Enrique Dussel & the Philosophy of Liberation

The confrontational opposition to the conqueror that we found in the works of Bondy and Zea were seen to have provided us with a narrative space in which Latin American scholars were able to begin making a positive impact on the lives of all Latin Americans. However, to be truly successful, such oppositional and de-structive (Dussel: 1996) processes must also be able to give voice to and represent the Latin American experience through its own language, identity and worldview. The key to understanding the work of Enrique Dussel is to understand his interpretation of Heidegger’s notion of “being-in-the-world”. Dussel believes that by understanding the colonized in terms of their own sense of being in the world, we are able to facilitate  an  appropriate  expression  of  our  own  socially marginalized  or  excluded  status in society in contradistinction to the descriptions produced by the colonizer.

Dussel seeks to reveal for us the mechanisms of oppression and domination exerted over the exploited and colonized people of the Americas but not in the sense that we can point to them abstractly and say, there they are. Rather, Dussel wants to show us how these mechanisms work and how they themselves can be de-structed. Additionally, Dussel further contends that this approach to understanding the plight of colonized people is not only applicable to the indigenous and mestizo people of the Americas, but it would also be applicable for peoples worldwide living under conditions of oppression and domination at the hands of a colonizer.

Dussel is able to create a distinction between the colonizer and the colonized by considering the question; “What does the history of Western ontology have to do with the reality of indigenous and mestizo people living in the Americas?” In other words, if we were to distinguish between the Western ontology of the colonizer and the sense of being in the world for the indigenous and mestizo people inhabiting the Americas, how would Western ontology be truly able to explain the sense of being for the colonized people of the Americas? In this question, what Dussel seeks to bring to our attention is that the ontology and view of the colonizer is better suited to reveal how Western ideology see’s Latin Americans as being in the world, not how Latin Americans see themselves as being in the world. It is in this way that we begin to see a wedge of demarcation between the colonizer and the colonized.

In this context there is a further question to be asked. Specifically, given the fact that Western ontology is taken to be a totality in and of itself, in what way are the colonized to understand their relationship to the colonizer as being from outside of the colonizer’s system of totality, if not by finding themselves in a position of radical exteriority. That is, for the people of the Americas to view themselves outside of the system of totality constituted by the colonizer, they would need to be on the exterior of the system and this, in turn, would constitute a radical relationship that can begin to question the very systems of oppression and domination under which they are held.

The de-structing process of dismantling the mechanisms of oppression and domination can only be realized by simultaneously developing what will become an ontological foundation for the indigenous and mestizo people living in the Americas. To accomplish such a task, it is necessary to transition from an existing ontology or system of being, to its’ own future sense of being that is constituted as a separately envisioned system of liberation. It is here that Dussel turns his attention to G.W.F. Hegel and the notion of the dialectic. To be sure, Hegel’s dialectic is inherently oppositional in its design and for Dussel this was very specifically suitable to the task of a Philosophy of Liberation. Dussel believed that when we equate Heidegger’s notion of being- in-the-world to the actual concrete experiences of indigenous and mestizo people living in the Americas, we can then begin to transition into a uniquely Latin American social reality through a dialectical process of reconstituting the historical memory of the indigenous and mestizo people living in Latin America.

It is important to understand that in this context, the task of the philosophy of liberation is not to reform the existing systems, instead, it is a process of overcoming the existing systems of oppression and domination as a negative dialectic transitioning into a radical exteriority. “Our de-structive task, to annihilate forgetting in order to have the sense of being reappear, must know to choose some fundamental and decisive epochs and moments in history and within cultural horizons that may not be excluded in order for us to arrive at the comprehension of ourselves. This understanding is at the bottom or is the foundation for all authentic thinking; on it does not only depend my personal project, but equally the collective destiny of “my” people (“my” us) [“mi” pueblo (“mi” nosotros)] . . . As the Latin Americans that we are, we must know to choose the history of the peoples that builds us (the cultures) and in them [the peoples] the essential historical moments.” (Dussel: 1996)

For Dussel, then, this is the task of a Philosophy of Liberation. In making such a declaration, Dussel does not see himself as engaging in the required praxis of a philosophy of liberation. Rather, he is calling for the creation of a philosophy of liberation. Dussel is no more able than Zea to escape from the iron cage of science in the very act of deconstruction or dismantling the existing mechanisms of oppression and domination. The critiques that have been offered of Dussel’s work generally center on the issue of his not having engaged in the praxis of liberation. Another way to view the contributions of Dussel’s work can be expressed analogously by reference to the act of “de-centering” (Derrida: 1967).

Derrida appears to believe in what he calls the act of de-centering a text that is accomplished by analyzing the trace elements of a text within the structure of the text itself and thereby exposing the center or first principle that stands outside of the system of signification within the text and yet informs its’ meaning. By following my analogy, Dussel has in effect analyzed the trace elements of the mechanisms of oppression and domination and succeeded in pointing to the first principles of the system of domination that exists outside of the system itself and has thereby provided a basis for the creation of a Philosophy of Liberation outside of the totality of the system of domination in its radical exteriority. It remains for Latin American Philosophers to engage in the praxis of liberation through the radical exteriority provided in the work of Dussel.

While the decolonialization and liberation efforts of Martín Báro and Enrique Dussel serve to provide us with unique methodological and theoretical frameworks with which to guide the praxis of Latin psychologists and social liberation advocates, and given the emphasis of Báro on psychological methodologies in conjunction with Dussel’s eclectic philosophical approach to liberation, the question of the existence of a uniquely Latin American philosophy remains unresolved. In the work of Martin Baró we are given the tools necessary to proceed along the lines he has delineated for our continuing effort to achieve the decolonialization of Latin American consciousness. Concomitantly, we have also witnessed the colonial system of domination effectively dismantled by Dussel. In doing so, a narrative space is made available in the radical exteriority of the system that would allow Latin American scholars to identify or create a Latin American philosophy. It is in this context that the notions of “radical exteriority” and “critical ontology” serve to return our considerations to develop our own future oriented and constructive ideology that can produce a truly unique Latin American philosophy.