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Academic philosophy's lack of diversity is of concern because it results in a discipline that does not adequately reflect or address the experiences, concerns, and perspectives of many people outside of the dominant demographic. In this article, I examine some of the practical and psychological challenges of entering into dialogue with thinkers whose background knowledge, culture, life experiences, and/or methodologies generate philosophical thought that is radically different from one's own. I contend that in order to build a discipline that is more genuinely dialogical, academic philosophers should embrace this challenging tension between incommensurable worlds of sense. Specifically, I consider how the philosophical practice of translating foreign concepts into terms that have meaning for us might be carried out in a way that preserves radical friction. I warn of the risk of projecting our ideas onto those whose worldviews are incompatible with our own, and I offer strategies for navigating this risk.


metaphilosophy, diversity, radical friction, dialogue, translation


Academic philosophy in the United States is largely lacking in diversity.1 A lack of diversity among practitioners is likely both a cause and a consequence of a persistent lack of diversity in the work that makes up the canon, [End Page 92] many college syllabi and textbooks, top-tier journal publications, and the areas of specialization represented in most philosophy departments. This situation inevitably results in a discipline that does not adequately reflect or address the experiences, concerns, and perspectives of many people outside of the dominant demographic. Academic philosophy becomes less valuable and even harmful to these groups of people when certain types of philosophical knowledge, which is presented as having a universal quality, delegitimizes or fails to address the experiences of those who are socially marginalized. And as I will argue, philosophy itself is also diminished by this shortcoming.

In this article, I examine the notion of radical friction, a tension between ideas that arises when people from very different worlds engage in dialogue. I contend that in order to build a discipline that better reflects the lived experiences of members of marginalized social groups and which is more genuinely dialogical, philosophers should embrace radical friction. I consider how the philosophical practice of translating concepts into terms that make sense for us might be carried out in a way that supports radical friction. I also examine some missteps we might make when we try to embrace radical friction. In particular, I warn of the risk of projecting our ideas onto individuals or groups whose worldviews are incompatible with our own.

My interest in radical friction developed because, for me, growing up in between worlds was my world. I was brought into existence by an Anglo-American mother and a Mexican ranchero immigrant father, and their divorce when I was very young marked the beginning of a split life for me. The four days per week my brother, Francisco, and I were with our mother were filled with classical piano lessons, horseback riding camps, gymnastics classes, department store clothes at the start of the school year, and fancy sodas and pastries at the French bakery with Mom on our girls' dates. The days we were with Dad were pollo con frijoles, singing mariachi songs, sitting in the cab of the old pickup while Dad and Francisco pushed it out of the middle of the road when it overheated, playing baseball in a field while Dad narrated the game like the radio announcers of the Dodgers games he used to listen to while at the ranch, and helping Dad sell snow cones out of a trailer in a parking lot.

Despite the difficulties of being a child with a split life, I can remember in my earliest years of grade school feeling that growing up in two worlds was a special gift that not many of my peers had the opportunity to [End Page 93] enjoy. Throughout my childhood, my father conveyed the message that I was Mexican and that I should be proud. Other kids could not have grasped what I had grasped, having traveled to Mexico as a child—the brightly colored houses made out of a hodgepodge of found materials, precariously positioned on steep desert hillsides in Baja; the dangerous, exhilarating, wicked feeling of freedom in a country that felt less regulated, legally, and less uptight, culturally—except, of course, for the soldiers who searched our buses and cars at checkpoints; and the powerful sense of belonging, of being loved by countless Mexican relatives who did not even need to be able to speak with me to convey the affectionate and warm message that I was family. But I also remember always feeling at home and lovingly embraced by a white world, promised by those around me that I was good and that I would succeed.

My being was made possible because of the intertwining of two worlds. This has ingrained in me a certain insight that has permeated my core beliefs and values and has been a guiding thread in the choices I make, large and small. This insight is simply a deep appreciation for the value of two very different worlds: two senses of humor, two forms of beauty, two languages, two ancestral lineages and sets of stories about who we are and where we came from, two bodies of practical know-how that are befitting of their own context, two peoples to love and identify with and discover the depth of humanity in—in short, two contexts out of which to find value and knowledge. It has also helped me to recognize the injustice when one of these worlds—and its people—is seen as lacking in value. But this twoness is not a simple binary. As someone who traverses two worlds, my starting point is an awareness of the multitude of complex, intersecting privileges and disadvantages that shape our lived experience as social beings—including race, gender, religion, class, ability, citizenship status, and so on, in all of their messy mixedness and gradations. In sum, my experiences as Mexican American have supported my understanding of radical friction as that which opens up new understandings and legitimizes knowledge and value that otherwise go underappreciated in a discipline that, for better and for worse, has many exclusionary borders and boundaries.

In this article, I focus in on some of the ways in which everyday, well-meaning academic philosophers can work to avoid perpetuating the delegitimization, silencing, and exclusion of the voices of members of marginalized social groups. The theories I offer here can inform the ways in which we carry out the academic practices of researching, teaching, [End Page 94] organizing, and interacting in conferences, as well as in the structuring of academic departments. I also examine a particular set of difficulties we may face in attempting to do so. I address the community of professional philosophers as a member of that community who values it deeply but, at the same time, as someone who sees the need for change as morally urgent. I speak as someone who is educated in Western philosophy, who has found great joy in the study of many canonical texts, and who currently has a place within the profession. Yet, as a Mexican American woman, I also speak as someone who struggled early on in my studies to locate philosophical works that directly addressed some of my deepest concerns and intuitions, and I am committed to those whose experiences are underrepresented in the field.

My aim is to encourage professional philosophers—especially those working in Anglo-American philosophy and in the traditional history of Western philosophy—to be receptive to (1) non-Western philosophy (including indigenous and Latin American philosophies); (2) academic philosophers whose work is informed by their marginalized social identities, such as feminist philosophers and critical philosophers of race, and other "ethnic philosophies" such as Africana and Latinx philosophy; and (3) thinkers of these marginalized communities who may be practicing philosophy in other academic departments or outside of academia altogether, as well as concepts that can be attributed to grassroots communities. This might mean, for example, taking seriously the philosophical insights of political activist Cesar Chavez or self-taught scholar-poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, as well as ideas such as el buen vivir, which is an ethic present in several indigenous groups in South America that challenges certain Western approaches to development. My intended audience here is primarily those working in academic philosophy because I believe that it is we who have the primary responsibility for the state of the discipline and, yet, it is we who are likely to be the most resistant to this kind of receptivity. My aim here is not to critique any particular areas of philosophical study. Rather, I believe that all philosophers have a joint responsibility to ask, "Who is left out or silenced by my philosophical practices?" and to do the work of facilitating, encouraging, inspiring, and prompting consideration of those silenced perspectives in ourselves, our students, and our readers.

In the next section of this article, I argue that the ideal of philosophy as essentially dialogical implies that we ought to take active steps to avoid cultural insularity in our philosophical practices. In section 3, I contend that [End Page 95] one of the central tasks for philosophers is to expose themselves to radical friction by seeking to grasp the different subjective locations from which others experience the world. Last, section 4 identifies challenges that professional philosophers might face in responding to radical friction, and I offer some suggestions for how we might confront these challenges.

Philosophy as Dialogical

Many of us who have chosen to build our lives around the practice of philosophy learn early on that philosophy happens through dialogue. Whether our pursuit of philosophy was first fueled by the experience of falling in love with a text or by grappling with a strange, clever, or elegant argument, we find ourselves welcomed into a world outside of ourselves, one that enriches us by estranging us from what we once thought we knew. True dialogue, of course, presupposes a capacity to be affected by one's dialogical partner. By bringing forth new considerations, the dialogical partner has the potential to alter one's thinking in ways that do not occur in isolation.

As dialogue, philosophy is a practice that can bring people into contact with one another from across distant times and places. Philosophy has always provided a window into others' worlds. In offering arguments, people put their reasoning and concerns on display for others. Through these invitations to engage others' ideas, we can also often get a glimpse of other aspects of others' worlds. Their values, background knowledge, assumptions, cultural context, and philosophical lineage can become visible, whether the authors intend for them to or not.

It is this collection of values, background knowledge, assumptions, cultural context, and philosophical lineage that makes up what I refer to as a person's world of sense.2 By "world of sense," I mean something like the orientation or perspectival location from which we look at the world. This orientation shapes the concepts and conversations through which we understand our experiences and the world around us; it shapes the kinds of skills and embodied know-how we develop and the material artifacts and environments we build and inhabit; and it shapes our affective attunements. A world of sense is a perspectival location that is characterized by a particular set of what Nancy Tuana and Charles Scott refer to as sensibilities. Sensibilities, they explain, "are what allow people to make sense of and be especially alert to some values, practices, and things while ignoring, [End Page 96] rejecting, or finding senseless other values, practices, and things" (this issue). These sensibilities are tied to our experiences and social identities insofar as they arise from a variety of "lineages," including our individual and societal histories, physical environments, languages, bodies of knowledge, institutions, interactions with others, and so on. These factors shape how new people, events, and ideas are integrated into our existing constellation of meanings. They shape our worlds of sense.

The notion of lineages helps to explain how people whose worlds of sense are influenced by many similar factors may not agree about everything but, on this more basic level, their capacities and tendencies for sense-making overlap. A striking example of this idea is the well-known 1550 Valladolid debate, in which the Spanish bishop of Chiapas Bartolomé de Las Casas was pitted against the well-known Spanish philosopher Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda in a debate about the just methods of colonial conquest in the "New World." Although the interlocutors argued against one another—Sepúlveda argued for the justness of the enslavement of indigenous peoples and Las Casas argued for their right to self-government and freedom from servitude—the very terms of the debate reveal the extent to which these two interlocutors had overlapping worlds of sense, revealed by the shared assumptions that underlie their debate. For instance, the unit for the measurement of moral personhood for both of these interlocutors was ultimately fixed to a Eurocentric conception of reason (Saldaña-Portillo 2016, 47). Even Las Casas, who advocated for the moral personhood of indigenous peoples, placed indigenous capacity and culture—evaluated in accordance with European values—at the center of his theory of universal humanity (Saldaña-Portillo 2016, 47). Second, Sepúlveda and Las Casas's Christian reasoning led both of them to find it necessary for the Spaniards to act on behalf of the Indians. That is, the debate about how to act on their behalf assumes the legitimacy of Catholic missionary projects (SaldañaPortillo 2016, 51). Thus, the debate remained tethered to a colonial project.

The terms of the Valladolid debate, like many philosophical debates, engaged largely overlapping worlds of sense. Yet, because others' worlds may be experientially very foreign to us, cross-cultural encounters are not uncommon within philosophy. The linguistic and conceptual tools used to express ideas—and ideas themselves—are marked by particular social, cultural, and historical contexts, as well as the social locations of particular thinkers within those contexts. At times, divergent basic assumptions—theoretical heritages, languages, values, geographies, and ways of life—can [End Page 97] pose a challenge to the successful communication of ideas. Some philosophical work might not resonate in the ways that more culturally familiar works do, and this may lead us to be dismissive of a work or to find it to be philosophically uninteresting. Yet it is these very engagements that often have the potential to be the most challenging and transformative for our own thought.

This situation has normative implications. For one, a commitment to acquiring or contributing to greater philosophical understanding generates the responsibility to critically examine what one takes for granted, to examine assumptions from perspectives that challenge those assumptions. A problem arises, however, because professional philosophy lacks engagement with certain critical perspectives. Of course, Western philosophy is a rich and varied tradition, populated by thinkers who challenge dominant perspectives and subject common sense to critical scrutiny. However, academic philosophy has developed in certain exclusionary ways that reflect the social hierarchies and patterns of marginalization that characterize our society more broadly.

One way to describe academic philosophy's insularity is to say, as Tuana and Scott do, that academic philosophy develops entrenched, static presuppositions and values and restrictive languages and grammars because we philosophers often fail to cross cultural borders to encounter new sensibilities. Sensibilities "engender systems of belief" (Tuana and Scott, this issue) and undergird what resonates with us philosophically, what seems possible, relevant, or reasonable, as well as what is silenced or marginalized. Hence, we need to reconfigure our worlds of sense in order to philosophize in ways that allow us to move beyond our current limitations. It seems to me that part of the difficulty in reconfiguring our worlds of sense is not merely that the sensibilities of academic philosophers are static but that the worlds of sense of culturally dominant groups can be incompatible with those of members of marginalized groups. The meeting of these worlds of sense produces unsettling and disruptive friction.

I suggest that we think about the insularity of professional philosophy in terms of philosophers' reluctance and inability to respond constructively to radical friction. The term epistemic friction has been used to describe the force exerted by one idea when it comes into contact with another, different idea.3 Here I focus on two types of epistemic friction. The first is what we might call argumentative friction, which is what occurs in the standard academic philosophical debate. This friction arises when there [End Page 98] is a shared world of sense but, perhaps, a disagreement about a premise or two that leads us to have different conclusions or different stances. Las Casas and Sepúlveda disagreed about the premise that indigenous peoples were rational, but they shared numerous basic assumptions. The second type of epistemic friction is what I call radical friction, which occurs when we come across incompatible worlds of sense, where the underlying concerns, intuitions, concepts, background knowledge, values, and methods of communication diverge. Philosophers excel at dialogue that emerges from argumentative friction—many see it as their raison d'être. But we are not very good at responding to radical fraction. Upon encountering radical friction, we might struggle to make sense out of the other person's speech and determine that it is the ideas that lack meaning or fail to cohere in logical ways. We may be tempted to erect all of the gatekeeping practices that are so common to our discipline: quickly concluding that the ideas are too rooted to particular experiences to be philosophical; that they are unphilosophical because they fail to employ the accepted methods and styles; that they are not philosophically interesting, as they fail to engage the relevant literature; and so forth.4

I have argued that philosophy is, in its ideal form, dialogical but has, in practice, been exclusionary of many potential dialogical partners who are in a position to challenge our major assumptions. This raises the question: How can professional philosophers best address this problem? With whom should we be engaging in dialogue in our pursuit of knowledge beyond our provincial biases and unquestioned basic assumptions? Would Aztec philosophy or the ancient Eastern philosophies of Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Taoism be best suited to this task, given their distance from the Western tradition? Or would Africana philosophy and Latinx philosophy be a better source, given their historical concurrence with the development with Western philosophy, as the so-called underside of Modernity (Dussel 2000)? Arguing for the latter approach, Amir Jaima (this issue) makes the case that "the only way forward" from American philosophy's characteristic whiteness (paradoxical, given philosophy's purported self-understanding as a progressive cultural phenomenon) is through an Africana philosophical critique.5 Through a survey of what he identifies as Africana deconstructive critique, Jaima shows that pragmatism's whiteness is not only reflected in the demographics of the academy but also built into the central concepts of the American philosophical tradition, from the concept of Man to notions of human liberty and dignity that [End Page 99] were philosophically consistent with black slave labor. Jaima also draws from Charles Mills (2005) and Chandra Mohanty's (1984) critique of ideal theory to show how white, imperial concepts of Man and Woman have been continually sustained.6

In addition to this deconstructive critique, Jaima identifies a number of approaches that constitute what he calls radical Africana critique, which point toward solutions and alternatives to the current American philosophical trajectory. He includes the following approaches: Africana existentialist phenomenology (including thinkers such as Frederick Douglass, Frantz Fanon, and Angela Davis); culturalogics (referencing Curry 2011), in which "acts of philosophizing now include the range of cultural representations—concepts, symbols, thoughts, and practices"; and Africana literature, through which "the black fiction writer … must invent—or distill from various experiences—his or her own quotidiana"—quotidiana that are philosophical, particularly insofar as their expression through literature "entails an implicit thesis on how the world is synthesized" (this issue). Each of the approaches that Jaima identifies centers black lived experience in ways that drive the philosophical analysis, rather than, for example, applying existing philosophical concepts and methods to black experience. Africana philosophy, Jaima contends, "calls for the heretical traversing—rather than merely the 'redrawing'—of the disciplinary boundaries of philosophy" (this issue).

The aspect of Jaima's argument that I hope to emphasize here is its insistence that philosophy remain tethered to the valuing of life—particularly to the everyday life of those who are most often excluded and dehumanized. It is this commitment that I believe should determine the answer to the question: How should academic philosophy overcome its insularity? I contend that philosophy should be oriented toward those marginalized peoples who have a stake in each philosophical discussion. Philosophy's ability to live up to its ideal of being truly dialogical depends on its ability to think in what Alejandro Vallega (2014) calls "radical exteriority": thinking "that arises from the lives of those excluded, unnoticed, or relegated to the periphery of" the dominant society (Tuana and Scott, this issue). Philosophy's primary value, I contend, is not derived from its place in the university but in its ability to meaningfully attend to people's everyday lives—to give people tools to better understand their experience, to enhance personal autonomy and relationships, to generate meaning and insight. For this reason, professional philosophers working within traditions such as Africana philosophy and Latinx [End Page 100] philosophy, as well as philosophers whose work is deeply informed by their commitment to marginalized communities—should have an expanded role in the discipline.7 Often themselves members of marginalized groups, these professional philosophers may be more attuned to the worlds of sense of those people about whom they theorize.

Practices for the Reconfiguration of Sense

Professional philosophers engage in numerous practices, small and large, that can be done to encourage radical friction: faculty hires and graduate student admissions, the construction of course syllabi, citation practices, invitations to colleagues to speak at our universities and write in our edited volumes, and the ways we make our work communal are all practices that establish the center and borders of the discipline. In our research, the questions we raise and the methods we employ reflect the nature and extent of our commitments to the lives of everyday people. For instance, if we are concerned about engaging with the worlds of sense of particular communities, we can cite scholars who have demonstrated a long-standing commitment to these communities, or we might utilize narrative and ethnography so that members of these communities may speak for themselves.8 We might also work more often in collaboration with other community members and scholars, both in and out of philosophy, increasing our accountability to them and pushing ourselves to better articulate the stakes of our work.

I am not making the case that areas of philosophy that are further removed from our everyday lives lack value or should not be carried out. Indeed, I take one of the central upshots of my thesis to be that there is and should be space in the discipline for a broader variety of philosophical projects. Furthermore, I believe that the task of advancing the discipline should be largely thought about as a collective, and not merely individual, responsibility. I am suggesting, however, that all of us take the time to consider whether it is, indeed, the case that members of marginalized groups have no stake in the philosophical discussions we partake in. Indeed, it is often the absences and silences, the unforeseen and unconsidered implications surrounding our thought, that might reveal the limits of our worlds of sense to us.

In order for academic philosophers to disrupt patterns of exclusion of marginalized groups, they must engage with diverse philosophical [End Page 101] practitioners and approaches. In this section, I focus on the task of cross-cultural communication, by which I mean not simply communication by individuals with different cultural sensibilities but also communication among those who have significantly divergent worlds of sense. In such encounters, we struggle to understand what is unfamiliar in terms of what is familiar. Perhaps this type of encounter occurs when reading a work that speaks to experiences that are far removed from what one knows. Perhaps a work employs unfamiliar methods or concepts or engages nonstandard interlocutors. How do we take that work in, so that it can come into contact with and potentially transform our own worlds of sense? How do we listen to that which does not resonate?

I define translation as a practice that facilitates a person's capacity to engage in dialogue in the face of cultural or experiential divergences. Given that dialogue is an exchange of ideas, translation involves expressing oneself in ways that facilitate others' understanding, as well as engaging in a particular kind of receptivity to the expressions of others. I focus on the practice of translation because it is at the point of encounter with what lies beyond our sensibilities that philosophers might fail to constructively respond to radical friction. Translation can be used to aid cross-cultural communication, but it can also be used to eliminate radical friction through the assimilation of others' thought.

The practice of translation has not always been used to promote the well-being, interests, or autonomy of all interlocutors. Cross-cultural encounters do not occur within a political vacuum. Instead, these encounters always occur within contexts shaped by conflicting interests, disparities of power, and unjust exercises of power that substantially impact the lives of those who are situated within these political contexts. Translation is a tool that allows one to access new dimensions of another's world. Such access is a power that can be used to just or unjust effect.

One ethical hazard of translation is that of unjust burdening, in which the work of translation tends to befall the minority group. By this I mean that in mainstream philosophy in the United States, if scholars wish to have their work taken seriously, they must engage with the dominant group's literature, problems, and methodology. The dominant group is rarely asked to learn or accommodate alternative frameworks. Minority groups in philosophy are continually put into the position of having to prove their legitimacy to the dominant group, on the dominant group's terms. One result of this situation, Ofelia Schutte (2011) argues, is that much Latin [End Page 102] American feminist work is preemptively disqualified from consideration. Latin American feminist theory is often developed in a variety of disciplines, including in the social sciences, theology, and literature. In order for this theory to be acknowledged as properly philosophical in the United States, however, it must be repackaged in terms of the language, literature, and methods of Anglo-analytic philosophy. (Such repackaging is often carried out by translators.) Indigenous knowledges have a long history of being extracted and repackaged into exploiters' frameworks without proper attribution.

Engaging with thought from outside of our world of sense often requires not forcing that thought to make sense in terms of that which is already familiar. The translator must preserve that which is distinct about the ideas and lived experience of each interlocutor, given that certain differences are often essential to the interlocutors' identities. To cover over this difference would be to distort meanings in ways that undermine understanding. At the same time, tarrying with what is different until one comes to understand it on its own terms rather than collapsing it into the familiar is, perhaps, the most difficult aspect of translation. In most cases, embracing radical friction requires traveling from one's own frame of reference rather than merely rendering the meaning of someone else's speech into terms that are more familiar. The notion of traveling beyond one's own frame of reference to the world of one's interlocutor requires more than merely listening for that which is familiar. Instead, one must work to enter into the world of sense that imbues that message with meaning.9

Translation is, of course, not a new concern for philosophy. Indeed, it is central to many philosophical practices. It is certainly an important part of teaching. As teachers, we often act as translators for our students by explaining the cultural or historical context out of which certain ideas developed or when discussing the ways in which a certain concept from another time or place may have different connotations than the way in which we might otherwise understand it. We often teach what is culturally unfamiliar or unintuitive precisely because those ideas have the power to bring new meanings into being for students and because they can estrange students from that which they take for granted. We also translate when we write by orienting our readers to the world of ideas that forms the context for our own ideas, defining our terms, and taking care to consider whether our frame of reference is familiar to them. [End Page 103]

Translation takes center stage when we engage in comparative philosophy, or philosophy in which the conversation between thinkers of different worlds is made explicit. Here, rather than arguing that one world is exactly the same as or substitutable for another, a good translator works through the conflicts, fissures, and connections among the ideas so that shared and expanded thinking becomes possible.

Philosophers working in certain subfields—Latin American, Africana, or feminist philosophy, for instance—sometimes act as translators when they bring their work, shaped by nontraditional philosophical heritages as well as the concerns, intuitions, and experiences of members of minority groups, to readers, scholars, and audiences in the United States who do not share their cultural-philosophical orientation.10 Through their translation work, these philosophers have often demanded that their readers engage the questions: Who has been left out? Why? And what is the result of this, philosophically, politically, and in terms of the everyday lived experience of those who are left out? They hold up incommensurable worlds side by side and demand an explanation. For instance, decolonial theorists might ask: How is Enlightenment thought—that which gives us vocabularies of human rights—commensurable with or even constitutive of thinking that has allowed for the dehumanization of groups of people on the basis of race? Care ethicists have asked why and to what effect care, dependency, and relationality—so central to all people's lives but often particularly to women's everyday lives—have been left out of much of Western moral philosophy. Speaking to the lived experience of minority social groups—experience that is largely unrepresented, undertheorized, and unaccounted for in the history of Western thought and in contemporary mainstream philosophy—these philosophers convey what is silent and silenced. In examining these silences and creating new pathways for communication, these translators unsettle linguistic norms, transcend cultural boundaries, and transform the discipline of philosophy from within.

Academic philosophers may hold the mistaken assumption that translation is required because those working at the margins of the discipline or who are engaged in philosophical reflection but not academic scholarship are unintelligible according to the philosophical standards of clarity and rigor. Hence, if there is value in what is being said, it must be rendered into language that others in the profession can understand. These assumptions are antithetical to the view of radical friction I am putting forth here. Rather than taking translation to be a requirement for these thinkers, I am [End Page 104] suggesting that translation is the work mainstream philosophers should do in order to decenter their own perspectives (or the perspectives of their readers and students) so as to become more receptive to those with differing worlds of sense.

Challenges and Strategies for Reconfiguring Our Worlds of Sense

Embracing radical friction, I have claimed, requires that we open ourselves to grasping ways of thinking that differ from those to which we are accustomed. It requires that we become attentive to the different values, background knowledge, assumptions, cultural context, and philosophical lineages that might inform another's thought. One way in which we might err in attempting to grasp another person's world of sense is by engaging in a kind of empathetic projection toward those whose worlds of sense we wish to grasp. This problematic practice allows us to believe that we are making ourselves receptive to the worlds of others when, in reality, we are engaging others in ways that allow us to avoid radical fraction.11 Empathetic projection occurs when one posits a romantic projection onto a group, or some aspect of the group's identity or struggle, that ultimately has the effect of rendering other aspects of that group or certain members of that group invisible.

I suspect that the challenge on the part of some people in positions of privilege to see members of marginalized groups in their particularity falls within the purview of active or willful ignorance—ignorance that, while not necessarily intentional, is nevertheless actively sustained because it promotes the interests of members of privileged social groups (Sullivan and Tuana 2007). It is often easier to slip into patterns of experiencing generosity and warmth toward the idea of people rather than with people themselves. Empathetic projection can serve as a mechanism for deflecting the painful challenges of entering into the worlds of sense of those who experience oppression—oppression that coexists with one's own relative social privilege.

Consider, for example, those who advocate for immigrants' rights on the ground that immigrants are productive members of society who make important contributions to our economy or those who advocate for the protection of DREAMers, who have largely assimilated to American culture. While such grounds do constitute important reasons to support these [End Page 105] particular groups of immigrants, they risk romanticizing certain types of "good" immigrants and leaving out those folks who do not fit nicely within these categories. (What should be thought of my aunt with Down syndrome who found herself alone in Mexico when my grandmother passed away? With one look, she was labeled as a burden by immigration authorities, and we were not permitted to bring her for even a visit. She died not long after, a lonely death not befitting of someone who had brought such joy to the people who loved her.) Importantly, these common bases for empathy with immigrants do not raise questions about the ethical notions at the heart of the so-called immigration problem, such as: What constitutes community? How should we assess the value of an intending immigrant? What drives the desire for others' cultural assimilation, and does this desire constitute a good reason to exclude? How might we acknowledge the sacredness of all human projects of striving and depending and loving beyond and in spite of borders? My contention is that advocating for immigrants as humble, hard workers seeking a better life or as DREAMers who fit nicely into the colorful fabric of a preexisting American quilt can be an instance of empathetic projection. It can be a way of empathizing with the plight of a suffering group that fits comfortably within one's worldview. It can be a version of the easy empathy that someone who is loving and knowing is already prepared to experience.

For some people—perhaps those who are unaccustomed to considering the worlds of sense of those whose lives are very different—any experience of cross-cultural identification, empathy, or understanding may be challenging, enlightening, and motivating. Coming to share understanding with someone new can be a powerful moral insight. However, for those who are already empathetic, that is, for those for whom seeking to grasp different worlds of sense is already part of an established pattern of relating to others, having truly transformative encounters that disrupt these patterns is a special challenge.

Philosophers may be particularly susceptible to empathetic projection because cross-cultural dialogue and translation are so often a part of philosophy. We often think of ourselves as very open-minded because we have practice finding a home in texts that, at first, can be alienating. We have practice cultivating and utilizing new vocabularies. We practice withholding judgment about claims that conflict with our intuitions until we have carefully considered the arguments in favor of and against those claims. Yet, precisely because philosophers so often engage in these practices, they [End Page 106] may have a blind spot when it comes to the ways in which they encounter ideas that cannot be processed in the usual ways.

Encounters that are truly transformative, however, produce a shock to the system, calling into question one's worldview and self-understanding. It is a kind of disruptive epiphany that forces one to confront their own world of sense as an outsider. It can often be troubling and painful because it puts one face-to-face with one's own moral and epistemic limitations. It does this by showing us to ourselves from outside of ourselves. Such encounters may be experienced as an affront to one's system of beliefs—perhaps even to one's sense of self.

Nevertheless, these moments, in which one becomes aware that engaging with the abstract idea of a person feels easier than traveling to a particular person's world, can provide us with the opportunity to interrogate our limitations. Of special interest to me here are moments when, because of the clash of incommensurable sensibilities, philosophical dialogue begins to break down. Radical friction can present us with hard cases, where the go-to strategies for empathizing are insufficient: the immigrant who is averse to assimilating, will not learn the language, and does not want to be your friend; the black teenager who resisted arrest prior to losing his life at the hands of the police; the homeless person who will use the money she panhandles for a fix. We see, then, that for those in positions of social privilege, empathetic projection can serve as a mechanism for deflecting criticism and the challenges of truly reorienting our world of sense.

How might we enter into that confrontation with our limits and, perhaps, grow as a result? I contend that engaging in philosophy that is informed by the experience of marginalized groups can help the profession overcome its insularity, because it can give us tools to embrace, rather than flee from, moments in which it is morally and epistemically difficult to grasp another's world of sense. For one, philosophers who work on issues of oppression can frame a situation or behavior in a wider context, perhaps by situating it in history or in terms of relations of power. Such framings allow us to see beyond what is immediately apparent. Second, philosophers whose work focuses on the lived experience of members of marginalized groups also illuminate the humanity of dehumanized groups. They can generate empathy by inviting us into a different perspective, by putting forth a different kind of protagonist.

Being exposed to thought from outside of our worlds can play an important role in posing this kind of challenge, but it is precisely because [End Page 107] these challenges emerge from outside of otherwise shared frameworks of intelligibility—the standard methods, vocabularies, and contexts—that they tend to confront us in ways that do not register as clearly recognizable. In response to this issue, I offer two principles that might help us to embrace radical friction. The first principle is openness to transformation. As I have suggested, at least a small part of what may lead us to turn away from radical friction is the confrontation with incompatible worlds of sense, in which the only way forward is to reconfigure our own understanding. In the face of this fear, I suggest that we remain open to transformation. By embracing radical friction in the same way that philosophers embrace argumentative friction, we avail ourselves to change through our communications with others. This process allows for a more reciprocal practice of translation and a less exclusionary discipline. In the words of Mariana Ortega, "I become-with you, and we remake each other" (2016, 168).

The second principle is to know oneself-in-relation. This principle calls on each of us to consider how we are located in relation to others—others about whom one writes or who have been left out of one's thought but have something at stake in the discussion. Knowing oneself means being explicit about the motivations guiding one's work, being aware of potential unconscious mental states that might influence one's work (fears, desires, resentments, etc.), and being explicit about who one's intended audience is and is not and why. It also means recognizing that one is not capable of taking up a philosophical view from nowhere but, rather, that one's perception and reason are inevitably informed by who one is and what one has experienced. It means explicitly considering and taking responsibility for the blind spots one is likely to have as a result of one's social location and lived experiences. Hence, the infamous injunction to "know thyself" takes up new importance in the task of practicing a more coalitional philosophy.

I have argued that philosophical practices are central to the sense-making activities of all human beings, yet only some of those practices have been considered to be properly philosophical in mainstream academic philosophy. As a result, academic philosophy has shut out many dialogical partners, and the discipline has often been far removed from the lives of everyday people and, in particular, members of marginalized social groups. In this article, I have expressed the hopeful view that professional philosophers can demonstrate their commitment to engaging with marginalized philosophy in their everyday practices. Doing so, I believe, is necessary for collectively refashioning the discipline in more just and genuinely dialogical ways. [End Page 108]

Lori Gallegos de Castillo
Texas State University, San Marcos


I wish to thank Francisco Gallegos and participants of the 2017 American Philosophies Forum for their thoughtful comments on earlier drafts of this article.

1. The website Data on Women in Philosophy (accessed August 30, 2017, indicates that women make up roughly 24 percent of tenured or tenure-track faculty positions and have authored roughly 15 percent of original published journal articles. The American Philosophical Association's website links to a report (accessed August 30, 2017, that indicates that in 2014, approximately 4 percent of doctoral degrees in philosophy were awarded to African Americans, 4 percent to those identifying as Hispanic, just over 3 percent to American Indians, and less than 0.5 percent to Asians or Pacific Islanders.

2. In my use of the term world, I draw to some extent from Maria Lugones's (1987) discussion of "world" traveling. Lugones emphasizes that a "world" is the way in which one finds oneself as constructed in a particular social space. In this article, however, I use an expanded notion of "world" that also includes the nexus of meanings, or interpretive horizon, that forms the orientation from which we experience not only ourselves but also other people, as well as new experiences and ideas. Also see Alcoff's (2010) discussion of identities as hermeneutic horizons.

3. See Jose Medina's (2013) discussion of the importance of seeking out beneficial epistemic friction, or conflicting knowledge claims.

4. Dotson (2012) discusses these gatekeeping practices in terms of philosophy's "culture of justification."

5. Controversially, Jaima (this issue) suggests that well-known pragmatists such as Alain Locke are part of an excluded countercanon, rather than considered as part of the core of American philosophy.

6. According to Mills, ideal theory is a type of philosophical modeling, prevalent in the discipline, that purports to represent the central features of a phenomenon or subject while the actual phenomenon or subject—which is necessarily not perfectly coincident with the idealized representation—is tacitly represented as a deviation from the ideal and subsequently discounted. Mills contends that ideal theory is "a distortional complex of ideas, values, norms, and beliefs that reflects the nonrepresentative interests and experiences of a small minority of the national population—middle-to-upper-class white males—who are hugely over-represented in the professional philosophical population" (2005, 172).

7. It is primarily in this respect that my thesis differs from that of Karsten J. Struhl (2010), who similarly argues that philosophy's purpose involves interrogating fundamental assumptions and that adequately doing so requires engagement with cross-cultural philosophy—what I have called non-Western philosophy. I find this approach to be invaluable but insufficient for adequately [End Page 109] addressing marginalized communities. Insofar as philosophy is about issues that affect people's lives without being informed by the perspectives of marginalized groups, it cannot be said to be interrogating its own assumptions in the ways that matter most.

8. Tuana and Scott also propose that philosophers working to transcend their limited sensibilities engage with music, dance, and myth arising from other lineages, in addition to lineages of ideas. In so doing, philosophy "traces the shadowy contours of [others'] worlds of sense not only as objects of attention but also as aesthetic experiences on the part of the thinker within the sensibility of the forgotten people" (Tuana and Scott, this issue).

9. Tuana and Scott (this issue, following Vallega 2014) refer to this aspect of the world of sense as the aesthetic dimension of the other person's world, a level of understanding that is expressed through art, music, rituals, and oral traditions.

10. It is worth mentioning that it is often the case that these thinkers are not writing for mainstream academic philosophers. They are often writing for and in the service of others like them, who have been excluded from mainstream philosophy. These groups are not always mutually exclusive, though.

11. In her response to Lugones (1987), Ortega warns of the risk of practicing a kind of "knowing, loving ignorance" (2006, 65), where a scholar is disposed lovingly toward the other group and has substantial knowledge of the group but the engagement with the group ultimately serves the interests of the scholar himor herself.

works cited

Alcoff, Linda. 2010. "Sotomayor's Reasoning." Southern Journal of Philosophy 48 (1), March: 122–38.
Curry, Tommy. 2011. "On Derelict and Method: The Methodological Crisis of African-American Philosophy's Study of African-Descended Peoples Under an Integrationist Milieu." Radical Philosophy Review 14 (2): 139–64.
Dotson, Kristie. 2012. "How Is This Paper Philosophy?" Comparative Philosophy 3 (1): 3–29.
Dussel, Enrique. 2000. "Europe, Modernity, and Eurocentrism." Nepantla: Views from South 1 (3): 465–78.
Lugones, Maria. 1987. "Playfulness, 'World'-Travelling, and Loving Perception." Hypatia 2 (2): 3–19.
Medina, Jose. 2013. The Epistemology of Resistance: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and Resistant Imaginations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mills, Charles. 2005. "'Ideal Theory' as Ideology." Hypatia 20 (3): 165–83.
Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. 1984. "Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses." boundary 2 12/13: 333–58. [End Page 110]
Ortega, Mariana. 2006. "Being Lovingly, Knowingly Ignorant: White Feminism and Women of Color." Hypatia 21 (3): 56–74.
Ortega, Mariana. 2016. In Between: Latina Feminist Phenomenology, Multiplicity, and the Self. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Saldaña-Portillo, María Josefina. 2016. Indian Given: Racial Geographies Across Mexico and the United States. Durham: Duke University Press.
Schutte, Ofelia. 2011. "Engaging Latin American Feminisms Today: Methods, Theory, Practice." Hypatia 26 (4): 783–803.
Struhl, Karsten. 2010. "No More Philosophy Without Cross-Cultural Philosophy." Philosophy Compass 5 (4): 287–95.
Sullivan, Shanon, and Nancy Tuana, eds. 2007. Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Vallega, Alejandro A. 2014. Latin American Philosophy from Identity to Radical Exteriority. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. [End Page 111]

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