Comparative Philosophy in Europe

A European member of the ISCWP noted, in our recent “Call for Board Nominations,” the plan to continue a geographical balance between East Asian and North America, and this led her to wonder why Europe was excluded. She writes: “…I would love to know who else in Europe is studying on comparitive philosophy, since indeed I am starting to think that I am one of few.”The rationale behind the ISCWP policy is pragmatic. To-date, all of our activities have taken place in East Asia or in North America, and a very high percentage of our members reside in one of these two regions. It is possible that this is an artifact of the ISCWP’s youth and conscious focus on these two areas; after all, the ISCP‘s current president, Prof. Yolaine Escande, is French and the ISCP will hold its 17th bi-annual international conference in Paris this coming July. And of course one can also point to European comparative philosophers with international reputations, like François Jullien or Heiner Roetz.

Still, it has been my impression formed by conversations with colleagues from Europe over the years that comparative philosophy is, indeed, even less developed in Europe than in the U.S., perhaps partly because the European philosophical profession is even less welcoming to non-Western philosophizing than are our colleagues here in the U.S.

I wonder if any readers of the blog have experiences or opinions on this subject?

2 replies on “Comparative Philosophy in Europe”

  1. Well, a first question might be: what do you (or your colleague) mean by “comparative philosophy”? Your last lines seem to imply something like the philosophical counterpart of “world-religions”, i.e., non Western philosophies. By contrast, one might mean by “comparative philosophy” a manner of making philosophy which entails comparison of ideas and methods. Last, you might think of the latter, only if applied to non-Western philosophy.
    If you focus on the comparative method, there is certainly much comparative philosophy in Europe, insofar as, for instance, many authors involve cross-European comparisons or comparisons between Classical or Medieval philosophy and contemporary one.
    If you want to ask about non-Western philosophies, you might want to consider the fact that many scholars working on, say, Arab or Chinese philosophy work in departments of “Oriental Studies” or “Asian studies”. Hence, a first reason why Western-non Western comparisons are comparatively rare might be the following: colleagues working on philosophy from different areas of the world hardly ever meet.
    A second reason could be this one: “Continental” philosophers are well aware of the importance of using original texts. Many of them would not work on translations. And most of them would not take seriously the philosophically naive and cumbersome translations which are the only ones available for Sanskrit philosophy (and, I am afraid, for many other Asian philosophies).
    More in general, I wonder if we, as scholars who are interested in philosophy and who know some Asian languages, should not have as our primary focus the elaboration of philosophically sound translations. What do you think?
    Last, send my greetings to the European colleague you mention. I also often feel lonely.

  2. Just as a point of information, there are three of us at University College Cork, Ireland who do comparative philosophy: myself, Hans-Georg Moeller, and Graham Parkes. Just last March the annual meeting of the Comparative and Continental Philosophy Circle was held in Cork. Also, our graduate program has quadrupled over the past few years, with a number of students doing comparative. Of course, this isn’t to say that comparative philosophy is a burgeoning field in Europe, but there are at least a few of us.

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