Cultural Readings of Imperialism: Edward Said and the Gravity of History

By Keith Ansell-Pearson; Benita Parry et al. | Go to book overview

PHILOSOPHY'S PARADOXICAL PAROCHIALISM:
THE REINVENTION OF PHILOSOPHY AS GREEK

Robert Bernasconi

In 1738, Bishop William Warburton summarised scholarly opinion on the subject of the debt Greek philosophy owed to Egypt: 'That all the Wisdom and Learning of the Greeks was brought or fetched immediately from Egypt, is so unanimously acknowledged by themselves, that it is the best established Fact in Antiquity.'1 He was thinking, for example, of Isocrates's statement about Pythagoras that 'On a visit to Egypt he became a student of the religion of the people, and was the first to bring to the Greeks all philosophy.'2 Less than one hundred years after Warburton's confident restatement of a view that few observers had thought to put in question, Hegel stated with equal assurance the new orthodoxy that philosophy began in Greece. Hegel dismissed 'the legend disseminated everywhere that Pythagoras brought his philosophy from India and Egypt', as the result of a failure to distinguish philosophy from religious ideas.3 Hegel also dismissed the old tradition of including Persian and Indian philosophy within the history of philosophy, insisting that there could be no real (eigentlich) philosophy in the Oriental world. When, in his lectures on the history of philosophy of 1825, he did offer some remarks about China and India, he prefaced them with the curious comment that 'I have previously passed them over, for it is only in recent times that we have been put in a position to pass judgement on it.'4 Hegel lets slip here the fact that the decision against Chinese and Indian philosophy was made largely in ignorance and that the justification, such as it was, was provided mainly after the fact. One could say with little exaggeration that scholars had passed with a minimum of debate from one orthodoxy to another simply in the space of a generation. When one considers that the canon of the history of philosophy that has survived largely intact up to our own time

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