Monday, June 04, 2012

Arrogant philosophy is foolish philosophy

Justin E. H. Smith yesterday advanced a thoroughly interesting argument about what he calls philosophy’s western bias. I agree with an alternative approach to the history of philosophy he briefly outlines, where Western and non-Western philosophies are "the regional inflections of a global phenomenon".

Smith draws upon G. W. Leibniz to argue philosophical dominance piggy-backs commercial dominance. Let me make a related point: it's not difficult to find practical examples of the link between commercial innovation and philosophical thought. For instance the idea of time the Buddha proposed when developed the idea of "dependent arising" is absolutely fascinating, partly because it is so different from the concept of past, present and future we all take for granted. The Buddha's 2,500 year old idea about time and reality is very much relevant today because the developers of contemporary video compression codecs utilize techniques like interframe compression that have far more in common with dependent arising than they do with discrete moments of time.

Statue of the Buddha in Tajikistan
Statue of the Buddha in Tajikistan

Because Western philosophers care so little for South Asian philosophical concepts, unsurprisingly I had to learn about the Buddha's concept of dependent arising from a Sri Lankan philosopher, David Kalupahana.

When Western philosopher ignore or marginalize other philosophical traditions through the mechanisms Smith outlines, it is to our intellectual, cultural and yes commercial impoverishment.

Arrogant philosophy is foolish philosophy.