Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Thoughts on Dussel's "Anti-Cartesian Meditations"

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Thoughts on Dussel's "Anti-Cartesian Meditations"

Article excerpt

The argument of Dussel's "Anti-Cartesian Meditations: On the Origin of the Philosophical Anti-Discourse of Modernity" (as appears in this issue of the journal, trans. by George Ciccariello-Maher) is as follows:

Modern philosophy preceded Descartes's seventeenth-century reflections on method, certainty, and the centering of the Cogito by more than a hundred years in the writings of the Latin American Jesuits (or those Spanish Jesuits who spent time in the New World) who inspired his thought. They include Francisco Suarez (1548-617) and Francisco Sanchez (1551-1623), as well as the Jewish philosopher Gomez Pereira (1500-1567), who wrote philosophical works on metaphysics, method, and doubt, printed in many editions by the time of Descartes's birth. The formulation of Cogito, ergo sum is not original in Descartes, as is known by any historian of philosophy who took the time to read St. Augustine's City of God (book XI, 26). Although Descartes claimed not to have been inspired by St. Augustine, the evidence, Dussel argues, suggests otherwise. In fact, Descartes seems to have offered his ideas as though they came to him willy-nilly, without the influence of his Jesuit teachers. Suarez's impact, for instance, led to the prioritizing of mathematics as a model of abstract reasoning. Descartes diverged from his teachers, however, who understood the importance of philosophical anthropology--that is, the human question--as the central concern of first philosophy. This divergence had the catastrophic consequence of offering models of science made supposedly rigorous through the expulsion of human elements. The dehumanization of the human world, marked by the disunity of soul (cogito) and body, became the model of this turn. This premise of disunity was already receiving concrete manifestation in the presupposition of the Christian European as reality purged of supposed embodied vices of emotion and passion in a philosophical anthropology of the truly human as this disembodied Christian European archetype. The first sustained critique of this view was issued by Bartolome de las Casas (1484-1566), whose struggles on behalf of the Amerindians required also a philosophical anthropology that respected their humanity and, in so doing, raised the question of the human being anew in ways that responded to the de facto violence of the emergent modernity. As a critique of the dehumanizing elements of that modernity, Las Casas's arguments entailed a political philosophy in which legitimation emerged from the people instead of through a logic imposed on them. This legitimating practice brought into suspension the presuppositions of unquestioned truth and offered, in its stead, critique, including immanent critique. That the legitimating question posed by Las Casas required asking the Amerindian points of view require engaging the thought of such indigenous American thinkers as the Quechuas Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala (1535-after 1616), who argued that the indigenous peoples of the Americas represented the better elements of Christian values than the European Christians who conquered them. There has, in other words, always been a critique from what Dussel calls the Underside of [European] Modernity, and it involves the challenge to the presuppositions of that modernity when the humanity of its underside is brought into focus.

Dussel's argument raises several important considerations in the study of the epistemic and normative presuppositions of European modernity.

I write European modernity to bring into question the presumption of modernity's only being European. Understood as a relational phenomenon, modernity could be read in terms of what human beings in a given region consider to be the future direction of humanity. In this sense, ancient Km.t, known today as Egypt, once represented the modern. So, too, did Babylonia, Athens, Rome, Holy Rome (Constantinople), Andalusia, Ottoman Turkey (Istanbul), and then "Europe. …

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