African Slave Trade Essay, Research Paper
Philosophy and the Afro-American Experience In this thesis, Cornel West attempts to illustrate that particular techniques in certain forms of philosophy could enable one s understanding of the Afro-American experience. West uses the term, Afro-American philosophy when referring to these techniques. The author shows historical background of these techniques, and the effect that have on Afro-American philosophy. West also depicts, what results such a philosophy should yield. Philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, Wittgenstein and John Dewey stated great disapproval with the ahistorical character of modern philosophy. These men s thoughts differ on many occasions, but they all agree that the Cartesian philosophical world-view is not applicable to Afro-American philosophy. Cartesians postulate the absolute autonomy of philosophy. They presuppose that there is a distinct set of problems independent of culture, society and history. For them, philosophy stands outside the various conventions on which people base their social practices and transcends the cultural heritages and political struggles of people. West states Afro-American philosophy would be absurd, if the Cartesian perspective is the only sound philosophical position. Wittgenstein and Heidegger have obvious differences, although they both see philosophy as a move from the obscure to the obvious, rather than from doubt to certainty. Each want to find the human conventions concealed by the Cartesian perspective, to interpret the Cartesian hieroglyphics that instill philosophical deceptions. Both believe that only the bravest will be able to accept the simple truths revealed by their interpretations. For example, Heidegger and Wittgenstein presume that philosophy is an interpretative activity that makes the complex simple, the opaque clear, and so on. To them, all philosophizing requires resolute fearlessness, fortitude and ultimately a change in living and perceiving. Afro-American philosophy subscribes to this approach. On the other hand, Dewey combines aspects of Heidegger and Wittgenstein along with his own practical orientation to form his insight. Dewey s metaphilosophical view is that, Philosophy is the interpretation of a people s past for the purpose of solving specific problems presently confronting the cultural way of life from which the people come. These are the three philosophers from which Cornel West furnishes the definition of Afro-American philosophy. Afro-American philosophy is the interpretation of Afro-American history, highlighting the cultural heritage and political struggles, which provides desirable norms that should regulate responses to particular challenges presently confronting Afro-Americans. West says that there are two basic obstacles presently confronting Afro-Americans: self-image and self-determination. The problem for an Afro-American, according to West, is that one has problems identifying who and what one is, simply self-identity. West also acknowledges the political struggle to gain serious control over the primary institutions that manage people s lives. He believes that culture and politics go hand in hand. The major function of Afro-American philosophy is to help rebuild Afro-American history and provide understanding of oneself to allow the Afro-American experience guide oneself in making desirable decisions in the present. Cornel West illustrates that modernity is a central notion in his rendition of the Afro-American past. Modernity is the descriptive notion that connotes the historical state of affairs characterized by an abundance of wealth resulting from the industrial and technological revolution and the ensuing cultural isolation and fragmentation due to a disintegration of closely-knit communities and the decline of religious systems. For instance, when Afro-Americans are perceived as passive objects of history, Afro-American history is a record of the exclusion of a distinct racial group from the economic advantages and cultural predicaments of modernity. From a political standpoint, this exclusion has meant white ownership of Afro-American people, as well as severe discrimination enforced by brutal force and violence. In a cultural sense, this has meant the persistent Afro-American degradation and an onslaught of attempts to undermine Afro-American self-esteem.
West attempts to order and organize some notable aspects of the Afro-American past by depicting four ideal-types that actualize distinct Afro-American historical traditions of thought and behavior. The four traditions to be examined are the following: the vitalist, rationalist, existentialist and humanist customs of the Afro-American history. The Afro-American vitalist tradition lauds the uniqueness of Afro-American culture and personality. It shows what qualitatively characterizes Afro-Americans from the rest of humanity, notably what sets them apart from white Americans. There are two types, weak vitalist and strong vitalist. Strong vitalism makes suggestions about Afro-Americans genetic-makeup, divine choseness or innate endowments and how these characteristics allow Afro-Americans to stand above other races. While weak vitalism makes sociological claims about Afro-American superiority through certain gifts, such as modes of behavior or gifts acquired from their endurance of political oppression. The Afro-American rationalist tradition considers Afro-American culture and personality to be pathological. This tradition denies any thought of an independent, self-supportive Afro-American culture. This custom also has two parts: strong rationalism and weak rationalism. Strong rationalism would make claims such as, Afro-Americans stand below other racial groups because of their genetic makeup. While weak rationalism makes sociological statements such as, Afro-Americans stand below other racial groups because of certain values. The Afro-American existentialist tradition posits Afro-American culture to be restrictive, constraining and confining. This tradition accentuates the suppression of individuality. This custom is considered parasitic because it rests either upon the rationalistic or humanist traditions. The Afro-American humanist tradition extolls the distinctiveness of Afro-American culture and personality. This tradition makes no claim of Afro-American superiority or inferiority. Rather it claims Afro-American membership in the human race, not above or below it. Cornel West says that his conception of the four traditions is that Afro-American thought and behavior assumes that culture is more fundamental than politics in regard to Afro-American self-understanding. The essay s main objective was to show what results and Afro-American philosophy would yield. Cornel West did a fantastic job of illustrating the different schools of philosophy, as well as his personal view on the topic. The four traditions served as guides for understanding Afro-American culture and politics. They represent the unique answers to the Afro-American challenges of self-image and self-determination. West basically says that Afro-American philosophy reconstructs the past and critically evaluates the future, so that one can make the best decision under the circumstances. This philosophy demands personal integrity and political involvement. One needs to truly know oneself, as well as be an active participant in the politics surrounding oneself. This is in order for one to be able to come up with the most positive decision-making one can.