Alain Locke and Philosophy: A Quest for Cultural Pluralism

Alain Locke and Philosophy: A Quest for Cultural Pluralism

Alain Locke and Philosophy: A Quest for Cultural Pluralism

Alain Locke and Philosophy: A Quest for Cultural Pluralism


Washington provides the first systematic critical look at the life and work of Alain Locke, an important American philosopher, in the context of a thoroughgoing analysis of the values, ideals, aspirations, and problems of the Black community. Alain Locke contributed significantly to the twentieth-century dialogue on ethics and society. Drawing particularly on the work of William James and Josiah Royce, Locke was perhaps the first to bring philosophy to bear on the problems of race relations and social justice in a multiracial society. He argued that racial problems in the United States stem from the fact that white Americans hold up their values as the only controlling and only acceptable model, to which other groups are forced to conform. First discussing what is meant by Black philosophy and what its concerns include, the author examines Locke's philosophic interpretation of Black America's historical experience, contributions to culture, and struggles for social justice. He provides a critique of Locke's model of the political community, with special reference to the work of Hannah Arendt. Looking at the impact of Locke, DuBois, and others on the Black community, he discusses their relation to the Black Elite, their encouragement of Black artists and their positions on educational issues such as teaching Black history, parity for Blacks, and school desegregation. Other subjects considered are the New Negro, the Harlem Renaissance, African art and culture, and Locke's views in light of changes that have occurred since his death in 1954.

An important work on a philosopher whose insights are of continuing significance today, this book will be of interest for Afro-American studies, as well as for courses on American philosophy and American social and intellectual history.


Dr. Johnny Washington's work on Alain Locke is a very significant and pioneering contribution to the literature on the thoughts of Black philosophers. It is significant in two main respects: First, it is a comprehensive formulation and evaluation of the thoughts of a Black philosopher by a professional Black philosopher. In our time books of this kind are extremely rare, both in Africa and the Diaspora. Second, given its scope, logic, and style, it successfully demonstrates the existence and seriousness of Black philosophy.

We perhaps ought to remind ourselves that an enterprise of this nature is fraught with many temptations. It is, for instance, understandable, though unscholarly, for a philosopher to employ such new opportunity merely to castigate a society which has long suppressed the thoughts of a significant section of itself. Professor Washington's care in not only recognizing but avoiding such temptations justifies my view that here is a work that deserves a wide readership on its own merit.

Alain Locke, as Dr. Washington has shown, concerned himself not merely with political issues affecting justice and freedom for Blacks, but he was equally concerned with analysis of philosophical questions of values, art, and knowledge in general. In this regard Locke's axiology, as formulated in "Values and Imperatives," makes him a precursor of the non-cognitive twentieth-century ethical theorists who emphasize feelings and attitudes as the basic modes in ethical judgments.

This brings us to a question that is as interesting as it is im-

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