Volume 7, 2007
Philosophy of Culture(s)
The Project of an Anthropology of Philosophy
Philosophy should not be understood as a Eurocentric project of Greco-Judaic origin, but as a critical and fundamentally reflective intellectual practice which occurs worldwide, in many different forms. If this is so, anthropology has a crucial role to play in the project of reshaping philosophy's self-conception, to include the multiplicity of regional intellectual histories that have been neglected, and thus acknowledge and take seriously philosophical reflections from around the world. Through empirical observation, documentation, and comparative analysis, an anthropology of philosophy can help philosophy reach a better self-understanding, particularly in times of rising awareness of globally operating interdependencies and suspicions that philosophy is a smoke-screen for Eurocentric power interests. Anthropological investigation, if performed carefully and in combination with philosophical expertise, can provide concrete details, accounts and assessments of philosophical practice around the world, different from those that a sociology of philosophies (Collins 1998) or a history of philosophy can offer. It can integrate understanding of local languages and sensitivity for relevant social contexts, and need not be philosophically naive. Philosophy is linked to knowledge, the quest for knowledge, the critique of knowledge, and to the various perspectives from which forms of knowledge can be described and conceptualised. An anthropology of philosophy can be developed in relation to an anthropology of knowledge (Lambek 1993), where various locally relevant forms of knowledge are identified, observed, described and discussed, in relation to social practice. Making the case for an anthropology of philosophy, my paper refers to arguments of African philosophers, and the debate on African philosophy, while also drawing from my own fieldwork experience on philosophical discourse in a Swahili context.