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The end of ‘American Philosophy’? Adherents move annual conference … to Mexico

As some philosophers question if ‘American Philosophy’ is a fading specialization, its leaders infuse it with globalism

“Is ‘American Philosophy’ an Endangered Area of Specialization?” That is what a recent post on Daily Nous, a popular philosophy blog, asked its readers.

If the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy’s recent decision to hold its annual conference in Mexico for the first time is any indication, the answer just might be yes.

Its 47th annual meeting in March 2020 is scheduled to take place in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and will focus on “Inter-American Philosophy.” The society announced the location of its meeting during the U.S.-Mexico trade war.

What is American Philosophy? The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy acknowledges it’s “somewhat vague” and lacks a precise definition. Often it’s simply defined as pragmatism. But the IEP notes that because the field builds upon concepts first brought forth by European and other thinkers and relies on ideas outside of philosophy that it’s difficult to summarize.

As to the question of its waning popularity on campuses today, several commenters who identified themselves as American Philosophy educators on the Daily Nous post admitted it’s a real problem — there are fewer classes taught on the subject over the years, and fewer professors to teach on it.

In fact, Gregory Pappas, professor of philosophy at Texas A&M and president of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy, reportedly prompted the discussion by writing into Nous regarding the trend.

To that end, it appears American Philosophy adherents are actively looking outside the U.S. to breathe life into the field and to grow it beyond its original scope. Organizers note the 2020 annual meeting “will be the first time that a SAAP conference will take place ‘south of the US border.’” They hail it as an “international event” featuring speakers from Mexico, the United States and Europe.

“The conference will demonstrate the growth and vitality of the field of American Philosophy, broadly conceived to include North American and Latin American Philosophy. It seeks to foster and expand a Pan-American dialogue in Philosophy in a new and promising area of research and teaching in Philosophy,” organizers state.

The society’s online description on its website also reflects this emerging global emphasis: “The society also supports collaborative transactions between these strains of American thought with feminism, indigenous philosophies, African American philosophy, Latin American and Latinx philosophies, post-colonialism, and race theories, to name just a few.”

The society is advancing a left-of-center focus on its field, with its website noting that “equally important is SAAP’s support of the application of these theories to particular issues, such as injustice, poverty, food, war, animals, and the environment.”

A former philosophy professor and society member told The College Fix in an email that the decision to hold the meeting in Mexico was pushed by Pappas and displays the “hypocrisy of Lefty academics who are supposedly conducting and presenting research aimed at advancing American philosophy.”

The scholar spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he fears using his name would ensure he is blackballed from ever teaching philosophy on a college campus again.

The meeting’s theme of “Inter-American Philosophy” does not reflect the traditional non-ideological scope of pragmatism and is an attempt at “creating a dialogue between American pragmatism and Latin American liberation philosophy,” the scholar told The Fix.

“Its defenders ask, for instance, how can we wed John Dewey’s notion of democracy as a way of life with Che Guevara’s call for worldwide Communist revolution,” he continued, calling the discipline “dangerous.”

Pappas did not return multiple requests for comment via email and telephone from The College Fix over the last month. The Fix also reached out to the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy via the contact form on their website but did not receive a response.

MORE: Philosophy prof: universities should refuse to host offensive speakers

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