Featured Philosopher: Manuel Vargas


USF Law_Ries©2015_3207 copy.jpgManuel R. Vargas is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, and (through the Spring 2017) Professor of Philosophy and Law at the University of San Francisco. Sometimes, he writes about the moral, psychological, and legal issues concerning human agency and freedom. He also writes about issues within Latin American and Latinx philosophy. His book, Building Better Beings: A Theory of Moral Responsibility won the APA Book Prize in 2015. He was also a winner of the inaugural APA Prize in Latin American Thought.

If Anglo-American philosophy is so great, where is its Las Casas?

Manuel R. Vargas

Many of my philosophical friends are puzzled by my interest in Anglo-American philosophy. In occasional moments of conspiratorial earnestness, they ask me why I spend my time studying issues within a tradition that has produced no Platos, no Descartes, no Las Casases, no Sor Juanas, no Villoros? If Anglophone…

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Preliminary anthropology notes: on human ambivalence towards universality

Culture stands in an ambiguous relationship with universality. It is the result of invention and imagination, of what has traditionally been commended as the eminently human faculty of abstract, symbolic thinking, thanks to which our species can take pride in its ability to shape the world and one’s own destiny according to one’s desires. Speaking in metaphysical terms, culture comprises the set of shared practices, values, artifacts, norms and theoretical constructs through which freedom, the unifying trait of humanity par excellence, manifests itself, allowing us to transcend the binds of natural determinism.

Here, I do not wish to attempt to gauge the extent of such freedom, nor am I concerned with tackling the issue of whether or not metaphysical formulations of the problem adequately convey its nuances; let us suspend judgment on these matters for the time being, and accept these premises as at least somewhat valid, for the sake of fully understanding the argument I am presenting. What should interest us, now, is how this “second nature” we have crafted tends to disguise itself as “first nature”; how peculiar cultural traits, constructed out of the necessity to adapt a particular environment to our needs, become crystalized over time – that is, once again, naturalized, as their contrived quality is overshadowed and eventually altogether hidden, to the point of being forgotten, by the profound existential significance that such traits acquire for the community identifying itself through them.

This, I believe, is precisely what Homi Bhabha* had in mind when he addressed the «occlusion of the preconstruction of the working up of difference» that authorizes discrimination through stereotyping within colonialist discourse; for the process illustrates what is possibly the most basic and pervasive way in which human groups exercise that remarkable capacity to shape their reality and construct epistemological categories: pseudo-speciation** – an exclusive claim, on part of those who share the same culture, to the very “humanity” that should unite us all.

From the perspective of the individual, this amounts to the idea that only one’s own people are truly persons: complex thinking subjects belonging to the same species, characterized as having reached the highest degree of civility and enlightenment. Hence the interest sparked in anthropologists and philosophers alike by the recurring trend, among ethnic communities, to call themselves men or humans, while referring to outsiders in terms of “barbarians” or those who cannot speak (properly): being unable to use language implies the absence of abstract thinking, and thus an inability to imagine, to create, to be self-aware. Therefore, “we” are deemed to be the only real selves, entitled to mutual recognition, and “ours” is the only viable identity; “they” are merely “others”, non-selves.

It appears, then, that the primary endeavour in which our freedom is actualized is the systematic denial of each other’s humanity. From here onward, difference is no longer regarded as a neutral empirical fact, but is made meaningful, functional to the ethnocentric re-creation of the species. A preliminary, paradoxical conclusion could then be that what is truly universal amongst humans is our will and ability to tell ourselves apart from one another, to draw boundaries, to seek and highlight distinguishing features within our ways of life, in order to uphold them as evidence of our separateness, of our originality, of our being special – predestined, favored by fate. Perhaps saved.

*Bhabha, The Other Question, in “The Location of Culture” (1994)

**On the subject of pseudo-speciation, I mainly refer to Eibl-Eibesfeldt’s work Human Ethology (1984).

Il mio femminismo è antifascista

Al di là del Buco

antifaIl mio femminismo è antifascista:

  • Perché non sto con Dio né con la patria e non mi lascio intrappolare da un anacronistico concetto di famiglia.
  • Perché non credo nei ruoli distanti e divisi, perché il genere è una costruzione culturale e non potrai imprigionarmi nella riproduzione e nella cura solo perché sono una donna.
  • Perché credo che un uomo non debba necessariamente essere un eroe machista, guerrafondaio e violento. Perché ho stima negli uomini, più di quanta ne abbiano i fascisti stessi.
  • Perché non sono madre, moglie, figlia, ma solo persona.
  • Perché non sei padre, marito, figlio, ma solo persona.
  • Perché la sacralità del materno mi infastidisce tanto quanto quella del paterno. Non tutte le donne sono madri o vogliono restare incollate ai figli e non tutti gli uomini sono distanti e vogliono non avere a che fare con i figli. Perché per essere genitori non bisogna essere necessariamente etero…

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“Home” Does Not Equal “Citizenship”

Association for Political and Legal Anthropology

Belonging in the Age of the Travel Ban

By Sara Shneiderman*


screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-9-45-29-pm “POLAND. 1948. Tereszka, a child in a residence for disturbed children. She drew a picture of ‘home’ on the blackboard.” © David Seymour/Magnum Photos. Published with permission. Original caption.

Where is home? For any of us? What does it mean to belong?

Since the executive order on immigration was signed, I’ve been haunted by a photograph taken by my great uncle David Seymour “Chim” in a Warsaw orphanage in 1948. In it, Tereszka, a displaced child, draws a picture of “home.”  Tereszka’s eyes have been with me since I can remember, a reminder of the lucky circumstances of history that enabled my grandparents to build a new home in the US after arriving as Jewish refugees from Poland…

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PASIGHAT-The land of rising sun


  Following four folktales deal with the theme of creation of the world. These stories show the belief of some tribes of Arunachal in this phenomenon. Each folktale belongs to one specific tribe.The name of the concerned tribe along with the name of the Frontier Division to which it belongs has been given in the form of the title of each story. These stories are taken from the book “MYTHS OF THE NORTH-EAST FRONTIER OF INDIA” authored by the renowned anthropologist Dr. Verrier Elwin, first published in the year 1958. It may be noted that the Frontier Divisions mentioned in the book are now known as districts.



(A) APA TANI – Reru Subansiri


At first Kujum-Chantu, the earth, was like a human being ; she had a head, and arms and legs, and an enormous fat belly. The original human beings lived on the surface of…

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Clockwork (Based on a true experience)

«We desire to be, we are terrified by not being, and we make up pleasant fairytales in which everything that we wish for comes true. The unknown purpose awaiting us, the eternal soul, Heaven, immortality, God, reincarnation – these are all illusions, ways to sugar-coat and mitigate our mortality.»

Sigmund Freud, as paraphrased by psychiatrist Irvin Yalom.

Continue reading “Clockwork (Based on a true experience)”