All philosophies tend towards the same goal: the acquisition of wisdom, be it through transcendental meditation, spiritual contemplation or rational investigation. In a world open to all sorts of false claims, dangerous reinterpretations and approximations of so called ‘new truths’, philosophy, often under attack from malevolent quarters, has never appeared so urgently needed to repair our dented certainties and restore our belief in the power of objective reason and personal self-enlightenment.
In his ambitious work Taking Back Philosophy. A Multicultural Manifesto (Columbia UP; 2018) Bryan W. Van Norden, scholar of Chinese and comparative philosophy, takes a global approach to philosophy and urges us to look beyond the European canon and widen our intellectual horizons beyond the Greek and Western traditions. Co-author with Jay L. Garfield of a controversial New York Times article on the Eurocentric bias of the American philosophical academe, Van Norden proposes, here, to introduce a cosmopolitan syllabus, very close to the objective of any conscientious IB Philosophy teacher. His emphasis on the importance of dialogue between Confucius, Socrates and the Buddha should, indeed, lie at the heart of any course dedicated to the pursuit of the good life before studying what modern thinkers like Kant, Nietzsche or Mill have to say on the subject.
Why not, after all, bring into the ‘conversation’ on what it is to be a human being, Martin Luther King’s inspiring sermons, W.E.B Du Bois’ notion of ‘double consciousness’ or the rich heritage of the Harlem School of writers. Flannery O’Connor’s quotation, ‘everything that rises must converge’ is particularly apposite about the study of mankind’s greatest traditions. Just as all religions choose their own path in their ascent of the holy mountain leading to God or The One, why shouldn’t philosophy be entitled to proceed along meandering tracks in its search for truth and wisdom.
I would strongly recommend Van Noren’s quite extensive and most useful list of Readings on the Less Commonly Taught Philosophies, ranging from African and Indigenous traditions to Latin American thinkers. Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy (1945) remains a classic compendium of what world spiritual writings share in common and how they contribute to a better understanding of the Self.