Is Asian Philosophy (including Israel’s) ‘Philosophy’? (Bryan Van Norden

When most Westerners think of “philosophy,” they are inclined to think of Greco-Roman arguments or Anglo-American academics. “Philosophy” as approached this way is really nothing more than one culture’s philosophical tradition, rather than a global, multicultural collection of thinkers, ideas, and methods. If we expand our definition of philosophy, we have the chance not only to challenge our own Western ways of thinking, but also to understand other cultures, from those of China to India to Ancient Israel.

In this episode, Dr. Dru Johnson talks to Dr. Bryan Van Norden about multicultural philosophy, especially Asian philosophy. Dr. Van Norden is a chair in philosophy departments at both Vassar College and Wuhan University, where he specializes in Chinese philosophy. They begin with one very difficult question: “What counts as philosophy?” From there, they discuss different definitions of philosophy, the diverse literary techniques wielded by both Eastern and Western authors, and often-overlooked philosophical texts. If people can start examining Asian philosophy such as that of Confucius and the Hebrew Scriptures like they do Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant, their eyes will be opened to cultural traditions that are not only novel and diverse, but also equally intellectually rich and thought-provoking.


  • 0:00 Philosophy beyond the Greeks
  • 2:12 Why people don’t think of Asian philosophy as philosophy
  • 7:23 Defining philosophy and Taking Back Philosophy
  • 13:40 Different literary techniques in Chinese philosophy
  • 17:50 A multicultural approach to philosophical thinking
  • 22:20 Approaching texts like the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita
  • 27:14 The Milindapanha and the chariot argument against the self

For more information about Dr. Van Norden and his work, visit his website, where you can find his world philosophy bibliography.

Dr. Van Norden’s New York Times op-ed on multicultural philosophy: “If Philosophy Won’t Diversify, Let’s Call it What it Is”

The ensuing book: Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto

Show notes by Micah Long.

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