The Mexican/American Challenge to Philosophy. Uranga and Dewey
The brief, yet passionate, detour in which philosophy passes through a “Mexican existentialism” and emerges once more to join its pretentious path toward eternity is due, most of all, to the interventions and interrogations occasioned by a purposeful, deliberate, and prejudiced reading of French existentialism. Mexican philosophers, such as Uranga and Villoro, Zea and Portilla, brought into their particular readings certain expectations, structured as enfoques, that were to benefit Mexican existence in different ways: by reconnecting meaningful thinking to the Mexican reality, by reconceptualizing the stakes for philosophical investigation in the nation (understood in a particular historical vernacular and defined by certain historical events), or by recalibrating the philosophical enfoque itself. The recalibration of the philosophical enfoque, consequently, reveals the operative conception of philosophy at work in these readings. While this revelation does not come until after the “moment” of existentialism had passed (when the pendulum swung toward a conception of philosophy that can be called “traditional”), the reason why philosophy (and its particular readings and appropriations) was valued as a cognitive practice ultimately lay, I insist, on the fact that it was read into the Mexican circumstance and made to answer for the crises belonging to this particular historical entity and its people. That is, philosophy is important when it is committed and responsible to and for a particular existential circumstance.
While this conception of philosophy as commitment (Zea) is organic to a circumstance characterized by zozobra, accident, and other unique historical traumas, it is not original to the Mexican experience. We see it particularly in Marx and even in Sartre, but we cannot say that it is copied from them wholesale; it grows from the Mexican soil, fertilized as it is by expectant readings, by those violent appropriations that are a consequence of purposeful encounters with meaningful texts. In Uranga’s case, given the breadth of his reading, the encounter with any one transformative text—or the site of meaningful appropriation—is impossible to locate. It is interesting to know, however, that despite the influence of the Spaniards in Spanish-language philosophy (e.g., Jose Gaos and Jose Ortega y Gasset), Uranga’s circumstantially focused philosophy expresses a uniquely “American” perspective that had already been articulated by John Dewey a few decades earlier. Dewey’s perspective is also defined by a circumstantial enfoque, by care toward the social and existential realities of his time-place, and by an explicit challenge to traditional philosophy.
In this chapter, I consider these two “American” philosophers, not so as to legitimize Uranga’s contributions to an American “philosophy,” and thus to philosophy itself (this will be an unintended consequence), but to highlight a conception of philosophy that, while transcending political borders, speaks out of and to the broader American circumstance. This conception, shared by Uranga, los hiperiones, and Dewey, is one that challenges the Eurocentric passion for universal, abstract, and nonlocal- ized philosophy and emphasizes the value of an intellectual commitment to our own immediate social and individual existence; it tells us, moreover, that thinking against the authority of authority is worthwhile and necessary, and that valuing difference and uncertainty is to value the very core of our identities as American.