Appendix to “Responding to Morally Flawed Historical Philosophers and Philosophies”

Appendix to “Responding to Morally Flawed Historical Philosophers and Philosophies

Authors: Victor Fabian Abundez-Guerra and Nathan Nobis
Categories: Ethics, Historical Philosophy, Philosophy of Race, Philosophy of Sex and Gender, Metaphilosophy

In The Politics, Aristotle tells us plainly, “the relation of male to female is naturally that of the superior to the inferior, of the ruling to the ruled. This general principle must similarly hold good of all human beings generally” (1254b14). In Aristotle, The Politics, R.F. Stalley (ed.). Ernest Barker (trans.), Oxford University Press, 1998. Cynthia Freeland discusses Aristotle’s misogyny in detail, “Aristotle says that the courage of a man lies in commanding, a woman’s lies in obeying; that ‘matter yearns for form, as the female for the male and the ugly for the beautiful’; that women have fewer teeth than men; that a female is an incomplete male or ‘as it were, a deformity.’” In “Nourishing Speculation: A Feminist Reading of Aristotelian Science,” in Engendering Origins: Critical Feminist Readings in Plato and Aristotle, Bat-Ami Bar On (ed.), State University of New York Press, 1994.

Also, according to Aristotle, natural slaves are unfortunate beings who are necessarily slaves due to their nature, as opposed to those who are contingently slaves (e.g. say, as a result of being captured in battle). In The Politics, Aristotle tells us “Someone is thus a slave by nature if he is capable of becoming the property of another (and for this reason does actually become another’s property) and if participates in reason to the extent of apprehending it in another, though destitute of it himself” (1254b22).

In a letter to Henry More, Descartes described animals as automata with no thought. He writes, “speech is the only certain sign of thought hidden in a body. All men use it, however stupid and insane they may be, and though they may lack tongue and organs of voice; but no animals do. Consequently it can be taken as a real specific difference between men and dumb animals.” “Letter to Henry More,” February 5, 1649” in A. Kenny (trans. and ed.), Descartes: Philosophical Letters, Clarendon Press, [1649]/1970.

Kant made racist remarks about the “perfection” of the white race and the ineptitude of the non-white races right up until his death. Concerning white people, he claims, that it is “The white race possesses all motivating forces and talents in itself; therefore we must examine it somewhat more closely.” See Eze’s translation in his “The Color of Reason,” in Postcolonial African Philosophy: A Critical Reader, 1st Edition, Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze (ed.), Wiley-Blackwell, 1997, p. 115. The source is from one of Kant’s lectures, Kant’s philosophische Anthropologie: Nach handschriftlichen Vorlesungen. In Friedrich Christian Starke (ed.), Leipzig: Expedition des europaischen Aufsehers, 1831, p 353. In his 1764 Observations, Kant tells us that:

The Negroes of Africa have by nature no feeling that rises above the trifling [i.e., the unimportant or trivial] … Although many of them have even been set free, still not a single one was ever found who presented anything great in art or science or any other praise-worthy quality. . . So fundamental is the difference between [the black and white] races of man . . . A clear proof that what [a Negro] said was stupid [was that] this fellow was quite black from head to foot.  (Kant, Observations on the feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime, in John T. Goldthwait (trans.), University of California Press, [1764]/1960, pp. 111-113.

Kant’s views did not improve with age: in 1802, two years before his death, he claims that the “race of the [native] american cannot be educated,” “has no motivating force” and is “lazy.” Eze’s translation in the “The Color of Reason” p. 116.

Hume made an infamous remark in a footnote to his 1753-4 essay Of National Characters:

“I am apt to suspect the negroes, and in general all the other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences.”

The complete footnote can be found in Jordan Winthrop’s White Over Black: American Attitudes Towards the Negro, 1550-1812, Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press, 2012, p. 253. Further discussion of Hume’s racist remarks can be found in John Imerwahr “Hume’s Revised Racism,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 53, 3, 1992, pp. 481- 486, as well as Aaron Garrett’s “Hume’s Revised Racism Revisited,” Hume Studies, 26, 1, 2000, pp. 171- 177.

In one of his many problematic quotes in Twilight of the Idols, § 36, Nietzsche writes “Morality for doctors. – Sick people are parasites on society. It is indecent to keep living in a certain state. There should be profound social contempt for the practice of vegetating in cowardly dependence on doctors and practitioners after the meaning of life, the right to life, is gone.” In The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols: And Other Writings, Aaron Ridley and Judith Norman (eds.), Cambridge University Press, 2005, pp. 209-210. Of course, exactly what Nietzsche means by sick people and sickness, whether he means physical, spiritual, or mental sickness, is unclear.

In Black Skin, White Masks Fanon writes a damning criticism of Mayotte Capécia book I am a Martinician Woman and her desire for a white man, saying that “She is looked at with distaste. Things begin their usual course… it is because she is a woman of color that she is not accepted in this society. Her resentment feeds her own artificiality. We shall see why love is beyond the reach of Mayotte Capécias of all nations.” pp. 29-30. Fanon also writes “I have never been able, without revulsion, to hear a man say of another man: ‘He is so sensual!’” See his Black Skin, White Masks, Charles Lam Markmann (trans.), Pluto Press, 1991, p. 156. For a discussion on Fanon and feminism see chapter one, “Fanon, Conflicts, Feminisms, in Tracy Denean Sharpley-Whiting’s “Frantz Fanon: Conflicts and Feminisms,” Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 1998.

On Heidegger’s Naziism, see Joshua Rothman, “Is Heidegger Contaminated by Nazism? The New Yorker. April 28, 2014, and Victor Farias’s Heidegger And Nazism, Temple University Press. 1991. Peter Trawny discusses Heidegger’s anti-semitism and notion of “world Judaism,” of which Heidegger says, “The question concerning the role of world Judaism is not a racial one, but rather the metaphysical question concerning the kind of humanity which, utterly unattached, can take over the uprooting of all beings from being as its world-historic ‘task.’” Peter Trawny, “Heidegger and the Myth of a Jewish World Conspiracy,” Andrew J Mitchell (trans.), University of Chicago Press, 2014, p. 19.

In the Foundations of Arithmetic, Frege writes early on, “In arithmetic, simply as a result of the origin of India of many of its methods and concepts, reasoning has traditionally been less strict than in geometry, which had mainly been developed by the Greeks.” Frege, The Foundations of Arithmetic. In The Frege Reader, Michael Beaney (ed.), Blackwell Publishing, 1997, p. 91. In late life, Frege became not only very conservative, but his diary also showed his sympathies towards fascism and anti-semitism. Frege, Diary: Written by Professor Gottlob Frege in the Time from 10 March to 9 April 1924, G. Gabriel and W. Kienzler (eds.). In Inquiry : An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, 1996, 39, 3 & 4, pp. 303-342.

In the Philosophy of History, Hegel is very dismissive of Africa and its accomplishments. After briefly discussing the continent, Hegel writes “At this point we leave Africa, not to mention it again. For it is no historical part of the World; it has no movement or development to exhibit. Historical movements in it – that is, in its northern part – belong to the Asiatic or European World.” In Hegel, The Philosophy of History, John Sibree (ed.). University of Toronto Libraries.
[1822-1830]/2011. p. 78

Mill made pernicious comments regarding colonialism, saying that his anti-paternalist “harm principle” “is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties,” not to “backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its nonage,” concluding that “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement.” John Stuart Mill, On Liberty and Other Writings, Stefan Collini (ed.), Cambridge University Press, (1859]/1989, p. 13. For a critique of Mill and Locke’s colonialism, se Bhikhu Parekh’s “Liberalism and Colonialism: A Critique of Locke and Mill,” in The Decolonization of Imagination: Culture, Knowledge, and Power, Jan P. Nederveen Pieterse and Bhikhu Parekh (eds.), Zed Books, 1995, pp 81-98.

Schopenhauer was sexist: he reveals his misogyny in his essay On Women, “Women are suited to being the nurses and teacher of our earliest childhood precisely because they themselves are childish, silly and short-sighted, in a word big children, their whole lives long: a kind of intermediate stage between the child and the man, who is the actual human being, ‘man.’” Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms, R.J. Hollingdale (trans.), Penguin Books, 2004, p. 81.

For lengthy discussion and analysis on the lives and misdeeds of Rousseau, Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, and Sartre, among others, see Nigel Rodger’s and Mel Thompson’s Philosophers Behaving Badly, Peter Owen Publishers, 2005.

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One thought on “Appendix to “Responding to Morally Flawed Historical Philosophers and Philosophies”

  1. Pingback: Responding to Morally Flawed Historical Philosophers and Philosophies – 1000-Word Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology

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