New Trajectories

In the introduction to our anthology, which ended up being much more substantive than we anticipated, we offer a definition of Mexican philosophy. That is, we try to answer the question, what is it? What distinguishes it? 

But we are aware that, as Mexican (and Mexican-American) identity is constantly in the making, and as our definition will be challenged, modified, accepted or rejected, it is at best a hypothesis to be tested, and that there are other possible ways of defining Mexican philosophy. And we acknowledge this in a footnote, which reads:

Of course, this is only one way of defining the period of Mexican philosophy under discussion, and our definition is not meant to be totalizing or exclusive. Others might, for instance, place the emphasis on the development of Mexican philosophy and education reform, or on the fact that the majority of the philosophers included here were curiously exercised by the problems of aesthetics. Still others might argue that our definition is overly intellectual and doesn’t pay enough attention to the material and political situation in the first half of the 20th century, that it is lamentable, for instance, that we didn’t include anything by anarchists such as the Flores Magón brothers. Along similar lines, the contemporary Mexican philosopher Guillermo Hurtado offers a slightly different definition of Mexican philosophy. According to Hurtado, Mexican philosophy aimed to be “transformative,” in the sense that it reveals the Mexican in his present situation so as to project the possibilities of his future, and “liberatory,” in the political sense that it aimed to emancipate the Mexican from a history of colonialism. (For a fuller account of this definition, see Guillermo Hurtado, El búho y la serpiente: ensayos sobre la filosofía en México en el siglo XX (Mexico: Unversidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2007), especially chapters one and two). We have tried to capture the transformative character of Mexican philosophy by referring to it as critical and positive, and its liberatory character y emphasizing the desire to affirm Mexican existence and philosophy after a history of marginalization. Still, Hurtado would place a greater emphasis on thinking of Mexican philosophy as a political philosophy and a philosophy of history aligned with, and able to reveal, significant social movements in the history of the Mexican people, especially the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Rather than think of these as different ways of defining Mexican philosophy, however, we prefer to think of them as different lenses for different purposes.

The key here is that our definition is not meant to be correct or true. It is meant to be useful and provocative. It is meant to get the conversation started by orienting readers with what Carlos and I have found to be some of its own salient features.

We imagine that much of the work ahead will revolve around testing our hypothetical – and, we believe, mostly accurate – definition of Mexican philosophy. Of course, and importantly, some readers will respond to particular essays and their topics. They might, for example, find something particularly insightful in O’ Gorman’s critique of Ancient Greek standards of beauty and art, or Caso’s dualism, or Portilla’s definitions of “community.” But given that our readings are all somehow tied to the theme of Mexico, Mexican identity, and the identity of Mexican philosophy, we expect this to be one of the major questions ahead.

The question about the definition of Mexican philosophy, however, presupposes that Mexican philosophy might somehow be different or distinct. That is, aside from the historical or historiographical project of defining some of the salient features of what we take to be a more or less coherent tradition, as we do in our introduction, students and critics will want to know what, if anything, makes this philosophical tradition Mexican (as opposed, say, to Anglo-American or European philosophy, or, more to the point, as opposed to philosophy). And this presupposes further that there are certain divisions or differences within (universal) philosophy that are both meaningful and overlooked. (The latter is especially hard for us to admit to ourselves.) This raises questions about the relation between philosophy and identity. Is philosophy a universal or particular discipline? Is it a science or an expression of particular cultures? Can it be both? These are just a few of the questions we’re already raising.

All of the preceding is to suggest what my next project might be. Originally I was thinking about re-defining Mexican philosophy through the lens of Mexican aesthetics in the 20th century. As we suggest in our footnote, this may be another, equally legitimate way of organizing our readings and many more that we couldn’t include. And I do hope to get to this project in the near future, and to aesthetics more generally. And I think it will tell us a lot about the Latin American difference, as Rodó and Vasconcelos are constantly saying. (One paper I want to write soon is how O’ Gorman’s essay offers a very helpful critics of Hume’s “Standards of Taste.”)

But I don’t think I’m done yet with the theme of lo mexicano (what it means to be Mexican). In particular, still more needs to be said and introduced concerning how Mexican philosophy challenges a standard Western conception of philosophy (as transcending local, cultural differences). More needs to be said about how Samuel Ramos largely defined the project of lo mexicano, and how the project can only really be seen by looking at his three major texts together (Profile of Man and Culture in MexicoHistory of Philosophy in MexicoToward a New Humanism). I would like to argue that the project of lo mexicano, and the conception of philosophy it presupposes, is often dismissed because one only reads his Profile, which is a severely problematic text.

As one of Ramos’s biographer points out, the theme of lo mexicano is not just a philosophy of culture or a characterology of the Mexican (as one finds in his Profile). It also requires a study of the history of philosophy in Mexico, which would demonstrate what makes philosophy in Mexico Mexican, or what counts as “the epistemological justification of a national philosophy,” and a study of what makes it universal, not just a provincial examination of national reality. This latter piece is what Ramos tries to achieve in his New Humanism. And I think what I might be able to get out of this larger study is not just a clearer picture of the possibility of Mexican philosophy (and of different philosophies within the now problematic “philosophy”) but also, and this might require delving deeper into Ramos’s cultural studies, a clearer picture of what makes it Mexican.

Anyway, this is where I think I’m headed.

(P.S. The feature image is what might be the cover art for our anthology.)

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