SKETCH OF A LATINO/A PHILOSOPHY: PHILOSOPHY SIN MAS? NO. PHILOSOPHY Y MAS!
Common questions asked of us who teach and write on “Latin American” philosophy (or, in my case, “Mexican” philosophy) include the following (always asked in a somewhat passive-aggressive tone): What is that? What makes Latin American philosophy “Latin American”? Isn’t philosophy just philosophy? These questions are always followed by one or more statements of belief that are supposed to settle, once and for all, the questions just asked: We don’t ask what makes German philosophy German . . . it’s just philosophy! Philosophy is universal and calling it “Mexican” or “Greek” doesn’t add anything to it! When we reply that, by virtue of its historical or cultural emergence, we can locate certain differences between Latin American philosophy and the rest of (at least) the Western philosophical tradition, or that the questions asked by Latin American philosophers express a difference that we find philosophically interesting, the interrogation usually stops (at least that has been my experience), but not before a version of “Okay! Well, you’ll have to tell me about it sometime” is condescendingly expressed or uttered with feigned curiosity.
I am not suggesting that the question is not legitimate, especially when we have been taught that something is philosophy if and only if its pronouncements are universalizable, impersonal, absolutely detached from passion, and applicable to all for all time. And that something is philosophy if it has all of these things and more, and not just one of them, so that if a pronouncement has universal validity it cannot be attached to some specific human worry. Naturally, the person who asks the question about the Latin Americanness of our philosophy will find it strange that we seem to want to localize it in a specific geopolitical space, and that is why they ask it. They will, naturally, think that such localizations will introduce impurities into the mix, that the philosophical well can only be polluted by such introductions.
These concerns or worries over the purity of philosophy are not new, and anyone with any decency will surely respect philosophy’s history and traditions and affirm that philosophy does not allow for the impurities of history, culture, or concrete life. For this reason, that of faithfulness to the dogma of tradition or the force of Eurocentric authority, Mexican philosophers would like nothing more than to be recognized for simply being philosophers without the added burden of being “Mexican” philosophers. The adjective seems to dilute their chosen task, as it suggests that this philosophizing and this philosophy is of a particular kind, that it is different, and thus somehow not pure, unbiased philosophy. “Mexican” and “Latin American” are derogatory terms when paired with “philosophy,” and as such, an affront to those who practice philosophy in Mexico or Latin America (I touched on this in chapter 3).
I would like to suggest the opposite: that the addition of the adjective adds value to that philosophizing and, moreover, to its readers, present and future; that the quest for purity in philosophy excludes and marginalizes voices and thinking; that, in our time, all that we can hope for from “universality” is the possibility of sharing an insight that survives its transit in space and time—this insight need not be atemporal, as the insight might flame out, lose its material justification, or change in value in a generation or two, realities that depend on our historical circumstance. Moreover, the desire for purity can only lead to conflict and anxiety (as we saw in chapter 3). Emilio Uranga himself indirectly alludes to the value of this particular determination: “Of course, it would be preferable not to philosophize like Mexicans,” he says in passing, suggesting that instead it would be preferable to philosophize from a broader perspective. “But,” he laments, “that is not possible. Such expansion [of perspective] evokes nothing, it tells us nothing” (2013a, 189). What does evoke, what tells us something, is a philosophizing as we are, from where we stand.
In his La filosofia americana como filosofia sin mas of 1969, the unimpeachable Leopoldo Zea famously argued that Mexican, or Latin American, philosophy should be understood as “filosofia sin mas,” in other words, as simply philosophy and nothing more. By “nothing more” he meant, of course, that Mexican philosophy should be thought of in the same way that we think of Greek, Roman, or German philosophy. And this is how Latin American philosophers, and most North American philosophers, would like to think of philosophy that emerges from, concerns itself with, or speaks to the Latin American world, namely, as a philosophy that deals with universals and transcendentals. But, as I have shown, this is not entirely the case; this is not all that philosophy in Latin America concerns itself with, nor what gives it its character as philosophy or as valuable. Philosophy sin mas can only be an ideal, for Zea, for Western philosophers, or for us. And indeed, this is how Zea, in his “Dialectica,” understands “sin mas.” Speaking of the picture of humanity that he and the members of Hyperion are painting for their people, Zea writes: “We do not tell [the Mexican] what he is, certainly, we tell him what he must be. In drawing the profile of man in Mexico we are also drawing the profile of man sin mas” (1952, 214). This is a pragmatic “sin mas,” one that sketches a possibility and a trajectory. In the same way, a philosophy without apology, without history or culture, is an ideal but not a reality. In its reality, Mexican philosophy can only be thought as being philosophy y mas, that is, as philosophy and then some. It is this “y mas” that defines it; it is this that makes it valuable for Latino life.
Latino philosophy is likewise a philosophy y mas—it is committed and emerges from the concrete situation of the Latino experience. Strictly speaking, Latino philosophy is structured as a response to competing inheritances—traditions, languages, spiritualities, orientations. And so it is pluralistic and dynamic—in other words, a philosophy of contingency.
As such, it is pragmatic in its framework and existential in its content. The phenomenology of the Latino experience, like the ontology of Mexican being, reveals Latinonness as zozobrante; unlike Mexicanness, however, Latinonness appears as hyper-zozobrante, as perpetually swinging between multiple in-betweens: metaphysico-epistemological in-betweens where Latinos swing to-and-fro the allure of the idea of “America” and the reality of our marginalization; politico-ethical in-betweens, in-between the demands for self-sufficiency inherent to Anglo-protestant culture and those values placed on togetherness and intersufficiency written into our historical communities; and a myriad of other in-betweens that manifest themselves in the struggle with anti-Latino, nativist, or other threat narratives that inhabit contemporary culture.
As committed, Latino philosophy calls for, and sketches out, the possibility of self-empowerment through critical appropriations of both the authoritatively given standard philosophical narrative and those narratives (threat, nativist, and so on) that scaffold Latino life in its concreteness. These emerge together in the interpretation of life and world. Militancy and activism may politically affect the material circumstances underlying vital oppressions, and might indeed be required for the possibility of overcoming and flourishing, but what must change are the standard narratives that inform our inner selves. To challenge those narratives what is needed is a violent appropriation that preserves and overcomes; in other words, what is needed is a reading into our traditions, those that are constitutive of our historical identity and those that, while framing our present and our future, reject or marginalize us. In the Mexican challenge to philosophy we read the possibility of challenging such narratives, and such traditions, but especially those that aim, through fear, coercion, or promises of reward, to strip us of all traces of difference and particularity. For Latino philosophers, these challenges will be the content of our philosophy. After all, to paraphrase Karl Jaspers from the chapter epigraph, Latino philosophy exists wherever and whenever Latino/as are aware of their existence.