As best as I can tell, all the other bloggers have entered the final exam null zone, and so it may just be me here this week. I probably won't post next week, so I'll share some thoughts about the reactions to Garfield and Van Norden New York Times Stone Column.
As far as I can tell, the still-invisible thesis put forward by John Protevi about “Western” philosophy is a call to understand the historical situatedness in which Western philosophy has long maintained itself via its “Christian,” “White-violence-ness,” and “colonization” (this is not an exhaustive list either) Certainly, we cannot deny that philosophy has been transmitted with these legacies in mind. The question is, however: What does it mean to elicit these invisible historical background conditions? What does it do for philosophy? Protevi answers “It's to change the way we do philosophy, to bring out the invisible dimensions which serve the social-structure-forming (or at least reinforcing and justifying) as well as epistemic, moral, and aesthetic functions of philosophy.”
If I understand him right, then by understanding the ways in which philosophy has justified its imperial and brutal past will also serve to understand how such a past reinforced and justified the legitimacy of that same imperial and brutal past. In effect, we learn about the historical consciousness of oppressors and the violence inherent in legacies of Whiteness (among other things). Here, I cannot help but think of Pateman’s wonderful work showing the exclusion of women from the social contract completely. No doubt also these same justifications may continue to haunt us as implicit threads and trajectories of these past ideas. On this, I have no doubt. So far, so good. I’d love a de-racializing, de-colonizing, de-heteroing, de-sexualizing form of philosophy that can steer us away from the bad and to the Good. I mean. This is the reason why we’re talking about this? Right? Apart from the fact of changing U.S. demographics in which African-Americans and Hispanics will both outnumber Whites in many years and these students will be going to university in greater numbers where we (and me hopefully) will teach, our calling for a diversification in philosophical canon rests on the assumption that a less expansive canon conceals philosophy’s complicity and unawareness of oppression. This is an incredibly moralized conception of why diversity in philosophy matters.
Logic may be conceived quite differently by Aristotle and by Russell had the slightest effect on the validity of logical analysis or inference. No convention or invention can impair or alter logical necessity. Men of violence cannot take it by force. Men may choose to regard it as unimportant or be prepared to utter and believe sentences which are logically contradictory. But no psychological attitude or intention or effort can ever modify the necessity of any logical demonstration, be it Aristotelian, symbolic, or 25th century logic. No war or catastrophe can affect it; the gnawing tooth of time cannot eat it away. Least of all can argument assail it, for argument is not argument unless it presupposes, acknowledges, and uses the laws of reason as Given.
But this is not all. Not only is validity of logical analysis and coherence Given, but so also is the realm of true value...Here, of course, there will be more difference of opinion, especially from naturalists, pragmatists, instrumentalists, and positivists; and at this point, no attempt will be made to argue the matter out. Suffice it to say that if truth is better than error, if science is better than ignorance, if respect for persons is better than violence; if love is better than hate; if beauty is better than chaos--then no will, no activity, no war, no experiment can reverse these judgments. However confused [humanity's] understanding and application of them, however different the tribal mores of the communists and the capitalists may be, no social or economic revolution and no anthropological deviates can affect the truth of the true values. (Person and Reality, p. 60)
Like it or not, philosophy can only happen if we are committed first to the search for true values. No matter how we might practice philosophy, we are at least committed to the value of logic for articulating insights and on Brightman's reading, the presence of true values while often difficult to disentangle from human misunderstanding are independent from the contingency where ideology takes place. In fact, I would urge us to think long and hard about embracing any perspective not guided by true values.
I realize this conclusion might sound a bit whacky. After all, Continental philosophical tools and possible philosophical retooling from diversifying philosophy can give us many analyses about whom is doing wrong and our reasons for thinking so. Yet, when I ask how can I know if I should accept that I ought to oppose another, what is clear is that the oppressor in question will be supporting values I cannot endorse. Values color the oppressor’s actions, appearing on the back of them, and the question of values means two general ahistoric conclusions that cannot be abandoned (or at the very least, that's my claim here in this post anyway). With access to true values, such reading at the margins is no longer just a type of historicism.
First, oppression is valued negatively in every historical occurrence because of the negative value oppression has attached to it. Second, the genealogical and anti-realist elements on which many of these analyses depend are undergirded by a realist commitment to value the dignity of others. So when Drabinski drew a distinction between mere diversity approaches and a commitment to a de-colonizing way of reading texts, he’s committed to the value of a de-colonizing way of reading philosophical texts above others because philosophical texts replicate the ideological past of their authors like Locke on slavery, Hegel and his depiction of Africa, and Kant’s notion of race as central to his ethics and politics. Drabinski doesn’t want philosophy to be complicit with colonization because of the negative value colonization, imperialism, or what I am calling here oppression, possess. His reading at the margins requires again the absolute commitment of a value central undergirding his philosophizing; otherwise, it's just a type of historicism.
I also want to say that diversifying and retooling doesn’t also mean abandoning central ideas in philosophers that can be extricated for our benefit despite their shady and racist past. Re-tooling can also mean finding what’s valuable in a philosophy—that is, to make it one’s own. In fact, talking about oppression reminds me of Carol Hay whose work on Kant is re-purposed to “resist oppression.” a Kantian-based and informed project to resist oppression based on, again, the absolute commitment and value of a person’s dignity. Now, one can take many ideas out of Kant and extract them while not concerned with their history. Drabinski may remind us of Kant’s shady past and what reading him at the margins might mean, but it’s not the shady past that animates or inspires the reasons why most contemporaries study Kant. Most Kantians I've met think human dignity is a central concern about what it means to be moral or metaethically agree that being rational is what being moral means. In extricating these insights, there's little argument I can see that Kantians are replicating a racist past unknowingly (the point was never to be a convinced Kantian about everything he thought). Even more to the point, I wonder if reading philosophy at the margins would be committed to what Schliesser claims a smooth surface or flattening reading, reading that insulates us from the mistakes of an imperialist past. Under such a reading, insofar as we continually incorporate our latest progressive attitudes, the contemporaries are always left in a better position than the past.
The mural was painted in Highland Park High School near St. Louis, Missouri. An article detailing the mural may be found here.