Kurzbeschreibung: Cooper, World Philosophies

David E. Cooper, ehemaliger Präsident der amerikanischen Aristoteles-Gesellschaft und Professor für Continental Philosophy in den USA, legte 1996 einen globalgeschichtlichen Versuch vor unter dem Titel: World Philosophies. An Historical Introduction. Im Titel steht nicht, wie im zuvor besprochenen Buch World Philosophy, sondern der Plural World Philosophies. Dieser Unterschied wird auch in der programmatischen Einleitung reflektiert:

“The title of this book is ambiguous. ‘World philosophies’ might refer to philosophies from around the world, or it might mean something like ‘worldviews’, theories on the grand scale about ‘The World’. My title is intended to bear both senses, so it is a pun.

It is not necessary to be a devotee of ‘political correctness’ to regret that the great preponderance of histories of philosophy, many passing themselves off as ‘general’, deal only with Western thought. A few Arabs are sometimes included but, so to speak, as honorary Westerners, deemed worthy of inclusion for their commentaries on Aristotle and hence their influence on mediaeval Christian thought. Exclusion of the Indian, Chinese and Japanese contributions to philosophy was forgivable, perhaps, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the German philosopher Hegel passed his scathing verdicts on those traditions: for precious few of their works had been translated. It was less excusable a century later, after the explosion in oriental scholarship, for Edmund Husserl to express doubt as to the very existence of non-Western philosophy. Today, after a further century of scholarship and translation, such an exclusion ought to seem absurd. If to many people it does not, this must be mainly due to the feeling – encouraged, admittedly, by some enthusiasts for ‘the wisdom of the East’ – that these traditions are too indelibly ‘religious’, ‘irrational’ and ‘mystical’ to warrant a place on today’s hard-nosed, ‘analytical’ curriculum.  This book will have failed in one of its aims if that feeling persists with the reader to the end.

A better reason, arguably, for keeping non-Western philosophies out of the curricular sun would be that life is short, especially the life of the undergraduate. No student – indeed, no teacher – has time to savour the riches of all philosophical traditions: better then, some would say, to restrict attention to the tradition of the culture in which the students have grown up. But, in the first place, many of the ideas of, say, ancient India and Kamakura Japan are no more and no less ‘relevant’ to the contemporary culture of young Britons or Americans than those of ancient Greece and mediaeval France. Second, in philosophy as in gastronomy, the sensible response to an overstocked larder is surely to choose the best items, not those which happen to lie on one side or the other of an imaginary line. I am unimpressed, incidentally, by the consideration that few teachers or students are likely to be masters of Sanskrit, Mandarin and other mediums of non-Western philosophy. Most are not masters, either, of the languages in which Plato, Aquinas and Kant wrote, but that is no reason for students to be kept away from these thinkers. The present book, then, attempts to redress an imbalance: the ‘world philosophies’ it presents are indeed from ‘around the world’, sizeable chunks of it, at any rate: India, China, Japan, the Near and Middle East, and Africa, as well as Europe and North America. Doubtless, there are other parts of the world which have made their contribution to philosophy, but which I do not discuss. Total comprehensiveness, however, cannot be my aim in a book which would otherwise, as Vikram Seth charmingly puts it at the beginning of his massive novel, ‘strain your purse and sprain your wrists’.

Indeed, it is not only geographical comprehensiveness that the book lacks: for its subject is not philosophy at large, but philosophies. ‘Philosophy’, as the name of a very general intellectual activity, does not have a plural, no more than does ‘music’; and philosophies no more exhaust the field of philosophy than music consists entirely in the outpouring of musicals. Philosophies, like musicals, are particular products of the more general activity. The singular of ‘philosophies’ is ‘a philosophy’; and by ‘a philosophy’, I mean - as ‘the man in the street’ tends to mean - an account on the grand scale of the nature of reality, the place of human beings within it, and the implications of all this for how people should comport themselves in the world and towards one another. Taoism, Thomism, Cartesianism and Existentialism - to mention but a few - are philosophies in this sense, and it is on such ‘-isms’ that the book focuses. There are, on the surface at least, some exceptions to be found in the book, such as Logical Positivism, whose champions would certainly reject that theirs were philosophies in the sense just characterized. But these are best seen as self-conscious reactions against grand accounts like those mentioned, and in that respect parasitic upon them. Anyway, it is unclear that, despite the intentions of their authors, these reactive exceptions avoid offering accounts of the very kind they condemn.” (Cooper, David E.: World Philosophies: An Historical Introduction. Oxford 1996, 2. Auflage 2003, S. 1ff.)

Auch wenn der Autor kein ganz neues Periodisierungssystem vorschlägt, so ist die Einteilung der Themen in dem Buch doch interessant und innovativ:

Part I Ancient Philosophies: 1. India, 2. China, 3. Greece

Part II Middle Period and ‘Modern’ Philosophies: 1. Mediaeval Philosophies (Christianity, Islamic and Jewish Philosophy), 2. Developments in Asian Philosophy (Theistic Vedanta, Neo-Confucianism, Zen Buddhism, Illuminationism), 3. From Renaissance to Enlightenment

Part III Recent Philosophies: 1. Kant and the Nineteenth Century, 2. Recent Non-Western Philosophies (India, China and Japan, The Islamic World, Africa), 3. Twentieth-Century Western Philosophies.

Hervorzuheben ist vor allem, dass die Entwicklungen der verschiedenen Stränge der Philosophiegeschichte bis ins 20. Jahrhundert dargestellt werden. In den meisten Philosophiegeschichten findet sich das Bild von den „alten“ Traditionen des Denkens oder der Philosophie in Indien und China, wobei dann völlig übersehen wird, dass diese Entwicklungen bis ins 20. Jahrhundert reichen. Cooper zeigt demgegenüber chronologisch auf, dass es verschiedene parallele Entwicklungen gegeben hat, die von der Antike bis in die Gegenwart reichen und zwar nicht nur in Europa. Vor allem ist daher in dieser Gesamtdarstellung neu, dass die philosophischen Strömungen im 20. Jahrhundert in Indien, China, Japan, der islamischen Welt und Afrika einbezogen werden.

(Auszug aus: Elberfeld, Rolf: Philosophiegeschichtsschreibung in globaler Perspektive. Felix Meiner Verlag: Hamburg 2017, S. 306–8)