Bryan W. Van Norden


On his book Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto

Cover Interview of December 10, 2017

A close-up

There is much to interest readers in my book beyond a debate about narrow academic curriculum. In one chapter, “Trump’s Philosophers,” I explore how educational demands to “preserve our Western heritage” are intimately connected to explosive political issues. We live in a political environment in which Rep. Steve King (R, IA), can ask during a nationally televised interview, “Where did any other subgroups of people contribute more to civilization” than whites of European descent? Only by teaching people about the contributions of diverse civilizations can we eliminate this sort of arrogance and ignorance.

On a more personal level, I provide examples in my book of how philosophy has inspired people to face real-life challenges. For example, Admiral James Stockdale, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism while a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam, said that reading the philosophy of the Stoic Epictetus (55-135) was what allowed him to make it through the war with his dignity and honor intact. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded his audience in a famous speech that African-Americans W. E. B. Dubois and Alain Locke are serious philosophers that our young people should learn about. However, he also said that his favorite book after the Bible is Plato’s Republic. He even uses the language and metaphors of Plato’s philosophy in his own famous philosophical essay, “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

For those who’d like to get a taste of the book, an excerpt has been published in Aeon Magazine.