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


A clear lesson here is that the concern over the need for ideological independence from Eurocentric rationality resides in the American philosophical impulse (America understood, of course, in something like Jose Martf’s broad and inclusive sense of the term [cf., e.g., Marti 1985]), at least, that is, until the impulse is repressed. A secondary lesson is that contingency, accidentality, and zozobra are names for the same thing and a fact about our human existence that is better to recognize and assume than it is to cover over and forget. At the very least, a recognition and recovery of this existential fact situates us in an existential and hermeneutical space in which the world makes (some) sense to us in spite of the instability and indeterminateness of actual experience. Both Dewey and the Mexican existentialists challenged the authoritative conception of philosophy in the name of this recognition and for the sake of affirming a historical identity that they considered distinctly American or Mexican—an identity defined by the very capacity to challenge and appropriate the nebulous boundaries of “America” in whatever way they manifest themselves.

I offer a final note on the appropriation of the concept of “accident,” which is a concept with a long philosophical tradition. Both Dewey and Uranga assume this history, grounding their challenge to Western metaphysics and epistemology on the tradition’s obsession on the accident- substance split, where the former is thought inferior to the latter. Uranga himself appropriates the concept directly from the source, namely, Aristotle. Turning to book VII of the Metaphysics, Aristotle says: “that which primarily and absolutely is must be a substance” (1995, 1623). Uranga echoes Aristotle in his description of substance, writing that it “does not change, it places out of reach any transformation, it rests in itself, indifferent to movement, alteration, or decomposition” (1952, 17). On the other hand, what transforms, changes, moves, alters, or decomposes is accident. In book VI, Aristotle gives the following definition: “that which is neither always nor for the most part, we call accidental” (1995, 1621). If it changes or transforms, then it is not “always nor for the most part.” Another way to put this is to say that substance is necessary and everything (“always”), while accident is contingent and nothing. “Let us say it with Aristotle,” writes Uranga, “the accident is nothing before substance” (1952, 18). However, as Uranga reflects further into the relation between substance and accident, Uranga’s enfoque, the purpose of his reading, begins to reveal itself. “Accident is,” he writes, anticipating a move toward his American concerns, “a reduction or degradation, a being of ‘lower class’” (18). As we read, the accident, as “lower class,” emerges from the abstract and forms itself into the image of the proletariat; it shapes itself into the colonized, the mestizo. On the surface, Uranga’s interpretation follows Aristotle: “What is accident is a minus of being, a being which is reduced or ‘frail’ [quebrantado] due to its integration with nothingness” (17). But Uranga has other ambitions, namely, to point out the manner in which the European colonizer has used Aristotle and the language of substance and accident to justify their violent interventions. If European man has proclaimed, through centuries of oppression and domination, to represent substance, then the Mexican, as accident, is nothing before the European.

Of course, challenging the narrative of substance that has justified both historical oppression of Mexicans and Mexicans’ oppression of themselves (when they see themselves as nothing before substance) is a reason for philosophy, and a justification for philosophy as circumstantial. Deconstructing this narrative reveals that Mexicans are not, in fact, “inferior” to Europeans—which is a conclusion that Uranga is explicitly opposing—but, rather, that Mexicans are, at least, more realistic about their humanity than Europeans, who, as all humans, are accidental without accepting it. European man’s delusion, Uranga suggests, rests in his belief that he is a creature created in the image of his creator, which means that if the creator is pure substance, then the creature will likewise lay claim to this constitutional characteristic. But the Mexican understands that his project should not be to achieve substantiality but to live as accident—fully aware of the contingency of his own existence. It is important, Uranga continues, that we conceive of accident not in a metaphysical sense but as a project: the Mexican is accidental because her project involves “accidentalizing” herself: “the Mexican, in accidentaliz- ing [accidentalizarse], approximates the originary condition of our proper and authentic constitution” (19).

My reflections on Uranga’s engagement with accidentality and Dewey’s application of the same via the concept of contingency allow three conclusions to emerge, either directly or indirectly.

First conclusion: to be accidental or contingent means that the ideal that regulates our quest to be “Mexican,” or “American,” or Latino/a is likewise contingent and accidental. This suggests that each one of us can imagine a different ideal and, as such, give rise to a different way of being Mexican or American or Latino/a. This obvious metaphysical insight, shared by both Uranga and Dewey, emerges from an American consciousness that respects the historical events that have given rise to America itself—both North and South. Subjectivity itself is an accidental happening, as is particularly the case with the mestizo subjectivity of Mexicans or the hybridity of US Latino/as. The ability to recognize this fact, according to Uranga, is the privilege of those who share the history of being accidental.

Second conclusion: Dewey’s philosophy of contingency announces an American thinking, and thus a kinship, that Uranga is able to appreciate as uniquely American. Dewey’s brief appearance in Uranga’s neglected text is significant in many respects, but most importantly because it highlights an American commonality that might otherwise be forgotten—or ignored. We as Americans are closer to the accident (or more easily understand our lack of essence) and, as such, are more apt to recognize it, using this recognition for pragmatic social, political, and intellectual projects.

And, third conclusion: the recognition of contingency and accident as unavoidable existential facts makes possible a pragmatic philosophy in tune with the needs of a cultural community and, simultaneously, in line with the human desire for truth. According to Dewey, and Uranga after him, Western philosophy’s insistence for a transcendence beyond accident alienates human being from his/her truth and detaches the human mind from a concrete existence that is the only proper place for action.

Ultimately, a forgetting of one’s accidental condition leads to a worship of permanence and perfection. Uranga suggests that this forgetting, and the subsequent drive to becoming substance, can be traced to a colonial mentality that accepts the Mexican condition as one authorized by either history or God. So the move toward a self-conception of one’s own accidentality is actually an emancipating move, one that liberates us from a historically fabricated illusion. Reintegration of a consciousness of accidentality and contingency thus brings the Mexican closer to his or her proper and authentic constitution.

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