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Meaning in Anthropos

International Angles

By anthropography, Meaning in Anthropos, Western Philosophy

Zoroastrian iconography at Persepolis

International assessments of Western philosophy differ enormously. That is surely an understatement. Diligent readers know that my own perspective is intercultural. I have paid deference to philosophy (equivalent to anthropography in my case) in a broader context than is often found. For instance, on my websites I have incorporated some detailed reference to Zoroastrianism, Islamic Sufism, Islamic philosophy, and Hinduism. Those subjects are not popular with many Western readers. When the focus turns to modern Western philosophy, there are some international reactions to the European dimensions of that subject.

My own endeavour to escape the confines of any Eurocentric landscape was formulated in my early work Meaning in Anthropos (1991), composed in 1984. This presentation of citizen anthropography attempted a more global axis than is customarily found in academic philosophy.

I have noticed, with some fascination, that both the Asiatic and the Western responses to philosophy contain marked variations. I should perhaps state my own instance. During my early years of study, I veered strongly away from British entities in philosophy. For many years I resisted the elevation of David Hume, whom I associated with a “British Empire” mode of thought and a quasi-nihilistic temperament anticipating Nietzsche. I much preferred Plato, Plotinus, Farabi, Suhrawardi, Spinoza, and the Eastern affinities (erratic and circumscribed) of Schopenhauer.

The literati in India, China, and Japan have frequently been generous with regard to Western philosophy, acknowledging empiricism, also the relevance of rationalism and implicit affinity with scientific objectives. Islamic countries have sometimes resisted Western influences, perhaps not surprisingly. However, the literati in those countries are quite capable of recognising the value of intercultural approaches.

The subject of “Western philosophy” basically extends to ancient Greek, Roman, Christian, Jewish, and Islamic dimensions, a phenomenon of cultural linkages and ramifications occurring in distant centuries. However, when one talks of modern philosophy, the orbit is very often European, with Germany and Britain gaining a fairly substantial tally of famous names. Everyone has heard of philosophers like Kant, Hegel, Locke, and Hume. Not everyone has studied those entities in any detail.

The study of philosophy has notably spread to America, Canada, and Australia. Both the academic and popular reception of that subject require some due appraisal. American academics have investigated the subject intensively. In contrast, the public climate of American opinion is generally indifferent, indeed frequently tending to categorical dismissal in favour of “new age” alternatives.

At this juncture, it seems appropriate for me, before proceeding any further to describe European figures in the history of modern philosophy, to alight upon some Asian and contemporary topics in a spirit of citizen investigation. In view of factors indicated above, I have decided to include on this site numerous entries concerning subjects not appearing in conventional philosophy contents.

Postscript 2020:

I have since created the extensions mentioned in the last paragraph above. I have included on this site classical Greek, Islamic, Christian, Hindu, and other subjects to complement an East-West focus. Due critical assessment has also been a resort in some directions.

Kevin R.D. Shepherd
July 14th 2010 (modified 2020)

ENTRY no. 25

Copyright © 2020 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Philosophy of Culture

By Bertrand Russell, Cambridge University Library, citizen philosophy, Islamic falasifa, Meaning in Anthropos, minority repertories

Cambridge University Library

The citizen version of analytical philosophy does not necessarily converge in all respects with the academic equivalent. The former  may occasionally sound a note of innovation.

Contemporary academic philosophy was not sufficient to contain my interest during the 1970s and 1980s. In my own citizen instance, an investigation of interdisciplinary matters soon developed, while retaining a close interest in “philosophical problems” and innovative analytical formats. The social sciences and the history of religions now furnish so much data that to ignore these is a mistake.

Further, the history of religions to some extent converges with the history of philosophy, in that certain minority repertories (e.g., the Islamic falasifa) are closely related to (though not by any means identical with) religious sociocultures. The same considerations apply to Jewish philosophers of the medieval era, a category who frequently lived in Islam-dominated environments.

In my own case, the field of philosophy is not limited to modern Western philosophy (and the preceding Schoolmen), but extends to the more inclusive panorama of classical Greek and Islamic phases of the phenomenon. There is a basic three tier cross-cultural investigation involved, becoming rather more complex when various extensions are admitted. In this inclusive approach, there is ample room for the “problems” and “language” factors, not always arising in the format anticipated by contemporaries.

Three tier presentation is conventionally credited, a well known instance being Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy (1946). Russell covered the Greeks, Christian exponents and Schoolmen, and the moderns. There was only a brief chapter on the Muslim counterparts and a fleeting reference to the medieval Jewish contribution. Scholarship in such neglected fields has grown substantially since the 1940s; the history of philosophy has to some extent changed contour.

The inclusive approach does require some basic study. When I commenced this form of “doing philosophy,” I did not grasp the extent of the study materials involved. That emerging problem caused me to undertake private research at Cambridge University Library. My preliminary work Meaning in Anthropos (1991) was composed in 1984. Conventional philosophy was there juxtaposed alongside data from social science, the history of science, and the history of religions.

I do not claim to have charted anything definitive, only to have pursued a strong interest anchored in library studies undertaken at my own expense in Cambridge over a twelve year period. There was no official grant available for such an unorthodox interdisciplinary project.

I have described my early Cambridge endeavour as interdisciplinary anthropography, a cumbersome phrase which I prefer to abbreviate. The endeavour is distinct from ethnography. I have also referred to the ongoing approach under discussion in terms of a philosophy of culture, a more readily assimilable concept, even though it may comprise a simplification of the project denoted. See also my web article Aspects of Citizen Philosophy (2009).

Standards of culture are diversely reflected in religious, political, and educational formats, for better or for worse. Definitions of culture have varied in social science. Philosophical definition is still in the offing. I believe that culture is a more pressing yardstick than society or language, despite the relevance of the latter terms.

Kevin R. D. Shepherd
January 26th 2010

ENTRY no. 10

Copyright © 2010 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.