by Camilla Turner, TheTelegraph:
They are said to be the founding fathers of Western philosophy, whose ideas underpin civilised society.
But students at a prestigious London university are demanding that figures such as Plato, Descartes and Immanuel Kant should be largely dropped from the curriculum because they are white.
The student union at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) insists that when studying philosophy “the majority of philosophers on our courses” should be from Africa and Asia.
The union said it is part of wider campaign to “decolonise” the university, as it seeks to “address the structural and epistemological legacy of colonialism”.
It comes after education leaders warned that universities will be forced to pander to the demands of “snowflake” students, however unreasonable they might be.
Under proposed reforms to higher education, the Government wants to place student satisfaction at the heart of a new ranking system, but critics fear it could undermine academic integrity.
Sir Roger Scruton, the philosopher, said the demands suggest “ignorance”. “You can’t rule out a whole area of intellectual endeavour without having investigated it and clearly they haven’t investigated what they mean by white philosophy,” he told The Mail on Sunday.
“If they think there is a colonial context from which Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason arose, I would like to hear it.’
Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of Buckingham University, added: “There is a real danger political correctness is getting out of control. We need to understand the world as it was and not to rewrite history as some might like it to have been.”
The student union at SOAS, a leading centre for the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, stated that “decolonising” the university and “confronting the white institution” is one of its priorities for the academic year.
It said that “white philosophers” should be studied only “if required”, adding that their work should be taught solely from a “critical standpoint”. “For example, acknowledging the colonial context in which so-called ‘Enlightenment’ philosophers wrote within,” it added.
Erica Hunter, head of SOAS’s Religions and Philosophies department, said the union’s viewpoint was “rather ridiculous”, adding: “I would firmly resist dropping philosophers or historians just because it was fashionable.”
Dr Deborah Johnston, Pro-Director (Learning and Teaching), said: “One of the great strengths of SOAS is that we have always looked at world issues from the perspective of the regions we study – Asia, Africa & Middle East.
“Informed and critical debate and discussion about the curriculum we teach is a healthy and proper part of the academic enterprise.”