I was thinking of the issues raised by Coseru today as I read through the QAA Subject Benchmark Statement for Philosophy (it’s as exciting as it sounds). In the section on the ‘Nature and extent of philosophy’ we read:
The study of philosophy’s own history, including the investigation of its diverse traditions. In the UK, the main focus of study is Western philosophy. This has its own canon in the study of the classics of Western philosophy from the Presocratics onwards, but the membership of this canon is not fixed. Philosophy can include study of texts and traditions from outside the Western world, such as Indian and Buddhist philosophy. It is characteristic of philosophy that it engages with past thought as living argument and as a challenge to contemporary modes of thinking.
Statements such as this one go some distance in acknowledging the inherently contingent nature of the shape of our canon, but still don’t address the fact that voices from outside the established canon(s) do not just broaden or otherwise enrich a pre-existing discussion. They are not spices we add for exotic flair while continuing to serve the same basic meal. If the canon is not fixed, not including a more diverse range of voices is an active choice not to recognise the contributions of those ‘non-canonical’ voices and a failure to acknowledge the role this history of exclusion has played in contributing to other forms of discrimination and marginalisation.