Whom Does Philosophy Speak For?


George Yancy talks tO Seyla Benhabib in the NYT's The Stone:

G.Y.: In “Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange,” you observe, “But in its deepest categories Western philosophy obliterates differences of gender as these shape and structure the experiences and subjectivity of the self.” Is it also true that Western philosophy obliterates differences of race and how this social category shapes the experiences of nonwhites?

S.B.: Western philosophy, as distinguished from myth, literature, drama and many other forms of human expression, speaks in the name of the universal. Philosophy emerges when Socrates and Plato show how we have to free ourselves from the “idols of the city,” and when the pre-Socratics ask about what constitutes matter and the universe, rejecting the answers provided by the Greek polytheistic myths. There is something subversive in this philosophical impulse and even when Plato reinscribes differences of natural talent and ability into the order of the city, he does so by subverting the established order of the Greek polis, in which only the free male heads of households, who were also slave-owners, were free citizens. According to “The Republic,” differences in the city will not be based on social and economic status but on talents and capabilities shown by children differentially at birth: Some are bronze, some are silver and only the very few are gold!

G.Y.: Yes, this is Plato’s Noble Lie.

S.B.: Yes. It is important to hold on to these moments in the birth of our discipline because rather than denouncing the Western philosophical tradition as the canon produced by “dead, white men,” we need to remember that moment of opening and closure, subversion and restoration, freedom and domination that are present in these texts that we love: from “The Republic” to Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right.” From Aristotle’s “Politics” to Locke’s “Second Treatise of Civil Government” and Rousseau’s “Social Contract” and the “Emile,” this dynamic of opening and closure holds. And it is in the context of this dynamic of freedom for some and domination for others that we need to understand both gender and racialized difference.

More here.