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CR: The New Centennial Review 3.1 (2003) 55-66

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Latin America as a Historico-Philosophical Relation

Neil Larsen
University of California, Davis

LATIN AMERICA AND PHILOSOPHY SEEM STRANGE, EVEN UNCOMFORTABLE bedfellows. This is perhaps because the predication that naturally follows—that of a "Latin American philosophy," or perhaps of a "philosophy of Latin America"—seems inseparable from a prior doubt whether such a thing really does, or could, exist. As the Chilean philosopher Iván Jaksic has written, "the question as to the existence of a Latin American philosophy is rhetorical, given that it is posed most frequently by those who already desire to affirm it." 1 Although no one can doubt for an instant the existence of Latin American philosophers or of Latin Americans (and Latin Americanists) who philosophize, the notion that the resulting philosophy is more than accidentally "Latin American" is less than certain. Still, to deny the existence of a Latin American philosophy seems itself no less in danger of becoming rhetorical, in danger of falling back onto what was already simply the desire to deny something because of its strangeness to the intellectual ear.

But considered more carefully, this uneasiness turns out, I think, to have little to do with rhetoric, and more to do with two more general but highly refractory ideas, or premises, partially concealed in the initial question itself. [End Page 55]

  1. The first is the idea that the concept of philosophy could itself admit of any regional or national predication or qualification of whatever type. Does not this concept itself—and I use the term in its quasi-Hegelian sense as a thought-form that already includes and governs the thinking of the subject who 'conceives' it—exclude the very intent to qualify it as susceptible of being regionalized, as a concept that is anything less than universal?
  2. This is deceptively easy, however, for if this is so, then how is it that we not only speak of but also qualify 'philosophy,' evidently without any hesitation whatsoever, as being "German," "European," or even "Western"? Here, then, we come up against the second premise hidden in the question of a Latin American philosophy: that which affirms the existence of nations and regions that are in themselves philosophically 'universal' versus others that are not.

Does Latin America, as a national or regional entity, in fact lack such universality? Even if we violently reject the vulgar Eurocentrism of such a notion, we cannot so easily dispense with the logic of the second premise itself, a premise that already incorporates, as part of the concept of philosophy, its teleology—a determinate historical process that necessarily unfolds in the direction of philosophy as a point of culmination. Perhaps the very act of speaking of a Latin American philosophy in fact requires us to have dismantled, ab initio, such a teleology—this in effect will be Enrique Dussel's argument—but, if we proceed in this way, does it still make sense to speak of philosophy as such, that is, as concept? In either case, we now understand more fully just how vexed a problem we have before us—a problem that apparently does not make itself felt, for example, when we speak of Latin American "culture" or "literature." These latter notions may, in fact, harbor the same spontaneous teleology, but a teleology along whose path Latin America proceeds, nowadays, with no apparent embarrassment at all, and without evoking the least skepticism.

I can't pretend to have studied systematically what is now an ample bibliography, comprised as much by works of a self-denominating "Latin American philosophy" as by meta-philosophical reflections on Latin American [End Page 56] philosophy far more elaborate than what I have sketched out above. And I must add to this lack of specialization my own, somewhat renegade status as an ex-student and apostate of the Analytical and Positivist philosophical school of my own country, now philosophically exiled within the very comfortable literary-critical prison house which we hereabouts refer to as 'Theory.' More suspect still, perhaps, is my condition as...


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