Problems in Western Philosophy

The big discoveries in philosophy are more often problems than new ideas. People have been thinking about philosophical issues forever and philosophers have entertained a super-abundance of seemingly good ideas. But it is the problems that force reckonings where we can begin to sort the seemingly good ideas from the probably good ideas. The history of philosophy isn’t the history of this person’s (probably culturally laden) way of seeing things or that person’s (probably also culturally laden) other perspective. It’s the story of discovering significant problems that force reckonings. What we learn is which ideas fit together well and which ones don’t. We seldom get to prove just which idea is correct. But we often get to prove that you can’t fit this idea together with those ideas. Dialectical inquiry is the slow and fallible process of learning from our mistakes. One of arduously seeking out the puzzle pieces that fit together, mostly by figuring out which ones don’t.

Philosophy is not cultural indoctrination or indoctrination of any sort. People who think philosophy is too Western and European have missed the point of philosophy in the Western European tradition. What makes this a tradition of inquiry, rather than merely a tradition of instilling and perpetuating Western European perspectives and values, is that this is a tradition of learning from mistakes. This is the central kernel of the Socratic dialectical tradition.

Subjecting cultural biases to ruthless and systematic critical evaluation is the one sure way to transcend them. The more competing perspectives we can bring into this process the better. But we have to understand up front that affirmation of those diverse perspectives is not what inquiry is about. For the dialectical process to work, all perspectives have to be open to critical analysis. I suppose this takes some courage, but the stakes aren’t very high. The worst that can happen is that you might discover you were mistaken. And the only penalty for this is that you get to shed a mistake and maybe move on to something better (or maybe just to another mistake).

There are good charges of cultural bias to be raised against many Western European philosophers and to a healthy extent, they have already been raised by other Western European philosophers. Anyone who has new good complaints of cultural bias is certainly welcome to join the party. Just know that in doing so you are joining the philosophical tradition that has emerged from the West, not rejecting it. And you are helping to enrich that tradition, bringing it closer yet to a tradition of just plain human inquiry.

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