Against Exotic Philosophy, Again

When we approach other people’s thoughts, especially those that might prima facie to be very different from us, culturally, geographically, historically, etc., there is always the temptation to think that trying to fit their thought into our current epistemological, aesthetic, ontological, etc. categories would require forcing it into a conceptual straitjacket and that instead one should let the texts speak for themselves and in their own terms.

But such a stance is based on a pseudo-dilemma, as if presenting other people’s thought accurately required us to start thinking from scratch, as if the conceptual toolbox we have developed to understand so many different thought systems, not just of so many different people throughout history, but also of the current thinkers of today, was insufficient to make sense of this new instance.

On the contrary, when historical reconstruction is well-done, both strands converge: we must be able to present the thoughts of other people in a way that is faithful but also connected with the questions others have asked, the answers others have proposed. If one wants to understand the Nahuatl notion of teotl, for example, one must be able to elucidate both what, if anything, is specific about it, but also how it related to traditional concepts, issues and theories in theology, ontology, etc.

It is absurd to try to ignore the conceptual toolbox at our disposal and start from zero in our philosophical reconstruction. Furthermore, sustaining that the thought of other people requires other conceptual tools is exoticizing since it reinforces their strangeness and takes their radical difference as given, instead of something that would need to be meet a heavy burden of proof.

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