Is There Latin American Philosophy?

By Mendieta, Eduardo | Philosophy Today, January 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Is There Latin American Philosophy?

Mendieta, Eduardo, Philosophy Today

"Not to philosophize is still to philosophize." The philosophical discourse of the West asserts the amplitude of an all-inclusiveness [englobement] or an ultimate comprehension. It compels every other discourse to justify itself before philosophy. . . .This dignity of an ultimate and royal discourse comes to Western philosophy by virtue of the rigorous coincidence between the thought in which philosophy stands and the reality in which this thought thinks.

Emmanuel Levinas1

Is there Latin American philosophy? Given the results of a survey I conducted of recently published bibliographical and research resources, the answer to this question would seem to be an implied no, and an almost mute yes. Before turning to the substance of my essay I would like to describe briefly my findings. It must be established from the outset that I am motivated to share these results not by some Nietzschean ressentiment, some bad conscience. Even less am I motivated by some left liberal notion of political correctness. I am motivated simply by the very standards of professionalism, intellectual honesty, and philosophical rigor that we expect of any respectable philosopher.

Blackwell has over the last decade undertaken an ambitious and praiseworthy project, namely, to put together a series of companions that can serve as the most comprehensive, up to date, user friendly resources and reference materials for scholars, graduate, and undergraduate students. The series has already reached sixteen published volumes, with six more projected; twenty-two volumes of companions, ranging over every philosophical subject and philosophical tradition. Each volume is on the average 700 pages. Indeed, this is a formidable publication undertaking, one that will decidedly leave an indelible mark in the near future as we try to re-map the boundaries, heights and lows, of the philosophical tradition in the West, and philosophical traditions across the ages and the globe. I did not consult all sixteen published volumes, although I did use a large number of them. Over the last year, while working on themes related to this topic, but while also trying to teach a class on Latin American Philosophy, I turned to these Blackwell companions for guidance and help. First, I turned to Arrington's A Companion to the Philosophers,2 a volume nicely arranged in 6 sections covering Islamic and Jewish philosophy, African, Indian, Chinese, even a Japanese philosophy section, and of course the de rigueur "European and American Philosophers." I thought I had found my mine, the Mecca of resources. Latin American philosophy is rooted in European philosophy, but it is also "American" philosophy, so I thought this would be the appropriate place to look. Well, there is not one Latin American philosopher. Not Zea, Bondy, Dussel, Ramos, Sarmiento, Frondizi, or anyone else for that matter. Well, maybe I could find something about Spanish philosophy, or Portuguese philosophy. No, nothing on Orgeta y Gasset, nothing on Zubiri, nothing on Corona, nothing on Muguerza, nothing on Unamuno. What about Suarez, Francisco de Vitoria, Juan Luis Vives, to mention a few? Suarez, "the greatest Jesuit thinker" is mentioned under Aquinas, while Vivez does not make it. I guess Latin American philosophy is neither "American" nor "European" enough, or perhaps it is neither. Spanish philosophy, on the other hand, perhaps was never philosophy, and if Spanish thought should be studied at all, maybe it should only be studied under theology.

O.K., maybe the cataloguing on Latin American philosophy had shifted on me, and unbeknownst to me Latin American philosophy had been re-categorized under "non-Western forms of thought." I therefore turned to Eliot Deutsch and Ron Bontekoe's A Companion to World Philosophies.3 This volume is usefully arranged into sections on "background, topics, and the contemporary situation." It covers Indian, African, Buddhist, Muslim philosophy, and so on. I did not find anything under "Latin American philosophy. …

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