Native American Philosophy

What is Native American philosophy?

Native American tribes and nations have held well-developed world views, religions, epistemologies, metaphysics, and social and political views long before Europeans invaded and appropriated their lands. Much of this knowledge was transmitted orally and subject to loss and fragmentation, following what many indigenous people call the Native American Holocaust.

The development of Native American philosophy as a subfield in academic philosophy requires not just reconstruction of past knowledge but some acceptance of the methods of Western philosophy. The problem is that these methods are highly problematic for most indigenous thinkers. Furthermore, after centuries of distorted descriptions of their cultures by anthropologists and government officials, most Native American philosophers have a strong preference for speaking in their own voices, rather than agreeing to let others present their perspectives.

There are not very many Native Americans in U.S. university philosophy departments at this time—perhaps fewer than 50. Nevertheless, since the 1980s a "canon" of Native American philosophy has developed, which includes the following sources: The Sacred Hoop by Paula Gunn Allen (1986); How It Is: The Native American Philosophy of V. F. Cordova by Linda Hogan, by Kathleen Dean Moore, Kurt Peters, and Ted Jojoba (2007); Cultural Sites of Critical Insight: Philosophy, Aesthetics, and African American and Native American Women's Writings, by Angela L. Cotton and Christa Davis (2007); American Indian Thought: Philosophical Essays, by Anne Waters (2003); and Defending Mother Earth: Native American Perspectives on Environmental Justice, by Jace Weaver (1996).

What are some of the current issues in Native American philosophy?

The concerns address politics, ecology, religion, and feminism. The Native American claims are both straightforward and difficult to solve. Political activist and former ethnic studies professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Ward Churchill, has argued that progressive movements within mainstream American society do not address Native American ideals because those progressive movements are dedicated to getting more of the prizes of technology and capitalism. Traditional Native Americans, by contrast, seek to withdraw from the dominant system and into self-sufficient traditional communities.

To some extent, the current political issues of Native Americans concern ecology and environmentalism. On the one hand, Native Americans may refuse to be used as symbols of ecological virtue, even though ideals of self-sufficiency on tribal lands do rely on sustainable ecological practices. It is a significant irony that some Native

American communities have been able to use profits from their casinos to purchase those ancestral lands that the U.S. promised them in unfulfilled treaties.

Viola Cordova (1937-2002), a university professor and the first Native American to earn a doctorate in philosophy (she was also part Hispanic), argued that the history of Western philosophy has an overwhelming Christian bias and influence in ways that are incomprehensible to thinkers in Native cultures. Anne Waters, another Native American philosopher, as well as an attorney who teaches at California State University at Bakers-field, has challenged the myth of European discovery of the "Americas," referring to oral traditions claiming that Native Americans have always inhabited the Americas.

Native American women writers such as Paula Gunn Allen have traced matriarchal patterns in indigenous political history, which were dislodged by European settlers who refused to negotiate with female leaders. This suggests very different feminist concerns among Native American women compared to Western feminists, recovering political power instead of attaining it.

Latin American Philosophy

What is Latin American philosophy?

Latin American philosophy is either or both the thought of philosophers who reside in Latin American countries or the newer work of Latino-Latina/Hispanic-American philosophers. Like African American and Native American philosophy, it is a subfield to the academic discipline that formed after 1930, although it was not duly recognized until after 1980.

Contemporary considerations of philosophy in Latin America, written by philosophers who also reflect on the Latino-Latina/Hispanic-American experience include the following books: Linda Alcoff and Eduardo Mendieta, Thinking from the Underside of History: Enrique Dusell's Philosophy of Liberation (2000); Jorge J.E. Gracia, Mireya Camurati, editors, Philosophy and Literature in Latin America (1989); Jorge J.E. Gracia and Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, editors, Latin American Philosophy for the 21st Century: The Human Condition, Values, and the Search for Identity (1989); Eduardo Mendieta, Global Fragments: Critical Theory, Latin America and Globalizations (2007); Susana Nuccetelli, Latin American Thought: Philosophical Problems and Arguments (2002); and Ofelia Schutte, Cultural Identity and Social Liberation in Latin American Thought (1993).

What are the issues addressed by Latino-Latina/Hispanic-American philosophy?

Identity, immigration, the experience of multinational persons, and the nature of cultural difference are considered. As well, there are unique feminist issues for Latina-

Americans and questions centered on the difference between race (as false biology) and ethnicity (as culture).

What have been the major trends in Latin American philosophy?

Many commentators identify four periods in the 500 year history of philosophy in Latin America: colonial, independentist, positivist, and contemporary. Overall, Latin American philosophers have been actively involved in political and social events in their countries; they have not, until very recently, incorporated indigenous world views into their intellectual perspectives.

The colonial period (1550-1750) was characterized by interest in medieval scholastic philosophy, such as the work of Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) and Francisco Suárez (1548-1617). During this time, Mexico and Peru were important in intellectual life and the influence of Spain dominated. The Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico, founded in 1553, was where Alonso de la Vera Cruz (1504-1584), Tomás de Mercado (1530-1575), and Antonio Rubio (1548-1615) flourished. Antonio Rubio's Mexican Logic (1605) was a celebrated textbook on Aristotelian logic throughout Europe. Bartolomé de Las Casas' (1474-1566) In Defense of the Indians is still widely read.

During the independentist philosophical period (1750-1850) intellectual interest was focused on political issues, although European rationalism, empiricism, and ethics were also taken up. The positivist period (1850-1910) embraced European positivism and had local social and political applications. It was assumed by many, after independence, that positivist philosophy, backed up by social science, would usher in "Order and Progress." Juan Bautista Alberdi (1812-1884), in his Idea (1842), sought to modify European positivism to the specific circumstances of Latin America.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >