- Jazz and Philosophical Contrapunteo:Philosophies of La Vida in the Americas on Behalf of Radical Democracy
the saap 2020 conference in mexico is the culmination of an internal and gradual transformation in SAAP that has taken many years. I came to this organization as a graduate student. I was then the only Latino and Leonard Harris the only African American philosopher in SAAP. Thanks to the efforts of many scholars and presidents, SAAP has come to recognize the important philosophical contributions of female, African American, Indigenous, and Latinx philosophers. Let's not take for granted how we got here, celebrate what we have, and keep moving in the direction of an even better pluralism, a commitment at the heart of those American philosophers that we teach and write about.
This essay is inspired by this momentous occasion and the theme of the conference: inter-American philosophy, but also by my passions for jazz and philosophy. First, I make the case for a certain way of doing inter-American philosophy. While there are different ways to "juxtapose" philosophical traditions, I argue that a juxtaposition becomes most fruitful when it achieves the sort of "rubbing," that is contrapunteo (counterpoint), that is found in Latin jazz. Second, I argue that Pragmatism is among the philosophical traditions in the Americas better fit or predisposed to this ideal type of rubbing. Third, I propose that Pragmatism be part of a much needed and fruitful contrapunteo with Latin American philosophies committed to La Vida (lived experience) and radical democracy. The resonances and differences between these "American" philosophical traditions can be the source of learning and insights to address contemporary problems. To illustrate this, I rehearse some contrapunteo among philosophers of La Vida in the Americas on the nature of injustices and democracy.
One understanding of what it takes to do inter-American philosophy is simply doing research that utilizes both Latin American philosophy and [End Page 1] American philosophy. This walking in between these traditions in the current academic world goes against the emphasis on specialization. For some of us, it has not been easy. There are academic professional pressures to define your identity-specialization according to preconceived and narrow notions of established boxes. This reminds me of musicians who are pressured to not deviate from certain musical genres. I sometimes wonder how many of my Latin American and US colleagues think I am simply a confused or philosophically schizophrenic philosopher. Luckily I learned from both Gloria Anzaldúa and Pragmatism that I am not the one with a problem.1 There is no shame in being or working in between philosophical traditions. On the contrary, it can provide an opportunity to learn and to create new ideas. In fact, there is already evidence that doing inter-American philosophy can be a source of significant contributions in the field. Over the last twenty years, scholars in both Latin American philosophy and American philosophy have produced original work on inter-American philosophy. These scholars include José Medina, Carlos Sanchez, Eduardo Mendieta, Kim Diaz, Alex Stehn, José-Antonio Orosco, Chris Tirres, Manuela Gomez, Sergio Gallegos, Lara Trout, Albert Spencer, Jacoby Carter, Daniel Campos, Pablo Quintanilla, Alejandro Strong, Grant Silva, Andrea Pitts, Lee McBride, Jose Mendoza, Federico Penelas, Carlos Pereda, Stephanie Rivera, Paniel Reyes Cardenas, Mauricio Beuchot, Guillermo Hurtado, Terrance MacMullan, and Benjamin Davis.
However, not all ways of doing inter-American philosophy are equally good. There are better and worse ways of bringing together philosophical traditions. One can do inter-American philosophy without actually doing enough to make the ideas affect each other. One can simply make simultaneous comparative descriptions between ideas from the North and the South (e.g., the ideas of Du Bois and Simón Bolívar on freedom) without trying to derive lessons or create new ideas. Such exercises have their place and value, but setting and describing ideas or entire traditions side by side is mere juxtaposition.
Juliet Hooker's recent book Theorizing Race in the Americas: Douglass, Sarmiento, Du Bois, and Vasconcelos2 emphasizes juxtaposition rather than comparison as a way to do both Africana and Latinx philosophy without reducing them to each other. Hooker argues, and I concur...