Do we say that a philosophers specialty is determined
by his or her race or gender then? This seems artificially limiting, not to mention insulting,
and creates additional confusions. If Alberto Fujimora, the President of Peru, wrote
philosophy, would it be Western or Asian? Frantz Fanon was a black male psychiatrist
from the Caribbean who spoke French and was educated in European universities
Western or (as some anthologies say) African? What if Fanon had been female?
I will argue below that these problem emerge very clearly in trying to determine what,
if anything, ought to count as "African philosophy" or "womens
philosophy". There is persistent and widespread muddle about both these areas.
The term "Native American" is also vague, since there are two American
continents (North and South America). I will follow what seems to be standard usage
in the multiculturalist writings, and restrict my focus to native North America,
though I see no very clear reason for doing this: if the term "Latin-American"
refers to both North and South America, why should "Native American" be different?
Thus, in summary, I have tried to make clear what counts as philosophy (distinct from
literature, comparative religion, anthropology, and folklore) and what distinguishes
Western from non-Western philosophy. I will follow current practice in my field and
distinguish between philosophy and non-philosophy by reference to the existence of an
ongoing philosophical tradition, in which beliefs are systematically analyzed over time
in a culture, and there are clearly-recognized authoritative documents. Cultures without
writing, then, are unlikely to have philosophy in this sense, since, as we have seen,
oral traditions do not tend to develop systematic argumentation.
I will also follow Bonevac et al. in using the concept of an ongoing philosophical
tradition to distinguish between Western and non-Western philosophy. "In general, we
have tried to characterize works as Western or non-Western by appealing to the authors
conception of the work as a continuation of an ongoing philosophical tradition. To whom
does the author refer?" (Bonevac, vi) Works that refer to non-Western sources and
documents will be "non-Western"; works that refer to Western sources will be
Thus, for the purposes of this project
1. Latin American philosophy will be considered Western.
2. "Native American" will mean native North American.
3. Folklore will not count as philosophy. Philosophy will emerge in a culture to the extent that the cultures develop literacy. Literacy is a necessary but not sufficient condition for philosophy.
4. I will take for granted that in cultures where academic philosophy is practiced, philosophers prior to the 20th-century in every culture have almost universally been male and aristocratic, and thus that traditional academic philosophy has systematically excluded the perspectives of women and persons of lower socio-economic status. This exclusion has called into question, but has not overthrown, the definition of philosophical questions and philosophical method.