy becomes problematic. One cannot philosophize from "nowhere". The western philosopher, thus, speaks from his own "western-ness" or western context.

But when we start to interrogate the idea of what "western" philosophy is, it breaks open a can of worms. What we thought was a homogenous field of ideas with a narrative stretching from Plato to Descartes to modern philosophers, is not the case. For one, even Plato did not think philosophy started with him or with the Greeks. They attribute philosophy to the Egyptians and Indians, amongst others. If we merely look at textual evidence, various authors state that the idea that philosophy started with the Greeks was written into the history books by 18th-century authors (Source 1; Source 2). Two other ideas spring to mind as well. (i) Where is the west on a map? (ii) What method of practicing philosophy is essentially western philosophy? (Both these ideas are discussed in Lucy Allais's article.)

The main takeaway: western philosophy is problematic and we cannot do away with it because many other authors who are not western but very important in philosophy will be disregarded, again.

Postscriptum, Or This is the First Question

I am busy preparing for the module I will be teaching. These are some loose ideas that are "fermenting" in my mind. I hope they made some sense. In the coming weeks, many of these "ferments" will be posted here. It helps me unload a bit. But hopefully, you might benefit from it as well.

The images are my own, and the written work is also my own unless hyperlinked or stated otherwise. I hope you are well. Keep on learning!

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