Students have been trying to get out of doing their homework for ages. But suddenly ‘the dog ate my homework’ has metamorphosed into something far more convoluted and weird.
It appears that students at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies want to be exempt from reading the works of Plato, Aristotle, Voltaire and Kant because the men were white.
If that wasn’t bizarre enough, the demand goes further: should the students be forced to read their works, then they must be do so through the prism of their colonial context.
I’m not sure what they mean by this. Perhaps they could be referring to the Athenian destruction of Melos? If they are, then they ought to read Thucydides rather than Plato. Perhaps though they were referring to the Macedonian colonisation of Athens? Perhaps then they should indeed read Aristotle, who tutored Alexander the Great in his youth.
As for Immanuel Kant, one could say that noumena is as anti-colonial a concept as can be found. All that can be psychologically colonised is phenomenon. Schopenhauer would of course disagree, but he shared a common ethnicity with Kant. Would that disqualify his opinion in the eyes of the students at the School of Oriental and African Studies? I would refer them to Nietzsche’s views of Apollonian versus Dionysian conceptions of aesthetics, but I personally refuse to read the philosophy of anyone with a moustache.
Clearly, these students haven’t read Voltaire who believed in the duty of defending the free speech of those he disagreed with. Come to think of it, I doubt they have read any of the philosophers they seek to ban, as none of them have anything really to do with colonialism. They’ve really put Descartes before the horse with this one.
I know that education standards continue to slip but in the 1970s Monty Python produced sketches on philosophers that was shown on mainstream television to a large audience. In the 1980s the Hollywood film Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure showed two dead beat teens being taught the history of the world by their guide Socrates.
The sad truth is that joking about philosophical ideas is a privilege that derives from an even basic knowledge of the words written and spoken by profound individuals of many nations and epochs. To deny future generations this privilege, indeed this joy, because of a perverse racist notion that one’s views on the human condition is predicated on the colour of one’s skin, is to deny common humanity the most righteous quest for the love of wisdom, which is what philosophy means when broken down to its Greek etymological roots.
What better way is there of exploring and explaining life’s difficulties than through an examination of great minds of the past. To prevent such a thing because of what people looked like is an insult to the love of wisdom, which ought to be a passion of all curious human beings, irrespective of appearance.