FAH/PHIL Guest Lecture – “Comparative Philosophy and the Problem of Deep Critique” by Prof. Franklin Perkins, DePaul University, USA


4 Nov 2016





For at least the last half century, it has been common to argue that many negative aspects of modern societies are rooted more deeply in fundamental aspects of Western metaphysics, such as dualism, rationalism, and anthropocentrism, aspects sometimes labeled with the Derridean phrase “phallogocentrism.” I call this “Deep Critique,” borrowing from Deep Ecology. What makes Deep Ecology deep is the claim that a suitable stance toward nature requires not just changes in behavior but a radical overturning of the individualistic and anthropocentric foundations of Western metaphysics. Similar forms of Deep Critique have extended across various lines of political resistance, from gender to race to colonialism, and even to a general sense of alienation and selfishness. Given that different cultures hold different metaphysical assumptions, deep critique must turn to comparative philosophy. In fact, Chinese philosophers avoid almost every point on which deep critique in Europe centers – it is non-dualistic, there is no privileging of reason, human beings are seen as just one of the myriad things, everything is interconnected, and so on. Descriptions of what is needed in Europe often sound like descriptions of Chinese philosophy. The problem with appealing to Chinese philosophy in these contexts, though, is obvious – practices in China were generally no better than in the West. This fact raises a number of problems for Deep Critique. At the very least, it shows that disrupting the basic assumptions of Western metaphysics will not necessarily eliminate forms of oppression and exploitation. On a theoretical level, it raises the question of the relationship between metaphysical assumptions (or what Foucault would call the “archeological” level) and experience and practices. It suggests that oppressive practices have a kind of force of their own and that metaphysical assumptions lack the power to overturn them. But it would go too far to say that “Deep Critique” has no value, or that Comparative Philosophy is not relevant to it. The paper will thus attempt to articulate the value of comparative approaches to Deep Critique, while also recognizing the limits of such an approach.


All are welcome




Philosophy and Religious Studies Programme
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