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Home arrow Economics arrow Contingency and commitment : Mexican existentialism and the place of philosophy
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And Beyond

To be Mexican is thus to be accidental. Or, said differently, the ontological space that houses Mexican existence denies the semblance of stability and security that the Western philosophical tradition has (indifferently) reserved for itself. This means that being Mexican signifies that one is not substantial, necessary, or complete in one’s being. Uranga comes to this insight via a reflection on Mexican history, a history defined by the accidental discovery of the Americas and, consequently, by the emergence of mestizaje, the nonexclusive, hybrid identity resulting from the violent intervention and physical and ideological subjugation of one life- world by another claiming substance and universality as its defining and God-given right. Led there by Heidegger, Uranga quickly realizes the limitation of Heidegger’s approach to the project he envisions, namely, one situated in a defined ontological space and differentiated by its own uniqueness, what he calls “el color local” (1952, 74). Thus, Uranga moves away from Heidegger’s rigid and abstract phenomenology, adopting the circumstantial and organic philosophical approach more fitting to the needs of that ontological space (see chapter 3).

Now, it has been my contention throughout that existentialism was deeply entrenched in the Mexican philosophical landscape in the late 1940s and the early part of the 1950s. This is evident not only in the IFAL conferences, Zea’s existential musings, and Portilla’s seemingly anxious reaction to the crisis of modernity but also in the themes, viewpoints, and approaches Mexican philosophers chose to appropriate. More important, historically speaking, existentialism sets the groundwork for a possible Mexican philosophy. Ultimately, we can say with confidence that existentialism, appropriated as it was, permeated Mexican thought and was eventually read into other texts and other traditions. One particularly important case is that of John Dewey.

Hans Lipps had already argued (in 1936) that pragmatism and existentialism shared a similar spirit, one grounded on a return to lived experience (Lipps 2010). It was not surprising, then, that Mexican existentialists would turn their gaze north, to the “American” philosophical tradition, when confronted with the possibility that the manner of their philosophizing might share in a distinctive “American,” in other words, “local,” color. Existentialism was certainly an enfoque or perspective through which they read John Dewey. In Uranga’s only mention of Dewey in his Analisis, we get an idea of this reading. There he writes: “Only in America does man appear as accidental, and not only in Spanish America, but also in Anglo Saxon America, as pragmatism gives eloquent testimony, above all John Dewey’s philosophy of contingency” (1952, 70).

This is a very telling passage. It is telling for two reasons: first, because in it Uranga unflinchingly marries North American pragmatism with his own brand of existentialism; and second, in it he elects himself as member of an established “American” philosophical tradition founded on the intuition of uncertainty and instability and manifested in a general suspicion of metaphysical generalizations. In any event, the convergence of these two lines of thought (Dewey’s and Uranga’s), each rooted in a concrete origin (Anglo-America and Mexico) and each concerned with the promise and destiny to which this origin projects (i.e., the future of the nation), gives rise to a reflection into the American circumstance (geographically and historically circumscribed) and, consequently, gives rise to a more robust—and inclusive—notion of “American” philosophy.

If we attend to Dewey, we can see why Uranga would gravitate in his direction. After all, as Cornel West writes, “Dewey helps us see the complex and mediated ways in which philosophical problems are linked to societal crises” (1989, 71). We have seen in the previous chapters that this is, indeed, a repeated theme in Mexican philosophical reflection, namely, an insistence that philosophical problems are linked to bounded sociohistorical existence and the emergencies that arise therein. If we were to look for an “essential” insight tying Dewey and the Mexican existentialists, the insight into that “link” would be it. So it is not so much Dewey’s prominence as an important American philosopher that attracted Uranga to Dewey’s philosophy; rather, it was his circumstantial enfoque. So how did Uranga read Dewey? That is, what was the occasion and manner of his reading?

 
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