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Toward an Appreciation of Latin American Philosophy: Jorge J. E. Gracia’s Recovery Mission
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Noticing is An Underappreciated Art, and Given Its Essential role for any act of appreciation to take place at all, an art we should be concerned with cultivating. So much of what is present goes unnoticed, and it is indeed rare to find a keen enough observer to notice what is not present, and to search for what is missing. To notice what is absent, say in the canon of philosophy, is indeed a daunting task, one that involves aesthetic sensibilities and a commitment to justice. In the United States, Latin American philosophy, for far too long, had been neglected almost out of existence, and even today, it has yet to be fully appreciated. Jorge Gracia has spent much of his philosophical career attempting to present the Latin American philosophical tradition with careful attention to its history, language, and context, so that the contributions of its thinkers can emerge with just the sort of detail necessary for this tradition to be appreciated.

In an early essay, “Notes on Ortega’s Aesthetic Works in English” (Gracia 1977), which might at first glance seem to be merely a bibliographical piece, Gracia discusses the problems surrounding the general lack of appreciation for Ortega as a philosopher. The problem he diagnoses for Ortega’s work is one with which anyone working in the field of Latin American philosophy would be all too familiar. Gracia tells us that: “In short, Ortega’s work has been largely introduced to English speakers in a popular form that, although contributing to his relative popularity, detracts from his appreciation as a serious thinker” (117). Gracia goes on to tell us “if Ortega is to be appreciated correctly, his work must be presented appropriately, with particular attention to its context and history” (124). This early and seemingly minor example from within Gracia’s much larger corpus seems humble and unassuming: we mention it in the context of our story of Gracia’s work so that we might present the Latin American tradition in a light that enables it to be appreciated precisely because it is an early piece and therefore contains traces of the work that would open the path toward a recovery of the missing Latin American philosophical tradition. Even an article that for others might have been a rather mechanical review of the recent translations of Ortega’s work into English is treated by Gracia as an opportunity to remind readers of the importance of two factors that he has spent a career cultivating: context and history. Gracia’s meticulous care with the history and context of philosophical ideas has enabled him to bring the Latin American philosophical tradition to life in the United States.

By presenting the field of Anglophone philosophy to voices that speak in Spanish, Gracia was swimming against a strong current—one might even say, in shark-infested waters. Certain philosophers are quite fond of claims that philosophy was born with the Greeks and reached its culmination in Europe (a Europe shrunk to England, France, and Germany), and then in the United States. In turning attention to a language silenced by philosophy for far too long, Gracia began to rectify what one of his fellow Cubans, Roberto Fernández Retamar, has termed philosophy’s “mendacious cultural autobiography.” Philosophy’s mendacious tale of its birth in ancient Greece to its culmination in Western Europe not only oversimplifies a more complex state of affairs; it is also perniciously exclusionary. Unfortunately, it is a tale that continues to be told repeatedly.

The exclusions operating within the “mendacious tale” are far-reaching and contaminated at every level with falsehoods. The “Ancient Greece to Western Europe” narrative of philosophy is filled with lofty claims regarding the “authentic” roots of philosophy, and a sudden shrinking of Europe to a collection of just three countries and their languages: France, Germany, and England. So, French, German, and English receive special status as “philosophical” languages, a status honored in graduate programs where the study of such languages is part of the serious training students undergo to become masters or doctors of philosophy. Spain and Spanish disappear from the map of philosophy, and, of course, so does all of Latin America. This slighting of...



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