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  • "The Americas Seek Not Enlightenment but Liberation":On the Philosophical Significance of Liberation for Philosophy in the Americas
  • Grant Silva

liberation is a notion employed by many philosophers, theologians, political theorists, and social thinkers engaged in sociopolitical action or in academic and theoretical critiques of multiple forms of oppression, exclusion, and domination. Throughout numerous examples, "liberation" often refers to the long-awaited triumph over oppressive social, economic, and political structures or regimes. In such works, however, the idea of liberation is rarely (if ever) parsed for philosophical meaning. At the root of such hesitation is valid concern: outside of a particular historical or sociocultural context, the idea of liberation is rather vacuous and perhaps even meaningless. Worse, as I contend, liberation is often reduced to approximations such as liberty, freedom, and even "equality," all of which can (unfortunately) set the stage for disappointment and disillusionment when oppressive structures withstand change. Amidst such concerns, might philosophical reflection on the idea of liberation itself yield insights into the nature of oppression and the importance of liberatory struggle against such things as racism, sexism, economic exploitation, the intersection of these, and more? While focusing on the idea of America, anti-racist struggle, and even philosophical embodiment, I argue that it does.

Inspired by Latin American liberation philosophy, as well as philosophical and theoretical discourses and debates that can be considered part of a larger liberatory tradition,1 this essay offers an account of the philosophical significance of liberation and prescribes the special importance that ought to be attached to this notion in context of inter-American philosophical dialogue. Although the sense of "liberation" I employ owes much to Latin American philosophers such as Enrique Dussel, Ofelia Schutte, Leopoldo Zea, Horatio Cerutti-Guldberg [End Page 1] (and more), I offer an ample depiction of liberation, one that is broader and more fundamental than even the Latin American tradition(s) of liberation philosophy.2

My depiction is "broader" on account of an explicit inter-American orientation (one that is justified not only in terms of content but also in terms of genealogy, as I explain below). I draw from decolonial theorists and philosophers in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as North American philosophers and social theorists challenging racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression, domination, injustice, and/or marginalization. These struggles illuminate liberatory processes in multiple contexts and ground the idea of liberation in concrete circumstances. In particular, I situate my analysis of liberation in the contexts of multiple instances of anti-racist struggle since a commitment to combating racism, and not necessarily the overcoming of it (as strange as that sounds), exemplifies the process-orientation that "liberation" entails. Besides its pedagogical value, an overview of the meaning and significance of liberation in the Americas ought to include a variegated range of experience focused on such things as race, racialization, and other forms of objectification: socially stratifying conceptions of race (see Quijano), not to mention overly narrow and biologized conceptions of gender and sexual difference (see Lugones), serve as axes of domination through which control over labor, land, property rights, and sexual reproduction is (and was) exerted throughout all the Americas. Contemporary struggles against racism (and sexism for that matter), therefore, ought to be viewed as not only thematically part of a larger liberatory tradition but also causally connected to a conception of philosophy in which liberation is the central goal.

Because I think that a majority of philosophers situated throughout the Americas have yet to understand how liberation serves as a springboard for philosophical thought, I describe my understanding of liberation as more "fundamental," perhaps even philosophically orientating or foundational. By this, I do not mean that every philosopher ought to be wedded to one strand or another of Latin American liberation philosophy. Instead, for those philosophical systems or traditions purporting to be autochthonous to this hemisphere, the idea of America ought to (and indeed does for many) serve as a catalyst for liberatory thought. Put differently, at the heart of multiple American experiences, regardless of what adjective one places before the word "American," lays the challenge to confront the epistemic and ontological forms of dependency associated with America. Liberation harbors similar...


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