Philosophy 42 - 3.1.1 Challenges in Researching Indigenous Philosophy

There is growing interest in Indigenous philosophy in contemporary academic philosophy, as a way of engaging with both the historical and present-day thought of Indigenous peoples around the world. Indigenous philosophy broadly refers to the ideas of Indigenous peoples pertaining to the nature of the world, human existence, ethics, ideal social and political structures, and other topics also considered by traditional academic philosophy. Unlike the philosophies of ancient Greece, India, and China, Indigenous philosophies did not spread across vast territorial empires or feature centers of formal learning that documented and developed philosophical ideas over hundreds or thousands of years. The study of Indigenous philosophies, or ethnophilosophy, often must rely on different methods than typical academic philosophy. Indigenous philosophy is not usually recorded in texts that can be read and analyzed. Instead, those seeking to understand Indigenous philosophical thinking must engage in the kind of research often used in ethnographic and sociological study, including identifying individuals who hold and transmit cultural knowledge about philosophical thought and recording interviews and conversations with them. Most of the philosophy of Indigenous peoples has been passed down through oral traditions, in much the same way that prehistoric thought was transmitted.

There are additional challenges to studying Indigenous philosophy. The discipline of academic philosophy has traditionally dismissed or ignored the philosophical thought of Indigenous peoples, considering it to lie outside the realm of logos. The long history of erasure of Indigenous philosophical thought in academic philosophy makes it difficult to engage in academic discussion with it. There is an absence of past scholarship in this field in the West. Indigenous peoples have also been subjected to racist practices, such as forced education in languages other than their own, that make it difficult for them to retain a lively philosophical tradition. Furthermore, many Indigenous customs have been lost because of the loss of life and cultural heritage among Indigenous peoples following colonization by Europeans and Americans.

The content of this course has been taken from the free Philosophy textbook by Openstax