The term “philosophy” without any adjectives or other qualifications is generally understood to refer to Western philosophy. Introductory philosophy or ethics courses typically don’t pay any attention to non-Western philosophers (or merely drop a name once or twice in an attempt to feign a broader perspective), and one can easily get a philosophy degree without ever seriously engaging with Chinese or Indian philosophy. While there has been some pressure to broaden the scope of “philosophy”, thus far very little progress has been made in this respect.

One might (and should) wonder: What explains this resistance to a more inclusive understanding of the field? Perhaps, it is a deep-rooted belief in the superiority of Western civilization and, by extension, Western philosophy? But such a belief is really a form of racism, and thus, if that is the right answer, then this would imply that “philosophy” is racist.

This is the question I’m concerned with here (as the title of this article suggests): whether this practice of exclusion of non-Western “thought” can be called “racist”. To be clear, whether certain philosophers are or were racists is a very different question.1 The focus here is on the (academic) discipline called “philosophy”;2 not on individual philosophers. Or in other words, the focus is systemic, ideological,3 and “cultural” (in which “cultural” refers to a kind of scholarly/academic culture; not a national culture), rather than personal.

Racism, “Race”, and Arbitrary Exclusion

Obviously, to answer the question that gives this article its title I need to clarify what I mean with “racist” and “racism” first. If this doesn’t seem obvious, then that is probably due to a mistaken belief that these terms are unambiguous. They are not – there is significant disagreement about what “racism” exactly means. There are people who argue that racism is essentially systemic, for example, and therefore that there is no such thing as “white racism” – that is, racism that discriminates or excludes white people – while other (usually white) people vehemently disagree with this understanding. I’m not going to debate this issue here. I think that an understanding of “racism” as systemic is right in its context, but that doesn’t mean that it is right in every context. This implies, of course, that I don’t believe that there is a single notion of racism that is appropriate in all contexts and circumstances, and from that it follows in turn that I do not claim that my understanding of “racist” and “racism” in the present context is automatically applicable in other contexts as well. Or in other words, I’m not attempting to specify the one and only final definitions of these terms here – I’m merely specifying how I will use these terms in this article.

Racism, like sexism, is a form of arbitrary discrimination, and it is its arbitrariness that makes it problematic. Discrimination itself is not inherently wrong. A heterosexual man who only selects women as potential partners on a dating site is discriminating, but that discrimination is not arbitrary – he has good (or acceptable, at least) reasons for it – and he is thus not (at that time and for that reason) being sexist. Similarly, not casting a disabled actor to play a non-disabled historical character in a movie is not “ableism”.4 Discrimination is “arbitrary” if there is no good reason for it (where “good reason” means something like a sound argument).

This leaves “discrimination”. “To discriminate” means “to distinguish”, among others. In the here relevant sense, to discriminate is, first of all, to distinguish one group – usually, but not necessarily, the group one belongs to oneself – from (the) others (or vice versa). To discriminate is to exclude – it is to exclude those others from the favored group,5 but generally it is also an (intention of) exclusion of those others from certain rights or privileges awarded to the favored group. Discrimination, then, typically demands a preferential status for the favored group.

Everyone agrees that arbitrary discrimination is wrong. Sexists don’t think that arbitrary discrimination is acceptable – they just think that sex- or gender-based discrimination is not arbitrary. Similarly, people who favor one ethnic or racial group over others (i.e. racists) don’t think that arbitrary discrimination is acceptable – they just think that their discrimination is not arbitrary, or in other words, that they have good reasons for it. And so forth. Anyone who consciously discriminates believes that there are valid reasons for that discrimination, and thus that it is not arbitrary.6

On a side note, it seems to me that ethical egoism is a form of arbitrary discrimination as well – namely, one in which the favored group consists of just one person: oneself – and is, therefore, just as unacceptable as sexism or racism. Unless, of course, this kind of discrimination (in favor of myself) is for some reason not arbitrary. I don’t see what that reason could be, however. The 8th century Buddhist monk and philosopher Śāntideva wrote: “When happiness is liked by me and others equally, what is so special about me that I strive after happiness only for myself?”7 It’s hard to find a clearer expression of what the issue really is about: without a good explanation of “what is so special about me”, discrimination in favor of myself (i.e. ethical egoism) is arbitrary. And similarly, without a good explanation of what is so special about one race, or culture, or gender, or whatever, discrimination in favor of that race, etcetera is just as arbitrary.

Arbitrary discrimination comes in many kinds, some of which are named (because they are very common, unfortunately), while many others are not. Sexism is arbitrary discrimination based on sex or gender, for example. Whether this is sufficient as a definition can be debated, however, as this would imply that trans-phobia and/or the denial of the existence of people with intermediate sex or gender are also forms of sexism.8 While I think that it is appropriate to call such kinds of discrimination varieties of “sexism” is right (in certain contexts at least), I also understand that it may often be better to use the term in some more restricted sense.

Supposedly, racism is arbitrary discrimination based on “race”. Now, one can immediately object that the term “race” does not apply to humans, that there are no human races, and that is technically correct, of course, but it would also completely miss the point. In the 19th century the English word “race” and its functional equivalents in other European languages were often used as a translation of Latin gens, which refers to a group of people with shared ancestry. The term was also used to refer to differences in physical appearance, however, and “races” in that sense appear to be far larger groups of people than in a strict ancestry-based understanding, but the latter understanding wasn’t (and isn’t) very strict. The gens-derived use of “race” became extremely broad and flexible, with the notion of the “human race” as its broadest descendant. In practice, “race” in this sense was and is nearly indistinguishable from the modern notion of “ethnicity” – it can refer to a shared ancestry, but also to a shared culture, history, or tradition, or more often, to a combination of (at least) some of those. Nevertheless, “race” in this gens-derived use was gradually overshadowed by its use as term referring to certain physical characteristics, and nowadays this tends to be the dominant understanding.9

In the context of (a definition of) racism, “race” in that physical characteristics-based sense is pretty much irrelevant, however. If “racism” would just refer to arbitrary discrimination based on race in that sense of “race”, then the virulent hatred of everything Chinese expressed by some Japanese people (and the other way around!) would not be racist, for example. And neither would antisemitism, or the common discrimination of Middle-Eastern and North-African immigrants in parts of Europe, and so forth. It would, in effect, reduce the applicability of the term “racism” to a very small number of varieties and would necessitate the introduction of a new term for all the other kinds of arbitrary discrimination based on race, where “race” is understood in its gens-derived sense. Japanese right-wing extremists calling Koreans who have lived in Japan for generations “cockroaches” are surely racists, even though there are no physical characteristics that distinguish those two groups.10

Significantly, and more controversially perhaps, this understanding of “racism” would also imply that what I called “civilizational pride” before is a form of racism as well. To believe that Western (or Chinese, etcetera) civilization is better than all other civilizations/cultures and thus deserves some kind of special treatment, for example, is a form of discrimination based on race in the gens-derived sense of race. And if this discrimination is arbitrary, then this implies that civilizational pride is just as racist as white pride. Because I see no good reason to believe that Western civilization is somehow better or more deserving than anything non-Western, I’d say that such civilization pride is a form of racism indeed. Hence, if I’m right, then pride in Western civilization is really nothing but white pride or white supremacism in more respectable garb, and to believe that Chinese, Indian, or West-African culture is somehow inferior to “Western civilization” (whatever that is supposed to be exactly) is just as racist as believing that black or Asian people are inferior to white people.

The issue here is not whether this kind of pride in Western civilization is arbitrary and thus a form of racism – I have already covered that topic before – but rather, whether the practice of exclusion in (academic) “philosophy” is racist in exactly this sense. If that exclusion is based on a groundless sense of the superiority of Western philosophy (and the inferiority of non-Western “thought” that is not really deserving of the label “philosophy”), or if that exclusion and discrimination is arbitrary in some other relevant sense, then this practice is just as racist as excluding and discriminating Mexicans or Koreans on some arbitrary ground.

In short, then, a practice is racist if it is a form of arbitrary exclusion and/or discrimination based on “race” in a broad, gens-derived sense, and therefore, the exclusion of non-Western philosophy from the “philosophy” category is racist if that exclusion is arbitrary. The question, then, is whether there are (or could be) good reasons for this exclusionary/discriminatory practice?

Orientalist Prejudice

In Taking Back Philosophy, Bryan van Norden mentions that in a job interview one of the interviewers suggested that Chinese philosophy is “the intellectual equivalent of minor league baseball” while Western philosophy is like major league baseball.11 This is really the sentiment of Western superiority at its crudest, but what we need to know here is whether this is just racist (or Orientalist) prejudice or whether there is some truth to it.

But how do we even compare philosophical traditions? How does one decide whether Chinese philosophy is superior to Indian philosophy, for example? Or whether Western philosophy is superior to both? Or whether analytic philosophy is superior to Continental philosophy? And so forth. The comparison needs to be fair of course, so we cannot compare Quine with Han Fei, for example. In my personal opinion that’s a contest Quine would easily win, but opinions might differ about this – I’ll turn to that issue below. What would be a fair comparison? Aristotle and Confucius? I suppose that most Western philosophers would choose Aristotle, but that choice would be heavily influenced by the shadow Aristotle continues to cast over Western philosophy, and by the fact that very few Western philosophers have actually read Confucius. More generally, I suspect that none of the Western philosophers who claims that Western “philosophy” is superior to non-Western “thought” has seriously studied any non-Western philosopher, and if that is the case, they are obviously not qualified to make that judgment – it is, then, merely a prejudice rooted in ignorance.

However, it is quite possible that even informed opinions differ significantly. Although I don’t consider myself particularly well-informed, I think that I’m not completely ignorant either, so I’ll use my own opinion as an example. I see little value in Western philosophy before Hume, while I find much of interest in parts of Indian and Chinese philosophy from that “pre-Humean” period. So, I might opine that Western philosophy since the 18th century is superior to non-Western philosophy from that same period and that Chinese and Indian philosophy from before the 18th century are superior to Western philosophy from that same period. I might even be persuaded to try to back up this opinion. Now, whatever argument I could come up, I have no doubt that a good counterargument could be found. There are certain dogmas in Western philosophy that turn me away from early Western thought, while the same issues are debated more openly and rigorously in Indian philosophy, for example. But that’s something that may not jibe with you. You may not even recognize what I call a “dogma” as a dogma or as something important at all.12 The point is that what I or you or someone else considers “better” or “worse” in philosophy is quite subjective.

Well, it’s not completely subjective, of course. We can – very roughly! – judge philosophers by their originality, for example, and/or for the rigor with which they present their arguments. Some famous philosophers were highly original, but sloppy thinkers; others were less original, but much more rigorous; and some excelled in both. (And perhaps, some failed in both respects and are famous for other reasons.) However, it is not the case that we find many more original or rigorous thinkers in one tradition than in the others, or that the philosophers in one tradition were “on average” or “typically” (ignoring the question how you even determine what’s average or typical) more (or less) original and/or rigorous than in the others. Zhuang zi was probably a much more original thinker than Socrates, for example, and there’s certainly more rigor in Xun zi or Dharmakīrti than in the work of many famous Western contemporaries.

The idea of the superiority of Western philosophy, then, appears to be based on a mixture of ignorance and the Orientalist trope of the backward, childish, irrational, mystical, and so forth “East”. If this sentiment is the reason for excluding non-Western “thought” from the “philosophy” category, then that exclusion is racist indeed. But let’s not jump to conclusions – there are other arguments for this exclusion.

Religion, and the Concept of “Philosophy”

It is sometimes suggested that Eastern “thought” is not really philosophy because it is too religious. This is an interesting idea – firstly because it evinces a kind of double ignorance, and secondly because it raises the question of how to distinguish religion from philosophy. Excluding Eastern “thought” because it really is religion rather than “philosophy” is doubly ignorant because it is rooted not just in ignorance of the other’s traditions, but also in ignorance about one’s own. Much of Plato’s, Descartes’s, Berkeley’s and many other Western philosophers’ writings are deeply religious. If Eastern “thought” must be excluded from the philosophical canon because it is “too religious”, then so must Plato and Descartes.

On the other hand, even within Buddhist philosophy, for example, it is not particularly difficult to find philosophical writings (on metaphysics, epistemology, or rhetoric, for example) in which religion plays no significant role at all. And in case of classical Chinese philosophy religion is almost completely absent. There is a widespread appeal to “heavenly preference” or related notions, of course, but what is translated as “heaven” in those cases, tian 天, is a very different concept from the Western concept of “heaven”. Usually tian meant something like the natural order of the universe, and thus what is translated as “heavenly preference” might be better understood as “in accordance with the natural order of the universe” or something like that. Significantly, that is a metaphysical (and thus philosophical?) idea much more than a religious idea.13

Perhaps, it can even be argued that Western philosophy is much more religious than Chinese and (even) Indian philosophy. In Western philosophy God has often been the stopgap where other explanations fail. Descartes’s Meditations are an obvious example, but so are some of the theories of body and mind suggested in response to Cartesian dualism, such as parallellism and occasionalism. In fact, much of the history if Western philosophy of mind is really nothing but a desperate (and pathetic) series of attempts to hold on to the religious belief in an immortal soul.

Double ignorance is not the only explanation for the idea that Eastern “thought” is really religion rather than philosophy, however. There is another explanation: it may very well be the case that some philosophers who make this claim aren’t doubly ignorant at all, but that what they really mean is that non-Western philosophy is associated with the wrong religions. If it’s our religion (i.e. Christianity, mainly), then it’s “philosophy”, but if it’s their religions, then it’s merely “thought”. But this idea is so obviously racist14 that it needs no further attention here.

As mentioned, the second reason why the supposed religiosity of Eastern “thought” is interesting is because it raises the question of how to distinguish philosophy from religion. What even is “religion”? And what is “philosophy”? Anyone who is at least somewhat familiar with the debates about questions like these will realize that there are no universally accepted answers to these questions, but also that the answers that used to be most widespread and most influential within Western thought were very much based on Western religion and Western philosophy.

In case of “religion”, there appear to be certain ingredients that might be necessary conditions in a definition, such as the presence of dogmas and the appeal to supernatural entities and/or explanations, but in case of “philosophy” there doesn’t even seem to be much agreement about what some of its key features might be. Against the background of this widespread disagreement, Richard Rorty suggested that:

“philosophy” is not a name for a discipline which confronts permanent issues, … Rather, it is a cultural genre, a “voice in the conversation of mankind” …, which centers on one topic rather than another at some given time not by dialectical necessity but as a result of various things happening elsewhere in the conversation …15

I’ve always found this an interesting suggestion, but there are two important things to notice here. Firstly, it may be the case that there isn’t one philosophy-like cultural genre, but multiple. If Indian philosophy, for example, is clearly a very different “voice in the conversation of mankind”, then perhaps, it is not “philosophy” indeed, but something else. Secondly, this suggestion does in no way clarify what distinguishes philosophy as a cultural genre from other cultural genres, like painting, literature, or religion (if the latter is considered to be a cultural genre as well). While this second point might seem to send us right back to the problem of definition, it may actually be a less intractable problem. To clarify what distinguishes philosophy as a cultural genre from other cultural genres we do not necessarily need a definition of “philosophy” – a sketchy account of how this particular genre, vice, or conversation started may be sufficient.

Arguably, philosophy is rooted in the critical reflection upon myth and tradition, and this is not just true for Greek philosophy (i.e. the source of Western philosophy), but for Chinese and Indian philosophy as well. What distinguishes these three traditions more than anything else is the different myths and traditions they reflect upon. That in itself doesn’t make them different cultural genres, however. That the subject matter of ancient Chinese or African paintings is often different from the subject matter of contemporary European paintings doesn’t imply that those Chinese or African paintings aren’t “paintings” after all either. A cultural genre is defined more by “how” than by “what”. What defines philosophy as a cultural genre is not so much what – that is, which myths and traditions – it critically reflects upon, but that it is rooted in the critical reflection upon myth and tradition.

Still, it could be argued that Chinese and Indian “thought” are entirely separate “voices” or “conversations”, and therefore, that they are not “philosophy”. That claim is problematic for at least two reasons, however. Firstly, the exact same claim could be made for painting, for example, and that Chinese and European painting developed entirely separately for very many centuries (or millennia, even) doesn’t mean that Chinese painting really isn’t painting either. Secondly, it’s just not true that Western, Chinese, and Indian philosophy have been entirely separate conversations. Admittedly, there has been little communication between Western philosophy and the other two (especially Chinese philosophy) before the modern era,16 but not none at all. Especially in the Hellenistic period there was relatively intensive contact between Greece, Persia, and India. It is likely that this has somehow influenced Indian thought, but also the other way around. For example, we know that Pyrrho debated philosophy with Indian philosophers in India and later developed a philosophy that is strikingly similar to Buddhism in certain respects. Based on the various lines of evidence we have, it seems almost undeniable that Pyrrhonianism was heavily influenced by Indian philosophy.17 Nevertheless, this is apparently still controversial – there still are many experts in the field of Hellenistic philosophy who flatly deny any Indian influence. One may wonder whether this denial is rooted in an unconscious (?) desire to keep Western “philosophy” and Indian “thought” strictly separate (to keep the former pure and untainted by Oriental ideas that aren’t worthy of the “philosophy” label and that cannot possibly have been profound enough to influence a Greek philosopher anyway).

Let’s return to the question of the distinction between religion and philosophy. It is sometimes suggested that the Buddha was a philosopher (especially by Buddhist modernists and Western Buddhists), but as far as I know, almost no one thinks that Jesus was a philosopher. So what might make one of these religious figures more philosophical than the other? It’s important to realize that we don’t know exactly what either of the two taught. Neither the Bible (in case of Jesus) nor the Pāli canon (in case of the Buddha) is a reliable source. Both are written much later than Jesus and the Buddha lived (although in case of Jesus this gap is one of decades for parts of the New Testament, while it is centuries in case of the Buddha). And both are the product of selection, redaction, and even forgery against the background of sectarian struggles.18

Nevertheless, based on what we know about their surrounding societies and critical textual scholarship it is possible to reconstruct Jesus’s and the Buddha’s teachings to some extent. It appears that Jesus was a fairly typical Jewish apocalypticist, who made some minor innovations in that already heterogeneous intellectual current.19 And similarly, the Buddha was a fairly typical wandering ascetic, who also made some relatively minor innovations relative to his intellectual background – particularly, he claimed that karma isn’t produced by all actions (as commonly believed), but merely by intentional actions,20 and he advocated a particular kind of meditation.21 The question is whether Jesus’s and the Buddha’s innovations were the product of “critical reflection upon myth and tradition” or merely speculative leaps. Since I see no reason whatsoever to assume that it was the first, I think it is safe to conclude that they were probably speculative leaps indeed,22 and if that is right, neither Jesus nor the Buddha can be considered a philosopher.

This doesn’t mean that there is no Christian or Buddhist philosophy, however. It merely means that Jesus and the Buddha weren’t the starting point thereof. Rather, they provided (part of!) the source material. Philosophy was born from the critical reflection upon myth and tradition, and typically the myths and traditions reflected upon were religious. So Christian philosophy originates in the critical reflection upon Christian (and related) myths and traditions, and the same (mutatis mutandis) for Buddhist philosophy. So, where and when exactly does this kind of reflection become philosophical, one might wonder, but I don’t think there is a clear answer to that question. There is a gray area. On the one end of that gray area we find texts like the Gospel of John and the Dhamma­cakkappavattana Sutta (Setting the Wheel in Motion; traditionally considered to be the Buddha’s first sermon), both of which are forgeries that misrepresent the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha, respectively.23 What’s more important than their inauthenticity, however, is why these texts were created (i.e. forged) – they were the result of innovations that were deemed necessary by certain groups of followers in response to other ideas and trends in their intellectual and cultural surroundings.24 However, while these texts presented new ideas (i.e. ideas that weren’t part of the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha themselves – at least in as far as we know now), they were hardly the result of the kind of sustained argument that the term “critical reflection” suggests. Hence, they are still religion more than philosophy. Closer to the other end of the spectrum we might find the writings of Augustine or Nāgārjuna, for example, and while those are very obviously religious, they are also undoubtedly philosophical.

Two important points can (and should) be distilled from this. Firstly, there is no sharp boundary between religion and philosophy. And actually, this should be obvious if one takes the origins of philosophy into account. If philosophy is born from the critical reflection on – often religious – myths and traditions, then the religious ideas embedded therein will play key roles in philosophical thought. This doesn’t mean that a philosophical tradition cannot eventually emancipate from those ideas, however. In the contrary, philosophy creates its own new “myths” and traditions and future generations working in the same tradition critically reflect on those as well, potentially drifting further and further away from the source or sources of the tradition. (But most of Western philosophy hasn’t drifted away from Greek and Christian dogma’s and preconceptions nearly as much as many Western philosophers seem to think.)

Secondly, that a body of thought is religious doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t philosophical as well. A text can be both at the same time, in various amalgamations of philosophy, religion, and other ingredients. Augustine’s Confessions and Descartes’s Meditations were religious – it would be absurd to deny that – but that doesn’t imply that they weren’t philosophical texts at the same time. And the exact same is true for Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way), for example.

There is, moreover, another important point that can be inferred from the preceding. Critical reflection upon myth and tradition requires sustained argument, and that in turn requires writing. There can, thus, be no philosophy without writing. This claim might be controversial (albeit probably not among Western philosophers), because it seems to imply that there is no such thing as African philosophy, for example. That conclusion would be mistaken, however, but not (just) because there have been some African philosophers who wrote, such as the 17th century Ethiopian philosopher Zera Yacob. Even if no African thinker had ever written a philosophical text, there would still be a collection of metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, and so forth ideas embedded in various African myths and traditions. The epistemological ideas that are supposedly part of Yoruba tradition, for example, are not “philosophy” themselves, but as soon as one starts critically thinking and writing about them, then one is doing philosophy, African philosophy (or Yoruba philosophy, if one wants to be more specific). African philosophy is not the collection of African myths and traditions that might be philosophically interesting for whatever reason, but the critical reflection upon those myths and traditions. Whether that critical reflection will produce thinkers that deserve to be included in the philosophical canon is still an open question,25 but that is due to the unfortunate fact that China, India, and Europe had a (huge) head start,26 not because the ideas embedded in African myths and traditions are (necessarily) any less fruitful or interesting.

The foregoing also implies, of course, that although Augustine and Anton Amo were Africans and philosophers, they were not African philosophers, because they worked within the European philosophical tradition. More generally, one doesn’t have to be African to be an African philosopher, or Buddhist to be a Buddhist philosopher, or white/Western to be a Western philosopher. It’s the tradition one is (predominantly) working in and contributing to that determines to which philosophical tradition one belongs, not one’s ethnic, racial, or cultural background. This should be fairly obvious, I think, and it should probably be equally obvious that the alternative (i.e. defining “Chinese philosophy” as philosophy done by ethnically Chinese people, etcetera) would be a kind of discrimination or exclusion from a philosophical tradition on arbitrary racial grounds, and thus a form of racism. From this it follows in turn that the fact that there are non-Western people working in Western philosophy doesn’t prove that “philosophy” isn’t racist. The topic here is the effective exclusion of non-Western philosophy from the “philosophy” category; not the ex- or in-clusion of non-Westerners from/in academic Western philosophy.27

It seems I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked here, so let’s return to the main topic of this section: the question whether it could reasonably be argued that Indian or Chinese “thought” (as well as other “thoughts”) are not “philosophy”. I’ve already shown that alleged religiosity cannot be that argument for a number of reasons. But then what? Many of the same topics and questions can be found in all three of these traditions: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, social philosophy, and so forth. The boundaries between topics may not always be the same, but (sub-)disciplinary boundaries are only good for making librarians’ lives easier and should not be taken overly seriously. And if even many of the topics and questions are the same (or very similar at least), what other reason to claim that non-Western “thought” is not “philosophy” could there possibly be?

Conclusion

“None.” The answer is “none”. There is no good reason to exclude non-Western philosophy from the “philosophy” category. And therefore, that exclusion is a form of arbitrary discrimination. It is, moreover, arbitrary discrimination based on “race” in the broad gens-derived sense of that term, and thus, a form of racism. “Philosophy” as it is commonly conceived by Western philosophers and Western academies is Orientalist and racist.28 “Philosophy” is the last vestige of white supremacism in the academy. If it continues to resist reform, it should be abolished.


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Notes

  1. There can be little doubt that Kant was a racist, for example. See his Anthropology.
  2. And/or on what the word “philosophy” (without qualifications) is assumed to refer to.
  3. “Ideological” here in the sense of referring to (systems of) ideas.
  4. But casting a non-disabled actor to play a disabled historical character while a disabled actor could play that role equally well probably is ableism.
  5. If this favored group is the group one belongs to oneself it is usually called the “in-group”. However, not all discrimination favors the group one belongs to oneself. There is plenty of empirical evidence for black people (such as black police officers) unconsciously discriminating black people (in favor of white people), for example.
  6. A lot of discrimination (including sexism and racism) is unconscious, however. In fact, there is a lot of empirical evidence showing that most people are unconsciously racist and sexist at least to some extent, which is probably largely due to the barrage of stereotypes we are being fed by commercial news and the “culture industry”.
  7. Śāntideva, The Bodhicaryāvatāra, Translated by Kate Crosby and Andrew Skilton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 8:95.
  8. Unfortunately it appears to be the case that it cannot be repeated often enough that sex and gender are spectra, rather than dichotomies. Sex is largely genetic and there are several genetic/bio-medical causes of intermediate sex (i.e. in between the male and female extremes). And gender is even more fluid. Insisting that sex (and/or gender) is a dichotomy is, thus, the denial of the existence of a substantial group of people.
  9. Notice, by the way, that the question whether races in either sense are real or are merely social constructions (or fictions) is quite irrelevant here. A ground for discrimination doesn’t have to be “real” to be a ground for discrimination.
  10. I think that it is significant that many countries that have laws against racism or racist discrimination have also realized this at some point, and that current legal definitions of “racism” typically depend on a broad, gens-derived understanding of “race”.
  11. Bryan van Norden (2017), Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto (New York: Columbia University Press), p. 26.
  12. Of course, non-Western philosophy tends to have its own tiresome dogmas, such as the dogma of reincarnation in most of Indian philosophy. Western philosophers are more likely to be put off by dogmas that are relatively alien to them and that they disagree with than by familiar dogmas that they might even have internalized (and thus don’t recognize as dogmas).
  13. There is a very similar idea in Vedic thought from ancient India, by the way. The Vedic concept of ṛta is very similar (but not identical!) to tian.
  14. At least in the sense of “racism” employed here.
  15. Richard Rorty (1979), Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press), p. 264.
  16. And in case of India and China, the influence was mainly in one direction: from India to China.
  17. Adrian Kuzminksi (2010), Pyrrhonism: How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism (Lexington). Christopher Beckwith (2017), Greek Buddha: Pyrrho’s Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia (Princeton University Press).
  18. Bart Ehrman (2005), Lost Christianities: The Battles For Scripture And The Faiths We Never Knew (Oxford University Press). Steven Collins (1990), “On the Very Idea of the Pali Canon”, reprinted in: Paul Williams (ed.) (2005), Buddhism: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies, Volume I: Buddhist Origins and the Early History of Buddhism in South and Southeast Asia (London: Routledge): 72-95.
  19. Bart Ehrman (1999), Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Oxford University Press).
  20. Johannes Bronkhorst (2009), Buddhist Teaching in India (Boston: Wisdom Publications).
  21. Tilman Vetter (1988), The Ideas and Meditative Practices of Early Buddhism (Leiden: Brill)
  22. The Buddha’s new kind of meditation was – supposedly – tested by himself, and thus not the product of mere speculation. However, a kind of meditation is a practice, and surely not a philosophy or even philosophical in itself.
  23. Bronkhorst, Buddhist Teaching in India. Bart Ehrman (2011), Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (HarperOne).
  24. For example, in case of the Dhamma­cakkappavattana Sutta, the idea of a liberating kind of knowledge was probably a response to similar ideas in increasingly dominant Brahmanic thought. In case of the Gospel of John, ideas of heaven and hell inspired by then dominant (aspects of) Greek philosophy and Roman culture were substituted for Jesus’s belief in eternal life in the “Kingdom of God” in this world. — Bronkhorst, Buddhist Teaching in India. Bart Ehrman (2020), Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (Simon & Schuster).
  25. If we can ever agree about the qualifications needed to “deserve” inclusion.
  26. And that Europe tried to make sure that others couldn’t catch up for centuries.
  27. Nevertheless, it may very well be the case that philosophy is racist in that sense as well –and sexist – considering that the field continues to be dominated by white males.
  28. I think it important to emphasize that academic philosophers are not solely responsible for the perpetuation of this racist interpretation of “philosophy”, and perhaps not even most responsible. University administrators, publishers, and many outside the academy also continue to equate “philosophy” with the ideas of long-dead white men.