Essay: End of Term Reflections From a Frustrated Philosophy Student

Zack Miller | The Phoenix“I’m tired of learning about the same European and American philosophers in my studies when I know other beautiful and rich philosophical traditions exist, untaught in most schools,” Opinion Editor Rylee Tan writes.

The Loyola Phoenix is committed to publishing opinion pieces that represent many diverse perspectives and viewpoints. If you have an interest in submitting a piece or writing for us, email phoenixopinion@luc.edu.

While I can only speak for myself, I’m sure I’m not alone when I say this semester has been interesting — to say the least. Me and many other students not only dealt with the standard juggle of school, work and family, but also the worsening COVID-19 pandemic and declining mental health as social and political upheaval continues to grip the nation. 

Courses in philosophy, one of my majors, seem perfect to help me and other philosophy students process what’s going on and come up with solutions — but we’re not getting the full picture. Alongside Loyola’s lacking faculty diversity is a lack of diversity in course offerings, particularly in philosophy. 

Hidden in the meanings of course titles, such as ethics and ancient philosophy, are almost entirely Eurocentric curricula. One ethics course commonly taken by every undergraduate at Loyola as part of its core curriculum includes readings of Immanuel Kant and Plato. Ancient philosophy consists of Plato and Aristotle, with a few earlier Greek philosophers thrown in — completely discounting the ancient philosophical traditions of India and China. 

The course offerings show a clear preference for European and American philosophy, with only two courses on the department website — Islamic philosophy and Asian philosophy — dedicated entirely to the study of an Eastern tradition. 

Even the more general courses, such as modern and medieval philosophy, all but entirely leave out anything not included in the Western tradition. 

To give credit where it’s due, professors have a degree of freedom when it comes to designing course syllabi and deciding what readings get included. One course description explicitly said it would teach both Eastern and Western in a comparative ethics class. But courses such as these are not representative of all offerings, and non-Western philosophers and their works are consistently left out of syllabi.  

This isn’t a problem endemic to Loyola, but to all philosophy departments across the country. An op-ed in the New York Times by Bryan Van Norden — an American professor specializing in Chinese philosophy — calls for philosophy departments across the country to either diversify, or change their names to the “Department of European and American Philosophy” to better represent themselves. The lack of diversity in courses leads to professors only qualified to teach what they know — more of the Western canon, with only passing references to those outside that definition. 

Van Norden envisions a world where the works of ancient and contemporary African, Native American, Chinese and other philosophers are as prevalent as their European and American counterparts. 

As a philosophy student, having already exhausted one of the two non-European-focused classes, I feel more than frustrated to know more out there exists and not have an institution capable of instructing me in it. 

This frustration intensifies when examining the broader implications — where students of color can go through the entirety of their undergraduate education without seeing any representation in the philosophical canon. Besides depriving students of a truly well-rounded education, it deprives students of color knowledge of their culture and themselves. 

I’m tired of learning about the same European and American philosophers in my studies when I know other beautiful and rich philosophical traditions exist, untaught in most schools. 

Loyola — and other institutions that claim to be committed to higher education — need to heed Van Norden’s advice, not just in philosophy, but in every department. There’s more to the world than Europe and North America, and students shouldn’t have to seek out this knowledge themselves. 

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