What constitutes Latin American philosophy?


Omnisciencia, 1925, detail of Mural by Orozco at the Casa de los Azulejos, Mexico.

From Radical Philosophy:

In a way, such a question is of a piece with a central topos of Latin American culture: that is, the lack of ground for the unity of what is gathered together under the name. In Vallega’s philosophical history this also links to the way in which philosophy as a master discourse has restricted what is to count as thought, and how ‘thought’ links to other forms of ‘sensibility’ (the terms are never quite clearly determined). Philosophy thus occupies an ambiguous place within a place that is ambiguously denoted. Vallega starts with Simón Bolívar, certainly not a philosopher in any disciplinary sense, and the problematic of identity. For Bolívar, Latin America is an in-between space, ‘neither-nor’, almost constitutively lacking in identity, but impelled to discover or construct one. What might constitute a Latin American philosophy thus becomes contaminated by the uncertainty of identity of the Latin American as such, an uncertainty that permeates much of the work of the later, post-independence period.

Vallega discusses a set of thinkers all preoccupied with what is proper to Latin America and to any philosophy that might think its experience – Leopoldo Zea, Ernesto Mayz Vallilla, Augusto Salazar Bondy (all early-twentieth-century figures) – and shows that their preoccupation with European models and the imprecision and incompletion of Latin American identity condemns them to condemning Latin American philosophy as mere mimicry – a false image of the real thing that lies elsewhere – but also to condemning Latin Americans to impropriety because what is their own is unavailable for thought. Latin American philosophy here lives out the fate of Latin America itself – dependency. In setting out this account, Vallega already announces a subsidiary theme: Latin American philosophy must begin from ‘lived experience’ or the Latin American ‘situation’. But he qualifies this with a concern that this culture not be the colonized experience registered in precisely those mimetic moments that merely mark the extension of ‘Western’ forms.

Here the work of Dussel is central. Dussel begins from the system of (modern) thought and knowledge that condemns Latin America to the secondary and derivative by mounting a critique of its systematicity, showing how that will to totality depends on the exclusion of its others, first and foremost the other that was the world prior to the conquest of the Americas, a diremption that founded rationality on the denial of rationality to the barbarous other. It is the effect of what Spivak calls ‘epistemological violence’ that produces inauthenticity: what would be authentic is devalued in order to strengthen the source of value. For Dussel the system of modernity excludes and occludes the others it depends on, inverting appearances such that dependence is now the characteristic of the other. Dussel engages with the thought that emerges from Europe – in some sense from Europe’s own critics: Heidegger, Ricœur, Levinas and later Apel and Habermas – to criticize that thought, and to open it up, to ‘expose’ it to its constitutive others. Vallega sees this move as substantially positive, in that it illuminates the forms of exclusion that operate within modernity, but worries that Dussel remains within the limits of the system in that he only imagines an extension of that system to include the excluded, even as he demands a positioning within a radical exteriority, a space outside the conceptual framework that hierarchizes a (restricted) version of rationality.

“Ariel on the border”, Philip Derbyshire, Radical Philosophy