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  • Neo-Soul Naturalism and Its Implications for Black Social Criticism
  • Leamon L. Bazil

all too often, black social critics draw upon ideals and utilize strategies that are ill-suited for the circumstances in which the black community finds itself. My aim is to illustrate that a Neo-Soul Politics (NSP) would be much more helpful in bringing about the kinds of practical and effective democratic reforms the black community so urgently needs. A Neo-Soul Politics is an ontological, epistemological, and methodological approach toward freedom and problem solving that expands beyond instrumental rationalism and liberal ideals about politics in general. Neo-Soul Politics promotes mutual recognition, intersubjective accountability, and openness to change. Furthermore, it encourages reflexive evaluations and intuitive insights that have the potential to engender new self-understandings and self-conceptions (Kompridis 50).1 There are two horns to this position. On one hand, NSP is naturalistic, and it seeks to show that black liberation cannot be attained without black leaders and black social critics gaining a thorough understanding of human nature and an even deeper understanding of how human nature is tied to the rest of nature. On the other hand, NSP illustrates that black leaders and black social critics must come to understand old habits, practices, and institutions in new ways and to act on such new understanding if they truly wish to minimize domination and oppression of the black community. Black leaders and social critics must come to terms with the fact that heroic disclosure is the best method to engender this new way of “understanding.” This paper mainly explores NSP’s naturalistic horn.

The ultimate aim of this paper is to show that any substantive emancipatory vision that emerges from contemporary African American social critics must be heavily influenced by naturalism, a philosophical perspective that is [End Page 75] critical of orientations toward rationalism and reductionist theories of human behavior. John Dewey’s naturalism will be used as a heuristic device, fleshing out much of the content of this essay. My first goal is negative, to the extent that I draw critical attention to several outdated assumptions that persist from modernity, lingering as useless vestiges, limiting not only the potentiality of Western politics, but, by extension, African American politics and black social criticism. My second objective is positive: to highlight the explicit features of a naturalistic theory of politics that has its roots in Aristotelianism, Humeanism, and Darwinism, but finds its most robust expression in Deweyan pragmatism. In their own unique way, each of the above-mentioned philosophers acknowledged that morality ought to be derived from a study of man’s nature, but it is Dewey who most thoroughly recognized this fact. Almost a hundred years ago, Dewey wrote the following in an introduction to a series of lectures sponsored by the West Memorial Foundation, which would later be published as Human Nature and Conduct:

A morals based on study of human nature instead upon disregard for it would find the facts of man continuous with those of the rest nature and would thereby ally ethics with physics and biology. It would find the nature and activities of one person coterminous with those of other human beings, and therefore link ethics with the study of history, sociology, law and economics.

(Human Nature and Conduct 12–13)

I echo Dewey here in affirming the main premise of Human Nature and Conduct, which states that the careful study of the interaction of human nature and social environment is crucial to procuring universal human liberation and flourishing. Any study aimed at human liberation that neglects the importance of this interaction of subjective and objective features will be imperfect and unfinished. My final and overarching aim, though, is to illustrate that naturalism, in both its negative and positive phases, is a critical restructuring of many imperialistic and distorted Western cultural values. Naturalism’s negative phase makes it clear what naturalism is not by comparing it to other ontological, epistemological, and political points of view. By comparing and contrasting naturalism with theories that are mutually exclusive with it, we gain a greater insight into what naturalism actually requires and entails. Naturalism’s positive phase makes it clear what naturalism is...


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pp. 75-98
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