A History of Western Philosophy

A History of Inequality and Prejudice

Lectures on the logic of Western mastery.

I want to try to explore two questions that are often asked, but not always together: what is the origin of inequality?  And why is there prejudice? A third question is, how are these two things related? I refer here to prejudices that perhaps have their root in the West but which have had an impact right cross the world in almost every part of the globe. They have shaped history, they shape the present, and they are likely to continue to shape the future. As we will see, the explanation for prejudice that I will take concerns not just prejudices that create racism and sexism, not just prejudices that concern identity and sexuality, and not just prejudices that concern the relation of human beings to other forms of life including the natural environment. At its root the source of prejudice that I will try to explore lies in logic! I will try to show how logic has been formed in such a way as to carry the idea of truth as mastery. Prejudice is therefore logical. This is why it has been seen as true. This is why it has been central to Western thinking and culture. This is why and how it persists.

I can imagine possible and immediate responses to such a claim. Perhaps the idea of exploring logic looks boring. Bear with me. Our lectures will be showing how logic lies behind some of the most powerful forms of prejudice over the last two and half thousand years. It is the prejudices that will take up most of our attention. As we go through the lectures you will soon see how logic plays its part. As we go through the lectures you might be worried that if prejudice is logical then there is nothing that can be done about it. Bear with me again. If you can stay the course, then by the end of our journey we might even be able to imagine a different kind of logic!

I can provide a very brief picture of the ground we will cover in our lectures. We start with the development of philosophy in ancient Greece. Philosophy is born into a slave society and absorbs the prejudices of its time. The key ideas of truth, nature and freedom are all shaped in the image of superiority and inferiority. They are all defended as being logical. This is how thinking works. We will see how these logical prejudices shape cosmology, politics, and philosophy through the Roman Empire, to the Islamic and European Renaissances, up to the time of Bacon, Copernicus and Galileo. The changes brought by the Copernican revolution, by empirical science, and by the Enlightenment look dramatic, but if the notion of logic does not change, then are the prejudices simply repeated in different forms? We will look at the emergence of the sociological consciousness and how it offered a different way of understanding our lives, and we will look at its decline, and the opportunities that this has opened for strengthening prejudices. Finally, when we come to the last one hundred years, it looks as if logic might be changing, led by quantum physics and identity theory. But still the uncomfortable question remains; has logic changed, or have prejudices just taken new shapes?

Why are we looking at the Western idea of prejudice? Three main reasons. First, I am not equipped to pursue the logic of prejudice in any culture other than that in which I have been schooled—but that does not mean that it need not be done. All cultures might benefit from thinking critically about the idea of logic that shapes their understanding of truth in the world.  Second, the domination of Western logic across the world makes it the most powerful carrier and reproducer of prejudice. It sources the globalization of prejudice. Third, the West is currently carrying out a self-critique of prejudices that will also impact the wider world. But the logic of this self-critique might be based on those same prejudices, and that too will have an enormous impact across the world. 

Finally, there is something accompanying our story that needs to be kept in mind. Our lectures will explore the extent to which prejudiced logic is related to the concept of property. This is not an idea that seems to have much traction at the moment. By the end of our lectures we will have thought about why this is, and who it benefits, and what its impact on the pursuit of justice in the world might be. 

Is there a methodology to these lectures? If there is, it is not one that belongs to any academic subject. If there is a methodology, then it is driven by the example of Socrates. It is a methodology of the experience of questions and doubts… of a fierce desire to understand the roots and the culture of prejudice by working within our own implication within prejudice. The lectures are not outside or beyond prejudice; they are not looking at prejudice from a privileged or detached viewpoint. Rather, they are an attempt to understand why they must already take prejudice, including their, for granted in what they do. The lectures are not instead of prejudice, they are because of it. 

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And so, we reach an interesting problem.  There is the

A History of Western Philosophy: Prejudice and Inequality

This series of lectures is an educational resource free to use under the conditions of the Creative Commons licence below. 

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