Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cartesian Egalitarianism: A Follow Up Post

In a comment on the previous post on Cartesian egalitarianism, Scu raised some important concerns, one that I address in the forthcoming essay, and one which was beyond the scope of the paper, but nevertheless important.

First, to the question of whether Cartesian egalitarianism has any value for anti-colonial or post-colonial theory and praxis, I cite a passage from Aimé Césaire's Discourse on Colonialism, which was in many ways the impetus for my reconsideration of Descartes. In this paper I only had a chance to mention this in passing:
Aimé Césaire, in his Discourse on Colonialism, invokes the principles of Cartesianism against the false universality of the colonial legacy (its science, politics, and sociology), which denigrates the non-European to the benefit and “glory” of Western bourgeois society. He argues that “the psychologists, sociologists et al., their views on ‘primitivism,’ their rigged investigations, their self-serving generalizations, their tendentious speculations, their insistence on the marginal, ‘separate’ character of non-whites” rest on “their barbaric repudiation, for the sake of the cause, of Descartes’s statement, the charter of universalism, that ‘reason…is found whole and entire in each man,’ and that ‘where individuals of the same species are concerned, there may be degrees in respect of their accidental qualities, but not in respect of their forms, or natures’” (56).
Second, about the problem of Descartes's account of animals. Here, I completely agree that Descartes is unhelpful and infuriating. But in reading through the replies and objections to the Meditations, I discovered that Pierre Gassendi might be a resource for considerations of the human/animal distinction (not just against Descartes, but against Aristotle as well):
You [Descartes] say that brutes lack reason. Well, of course they lack human reason, but they do not lack their own kind of reason. So it does not seem appropriate to call them ἄλογα [irrational] except by comparison with us or with our kind of reason; and in any case λόγος or reason seems to be a general term, which can be attributed to them no less than the cognitive faculty or internal sense (AT, VII: 270-271) .

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