Book Review 9/5/21:
A few weeks ago, I read “How the World Thinks: A Global History of Philosophy” by Julian Baggini (2018). Here are my thoughts.
The obvious problem with it is always going to be that it is a Western philosopher who is used to writing and categorising as the prime medium of communicating ideas, trying to tackle philosophies which do not take these assumptions to be necessary. By writing about him writing about it I guess I am doing the exact same thing though!
However, there were some significant triumphs:
- The tight focus on Japanese philosophy and the fact that its Conservatism has a metaphysical reason- namely that their version of Western teleology is pinned at the other plotted point of creation, the beginning- excused the clumsy framing device that they see space in paintings while WE see the painting. Although this is creating an us v them set-up, it is mostly starting with a ‘difference’ and then relating it back to the assumptions that Western philosophy has made in order to demonstrate that where we diverge is nearer to one another than these outward differences might look like.
- The well-researched differentiation of ‘vedanta’ schools when looking at the Indian thought traditions enabled generalisations such as the authority of the Brahman to be caveated, and for criticisms to be made of certain parts of the philosophy such as its sexism not to be implicitly tolerated by cultural relativism.
- The section on ‘no-self’ explicitly tackles the colonial effect on Indian philosophy. Baggini explains that philosophers from Europe have largely ascribed a word ‘anatta’ with the meaning of the self understood through Enlightenment standards set by thinkers like John Locke. By using the voice of Vedic and Yogic thinkers and retranslating it as ‘no-self’, a degree different from the eternal, self-containing personhood that Western thought uses, the book in a wider sense gives Eastern philosophy its own chance to be understood without a wider agenda. Although it is depressing that this has to be done via a white man, it is a good start for the decolonisation of how we understand ‘other’ philosophies, an attitude to learning that in itself is very problematic.