II. Pedia Sapiens: A Planetary Progeny Comes to Her/His Own Actual Factual Knowledge
4. Whole World Philosophy: An Ubuntu Universe
Interdependence: Biology and Beyond.
New York: Fordham University Press,
In a thoughtful, well written work, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina calls for a corrective synthesis from separate objects only to equally present interconnections, along with immersions within an active environment. Living entities are thus engaged in mutually making up an interdependent milieu: Our being in the world – our participation in its making – is so central to its continued creation. (4) But as pages turn, this avant view is said to refute a “folk” essentialist sense of an abiding natural world. In its stead, the author cites schools such as skepticism, dialectics, constructivist, autopoiesis, rhizomatics, a radical “contingentism:” If everything exists contingently, nothing exists inherently.” (15) While a deep relational sense is overdue, the book ends by restating “no independent referents, inherent existence, essences, free subjects.” After a good beginning, the work descends into a miasma of ineffable mystery, “insubstantial vividness,” and the wild wonder of it all.
Shutte, Augustine. Philosophy for Africa. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1995. A philosopher at the University of Cape Town identifies a distinctly African worldview encapsulated in the proverb umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (a person is a person through persons). In contrast to Western mechanical materialism, the African cosmos is animate, personified, and numinous in kind. Its essence resides in supportive interrelations between persons, whereof a community is often a large extended family. What this volume and others make clear is that a salutary vision does exist for Africa, which has been much impaired by the colonial period both conceptually and socially. If this indispensable dimension can be recovered, an indigenous guide by which to restore a village culture, both rural and urban, could accrue. But in its absence, the detritus of colonization such as corrupt warlords, a flood of weapons, and disenfranchisement of women remains.
Like all African philosophers he (Leopold Senghor) recognizes certain ideas as fundamental to traditional African wisdom: that reality is force and the world a process of interplay between forces, that humanity is part of this universal field of force, that at bottom all force is alive, spiritual rather than material, that the individual’s life and fulfillment are only to be found in community with others... (26) Thus, the whole universe appears as an infinitely small, and at the same time infinitely large, network of life forces which emanate from God and end in God, who is the source of all life forces. (27) The “human tendency to merge,” as Senghor puts it, to synthesize their cultural products, is the conceptual foundation for the idea of the complementarity of cultures which is such an important element in negritude. (32)
Skinner, Jane. Beyond Materialism: Mental Capacity and Naturalism, A Consideration of Method. Metaphilosophy. 37/1, 2006. From the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, one example of the corner that philosophical thinking has worked itself. Prof. Skinner first provides an accessible survey of the materialist or physicalist view that mind and brain are just chemistry and physics. A spectrum is seen to hold from pure reduction to functionalists who notice faculties somewhat removed from matter. She then tries to open windows to allow in a better evolutionary appreciation of the reality of responsible consciousness. But the whole academic enterprise, as itself seems to suspect, remains caught in an old insensate, expiring universe where life and mind appear as if from a crack in the sidewalk.
Skrbina, David. Panpsychism in the West. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005. A University of Michigan philosopher provides a history of the venerable view that mind is fundamental to living and non-living nature and suffuses the evolving universe. A quote from the publisher’s website provides a good synopsis.
After a brief discussion of general issues surrounding philosophy of mind, he traces the panpsychist views of several major philosophers, from the ancient Greeks - including Plato and Aristotle - and early Renaissance philosophers such as Cardano, Bruno, and Campanella, through the likes of Leibniz, Spinoza, Diderot, Priestley, Schopenhauer, James, Peirce, Whitehead, and Teilhard. Skrbina also explores the panpsychism of some prominent philosopher-scientists, including Eddington, Haldane, Agar, Huxley, Bateson, and Bohm, among others. By demonstrating that there is panpsychist thinking in many major philosophers, Skrbina offers a radical challenge to the modern worldview, based as it is on a mechanistic cosmos of dead, insensate matter. The panpsychist worldview is thus offered up as a way forward, as a path toward a more benign, compassionate world.
Slote, Michael. From Enlightenment to Receptivity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. The University of Miami ethicist makes a good case that, as commonly agreed, the Western penchant for dots only particulate analysis ignores and misses the other half of whole existence which is relational, with connections added, feminine in her nature. By such an inclusive, emphatic completion a more organic, oriental, salutary essence can be achieved.
This new book by Michael Slote argues that Western philosophy on the whole has overemphasized rational control and autonomy at the expense of the important countervailing value and virtue of receptivity. Recently the ideas of caring and empathy have received a great deal of philosophical and public attention, but both these notions rest on the deeper and broader value of receptivity. Beginning with a critique of Enlightenment thinking that calls into question its denial of any central role to considerations of emotion and empathy, he goes on to show how a greater emphasis on these factors and on the receptivity that underlies them can give us a more realistic, balanced, and sensitive understanding of our core ethical and epistemological values. This means rejecting post-modernism's blanket rejection of reason and of compelling real values and recognizing, rather, that receptivity should play a major role in how we lead our lives as individuals, in how we relate to nature, in how we acquire knowledge about the world, and in how we relate morally and politically with others.
Smart, Ninian. World Philosophies. London: Routledge, 1999. A sourcebook history of the philosophical heritage of every continent and culture which is intended to leaven the present “post-colonial globalization.”
Solomon, Robert and Kathleen Higgins, eds. From Africa to Zen: An Invitation to World Philosophy. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. A contribution to the multicultural academic expansion of philosophy beyond exclusive Western views, “from Socrates to Sartre,” which covers the global range of Asian, African, Latin American, Arabic and indigenous thought. Typical chapters survey Japanese, Chinese, Native American, Maori, and Persian wisdom. A final chapter by Robert McDermott on Western Esoteric Philosophy is notable for its Neoplatonic and Jungian dimensions.
Stengers, Isabelle. A Constructivist Reading of Process and Reality.. Theory, Culture & Society. 25/4, 2008. In a subject issue, the Université Libre de Bruxelles philosopher finds Alfred North Whitehead’s volume to indeed presage the 21st century turn to a fluidly animate cosmic and earthly nature. But a problem has often been its arcane density and in much need of distillation and cogency, which is duly attended to. One then wonders, as a path not taken, why such an organic universe ‘constructs’ itself and whom are we to appear and inquire.
It is perfectly possible to suggest that Process and Reality offers a new ‘conception of the world,’ the master themes of which are complexity, emergence, self-organization, and so on. And, given that such themes form part of contemporary science and contribute to what is sometimes called the ‘post-modern’ science of a creative universe, it may be further maintained that we can and should recognize Whitehead’s intuition of the centrality of creativity… (92-93)
Stokes, Philip. Philosophy: 100 Essential Thinkers. New York: Enchanted Lion Books, 2003. A two page vita and capsule for each of the leading proponents from the Greek Presocratics, Eleatics, Academics and Atomists to 19th and 20th century Materialists, Existentialists, the Linguistic Turn and Postmodernists. But all 100 are men, the storyline runs dry and begs for a radically fresh vision.
Tantillo, Astrida Orle. The Will to Create: Goethe’s Philosophy of Nature. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002. Two centuries ago Goethe sought an alternative holistic vision to the mechanistic scheme of Newton and Descartes by way of a method of relational observation. In this viewpoint, the natural realm expresses an innate will or impetus to ascend toward greater complexity. This is achieved by the competitive interaction and spiral of Hegelian binary polarities, which are seen to correspond to masculine and feminine principles. This dichotomy of mechanical vs. organic worldview persists today, and in translation Goethe’s Romanticism could be describing complex complementary systems.
Tarnas, Richard. The Passion of the Western Mind. New York: Harmony Books, 1991. A work used in many college courses, it is considered one of the clearest expositions of the history of philosophy from Greek roots through its religious, scholastic and later European phase to a lacunae in 20th century postmodernism. Tarnas' deep theme is that the human intellectual drama can be broadly understood as a sequence of the feminine and masculine principles. The original matrilineal immersion was supplanted by an Olympian mythology to initiate over two thousand years of a predominantly male project. This began with conjecture, reason and logic along with attempts to observe, test and record. Schools of thought aligned with polar options. Platonic ideals or Aristotelian substance, Pythagorean forms or Democritean atomism vied in Socratic debate. An empirical method gained currency in later centuries that expelled form and soul from a sterile cosmos. As the rational Enlightenment extoled Newtonian mechanics and Cartesian duality, the reign of the particular was set in place. But its heroic quest involves separation, conflict, tragedy; a Promethean ego seizes the tiller of time. Lately it turns in upon itself and despairs over the machine universe its analytical science seems to conclude. Having spent its energies, redemption and fulfillment may yet occur in a renewal of and integration with the original feminine ground of being. The book is noted further in Part Vi, Macrohistory as Psychic Individuation.
Turnbull, Neil. The Ontological Consequences of Copernicus: Global Being in the Planetary World. Theory, Culture & Society. 23/1, 2006. To this Nottingham Trent University philosopher, the removal of earth and human from any central place has now led to a meaningless, nihilist cosmos and fate. A new century calls for a historic shift of reflection to a worldwide vista able to better appreciate earth within a dynamically changing and developing universe.
Western philosophy, I suggest, needs to begin the task of finding a new conceptual lexicon through which ‘cosmopolitan planetariness’ can be articulated (a new conceptual a priori that ‘speaks for’ a new planetary sense of worldhood). (128)