Justin E.H. Smith wants to convince academic philosophers that it’s a problem to define philosophy narrowly as a Western endeavor

Nausicaa Renner in The Nation:

ScreenHunter_2146 Aug. 10 23.32There’s a game I sometimes play with my friends, and it’s not unlike 20 Questions: One player picks a thing to keep in mind, and then the other players take turns trying to guess it. But instead of asking yes-or-no questions, players will ask, “Is it more like X or more like Y?” Say I pick “cloud” as the thing; my friends might ask me if it’s more like art or more like grass. That’s a tough one, but I would answer, “It’s more like grass, but it’s like art in that it’s lofty.” While 20 Questions works by a process of elimination, hacking away at the possibilities rationally and categorically, this game is much less direct and more comparative, working by poetic similarity. It’s good for long car rides; it can take a while, but sometimes not as long as you might think.

In The Philosopher: A History in Six Types, Justin E.H. Smith plays a similar game with philosophy: Is it more like ballet or more like dance? It’s easy to see what Smith is getting at—dance is a general category and ballet a specific one. What’s more, ballet is a Western practice, whereas dance has emerged in cultures globally; and while dance is an innate human phenomenon, ballet is not. Philosophy, as is its wont, doesn’t fit easily into either category. Is philosophy practiced by a “specialized and privileged elite within a broader society”? Does everyone in society do it in some way? If philosophy were more like dance, it would be ubiquitous. But it isn’t a practice that we see in every culture—in fact, Smith asserts, it has only arisen organically as a defined practice twice in human history, once in Greece and once in medieval India. But if philosophy were more like ballet, we should be able to see it as part of something larger than itself.

More here.