The third meeting of the Asian Network for the Philosophy of Social Sciences (ANPOSS) took place in Bangkok last week (link). It was a highly stimulating success. Organizers Chaiyan Rajchagool, Kanit (Mitinunwong) Sirichan, Yukti Mukdawijitra, and others put enormous effort into carrying it off, and host institutions Thammasat University and Chulalongkorn University provided excellent coordination and facilities. But best were the papers and discussions that took place among scholars from many countries during the several days of the conference and associated meals. There was also a full day of papers delivered in Thai — evidence of real interest in the questions raised by the social sciences.
For me the most stimulating and rewarding feature of the conference was its genuinely intercultural and international character. It was hugely interesting to discuss subjects of social change, methodology, or ontology with scholars from Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, or China. And the very different historical, political, and cultural experiences of those different Asian zones of academic life inevitably stimulated new and different questions.
The experience of being in Thailand was itself a powerful one. The omnipresence of Buddhism as a cultural current is unmistakeable. But so is the level of inequality and poverty that Thailand still experiences. Talented young people are stymied by a lack of opportunity in education and employment. The legacy of social conflict during the time of the Red Shirt movement is still unresolved. And environmental degradation in Bangkok continues to outpace measures taken to improve water quality and pollution.
The profound problems the world faces today inevitably have to do with behavior, institutions, and the legacy of earlier disasters. So it is pressingly important for philosophers to make productive contributions to the efforts of political scientists, sociologists, ethnographers, public health experts, and economists to figure out how our many civilizations can bend the curve away from the catastrophes that are looming on the horizon — climate collapse, environmental degradation, rising human poverty and misery, authoritarian political regimes, and war. Collaborations like ANPOSS can make a genuine difference. And if philosophy is of any enduring importance, it needs to be focused on making a practical difference in the world.
Thanks, then, to the philosophers and social science colleagues who are making such strong efforts to facilitate productive international discussions about the nature and impact of the social sciences!