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  • Real Philosophy, Metaphilosophy, and MetametaphilosophyOn the Plight of Latin American Philosophy
  • Manuel Vargas

1. A Spectre Is Haunting Latin American Philosophy

My aim here is to argue for the thesis that there are profound barriers to the systematic integration of Latin American philosophy with the mainstream of philosophy as practiced in the English-speaking world. In particular, I am concerned with a set of difficulties rooted in some elements of Latin American philosophy itself, apart from somewhat more familiar sociological barriers concerning language, intellectual pedigree, and so on (Gracia 2000, 159–92). My present focus is on hurdles rooted in the form and content of Latin American philosophical production. That is, I will focus on problems with the philosophical nature of Latin American philosophy. The effects of [End Page 51] those problems are primarily sociological. Still, the problems I attend to are problems tied to the very constitution of Latin American philosophy, and it is for precisely that reason that they merit special attention.

I have mentioned the idea of integration with mainstream Anglophone philosophy. By “integration” I mean the coming into existence of a shared community of discourse, where the conceptual resources of each currently independent intellectual network are easily available and accessed in both directions with some frequency. Consider, for example, the Anglophone philosophical subfields of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. They are tightly integrated in my sense: the philosophical resources and developments in one field are readily available to the other, and subject to interaction with some frequency. Other fields have greater and lesser degrees of interaction with one another, and are thus integrated to lesser and greater degrees. In emphasizing integration, I do not mean to suggest that it cannot be compatible with asymmetries of influence. So, for example, currently metaphysics has some impact on ethics via metaethics, at least more so than ethics has on metaphysics. Nevertheless, there is an important degree of integration between these fields. What integration requires is a shared community of discourse, shared philosophical resources, and so on. My claim is that, in the case of Latin American philosophy, the prospects for any significant degree of integration are dim, at best.1

There are many barriers to the integration of which I speak. My focus concerns a family of barriers rooted in the nature of Latin American philosophy and how the discipline of philosophy, at least in the United States, tends to conceive of itself. By “the nature of Latin American philosophy” I do not mean to presuppose an essentializing characterization of some unified and monolithic approach to philosophy. I am skeptical that there is anything interesting that unifies the various things that might appropriately be labeled “Latin American philosophy.” Instead, what I mean to refer to by “the nature of Latin American philosophy” is a motley, a variegated cluster of nonessential, contingently-had characteristics within a diverse set of philosophical discourses and practices that are, nevertheless, widespread within in the philosophical networks in Latin America and present in the philosophy produced by those networks. [End Page 52]

It seems to me that the correct descriptive account of Latin American philosophy will be an institutional one: Latin American philosophy is whatever it is that people who take themselves to be working on Latin American philosophy treat as Latin American philosophy. Triviality threatens any account of this sort, as it tells us nothing about what the relevant group of scholars take themselves to be studying. So, a bit of stipulation is in order: for present purposes I will assume that Latin American philosophy is (1) philosophy done by people in Latin America, or (2) work that engages with philosophical discussion that occurred or is occurring in Latin America. As a description, this account is surely too permissive and perhaps, in various ways, not permissive enough. As a piece of stipulative labeling, though, it is adequate to the present task.

Similar remarks are in order for philosophy, more generally. I doubt we can provide any interesting account of the essential features of philosophy, beyond an institutional definition. What we can do is to roughly characterize the kinds of things that occupy philosophers who take themselves to be doing philosophy. Here...


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