The following is a guest post by Jim Behuniak of Colby College. Please address any comments to Jim!
Van Norden on Chinese Philosophy in the U.S.
The recently concluded 11th East-West Philosopher’s Conference in Honolulu featured a number of sessions on the “place” of non-Western philosophy in the academy. Excellent presentations by Carine Defoort, Tao Jiang, Amy Olberding, Brian Bruya, and others, along with questions and discussion by Steve Angle, Roger Ames, Cheng Chung-ying and many others, brought the issue empirically and conceptually into focus over the ten days. This has me reflecting on Bryan Van Norden’s recent promotions of Chinese philosophy in the United States.
Such efforts are to be commended. It is sobering, however, to think that it’s been 20 years since his “Open Letter” to the APA. The situation has not greatly improved. In his most recent interview with the APA, Van Norden observes that, “by a reasonable estimate, only seven [U.S. doctorate-granting Philosophy departments] have a single member of their regular faculty who teaches Chinese philosophy.”
This estimate is alarming, but also inaccurate. The list does not include the University of Hawaii, which actually has two members of its program teaching Chinese Philosophy: Cheng Chung-ying and Roger Ames, soon to be Franklin Perkins. Plus, Hawaii maintains two positions in Japanese philosophy, one in Indian philosophy, and one in Islamic philosophy. Arabic, classical Chinese, Japanese, Sanskrit, and Pali are currently counted as “philosophically significant” languages in Hawaii’s program requirements. Given that Van Norden maintains that “the very survival of philosophy as an academic discipline in this country depends upon its becoming multicultural,” neglecting to mention Hawaii’s program in the APA interview is simply baffling. Perhaps it was just an oversight. My guess, however, is that it was not, since Hawaii is absent from Van Norden’s considered list of “Best Programs” linked to in the interview.
So, why the blind eye towards Hawaii? I really don’t know. If it stems, however, from the fact that Chinese philosophers in Hawaii do not work entirely within the analytic sub-discipline (Cheng leans more continental and Ames more historical/American) then this raises a serious concern. Is Chinese philosophy only “Philosophy” when it is analytic philosophy? Between the two, Cheng and Ames have 90+ years of teaching Chinese philosophy at Hawaii—the only Philosophy program in the U.S. that even has a specialized Ph.D. in “Chinese philosophy.” Do Cheng and Ames not count as philosophers? If this is what readers take away from the Van Norden interview, then it contributes more to the problem of exclusion than to its solution. Again, I don’t know what he intends or why he routinely neglects to mention Hawaii. But I do know that Chinese philosophy is larger than any sub-discipline within Philosophy, and that a struggling jia 家 divided against itself will never find its feet.