Theses Doctoral

Poisoned Ground, The Roots of Eurocentrism: Teleology, Hierarchy, and Anthropocentrism

McClellan, Joseph Mark

The dissertation starts with the premise that Eurocentrism, in philosophy and many other areas, continues to be a problem. It comes from the belief in teleological history, which itself rests on hierarchical, anthropocentric metaphysics. To combat the negative effects of Eurocentrism, we must establish alternatives to the metaphysics it rests on and the historical attitudes that it constructs and maintains. The dissertation is divided into three main parts, each with a number of subdivisions. Part one sketches the history of academic Eurocentrism and demonstrates that it is built on a combination of historical ignorance and certain presuppositions associated with Western religious thinking. Specifically, Eurocentrism, since the modern era, has substituted the monotheistic Deity with a peculiar notion of Reason, and has constructed a myth that Reason, and all the positive things it signifies, are uniquely European. Part two is the longest section and it examines Hegel's influence in building the Eurocentric world. He expounds a history that is unequivocally teleological, in which non-European people and ways of thinking are stepping-stones to the more highly evolved European, Christian culture. The events of history have been the unfolding of a code, and that code, or Logos, was discovered in his Science of Logic. This underlying Logic explains both the life of the mind--described in his Phenomenology of Spirit--as well as the life of the world, described in other works, such as his Lectures on the History of Philosophy and Philosophy of History. However, is the Logos truly the source-code for historical events showing them to be completely determined by a preexisting fate? Or does it merely explain the conditions of the possibility for events to arise, the way that they constantly do arise and have arisen? These are completely different alternatives and their implications are massive. I then compare diverging interpretations of Hegel that choose to focus on either his anthropocentric historical teleology, or else his more abstract and spacious metaphysics, which may undermine much of his historical theory. The thrust of these chapters is to show that anthropocentric metaphysics support beliefs in teleological history, which leads to political and social practices of inequality and injustice (e.g., Eurocentrism). To counter this tendency of Hegel's, I consider Darwin's insights against teleology, as well as contemporary object-oriented-ontology, which help us move beyond philosophical anthropocentrism. Rather than being absolute antipodes to these developments, Hegel's theories are adaptable enough to be a useful resource for non-teleological, non-anthropocentric, and non-Eurocentric theories. Part three focuses on the role of language and metaphor in the Eurocentric canons of philosophy. For example, Hegel famously employs the metaphor of the master and slave to describe the dialectical process at work in both the mind and history. The metaphor has significant heuristic power, but it is still a metaphor. When taken literally, it can lead to dangerous misunderstandings about history and justifications for violence. Moreover, when Hegel writes about the Oriental and the African, those terms are hidden metaphors: they do not denote any real persons. However, what he says about them has historically been taken literally, thus leading to warped attitudes about real Asians and Africans in the world. I also analyze the role of literary style in establishing Eurocentric canons, suggesting that an important critical development against Eurocentrism would be the proliferation of alternative writing styles to the entrenched norms of the argumentative monograph and journal article.



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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Thurman, Robert A. F.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 7, 2013