Philosophy sin mas? No. Philosophy y mas!

Common questions asked of us who teach and write on “Latin American” philosophy (or, in my case, “Mexican” philosophy) include the following (always asked in a somewhat passive-aggressive tone): What is that? What makes Latin American philosophy “Latin American”? Isn’t philosophy just philosophy? These questions are always followed by one or more statements of belief that are supposed to settle, once and for all, the questions just asked: We don’t ask what makes German philosophy German…it’s just philosophy! Philosophy is universal and calling “Mexican” or “Greek” doesn’t add anything to it! When we reply that, by virtue of its historical or cultural emergence, we can locate certain differences between Latin American philosophy and the rest of (at least) the Western philosophical tradition, or that the questions asked by Latin American philosophers express a difference that we find philosophically interesting, the interrogation usually stops (at least that has been my experience), but not before a version of “Ok! Well, you’ll have to tell me about it sometime” is condescendingly expressed or uttered with feigned curiosity.
Of course, the question is legitimate, especially if one has been taught that something is philosophy if and only if its pronouncements are universalizable, impersonal, absolutely detached from any human situation, and applicable to all for all time. And that something is philosophy if it has all of these things and more, and not just one of them, so that if a pronouncement has universal validity it cannot be attached to some human situation. Naturally, the person who asks the question into the Latin Americanness of our philosophy will find it strange that we seem to want to localize it in a specific geo-political space, and that’s why they ask it. They will, naturally, think that such localizations will introduce impurities into the mix; that the philosophical well can only be polluted by such introductions.
These concerns or worries over the purity of philosophy are not new, and anyone with any decency will surely respect philosophy’s history and traditions and affirm that Philosophy does not allow for the impurities of history, culture, or concrete life. For this reason, that of faithfulness to the dogma of tradition or the force of Eurocentric authority, Mexican philosophers would like nothing more than to be recognized for simply being philosophers without the added burden of being “Mexican” philosophers. The adjective seems to dilute their chosen task, as it suggests that this philosophizing and this philosophy is of a particular kind, that it is different, and thus, somehow not pure, unbiased, philosophy. “Mexican,” or “Latin American,” are derogatory terms when paired with “philosophy,” and as such, an affront to those who practice philosophy in Mexico or Latin America.
I’d like to suggest the opposite: that the addition of the adjective adds value to that philosophizing and, moreover, to its readers, present and future; that the quest for purity in philosophy exclude and marginalizes voices and thinking; that, in our time, all that we can hope for from “universality” is the possibility of sharing an insight that survives its transit in space and time—this need not be atemporal, as the insight might flame out, lose all value, in a generation or two, depending on our historical circumstance. Moreover, that the desire for purity can only lead to conflict and anxiety.
In his Filosofía americana como filosofía sin más of 1969, the unimpeachable Leopoldo Zea famously argued that Mexican, or Latin American, philosophy should be understood as filosofía sin más, that is, as simply philosophy and nothing more. By “nothing more” he meant, of course, that Mexican philosophy should be thought of in the same way that we think of Greek, Roman, or German philosophy. And this is how Latin American philosophers, and most North American philosophers, would like to think of philosophy that emerges from, concerns itself with, or speaks to, the Latin American world, namely, as a philosophy that deals with universals and transcendentals. But, as we have seen, this is not the case; this is not what philosophy in Latin America concerns itself with, nor what gives it its character as philosophy or as valuable. Philosophy sin más can only be an ideal, both for Zea, for Western philosophers, or for us. And indeed, this is how Zea, in his “Dialectica,” understands “sin más.” Speaking of the picture of humanity that he and the members of Hyperion are painting for their people, he writes: “We don’t tell [the Mexican] what he is, certainly, we tell him what he must be. In drawing the profile of man in Mexico we are also drawing the profile of man sin más” (214). This is a pragmatic “sin más,” one that sketches a possibility and a trajectory. In the same way, a philosophy without apology, without history or culture, is an ideal, but not a reality. In its reality, Mexican philosophy can only be thought as being philosophy y más, that is, as philosophy and then some. It is this y más that defines it; it is this that makes it valuable for Latino life.


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