Queen’s philosophy must take further action to combat Eurocentrism in academia

Post-secondary education must reflect diversity in thought and scholarship

Image supplied by: Victoria da Silva
Victoria believes Queen's students would thrive through greater exposure to non-western philosophical work in undergrad courses.

Queen’s philosophy students would benefit from being exposed to more diverse philosophical theories, especially those outside of the Anglo-American and continental traditions.

As a department well distinguished for its outstanding students, faculty members, and contributions to academia, Queen’s philosophy has a duty to the student body to expand their programs beyond Eurocentric study to promote this reputation.

This is especially important considering the increasing interest in recognizing Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Indigeneity (EDII) in post-secondary education.

Philosophy degrees are designed to help students develop critical thinking skills, analyze philosophical traditions, and apply theory to real-world issues.

In my first and second year as a philosophy undergrad, I noticed almost every philosopher we learned about was European, with European philosophers in general considered to be the staple of philosophical thought.

This, however, is only true in the sense that Western philosophers have dominated the work we study, not that they compose the most insightful philosophical canon. This dichotomy reveals the underlying Eurocentrism often present in Western philosophical academia.

True excellence for philosophy departments is only achievable through the inclusion of more voices to ensure heterogeneity in thought and debate.

It’s in the best interest of future generations of students that the Queen’s philosophy department integrate a multitude of philosophers in degree plan courses. Notable theorists that aren’t—but should be—taught include Jeanette Armstrong, John Burrows, Angela Davis, Alain LeRoy Locke, and Zhuangzi.

This allows Queen’s students to connect Western ways of thinking to philosophical ideas from other parts of the world.

For example, in the required 200-level classes at Queen’s, many of the philosophies taught portray Christian beliefs
and influences.

One example of such influence is found in Descartes’ mind-body dualism, which shaped the mainstream Western belief that humans have both physical and rational existences. Descartes’ philosophy was influenced by his Christian beliefs, and this theory can be challenging for individuals whose cultural beliefs or religion don’t align with Descartes.

As his theories and personal beliefs are closely intertwined, it leaves little room for other perspectives. His ingrained religious values prevented him from exploring the possibility of a connection between the mind and body, rather than viewing them as two distinctly differing entities.

If a student doesn’t accept the idea of the immortal soul, they may struggle to understand Descartes’ philosophical methods. It forces them to be in constant discussion of religious beliefs they
might not personally observe.

It’s the institution’s responsibility to prevent the disproportionate consideration of European ideas and interests in Canadian education. Canada prides itself on its multiculturalism—all the more reason why it’s necessary and should be easy to introduce different philosophical perspectives into a post-secondary curriculum.

The unfortunate alternative is current and future generations growing up with a lack of awareness and tolerance for other cultural beliefs and practices. This excluded  historically underrepresented and marginalized students from pursuing philosophy graduate studies programs due to a perceived lack of supervisors with alternative specialties.

Eurocentrism in philosophy impacts how philosophy students engage in dialogue both inside and outside of academic contexts.

Destructive Eurocentric philosophical ideas are reinforced and perpetuated through the study and application of European philosophical theories written through the lens of settler-colonialism.

These philosophies reflect many prejudicial and Eurocentric assumptions that have shaped the way individuals in Western societies perceive the physical and social world. This becomes harmful when discriminatory ideas expressed in colonial European works are applied to multicultural Canadian communities.

In 2019, Queen’s publicly endorsed the Canadian federal government’s Charter dimensions: Equity,  Diversity and Inclusion Canada Charter. According to Queen’s resources, the objective of this document is to demonstrate the benefit of the aforementioned EDII principles on post-secondary research by diversifying knowledge, improving access to research funding, and including a diverse range of individuals in post-secondary research projects.

So far, the philosophy department hasn’t made great strides to achieve EDII goals.

By neglecting to incorporate a more diverse set of voices in the mandatory undergraduate courses, the cultivation of knowledge within the discipline furthers the exclusion of minority groups at Queen’s.

The solution to dismantling Eurocentrism is integrating more culturally diverse ideology in mandatory philosophy courses.

It’s not about unlearning European philosophies, but rather about ensuring all individuals and communities are consulted, discussed, and better understood.

Many professors, in my experience, have demonstrated a strong awareness of this issue and have made noticeable efforts to adhere to the EDII principles.  For example, the “Animals and Society” course syllabus includes various insightful works on Indigenous animal ethics.

Additional steps for the department to take are to implement a mandatory three-unit course that covers contributions of other global thinkers, or to amend the mandatory classes and readings to incorporate more diverse work.

Representation in education is important so students can be exposed to an array of philosophical theories, some of which they can identify with or relate to.

Universities ought to equip their students with the skills and information necessary to effectively socialize in Canada’s multicultural communities. Diverse thought and fruitful debate encourage developing philosophers to improve their interpersonal skills.

By making the study of historically excluded racial and cultural groups mandatory components in undergrad, the Queen’s philosophy department can set its students up for better success beyond simply reinforcing Eurocentric norms.

Luckily, students can combat these issues in a number of ways: by critically evaluating their own prejudices, publishing papers that scrutinize the prevalence of Eurocentrism in academia, and educating peers on the underlying Western biases that form a philosopher’s perspective.

Due to the institution’s renowned international reputation, I’m confident Queen’s can achieve such measures as well as inspire other Canadian universities to do the same.

The future of philosophical study starts with us.

Victoria is a third-year philosophy student.


Academia, EDII, eurocentrism, philsophy

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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