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A number of philosophical doctrines developed as responses to some mainstream views of the Iberian colonial period (roughly, from the late 1500s to the early 1800s). Chapter 1 of this book looks closely at four such doctrines whose central themes concerning Latin America can be traced to that period. It first examines the ideas of three Spanish thinkers, Bartolomé de las Casas (1474-1566), Francisco de Vitoria (1486-1546), and José de Acosta (ca. 1539-1600). The chapter demonstrates that Las Casas and Vitoria were set to determine the moral status of the Spanish conquest, and developed novel doctrines of practical ethics and political philosophy. Acosta raised empiricist objections to Scholasticism in epistemology and philosophy of science. Pressured by the new physical and social realities of the Americas, these three thinkers were among the early challengers of Thomism as interpreted in the Spanish world during the sixteenth century. But the chapter also examines what Edmundo O’Gorman (Mexican, 1906-1995) argued more recently against the myth of Columbus’ “discovery” of America. Clearly, the end of the colonial period was far from marking the end of reflection on philosophically interesting aspects of the Iberian expansion.
The twentieth century saw a renewed interest among Latin America’s philosophical thinkers on questions concerning social justice, economic underdevelopment, and the imperialist threat from industrial powers in the region. After outlining Marxism as a political theory, Chapter 8 first discusses how Latin American political thinkers José Carlos Mariátegui and Ernesto “Che” Guevara introduced their own twists to Marxism in order to solve those questions. The chapter evaluates Mariátegui’s attempted solution, especially as formulated in his account of the problems of “the Indian,” “the land,” and “religion” facing Peru. In the case of Guevara, the chapter looks closely at his “theory of the new human being,” pointing to some major objections facing it. By contrast, for Salvador Allende and Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, the two moderate socialists of Latin America discussed here, solutions are attainable within the framework of liberal democracy, with no violent revolution necessary. This chapter critically examines their claims that the cause of Latin America’s failed experiments with democracy resides elsewhere – namely, in the imperialist threat from the United States and other industrial powers.
Chapter 7 considers José Enrique Rodó’s (Uruguayan, 1872-1917) and José Vasconcelos’s (Mexican, 1882-1959) models of Latin America’s identity, each of which rejects positivism and US values. In his Ariel, Rodó declared US values pernicious for the youth of Latin America, while in his Cosmic Race Vasconcelos advanced a utopian vision of a Latin American race that would develop superior values to those of the other races of the world. On the analysis offered here, Rodó’s reaction is a form of elitism based on ethnocentric bias as well as misinformation and fallacy. After all, Arielism traces the roots of Latin American identity to the values of Christianity, colonial Spain, and ancient Greece and Rome. As a result, Rodó’s Arielism offers a view of Latin American identity that disvalues the contributions of peoples of non-European descent such as Amerindians and Afro-Latin Americans. Furthermore, it charges without evidence that utilitarianism is the value theory prevailing in the United States. By contrast, Vasconcelos’s pseudoscientific version of the mestizaje model provided a theoretical framework that was instrumental in recognizing the contribution of traditionally marginalized peoples to the identity of the region. This chapter argues that his model is thus more defensible than Rodó’s.
Chapter 2 considers some moderate and radical feminist theories from Latin America. It begins with the early vindication of equal rights for women by Sor Juana de la Cruz. Since her feminist theory did not claim that obtaining such rights is contingent on a drastic change of the sociopolitical and economic order, it belongs in the same category of moderate feminism widely advocated by women at the turn of the twentieth century. This chapter contends that, unlike Sor Juana’s feminism, the present-day “scientific” feminism of Roxana Kreimer, also in the moderate category, lacks the support of plausible arguments. Contra Kreimer, no evidence is found for her claim that many inequalities between the sexes amount to inequities (i.e., unjust inequalities). To debunk radical feminisms, Kreimer needs to take a close look at these doctrines, something that this chapter undertakes by focusing on the liberationist feminisms of Ofelia Schutte and Enrique Dussel. Each of these comes out as closer to ideological propaganda than to philosophical inquiry.
Chapter 6 looks closely at the work of José Martí (Cuban, 1853-1895) who was among the first in Latin America to react against positivism. This chapter argues that Martí’s doctrines must be understood in the context of his endorsement of Hispano-Krausism, a philosophical outlook fashionable in academic circles in Spain at the time Martí was exiled there. Armed with a Krausist theoretical framework, Martí argued for a mestizaje view of racial and ethnic identity in Latin America, defended the unity and sovereignty of the region, especially in light of the rising threat of US imperialism, and advocated for the freedom of his beloved country, Cuba, from Spanish colonialism. On the proposed interpretation, appeals to a Marxist Martí are unhelpful to understanding his actual claims concerning race, Latin American unity, and an individual’s happiness – which for him requires not only material well-being but also harmony with other individuals and nature.
Chapter 10 argues that Latin American philosophy, when broadly construed to include the philosophical thought of a number of academic and nonacademic philosophers, is a type of applied philosophy devoted to issues related to Latin America. Philosophical inquiry into its issues has resulted in the development of a number of ‘isms,’ as illustrated by the chapters in the present book. Some are homegrown ‘isms,’ others amount to novel twists on well-known doctrines of Western philosophy. Many concern matters of practical ethics and social and political philosophy, such as Lascasianism, Arielism, Bolivarism, modest and immodest feminism, republicanism, positivism, Marxism, and liberationism. There are also meta-philosophical ‘isms,’ such as originalism and perspectivism. Evidence from these ‘isms’ helps debunk a number of skeptical positions about Latin American philosophy that are reviewed in this chapter (by Frondizi, Cannabrava, Pereda, Hurtado, Rabossi, and Ezcurdia among others). But not all the anti-skeptics succeed in making a strong case for their view, as shown in the analysis of Zea’s perspectivism and Gracia’s ethnic-philosophy view. More plausible than any of these is the applied-philosophy view of the author – or so she argues here.
Chapter 3 is devoted to Bolivarism, a set of doctrines of applied moral and political philosophy bearing on the Latin America of the early nineteenth century. One doctrine, authoritarian republicanism, has it that the legitimacy of any form of polity is contingent on its capacity to maximize the Enlightenment values of aggregate happiness, safety for all, and political stability of a nation. Another doctrine, the mestizaje model, contends that the collective identity of Latin Americans is not exclusively European, African, or Amerindian but a mixture of these. Bolivarism has continued to fuel ongoing populist phenomena from the nineteenth century onward, as illustrated by the “Bolivarian” revolutions of Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. It is also a moral force behind some present-day movements that strive to obtain not only political and economic reform elsewhere in Latin America, but also recognition of the distinct racial and ethnic identity of the people of the region. The chapter also explains what is wrong with Marx’s critique of Bolívar while offering insight on what Marx should have said instead.
During the second half of the twentieth century, some Latin American intellectuals put theology and philosophy at the service of explaining and solving the social and economic disparities facing the region. Paradigm results of this development were the liberation theology of Gustavo Gutiėrrez and the liberation philosophy of Enrique Dussel. Chapter 9 considers these attempts to establish the causes of oppression and become the voice of a vaguely defined group of people, the Latin American poor. Other categories of liberation theology and philosophy examined here include the center-periphery distinction and the very notion of liberation, which are adaptations of categories from dependency theory and Marxism respectively. The chapter argues that neither liberation theology nor liberation philosophy can accommodate strong intuitions about justice. They also rely on discredited assumptions from dependency theory. In addition, liberation philosophy faces some problems of its own, since it makes misleading and often false claims about events and rival philosophical theories. To illustrate these problems, the chapter looks closely at Dussel’s claim that all Western philosophy suffers from ideological contamination.
Chapter 5 focuses on nineteenth-century positivism in Brazil, Chile, and Mexico. It disagrees with some scholars who claim either that the movement’s diverse expression across the region precludes classification as a single philosophical tradition, or that its practical implementation only had negative consequences. Against the first claim, the chapter looks at the work of Lastarria from Chile, Justo Sierra from Mexico, and Benjamin Constant from Brazil to show that Latin American positivists shared the substantive doctrines of secularism, anti-ultramontanism, philosophical eclecticism, and a pluralistic form of consequentialism according to which order, prosperity, and freedom are the highest values. Against the second claim, the chapter shows that not all the consequences of positivism were bad. For example, positivism succeeded in introducing the study of the natural sciences and social sciences with empirical methods in public education, where it overturned Thomism and its Scholastic method after more than three centuries of dominance. Furthermore, positivism produced a much-needed critical evaluation of the legacy of the conquest. This, whatever some scholars want us to believe, had nothing to do with the ‘Black Legend,’ a false story promoted by rivals of the Iberian expansion during the sixteenth century.
Chapter 4 considers a debate between two Argentine political thinkers of the period of national organization that followed the end of the wars of independence in Latin America: Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811-1888) and Juan Bautista Alberdi (1810-1884). Both of them endorsed liberal republicanism, a set of doctrines of moral and political philosophy that opposed Bolivarism and which was widely popular in the region during the post-independence period. The chapter demonstrates that Sarmiento and Alberdi had in common a general philosophical framework, even when they perceived their views as incompatible with each other's. Key shared doctrines included the infamous civilization/barbarism dichotomy and the no-less-infamous European-transplantation model of Latin American identity. This chapter argues that since Sarmiento and Alberdi had these substantive doctrines in common in matters concerning race and liberal democracy (judged to be the best form of polity for the new Latin American nations), their differences were almost trivial. Both of them disagreed with Bolívar, who acknowledged Latin America’s ethnic and racial diversity but remained skeptical about the suitability of liberal democracy in the region.
Latin American philosophy is best understood as a type of applied philosophy devoted to issues related to the culture and politics of Latin America. This introduction provides a comprehensive overview of its central topics. It explores not only the unique insights offered by Latin American thinkers into the traditional pre-established fields of Western philosophy, but also the many 'isms' developed as a direct result of Latin American thought. Many concern matters of practical ethics and social and political philosophy, such as Lascasianism, Arielism, Bolívarism, modest and immodest feminisms, republicanism, positivism, Marxism, and liberationism. But there are also meta-philosophical 'isms' such as originalism and perspectivism. Together with clear and accessible discussions of the major issues and arguments, the book offers helpful summaries, suggestions for further reading, and a glossary of terms. It will be valuable for all readers wanting to explore the richness and diversity of Latin American philosophy.