Western philosophy grew from the root of classical Greek philosophy through the Hellenistic and Roman periods before it reached medieval Europe and evolved into the modern philosophy we know today. However, while we spend a lot of time with modern Western philosophy here, it is just one branch of the greater tree of international philosophies, and there are many other branches worth investigating.
So why is it that, with the notable exception of Confucius, few people in Western civilization can name an prominent non-Western philosopher? There are several issues Westerners have come to recognize when attempting to delve into the philosophy of another region. To begin with, much of the basis of Native American or Aboriginal philosophical discourse, for example, is conducted within the framework of long-held religious notions which modern Western philosophy often attempts to separate itself from. Even the most recognized alternate line of philosophical thoughts that have emerged from Eastern culture often build on Buddhist or Taoist ideas which arguably raise flags for religious interference. In other cases, there is a lack of written records, as with much of the ancient African thinkers who passed their ideas on orally, that makes it difficult to compile a body of work to study.
A statue of Confucius outside the Confucius temple of KongZi. - Photo Credit: Ivan Walsh
All of this is not to say that the different regions of philosophy are entirely isolated. Islamic and Egyptian philosophies interacted greatly with ancient Greek notions, colonization of India and Africa brought about a great deal of thought aimed at integrating the distinct world views and more recently, the Kyoto School of philosophers have combined elements of Husserl’s work with Zen Buddhism1. Currently, Integral Theory which “seeks to integrate all of human wisdom into a new, emergent worldview... including those which have been historically at odds: science and religion, eastern and western, and pre-modern, modern and post-modern”2 seems to be an earnest effort in the right direction.
1. Lars Vargö (2013). The Uppsala and Kyoto schools of philosophy. [ONLINE] Available at: http://blog.swedenabroad.se/tokyo/2013/02/03/the-uppsala-and-kyoto-schools-of-philosophy/. [Last Accessed 5/3/2014].
2. A Primer on Integral Theory. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.dailyevolver.com/a-primer-on-integral-theory/. [Last Accessed 5/3/2014].
Further Reading: What Is a 'Non-Western' Philosophy by Justin Erik Halldor Smith.