By Deb A.
What did you do last Thursday? In 2005 UNESCO designated the third Thursday of November World Philosophy Day. This year, the Institute of Art and Ideas celebrated with a list of 70 philosophy books everyone should read. With its own caveat that it is "by no means exhaustive" and that some key titles and thinkers are missing, it is nonetheless a decent overview that refuses to linger around old white males for too long; categories include ancient Indian philosophy, Japanese philosophy, Islamic philosophy, feminism, and African philosophy alongside the usual line-up of Greeks, Romans, Enlightenment thinkers and phenomenologists. The full list is here, but we've got some of the highlights for you below.
Ancient Indian philosophy: The Upanishads (8th to 1st century BCE) are a collection of over 200 religious and philosophical texts. Each Upanishad stands alone but taken together, they offer both a univocal account of the importance of religious knowledge and conflicting messages about reality and the individual self.
Japanese philosophy: The ideas of Nishida Kitarō were crucial to the development of Japanese philosophy in the twentieth century. An Inquiry Into the Good (1911) marks the start of his thinking around the concept of "pure experience," a concept he expresses through Zen Buddhism.
Islamic philosophy: Averroes, or Ibn Rushd, argued from an Islamic legal perspective in The Decisive Treatise (1178) that philosophy is not in conflict with Islam; he claimed that not only was it allowed, it was actually mandated in the Qur'an.
Feminism: You've heard of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex (1949) and Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929), but what about Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), where she takes on a report presented to the French government that suggested that women were not suited for formal education? Wollstonecraft argued that women are indeed rational—they appear otherwise specifically because they have been denied a proper education.
African philosophy: Kenyan philosopher Henry Odera Oruka began his Sage Philosophy Project in the 1970s to document the thinking of wise men and women in communities across Africa. Sage Philosophy: Indigenous Thinkers and Modern Debate on African Philosophy (1990) countered the Eurocentric bias against viewing traditional African sages as philosophers.
Postcolonialism: While her professor and lover Martin Heidegger did not make the IAI's list (perhaps due to readability issues, or his involvement with Nazism), Hannah Arendt did, with The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Her analysis of Nazism and Stalinism is often lauded as one of the best nonfiction books of the twentieth century; it experienced a new surge in popularity after the 2016 U.S. elections.
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