Monday, May 16, 2011

Unsettled thoughts

So, in my own defence, could it be that my understanding of liberal arts education seems colonial because I come at it as a philosopher, and historian of ideas? The philosopher thinks that arguments can and should float free of particular contexts of utterance, indeed, that that is their point. Nobody loses when more people learn to think more clearly and profoundly. And my kind of historian of ideas thinks that the past can and should be everyone's legacy. The dead are not robbed when we keep their projects and concerns alive, and might even be redeemed by such reuse. (It does Aristotle good to be used by women!)

I don't think I quite understand the past as terra nullius. I object when people get it wrong, and have been known to feel that one of my jobs is to protect the past from present appropriation. (There are abundant presentist reasons to protect "the pastness of the past" but, at least in the religious ethics class, I suggest that it is a minority view in human history to suppose that we don't have very real duties to the dead.) I guess I do think that, properly taken care of, the past is - as the saying goes - an inexhaustible resource. I do wonder, now that I put it this way, if this isn't the way the settler colonial regards the "old world" from which his ancestors came. And then, by some complicated projection, other "old worlds" like those of indigenous peoples...

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