« On the Political Order of Bacon's Bensalem (II) | Main | Heidegger, Frege, Antisemitism, and worse »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Stacey Goguen

I don't see how Coleman is throwing away mainstream analytic philosophy. He's not advocating that we start ignoring Smith (I don't think). He's advocating that we re-balance the amount of attention we are giving people like Smith.

Where I think the OP disagrees with Coleman is in whether this re-balancing means we should emphatically "make Smith and Du Bois part of a shared, extended present." To some basic extent, yes of course, putting people into conversation with one another is often a fruitful project.

However, there is a danger in doing that (too often?): it will gloss over the fact that we developed our philosophical canon in a way that denied that Du Bois had much to say about the conversations that Smith was a part of. The OP writes, "To link Du Bois, himself a first-rate economist, to Adam Smith, is not a way to belittle or legitimize Du Bois." Maybe I'm misunderstanding this sentence, but, because of our history as a discipline, linking Du Bois to Smith ends up having this effect of legitimizing or belittling him--even if we aren't trying to.

So, even though a Du Bois-Smith conversation can certainly bear fruit, it brings along with it the problem that it will at best tweak the canon, but not get at the root problems in how the canon was built and developed. The OP writes, "I suggest this not to promote talk that leaves everything un-changed." I think the main point of disagreement then is whether focusing on making sure we don't leave Smith and the canon completely behind will end up having that effect.

So yes, dead white men have "riches to contribute." But they're not the only riches in town, and we've already seen a ton of their riches. And seriously, even if we go to the extreme and completely ignore them, we can't do any worse than philosophy has done in ignoring all the people it has, right?

tl;dr - I don't think Coleman is advocating throwing out mainstream philosophy or the Western canon. He's advocating that we finally make it sit in the backseat for part of the trip, given that it's been calling shotgun for the past few centuries. Or more precisely, this is what I would advocate after reading Coleman's piece, and I don't think his piece would take issue with this suggestion--though he himself might have other ideas.

Eric Schliesser

Stacey, thank you for your response. It allows me to clarify something: I am not advocating that we make sure that we don't leave Smith and the canon completely behind. Rather, I was suggesting that if we aim to bring some of the Black Atlantic traditions into the conversation, we may also surprise ourselves by reviving (for good and for worse) features of Smith (and, say, Diderot).

I do worry that you have a tendency to conflate mainstream philosophy and the 'Western canon.' For while some parts of the 'Western Canon' have a toehold in analytical philosophy, for many practical purposes much of the 'Western canon' is not present in professional philosophy. (Try counting the instances of 'Montaigne', 'Boethius' or even 'Adam Smith' in Nous, Philosophical Review, Analysis, Jphil, etc.) Even most of analytical philosophy's own history is not very present in how mainstream philosophy understands itself and presents itself. This is not to claim that it is as invisible as Du Bois or Bell Hooks. But getting rid of the dead white males (even Plato, Kant, Hume) would be largely symbolic if you can't change much else. And I do believe that giving up on all of history of philosophy within professional philosophy (that understands itself, as, say progressing) would be worse. (And we agree that the status quo is very bad.) For, studying the history of philosophy allows us to question and discern some of our biases.

I am curious to learn how you propose to discuss Du Bois' direct and indirect debts to and innovations from others who might be in some canon. (To the best of my knowledge Du Bois and Smith are not often put into conversation within philosophy.)

Stacey Goguen

Thank you for helping me think through my comment. Yes, I definitely was aiming at two very big, largely separate fish (the canon and contemporary analytic phil). I think I am trying to hone in on "things in philosophy whose legitimacy is assumed." That probably needs to be qualified with, "...is assumed in at least one semi-important philosophical context." Because of course, history of philosophy does not have assumed legitimacy in all corners of philosophy.

I want to argue that framing something whose legitimacy is in question in terms of something whose legitimacy isn't is going to have a limited ability to rectify the current injustices concerning who is recognized as an authority on what counts as philosophy and philosophically rich topics.

For instance, it is a problem if we spend the lion's share of our efforts to get Du Bois recognized as someone whose writings are clearly philosophically rich by talking about Du Bois in relation to white people whose writings are already presumed philosophically rich. It raises our esteem for Du Bois, but it doesn't challenge the standards which we have used and do use to divvy out our esteem.

So, if we want to talk about "Du Bois' direct and indirect debts to and innovations from others who might be in some canon," we can do that in just the way you explained above--and those can be very philosophically rich projects. My 'beef' is that I think we will fail to unseat whiteness as the primary (racial) authority on philosophy if we do that.

And that is what I think Coleman's piece is getting at: the need to change the system that made it so Black thinkers didn't (and don't) get to do philosophy or get done in philosophy.

So, I don't think he fails to "[recognize] that we can make Smith and Du Bois part of a shared, extended present." I think he could recognize it and yet still argue that, in order to get to that shared, extended present where everyone is on the equal footing they deserve, we first have resurrect the prophets that have been murdered, silenced, and buried.*

*I recognize though that there is a strong strategic temptation to make the case for one's philosophical project by linking it to other projects whose legitimacy is already established. I do that in papers all the time. So I guess I would say, us while folks probably have a moral duty to do that less if/when we talk about philosophers of color, since we have that extra cultural capital to help us make the case for their legitimacy without mentioning how they fit nicely into a conversation that involves mostly living or dead white guys. (Though, in being white and/or guys ourselves, there's also the issue of needing to undermine our own authority as primary. So we should be using our capital to get dilute our capital, etc.)

Eric Schliesser

Stacey, I am all for resurrecting the murdered, silenced, and buried prophets. (I am the author of "philosophical prophecy," after all.) I recognize that their resurrection may well come at the expense of other prophets or topics some of which I may well cherish. But if we want to change the system in Anglophone, professional philosophy then going after the canon is at most a symbolic gesture that, almost certainly, will merely facilitate those want to remove books and the past from the discipline altogether. It won't bring Du Bois or others from the Atlantic Black traditions into the conversation. (Of course, we could just give up ancient, early modern, and Kant/19th century philosophy and replace the slots with alternative philosophical projects, but that won't change much about how the vast majority of philosophy is done.) It is possible that abolishing the remnants of the white canon may help to bring unprivileged folk into professional philosophy, so I am open to empirical arguments that point in that direction.
So, part of the challenge for those of us that want to change the system in professional (anglophone) philosophy is that the canon-changing-strategy inherited from other Humanities disciplines is not one of the more effective routes to go to change the overwhelming whiteness of the discipline.

Where we may disagree is that I believe that one does not rectify patterns of exclusion by intentionally creating new patterns of exclusion or denying oneself collaborative efforts. It also a tactical mistake because it tells other people you don't want to have a conversation with them (which they may well reciprocate).

Just a small point: when I first wrote about Du Bois on this blog, I wrote about his first order work in economics and I tried to show that this was also full of philosophical treasures. Did you read that? Think it not philosophical? (I ask because so many folk I know don't think that there is philosophy in our shared history with economics.) I did not use Smith (or others) to legitimate that choice. (In fact, I criticized Rawls for making this invisible.) So, while I recognize the practice you worry about, I don't think it is inevitable trap to fall into.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


Blog powered by Typepad