Upcoming Events

Questioning ‘Western Philosophy’: Philosophical, Historical, and Historiographical Challenges (Conference Announcement)

April 2023 (exact dates tbd)

Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre, Worcester College, Oxford

Reconstruction of Muhammad al-Idrisi’s map, Kitab Rudjdjar (1154, originally

نزهة المشتاق في اختراق الآفاق), including much of Europe, Africa, and Asia

We are delighted to announce an upcoming international conference, organized in collaboration with Josh Platzky Miller, on the topic ‘Questioning ‘Western Philosophy’: Philosophical, Historical, and Historiographical Challenges’.

Over the last century, the idea of a ‘Western Philosophy’ has become hegemonic in academia. It is widely and uncritically used as a neutral, pseudo-geographic descriptor. It has also entered wider cultural milieus through popular texts like Bertrand Russell’s 1945 History of Western Philosophy and, more recently, histories like Anthony Gottlieb’s 2000 The Dream of Reason: a History of Western Philosophy or James Garvey and Jeremy Stangroom’s 2012 The Story of Philosophy: a History of Western Thought. However, remarkably few authors have defined this vague term, or even brought it into view, never mind questioning the very idea. Indeed, it is mostly simply assumed that the term makes sense and picks out something real. It was not always like this: significantly, the idea of ‘The West’ itself has only been used in this way since the late 19th century, and only became prominent in the early 20th century, at which point the idea of a ‘Western Philosophy’ also emerged.

Questioning ‘Western Philosophy’ will be the first international conference that subjects this concept to critical interrogation, asking whether it is legitimate, where it comes from, when and how it becomes widespread, and how it impacts our understanding of philosophy and its history.

Building on decades of work from, inter alia, the history of philosophy, intercultural and comparative philosophy, critical philosophy of ‘race’, and decolonial studies, the conference will explore the concept of ‘Western Philosophy’ from philosophical, historical, and historiographical perspectives. The conference therefore aims to bring together scholars working across multiple philosophical traditions from around the world, and to draw together many of the specific debates that have taken place within these fields to explore their broader significance for our understanding of philosophy and its history.

Contributors to the conference will tackle several of the thorny issues at stake: the legitimacy of descriptors, such as ‘Western’, when applied to philosophy (especially if considered a universal practice of human reason); the historical circumstances in which the idea of ‘Western Philosophy’ emerged, and what implications this genealogy has for the concept’s apparent unassailability; and the ways in which disciplinary history of philosophy has predominantly been written to exclude other traditions and present ‘Western Philosophy’ as equivalent to ‘Philosophy’ as such.

Confirmed speakers:

  • Peter Adamson (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich/King’s College London)
  • Lucy Allais (Johns Hopkins University/Univ. of the Witwatersrand)
  • Yoko Arisaka (University of Hildesheim)
  • Robert Bernasconi (Penn State University)
  • Lewis Gordon (University of Connecticut)
  • Kimberly Ann Harris (Marquette University)
  • Monika Kirloskar-Steinbach (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
  • Catherine König-Pralong (EHESS Paris)
  • Lin Ma (Renmin University, Beijing)
  • Christoph Schuringa (New College of the Humanities, London)

For all enquiries, please contact: questionwesternphilosophy[at]gmail[fullstop].com. For more information, feel free to consult the Conference website.

The Conference organizers,

Lea Cantor & Josh Platzky Miller