Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy
Statement about the Murder of George Floyd
We in the American Philosophy community, along with the rest of the country and the world, have been witnessing and experiencing events unfold after the despicable murder of George Floyd, another casualty of racism and violence that continues to tear at the seams of our country. So much in these struggles seem beyond control — “Things are in the saddle, And ride mankind,” as Emerson put it. But philosophy, as many of us understand it, was born of this need for meaning amid struggle. This week, the great philosopher in the American tradition Cornel West spoke eloquently about the crisis we face:
“No democracy can survive when its public life, its public goods are so privatized and militarized and individualized. John Dewey taught us that, one of our great philosophers. We’ve got to look at the best of our past in this moment and see whether we can mobilize it for these new circumstances. If we can, we’ll make it out like Lincoln, like FDR, like LBJ.
But if we don’t make it out, then we just become another empire that had high democratic possibilities that understood itself as the great city on the hill, the grand exemplar of liberty, but never came to terms with your Jim Crow, never came to terms with your working class that was unable to gain access to jobs with a living wage, never came to terms with the humanity of the vast majority of humankind, women, never came to terms with the rich humanity of our precious trans and gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, never came to term with the new immigrants.”
(Cornel West, June 2, 2020, speaking on MSNBC to Brian Williams, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkYJeMwlsto)
Another philosopher whose words and spirit we keep close at hand is Leonard Harris. In A Philosophy of Struggle Harris writes,
“If a philosophy tells us of a viable mode of inquiry, valuation, living, and relating to others, as well as providing guidance and suggestions of how to conceive reality, it should be of service to a slave, serf, and proletariat, and a resource for the abused, subjugated, or humiliated, and the object of abjection. A philosophy should help us escape concrete experience, keep vain hope, go beyond art, negate a priori commitments that require stable value congruity, and leap into an abyss. If it cannot, something about that philosophy is lacking.”
(“Can a Pragmatist Recite A Preface to A Twenty Volume Suicide Note? Or Insurrectionist Challenges to Pragmatism—Walker, Child, and Locke,” A Philosophy of Struggle, Bloomsbury Academic press, 2020, 201).
The best of our philosophical inheritance is a stance of unyielding struggle against violence and injustice, and a commitment to debate, discussion, and action that can speak to the experiences of the most marginalized and oppressed. We stand committed to continued examination of the ways in which racism, economic, and institutional violence mar our society. We will continue to listen for the everyday realities of marginalization, bigotry, intolerance, and discrimination in the hopes that we can provide some critical tools which might help make things better.
Philosophy’s examination and debate over these issues are as far as possible from “ivory tower” activities. Rather, they bear directly upon the social task every one of us has in addressing the challenges we face a society. Philosophy has always been most critical when circumstances most needed reconstruction. This is the point at which we find ourselves, now. Silence in the face of injustice is complicity.
The President, Vice-President, and Officers of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy