The Philosophers' Round

In an ambitious and scholarly work that is as accessible as it is accessible, Vincent Citot compares the philosophies of eight different civilizations to identify cyclical constants, between the religious stage and the scientific age.

The question of the origins of philosophical thought is one of the problems which have characterized the history of philosophy. The best known and most common answer to this problem is also the main cause of one of the most difficult prejudices to eradicate: philosophy was born in Greece and its origins are purely Hellenic. From Hegel Husserl, however, there is no shortage of illustrious philosophers who have adopted this paradigm. Since the second half of XXe century, the debate is recalibrated on a less Euro-centric vision, sometimes going towards the opposite extreme, where convergences and sometimes fanciful similarities are sought between philosophies belonging to different eras and worlds.

One of the reasons for the Hello-centric paradigm on the origins of philosophy concerns the criteria which define a thought as philosophical. They have long been those that we have inherited from the ancient Greeks: from the beginning, Greek thinkers were interested in the real world and sought to understand and explain it through the tools offered by reason. Thus philosophical thinking has always been considered as conceptual type thinking, based on reasoning and logic.; the texts and literature are of the same type. However, there are other forms of thinking and writing, which implies a redefinition of what can be considered philosophical thinking.

From a broader perspective, such as that offered by the work of Vincent Citot, this redefinition is possible. If the title may suggest a more or less extended chronology of the history of philosophy on a planetary scale, the subtitle further specifies the objective that the author sets for himself: the history of philosophy is presented asstory compares cycles of intellectual life in eight civilizations. This book represents the conclusion of an ambitious path of research in which Citot applies a method, already theorized in previous articles (see this list on the Citot website). Philosophy), through which he aims to grasp the universal element of the history of philosophy by showing what each civilization has brought to the table that is unique. The result is a narrative that is simultaneously civilizational, intellectual, cyclical and comparative.

From Greece to Japan, via China

For the choice of the eight civilizations presented in the work, the criteria retained by Citot are those of continuity and quantity. Many cultures have produced philosophy, but few have done so in a massive way for a long time and in writing, so that its history can be written. (p. 15). That the texts have reached our time is also a necessary condition, which considerably reduces the number of civilizations whose evolution of philosophical thought can be documented. Consequently, there remain only eight cultural areas, namely: Greece, Rome, Islam, Europe, Russia, India, China and Japan, thus presented in this order which is not chronological (Chinese civilization and philosophy and Indian civilizations so much older than Greek civilization and philosophy).

These criteria seem rather restrictive and exclude the civilizations of the continents of the southern hemisphere, in particular the African civilizations and those of Latin America. This is not necessarily a fault, especially since Citot justifies his choices in the introduction, but it remains a subject of debate, for at least two reasons: first, by virtue of the fact that in these parts of the world there exist philosophical traditions committed to historical, social and territorial ego problems so significant that even UNESCO is interested in the heritage of thought in these southern regions of the world; secondly, works and works on the history of regional philosophy exist on the philosophical thought of Latin America and Africa. If the criteria used justify Citot's choices from a historiographical point of view, the absence of part of the civilizations in this history of philosophy may represent a subject of debate.

Civilizational history and philosophical thought

To go beyond the model of logico-rational thought of the Hellenic matrix, Citot proposes this definition: a philosophical thought, it is a thought that seeks to justify itself by various means implemented with perseverance (p. 14). As the work of philosophers, as singularities, is part of a broader movement linked to a culture and its intellectual expressions, philosophy is not isolated from the culture and intellectual life of a civilization. Because philosophizing is not the only way that man has of thinking: with philosophy, religion and science are also two other ways of thinking constitutive of humanity. The universal character of human thought is manifested by three ways of asking the question of truth: religion seeks truth through socially legitimate discourses of authority; philosophy accesses the truth through reasoning and critical activity; science further formalizes experiences and reasoning to the point of making models. From religion to science, each approach corresponds to an additional effort of decentering vis–vis existence: from religion to science, via philosophy, reality is understood by further transcending particular points of view (p. 17).

Each civilization goes through these three approaches, which correspond to three successive moments in the history of thought: the period preclassicalcharacterized by religious type thinking; the period classicwhich marks the liberation of philosophy from religion; the period postclassicalduring which science marginalizes other forms of thought. The advantage of having grouped the different expressions of human thought into three categories is to allow a better understanding of its evolution. Which justifies the historiographical choice of representing the histories of the eight civilizations through their intellectual cycles. the way of the New science de Vico (but before him Ibn Khaldun had developed the idea of ​​the historical cycle), Citot constructs a cyclical narration of the intellectual history of different civilizations by showing the evolution of the relationships between religion, philosophy and science.

The three moments of thought like Comte's three states?

The three-step cycle model makes a nod to Auguste Comte’s law of the three states. In Citot's narration, the history of philosophy describes a preclassical-classical-postclassical cycle, which consists of a successive recomposition of the three great ways of thinking about access to truth (p. 21). As in the laws of the three states, so in this comparative history of philosophy, the succession between the three phases is characterized by the presence of religious, philosophical and scientific forms of thought. On the other hand, if the basis of these two ideas is the same, especially with regard to the social and cultural aspect specific to the evolution of human thought, there is a fundamental difference between Comtian positivism and the paradigm proposed by Citot.

In Comte's law of the three states, the metaphysical state, which corresponds to the philosophical age of a civilization or an individual, is a state of transition between the fiction of the theological state and the certainty of the scientific state. Only this last state produces certainties, while the first two are unproductive and their role is limited to preparing the ground for the successive stages. The Comtian positivist vision is the basis of the idea of ​​progress and ends up attributing a regressive character to religion and philosophy in relation to science.

Citot's model, on the contrary, shows that philosophy does not cease to exist even if it is not always sovereign in the search for truth. obviously, because we do not philosophize in the same way when intellectual life is dominated by religious people, taken in hand by philosophers or polarized by scientists (p. 21). On the other hand, science does not represent the last moment of civilization; on the contrary, it can itself suffer the same fate as religion and philosophy and fall into the background. In this regard, the examples of China and Greek thought show that the evolution of thought proceeds in leaps and bounds rather than in a linear fashion: Chinese thought has a centuries-old history which does not disappear at any time, but is characterized by succession. of three millennium-long cycles (p. 350); Greek thought, on the contrary, disappeared and generated Roman and then European thought.

Finally, if Citot, like Comte, does not resist the temptation to structure his reflection on the basis of a Hegelian-type triad, we must give credit to his work for having given dignity to all forms of thought without locking ourselves into a positivist conception which offers a vision of religious and philosophical moments biased by the distorting lenses of the idea of ​​progress.

A learned but popularized story

LWorld history of philosophy de Citot is aimed at all types of readers, from the specialist who can situate their knowledge and research in broader contexts, to the amateur, who can also take advantage of the bibliographies at the end of each chapter to deepen their knowledge. This is a work which can also make its contribution to the question of the origins of philosophy, even if the narration is not chronological, but allows a glimpse of some Euro-centric residues. In particular, in the order of presentation which from Greece arrives to Japan via the Roman, Islamic, Russian, European, Indian, and Chinese civilizations. In this order, Chinese civilization is only placed after Western civilizations, perhaps because Citot wanted to begin his World History starting from what is closer to the French and European reader.

In conclusion, this is a work written and presented with honesty, since its author is well aware of the limits that can characterize such a work in terms of completeness and depth. The result is a comparative history which aims to be informative and educational and to be so does not renounce the risk of ethnocentrism especially when the author resorts to the comparison between an Eastern philosopher and a Western philosopher, even if the latter was born later. example title: the Indian philosopher Kautilya (vs. 360- vs. 275) write a Artha-shstra whose positive spirit and political realism devoid of moral consideration have earned him comparison to the Prince by Machiavelli (p. 311); the Chinese thinker Wang Chong (27-vs. 100) is presented as a free and skeptical spirit who decried the orthodoxy, traditionalism and superstitions of his time, which earned him the comparison to the Greek Lucian of Samosata (p. 372). We can make this concession to the author, justified by the concern to make understandable the doctrine of a thinker who belongs to other thought patterns, but we invite the reader not to look at all costs for similarities and symmetries between thoughts which remain distant in time and in the space.