Latin American and Latinx Philosophy
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Latin American and Latinx Philosophy

A Collaborative Introduction

Robert Eli Sanchez, Jr., Robert Eli Sanchez, Jr.

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eBook - ePub

Latin American and Latinx Philosophy

A Collaborative Introduction

Robert Eli Sanchez, Jr., Robert Eli Sanchez, Jr.

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About This Book

Latin American and Latinx Philosophy: A Collaborative Introduction is a beginner's guide to canonical texts in Latin American and Latinx philosophy, providing the non-specialist with necessary historical and philosophical context, and demonstrating their contemporary relevance. It is written in jargon-free prose for students and professors who are interested in the subject, but who don't know where to begin. Each of the twelve chapters, written by a leading scholar in the field, examines influential texts that are readily available in English and introduces the reader to a period, topic, movement, or school that taken together provide a broad overview of the history, nature, scope, and value of Latin American and Latinx philosophy. Although this volume is primarily intended for the reader without a background in the Latin American and Latinx tradition, specialists will also benefit from its many novelties, including an introduction to Aztec ethics; a critique of "the Latino threat" narrative; the legacy of Latin American philosophy in the Chicano movement; an overview of Mexican existentialism, Liberation philosophy, and Latin American and Latinx feminisms; a philosophical critique of indigenism; a study of Latinx contributions to the philosophy of immigration; and an examination of the intersection of race and gender in Latinx identity.

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1 Philosophy without Europe

James Maffie

Mesoamerica at Contact

The Aztecs—or, as they called themselves, the “Mexica”—were the last in a series of sophisticated, urban dwelling peoples who occupied an ecologically diverse area spanning from north-central Mexico to the Yucatán Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, and Pacific Coast Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Mexica civilization was preceded most notably by Olmec, Classic Maya, Teotihuacan, Zapotec, Toltec Maya, and Toltec civilizations, and existed contemporaneously with Tarascan and Mixtec civilizations. As a distinct cultural region, Mesoamerica dates back some 3,500 years. The development of Aztec civilization was cut short (some 200 years after its founding) by the combined Spanish-indigenous forces led by Hernán Cortés in 1521, the official date of the fall of the Mexica’s island capital, Tenochtitlan. Historians estimate the population of Tenochtitlan at no less than 200,000, surpassing the contemporary populations of London and Madrid, equaling those of Paris and Constantinople. The Mexica and their immediate neighbors in the Valley of Mexico spoke Nahuatl. Scholars commonly refer to this cultural group as Nahuas. Despite over 500 years of European and later crioll@ and mestizo@ hegemony, Mesoamerican peoples continue to maintain their own languages, lifeways, values, and beliefs. The Nahuatl-speaking descendants of the Mexica are no exception. Nahuatl-speakers currently comprise the largest indigenous language group in Mexico.
Did the Mexica engage in philosophical reflection, or was Emmanuel Levinas correct when declaring that “the Greeks and the Bible are all that is serious in humanity. Everything else is dancing”?1 This chapter starts from the proposition that Mexica thinkers did indeed do philosophy, as has been cogently demonstrated by Alejandro Santana.2 The Mexica called these thinkers tlamatinimeh (pl.; singl. tlamatini), “philosophers,” “wise ones,” or “sages.”3 Although Mexica philosophers talked about invisible beings and powers, doing so is no more incompatible with their having done philosophy than are Plato’s talk of a demiurge, Aristotle’s talk of a prime mover, or Rene Descartes’s and Baruch Spinoza’s talk of a Judeo-Christian god.
But even so, why bother studying Mexica philosophy? After all, didn’t Plato say everything there is worth saying, and isn’t the rest of philosophy merely “a series of footnotes to Plato”?4 This chapter argues that Mexica tlamatinimeh pursued what scholars call a “way-” or “path-seeking” philosophy, and that this approach differs fundamentally from what scholars call a “truth-seeking” philosophy, the approach that has dominated the Western philosophical tradition since Plato. Studying Mexica philosophy enables us to examine a genuinely alternative way of conceiving and doing philosophy.5
The difference between truth-seeking and path-seeking approaches cuts broadly and deeply as the two involve two parallel constellations of alternatively conceived conceptions of wisdom, knowledge, the self, language, morality, and the good life. Truth-oriented philosophies define these notions in terms of truth (e.g., apprehending, representing, believing, and grounding one’s actions and norms upon truth). Philosophy is first and foremost a theoretical endeavor aimed at apprehending truth. By contrast, path-oriented philosophies understand these notions in terms of finding, following, and extending a path. Wisdom, language, morality, and so on are about path-making. Knowing consists first and foremost in knowing how to do things, how to creatively extend the Mexica lifeway and by implication the entire lifeway of the cosmos into the future. Philosophy, like life itself, is first and foremost creative and practical. Philosophy is normatively oriented towards realizing the goals of human and cosmic balance and well-being. And so we must accordingly approach Mexica philosophers neither as feather-wearing Greeks nor as toga-wearing “Indians” but rather as people who thought about the cosmos, human existence, and the proper way for humans to live in a uniquely indigenous Mexica way. In short, Mexica philosophers pursued—as their present-day descendants continue to pursue—philosophy without Europe.
This chapter focuses upon Mexica philosophy not because Mexica philosophers were more philosophically advanced or sophisticated than Maya, Moche, Inka, Mapuche, or Zapotec philosophers, but rather due to the wholly contingent historical fact that we have the best contact-era written sources about the Mexica thanks to the tireless efforts of the Spanish Franciscan, Bernardino de Sahagún, and his indigenous assistants in documenting Mexica thought and practices (albeit towards the objectionable end of extirpating them). Finally, this chapter also lays the groundwork for one of the interesting questions raised by this collection of essays: to what extent, if any, have the indigenous philosophies of what is now called “Latin America” influenced subsequent mestizo@ and crioll@ philosophers?

Mexica vs. Franciscan Understandings of Philosophy-cum-Religion, Human Lifeways, and Ways of Being a Human in the World

In 1524 a group of Mexica philosophers from Tenochtitlan and its sister city, Tlatelolco, met the first twelve Spanish Franciscans to reach what the Mexica called Cemanahuac (“place surrounded by water”), the place the Spanish invaders would soon rename “New Spain.” The Franciscans attempted to engage the Mexica in dialogue with the twin aims of convincing them of the truth of Christian doctrine and of converting them to Christianity. A reconstruction of this dialogue appears in the Colloquios y doctrina cristiana, co-authored in 1564 by Bernardino de Sahagún and his Christianized, indigenous Nahuatl-speaking assistants, Antonio Vegeriano, Alonso Vegerano, Martín Jacobita, and Andrés Leonardo.6 The Colloquois offers us an invaluable window into the philosophical-cum-religious differences dividing the two peoples. Like most, if not all, indigenous peoples in the “New World,” the Mexica conceived philosophy and what we call “religion” or “spirituality”—together with their entire lifeway—as a single, seamless endeavor.
The Franciscans in the Colloquois speak first and foremost of God, a perfect, sacred, permanent, and immutable reality that transcends the imperfect, profane, and transient affairs and concerns of earthly creatures. This transcendent reality serves as the one and only foundation upon which humans must build the house of their well-being (Matthew 7: 24–27). It is a “rock of ages” to which one anchors one’s life and by reference to which one navigates life’s vicissitudes.
Second, the Franciscans speak of truth. They proclaim the singularity, objectivity, completeness, absoluteness, and universality of Biblical truth. There is only one truth for all peoples: that written in the Bible. They also speak of the true written and spoken word. The theological-cum-philosophical principles, admonitions, and claims of Christianity are universally true and universally applicable. Christianity is the one and only religion for all peoples. Christian religion is thus utopian or “of no-place” in the sense of not being tied to any one given place. One may live an upright Christian life anywhere in the world.
Third, the Franciscans speak in terms of belief, creed, doctrine, conversion, and the certainty of belief. What concerns them is that one comes to believe Biblical truth. They are concerned with orthodoxy, i.e. that people hold the right beliefs. Generally speaking, right living and behavior follow from right beliefs. Fourth, the Franciscans speak of Evil, original sin, and Christianity’s concern for the salvation of human souls. Christianity is Manichean: the forces of unmitigated Goodness struggle with the forces of unmitigated Evil. It is also salvific: it aims for the salvation of the human soul.
The Franciscans speak surprisingly little of Christianity as a way of life. They aim for the Mexica to follow the path of Jesus but only logically posterior to believing the truth of the word of Jesus. The Christian way of life is founded on the truth of Christian doctrine. They construe Christianity specifically, and religion generally—along with its attendant philosophical-theological views—in terms of correct belief. Religion and philosophy are matters of belief; they seek and are meant to be founded upon true belief.
The Mexica respond to the Franciscans as follows:
But we, whatever will we say to you now? Even though we are lords, we are people’s mothers, we are people’s fathers, perhaps then we here before you, shall we destroy the ancient [lifeway]? Those which our grandfathers, our grandmothers, considered great? Those which the lords, the rulers condoned, admired? And this, oh our lords: there are still those who guide us, who carry us, who bear us upon their backs, because of their service to our [creator beings], of whom we are penitents, tails, wings. It is said that they are wise in words. And they attend their duties by night, by day … They observe, they attend to the journey, the steady movement of the sky, the way night divides in the middle. And they look at, they read, they lay out the books, the black ink, the red ink. They are in charge of the writings. They are in charge of us. They lead us, they tell us the way [road, path]. They arrange in order how a year falls, how the day count follows its path. … These words that you say are new. And thus we are confused, thus we are astonished. For our engenderers, who came to be, who came to live on the earth, they did not go speaking in this way. They gave us their [lifeway]. They steadfastly followed, they served, they venerated the [creator beings]. They taught us all the ways to serve them, of serving, to honor them, thus before them we eat earth, thus we bleed ourselves, thus we make recompense [discharge our debts], thus we cast incense, and thus we kill things. … And perhaps we will now go and destroy the ancient [lifeway]? The Chichimec [lifeway]? The Toltec [lifeway]? The Colhua [lifeway]? The Tepanec [lifeway]? … The poor old men, the poor old women, how will they forget, how will they destroy, that which was their education, their upbringing? … We cannot be satisfied, and we do not yet go along, we do not yet make acceptable for ourselves [what you say] …7
The Mexica characterize their lifeway as having been handed down to them by their ancestors, not by a god or gods. They speak of the authenticity, genuineness, and practicability of their lifeway, and they locate these qualities in its history, not in its foundation in true divine statements or proclamations. They speak of following a path: the path set out for them and honed by their ancestors. They speak not of what they believe and so not of the objective truth of what they believe. Talk of belief is absent from their response. While the Mexica speak of having books, they speak of their books not as containing true descriptions of the world but as guiding them and showing them the proper way to live, i.e. as road maps for living. Similarly, while they speak of the authenticity, genuineness, and practicability of their path, they do not understand these qualities in terms of their path’s being metaphysically derived from divine truth. Rather, their path is well rooted in their own history, i.e. in their ancestors’ sayings, judgments, migrations, and ways of living. What’s more, the Mexica speak of the existence of—and indeed, on behalf of the existence of—a plurality of alternative paths or lifeways: the Mexica, Chichimec, Toltec, and Tepanec. They embrace a philosophical-cum-religious pluralism. The Mexica do not claim that their lifeway is the single, correct lifeway for all peoples. Each people has its own lifeway. The Mexica lifeway is one among many paths or lifeways, where no one is truer than the next.
The Mexica philosophers make no mention of sin, salvation, or evil. Mexica philosophy-cum-religion is wholly this-worldly because in and of this world (whereas Christianity typically sees humans as being in the world but not of the world). Th...

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