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Dance of Person and Place, The

One Interpretation of American Indian Philosophy

Thomas M. Norton-Smith

Publication Year: 2010

Uses the concept of "worldmaking" to provide an introduction to American Indian philosophy. Ever since first contact with Europeans, American Indian stories about how the world is have been regarded as interesting objects of study, but also as childish and savage, philosophically curious and ethically monstrous. Using the writings of early ethnographers and cultural anthropologists, early narratives told or written by Indians, and scholarly work by contemporary Native writers and philosophers, Shawnee philosopher Thomas Norton-Smith develops a rational reconstruction of American Indian philosophy as a dance of person and place. He views Native philosophy through the lens of a culturally sophisticated constructivism grounded in the work of contemporary American analytic philosopher Nelson Goodman, in which stories (or “world versions”) satisfying certain criteria construct actual worlds—words make worlds. Ultimately, Norton-Smith argues that the Native stories construct real worlds as robustly as their Western counterparts, and, in so doing, he helps to bridge the chasm between Western and American Indian philosophical traditions.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Illustrations

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p. ix-ix

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Foreword

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pp. xi-xiv

We come to a place in the history of the First Nations of the Americas wherein a confluence of intellectual and political movements affecting academe has brought some of our indigenous students, faculty, and local knowledge bearers to the forefront of gate keeping. On one hand, more than ever before, members of our indigenous communities are entering academic...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xvi

There are many who contributed to this work in innumerable ways—so many, in fact, that I will surely forget someone, and for that I apologize. I thank series editors Agnes Curry and Anne Waters for their comments and encouragement. I owe much to Piqua Sept Shawnee tribal elders Jim Perry (who recently passed), Don Rankin, and Rick Wagar. As well, I have ...

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1. Common Themes in American Indian Philosophy

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pp. 1-16

This chapter introduces the four common themes that are the focus of the interpretation of American Indian philosophy as a dance of person and place: relatedness and circularity as world-ordering principles, the expansive conception of persons, and the semantic potency of performance. It also offers a few clarifications and caveats that must frame the discussion, and explains ...

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2. Nelson Goodman’s Constructivism

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pp. 17-37

This chapter rehearses important tenets of Nelson Goodman’s constructivist view that there is a plurality of internally consistent, equally privileged, well-made actual worlds constructed through the use of very special symbol systems—true or right-world versions. It pays special attention to world-constructing processes and to Goodman’s criteria for an ultimately acceptable ...

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3. True Versions and Cultural Bias

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pp. 39-54

This chapter begins the argument for the legitimacy of an American Indian world version from a constructivist perspective. It begins with a critique of Goodman’s view, in which I gently suggest that his constructive nominal-ism cannot be the whole story, because mental acts of world construction are real, members of kinds, and necessarily antecedent to the actual worlds ...

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4. Relatedness, Native Knowledge, and Ultimate Acceptability

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pp. 55-76

This chapter finishes the argument for the legitimacy of an American Indian world version from a culturally sophisticated constructivist perspective. It also reintroduces and develops relatedness as a world-ordering principle—the first common theme in American Indian philosophy. Both come through an examination of a Native conception of knowledge, wherein we consider the ...

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5. An Expansive Conception of Persons

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pp. 77-94

This chapter begins with the insightful critique of a prominent Western conception of persons by Ross Poole, which will nicely frame our development of an American Indian expansive conception of persons. We will find that human beings are essentially “spirit beings” in a changeable human form who become persons by virtue of their relationships with and obligations ...

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6. The Semantic Potency of Performance

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pp. 95-117

This chapter explores the third common theme in American Indian world versions, the semantic potency of performance. Through a consideration of various sorts of speech acts, dance, a naming ceremony, and Native gifting traditions, the chapters shows how performing with a symbol empowers the symbol, transforms the participants, categorizes and orders experiences, and ...

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7. Circularity as a World-Ordering Principle

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pp. 119-133

This chapter begins with the commonplace that American Indian religious traditions can be distinguished from Western religious traditions in that the former focus on space, place, and nature, whereas the latter are framed by time, events, and history. I then present a constructivist interpretation of Donald Fixico’s reflection that American Indian philosophy is a circular ...

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8. The Dance of Person and Place

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pp. 135-139

This final chapter focuses on the interpretation of our four common themes in American Indian philosophy, relatedness and circularity as world-ordering principles, the expansive conception of persons, and the semantic potency of performance, as a dance of person and place. It also presents some closing reflections, speculations, and consequences of this constructivist rendering ...

Notes

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pp. 141-152

Bibliography

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pp. 153-158

Index

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pp. 159-164


E-ISBN-13: 9781438431345
E-ISBN-10: 1438431341
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438431338
Print-ISBN-10: 1438431333

Page Count: 180
Illustrations: 11 figures
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1
Series Title: SUNY series in Living Indigenous Philosophies
Series Editor Byline: Agnes B. Curry, Anne Waters

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Indian philosophy -- North America.
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