Log in / Register
Home arrow Economics arrow Contingency and commitment : Mexican existentialism and the place of philosophy

Back to Philosophy

The impetus to challenge the traditional conception of philosophy by positing a circumstantially informed thinking with transformative potential arose organically in the act of philosophizing from the Mexican circumstance. In other words, as Zea argues, when philosophizing the circumstance emerges as an addition—automatically and together with philosophical meditation. Uranga, in his brief yet telling statement on Dewey cited earlier, suggests that this impetus to confront the authoritative metanarrative of philosophy, or of what philosophy should be, is uniquely “American.” Of course, what Uranga has in mind here is “America” as a site of/for philosophy. Despite the fact that North America (the United States) and Mexico share a different history of violence, brutality, and fellowship with Europe, they do share something in common, namely, the desire to assert their difference before the pretentions to universality of European ideals and values. Indeed, a “philosophy of contingency,” which arises from a meditation on the American circumstance, flies in the face of the purity, transcendence, and timelessness of philosophy as traditionally conceived.

It is clear that Dewey and the Mexican existentialists shared this common conception of philosophy. According to John Dewey, the history of philosophy reveals it as a response to evolving crises in evolving times, and so philosophy, too, must evolve to “fit” those crises and those times. A conception of philosophy that does not respond in such a way will remain alien to the problems that preoccupy flesh and bones human beings. Philosophy, in this vein, becomes “foreign to human nature” and “artificial” when it departs from the realm of actual human concern (Dewey 1920, 5-6). Nevertheless, this artificial manner of thinking and being has survived and achieved predominance mostly due to the authority and legitimacy that it claims for itself.

In its guise as a superior manner of thinking and being, Western philosophy is deployed as the measure of rationality and, ultimately, humanity through what we can call, following Zea, an imperial passion. Dewey puts the matter thus: “We tend to judge others by ourselves, and because scientific and philosophical books are composed by men in whom the reasonable, logical and objective habit of mind predominate, a similar rationality has been attributed by them to the average and ordinary man” (1920, 6). There are consequences to such attributions: in the best-case scenario, the attribution of a “similar rationality” to others oftentimes leads to demoting a different idea or a different sort of thinking to the level of the irrational; in the worst case, the desire that others share in the “similar” can have disastrous consequences, as the other logic or the other thinking, or the other philosophy either pose a threat or represent the subhuman—both reasons for oppression, marginalization, or even death.

Dewey, of course, does not speak of marginality, oppression, and death in quite these terms. His critique aims, as Cornel West writes, “to demystify and defend critical intelligence [and] render it more and more serviceable for the enhancement of human individuality” (1989, 72). But this demystification takes the form of a challenge to the imperialist impulse to attribute, wholesale, a certain conception of the philosophical without regard to the needs and predicaments of particular circumstances; Dewey attends, as the Mexican existentialists do, to the overtones of power involved in such attributions. “The systematic and obligatory nature of such doctrines,” he writes, “is hastened and confirmed through conquests and political consolidation” (1920, 8). At play in these observations is what leads Derrida decades later to characterize Western metaphysics as “white mythology” (see chapter 3). For Dewey, the deployment of white mythology achieves the “fixing and organizing of doctrines and cults which gave . . . general rules . . . a necessary antecedent to the formation of any philosophy as we understand the term” (9). Ultimately, Dewey recognizes, as will Uranga and Zea, that philosophy as traditionally understood, as universalistic and pure, concerned with timeless truths and ideal objects, is irresponsive to the actual lives of actual people. As irresponsive, it is irresponsible.

So what does a responsible philosophy look like? Simply, it keeps in mind that philosophy, according to Dewey, “did not develop in an unbiased way from an open and unprejudiced origin. It had its task cut out for it from the start. It had a mission to perform, and it was sworn in advance to that mission” (1920, 18). This mission is the articulation of moral conduct for the betterment of particular communities and the preservation of those values deemed “serviceable” to that end. When philosophy does not adhere to this mission, or better yet, when it professes “an over-pretentious claim to certainty,” it is “insincere” (20-21). A responsive and responsible philosophy will thus “clarify men’s ideas as to the social and moral strifes of their own day” (26). This means that it will be situated, rooted, and concerned with saving the circumstance from the perils of detached, supernatural thinking and those pretentious notions conceived for the sake of dominating nature, peoples, thought, and so on. Philosophy must be, in other words, committed.

With Dewey, the Mexican existentialists share a common vision of philosophy as commitment, as responsive to “their own day” and reflecting what Uranga calls a particular “color local.” This was an “American” vision. Neither Uranga nor Zea would argue with Dewey’s pragmatist rendering of this vision, which says that when philosophies “fail to clear up confusion, to eliminate defects, if they increase confusion, uncertainty and evil when they are acted upon, then are they false. Confirmation, corroboration, verification lie in works, consequences. Handsome is as handsome does” (1920, 156).

Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >
Business & Finance
Computer Science
Language & Literature
Political science