BEING AND CULTURAL DIFFERENCE: (MIS)UNDERSTANDING OTHERNESS IN EARLY MODERNITY
ABSTRACT As a precursor to the Enlightenment, early modern European conceptions of being and human alterity formed a critical part of both the birth of modernity and the reception of divergent cultural forms lying beyond the horizon of Western knowledge. The extension of occidental power beyond its familiar shores not only resulted in the coercion and subjugation of countless New World natives but also compelled the Western mind to account for the seemingly radical alterity of ‘savage’ life forms in civilizations hitherto unknown to Europeans. This exacting philosophical demand evidently precluded a recognition initially of cultural difference, largely as a result of a predominantly hierarchical conception of being which, following Lovejoy, we understand as the great Chain of Being. The epistemological, axiological and praxeological dimensions of this essentially metaphysical and hierarchical conception of natural and human alterity are examined to delineate our relation to the other of modernity: the Savage. The latter category of humanity manifests the theoretical difﬁculty of attempting to explain the nature or being of the ‘other’ human within an exemplary world-historical case of civilizational encounters. KEYWORDS • scale being • chain • continuity • human • Indian • mode • other
It is commonly held that the discovery of a plurality of lifeworlds was essentially derived from a liberal world outlook that proclaimed the virtues of natural law rights and a diversity of forms of life. However, well before
Thesis Eleven, Number 62, August 2000: 91–108 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) Copyright © 2000 SAGE Publications and Thesis Eleven Pty Ltd [0725-5136(200008)62;91–108;013375]
the latter proving decisive in the moderns’ querelle des anciens.g. Its classical and medieval roots. who had simply migrated and spread along adjoining land masses. that is. First. it was not until the middle of the 17th century that the European cast of mind began to shift in order to assimilate a host of images. and Idea and history. modern observers in the Age of Reconnaissance in the main could not draw on the cosmographical ideas of antiquity or the Renaissance since (a) the New World land masses were unknown to antiquity and the Renaissance. Celts. should not belie the impact it had upon early modern European thought and its conception of non-European civilizations. From Aristotle to Leibniz the plurality of human as well as natural life forms was conceived primarily in terms of a great hierarchy of beings. focusing mainly on pre-evolutionary and perspectivist conceptions of human alterity from the point of view of a civilization-analytic of being and its world disclosure. Only much later did a democratic imaginary ﬁnally displace this problematic vertical ordering of human types. prior to the voyages of the 15th century. speculative and simplistic. This most fundamental of relations posed major implications for the way in which signiﬁcant civilizational encounters in the early stages of modernity unfolded. This peculiarly modern debate arguably encompassed a metaphysical encounter with the essentially multitudinous forms of the human species which later would pose severe questions for philosophers such as Hegel. however. each sphere of ontological difference was hierarchically ordered and they were related to one another. The means by which Europeans conceptualized America as an entity in time and space. Nietzsche and Heidegger regarding the relation between identity and difference. Our inquiry into modern European conceptions of human alterity takes late 17th. Africans and Mongols) were considered descendants of one civilizational orbit. These multifarious spheres of human and extrahuman life forms were homologous. The following discussion examines the antecedents of these philosophers’ attempts to grapple with ontological difference. various types of ‘barbarians’ or ‘primitive savages’ (e. and the Indian as a problematic entity for monogenesis and its adherents. and were therefore absent from their cartographies.92
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enlightened liberal humanists promulgated the virtues of the American and French revolutionary traditions there existed another more archaic metaphysical conception of physical and cultural difference. artefacts and anecdotal evidence that an array of Europeans and experts provided of a natural and social cosmos wholly unlike
. namely Asia Minor. Third.and 18th-century thought to be of particular signiﬁcance for several reasons. and most importantly. consequently (b) the ancient and Renaissance Natural History of Man appeared by comparison rather lofty. it thereby provides us with an opportunity to reﬂect critically upon the historical formative process of the modern ‘civilized’ subject vis-à-vis alien ontologies. was central to the West’s encounter with otherness in early modernity and ultimately its own self-understanding. Second.
e. As Europeans proved unable to dispense with the Judaeo-Christian narrative of a single progenitor of all humankind and of the perfection of God’s design in nature. and its dominance in the 18th century. Finally. ‘no sustained attack had yet been mounted on the historical and chronological accuracy of the Biblical story of the creation of man and his dispersion following the ﬂood’ (Elliott. despite the problems raised by the growing knowledge of America. botany. As a precursor to pseudoscientiﬁc notions of environmental causation. the tension between notions of equality and inequality during and after the Spanish conquest of America was only reinforced by the fact that the Amerindian was caught in that ‘transitional period between a Middle Ages dominated by religion and a modern period that places material goods at the top of its scale of values’ (Todorov. The heuristic value of the Chain of Being after the scientiﬁc revolutions in astronomy and navigation lay in its apparent explanatory powers.Mandalios: Being and Cultural Difference
theirs.e. the extent of its use meant that its vocabulary of higher or lower types. who traced the history of the idea of a Great Chain of Being in nature back to its genesis in Plato and Aristotle. before natural science came to dominate individuals’ minds in the 19th century and after the dissolution of Christendom. zoology and anthropology (Jordan. The latter term refers us back to Thomas Aquinas’ view of pagans who were said to be deprived of the opportunity to know God’s word or writing (cf. ﬁxed species types among the gradations). Pagden. 1970: 29). the process of assimilation in practice meant a collapsing of diverse cultural types and histories into a single hierarchic conception of anthropos and. This view of the natural and social worlds was manifest particularly in 18th-century ideas of a Great Chain of Being: next to ‘the word “Nature” the “Great Chain of Being” was the sacred phrase of the eighteenth century. scales and gradations of species types entered the languages of biology. its dominance or popularity was largely due to its apparent neat classiﬁcatory system of life forms within a static model of species types. Arthur Lovejoy (1957: 184). 1982). What this means in terms of the identity of the American Indian and European constructs of otherness is that conceptions of the other (autrui) were founded on an absolutist cosmology which was at once universalistic (i. This observation was made by the historian of philosophy. Europeans were seriously attempting to assimilate the results of much ethnographical observation and inquiry focused on the New World into a contradictory cosmology. Furthermore. concomitantly. in schematizing
. hierarchical (i. ‘all creatures of God’s design’). the European mind in the transitional years of this period manifested the contradiction between the doctrine of the unity of mankind and the doctrine of inequality through difference or ‘invincible ignorance’. playing a part somewhat analogous to that of the blessed word “evolution” in the late nineteenth’. the gradations of species types in his design) and static (i. namely. 1984: 42). What can be deduced from these observations is that in the late 17th and 18th centuries. 1968). By the turn of the 18th century.e. human civility.
g. skin colour)?
. Creationist adherents and proponents of a monogenetic thesis of human history found much comfort in the tidy. physiognomy or sexual behaviour implied either an inferior or a superior status of being according to this kind of human rationality. interaction or moral learning. how is the unity of humankind to be explained given the immense diversity of human conventions and forms (e.2 yet was inimical to the universalistic norms of both Thomism and Christendom. nor was it a contingent form of knowing. However. could not fully rationalize difference in human associations. ordered and comprehensive system of the Chain in the face of relentless waves of scientiﬁc discoveries. what constitutes civilization. or how is civility constructed? Third. The verdict of inferiority rendered upon other cultural identities/types gave effect to a form of political practice that was wholly consistent with absolutist state building.94
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or modelling the order and harmony of God’s design in nature which had unfolded in Galileo and Newton’s discovery of a heliocentric cosmos. As a hierarchical interpretation of human alterity. theorems and empirical facts. Such a world view could not admit to species types that possessed some but not all of the attributes of the human soul and mind. the belief in the perfection of God’s design and the unity of the genus homo sapiens. is there a distinctly human nature? Second. they confronted three fundamental questions in their encounter with New World peoples. In the Chain of Being. difference in skin colour. 1984: 42). Its use in locating the ‘place’ (nature) of American Indians in God’s design proved fateful. what the Chain of Being exempliﬁes is how a hierarchical conception of the cosmos based on the Christian myth of a single progenitor of humankind. the hierarchical orderliness of the Chain’s cosmology worked against a notion of humanity that admitted of a ‘human substance truly other’ yet of equal worth (Todorov. 1982: 22). what distinguishes anthropos from all other beings? That is to say. For present purposes. notions of a subhuman yet super-animal type such as ‘the savage Indian’ were antithetical to religious and humanist views of Man and ‘created formidable problems’ (Pagden. then. ARE THEY ONE OF US? CONCEPTUALIZING THE OTHER AND THE GREAT CHAIN OF BEING Although Europeans in the late 17th and 18th centuries subscribed to the notion of the unity of mankind as promulgated by the ancients and Christianity.1 This played an immensely important role in determining the ontology of the Indian and other ‘primitive’ subjects. rather. the ‘black hole’ on earth (America. equally. it was posited a priori. the Chain represented a form of ‘knowledge’ which was not gained through communication. the Chain was not relegated only to ﬁlling the ‘void’ in the heavens produced by natural science. First. Africa) which was created by navigational technologies required signiﬁcation and explanation lest it remain unintelligible or incongruent with the Judaeo-Christian narrative.
or the converse. the other’s submission and in between. The communicative act of attempting to make sense of the other’s being in the world (identity). will produce an array of ‘lower or higher states of knowledge’ depending on the mode of inquiry (Todorov. Finally. there is the process of estrangement: the action of distancing the other through ignorance. the other is my superior. it is evident that the hierarchical perspective eventually came to rely on non-static environmental accounts of the natural history of the species for its explanations. First. 1984: 127). indifference.Mandalios: Being and Cultural Difference
The various dimensions of the Chain’s construction of otherness can be gleaned more vividly from the viewpoint of Todorov’s trichotomy of relations to the other. Third. acknowledge her or am indifferent towards the other (Todorov. to know their person and cultural makeup. the epistemic axis: the question of how knowledgeable or ignorant one is of the identity of the other. Hence. It is the ‘paradox of the understanding-that-kills’. of moral worth or perhaps no moral worth at all. the praxeological axis: this relates to the dimension of action or praxis. my equal or my inferior. the axiological axis: this is the normative level where one is judged to be an entity of great moral worth. Fundamentally. The key focal points on the spectrum of praxis are submission to the other. a paradox indeed given that Spaniards like Cortes likened the intelligence and virtues of the Aztecs to those of his most noble countrymen (Todorov. Second. and neither of the two implies a moral imperative. There is a spectrum of degrees of knowing here. I respect him. we ﬁrst need to
. 1984: 185). While perspectivism largely pertains to contemporary understandings of alterity (and therefore will not be examined here). Or in the moral vocabulary of the Spaniards. it is worth noting the implicit existence of three basic types of knowledge of otherness within the epistemic axis: hierarchical. knowledge does not imply identiﬁcation with the other. 1984: 185). his values.3 However. The grounds for this indeterminacy in part lie in what is central to Todorov’s argument about power and difference: understanding and increased understanding of the other can lead to his dispossession. destruction and extermination. The ‘action of rapprochement’ means identifying with the other. it is the ethico-political process of identifying the moral subject. no explicit criteria are given for ways in which to distinguish more from less productive knowledge regimes. arrogance or denial of the other’s speciﬁc cultural identity. there is domination through synonymity where ‘I identify the other with myself [and] I impose my own image’ and values upon him (Todorov. DELIMITING THE EPISTEMIC AXIS: HIERARCHY OF BEINGS Before turning to the axiological and praxeological dimensions of the Chain of Being’s determination of the American identity. environmental and perspectival. 1984: 185). Brieﬂy. Although the idea of an ascending scale of forms of knowledge remains implicit in Todorov’s work. Alternatively.
in part. differences are perceived but then only act to distance or estrange the other from the observer. In this sense. thought in terms of rank. Hence ‘discovery’ can take place without a subject. This was not to deny the different character of the native’s mode of life or nature: what was questioned and rejected was its validity or worth to humanity. he was a being who had not yet acquired any self-consciousness. This meant that it was unable to resolve the tension between the universal claims of Columbus. social hierarchy like the order in nature seemed to be only natural. the Mexican and the Inca were ‘pre-social men’ or uncivil beings since they ‘consistently violated the law of nature’ (Pagden. 1978: 192–4). status and congenital differences (White. In the mid. cannibalism. the Taino and Arawak of the Caribbean. the Spanish scholastic Francisco Vitoria later claimed under the ius gentium (law of nations) that Spaniards could not be denied their ius peregrinandi (right to travel) or access to seas. Conquest and expansion were legitimated on the grounds that the ‘native populations had forfeited their rights by their own actions’. that is. Here. Hegel later argued. For individuals to either know or conform to the law of Nature. Columbus discovered ‘America but not the Americans’ (Todorov. shores. 1987: 81). due to a unversalistic conception of the rights of men which had not rigorously problematized the historical development of the species in its manifold forms. in part. Its failure was. and the particular claims and interests of a separate territorial community. For Sepulveda. It had not been resolved. or his Emperor. presupposed the development of a human consciousness that separates the human species from Nature while simultaneously allowing it to reﬂect on the process of objectiﬁcation itself. i.to late 16th century these were the terms in which Spaniards debated the legitimacy of their dominion over America and its natives. It comes as no surprise that Europeans from an aristocratic age and a class-divided society which ‘presupposed a humanity divided into “haves” and “have nots” ’.96
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locate the hierarchic nature of the Chain and its place in the epistemic axis. without discovering what constitutes the identity of the other. 1984: 49). the Indian was not a noble savage – one who was in harmony with nature. rather. For instance. Such a world view could not accommodate the uniqueness of the native’s different mode of life save to degrade it to an equivalent of society’s ‘have nots’. the lowly life of deprivation that Hegel’s ‘rabble of paupers’ shared. The natural law tradition failed to adequately provide or create a space for the natives’ differentness and it could not completely exorcise notions of social hierarchy. incest. From Columbus to Cortes to Sepulveda and even to Las Casas. because of the problematical and ambiguous concepts
.e. harbours or even landing on territory belonging to alien societies. 1987: 90–91). and just as it could be found among the animal species so it could be said to exist amongst the ‘savages of America’. human sacriﬁce and the absence of laws (Pagden. that is. It was clear from the outset that the entire history of the discovery and conquest of America showed that human alterity was at once revealed and rejected.
The vision that Europeans had of the natural and social cosmos before the emergence of evolutionism in the 19th century was essentially static. by the mid-17th century. paganism was the ‘central organizing category’ for the differentness of exotic peoples. unambiguous category of otherness’ (Ryan. only in the 18th century that the ‘conception of the universe as a Chain of Being. . who by nature possessed dominium. 1981: 525). even when Europeans ceased to identify themselves primarily with a religious community. In such a universe the conventional dual division of humankind into pagans and believers. idolatry and propertylessness found in the Indians’ modes of life had. incest. according to Lovejoy. the cosmology of the Chain propounded a vision of a uniﬁed yet intricately graded natural order. appeared simplistic and outmoded by the standards of the Chain of Being. it was. The harrowing question of cannibalism. 1981: 525). property) and ius (right). . continuity in the hierarchical conception of cultural types was provided through the assumption that ‘all knowledge was subordinated to a higher purpose and ﬁtted into a providential design’. 1970: 31). they were . the New World native was assimilated into a European cosmology that still maintained classical and Christian notions of a scaled order in nature’s design. and the principles
. Once the process of assimilation was underway. the antinomies in natural law can be seen as foreshadowing the more explicit notion of hierarchy within the universal doctrine of Creation represented by the idea of a Chain of Being. the New Worlds and their inhabitants were used to ‘serve the cause of tradition. this assumption ‘was crucial for the assimilation of the New World of America’ as it was earlier for Christendom (Elliott.Mandalios: Being and Cultural Difference
of dominium (possession. hardly begun to move the mental boundaries of the European mind. as well as a complex classiﬁcatory system which proved to be formidable in its explanatory power. While the debate over the American Indian shifted ground during the late 17th and 18th centuries. Vitoria under the ius predicandi gave the Spaniards the right to preach their religion without interference while Sepulveda thought the Indians had clearly abused the property and use rights that (mature) humans have over their own bodies through the practice of cannibalism and human sacriﬁce. insensati (animals) or children. It was possible to argue that dominium over the Amerindians was justiﬁed on the grounds that they were sinners. teleological and constituted by a single hierarchy of forms. That is. which Christendom had maintained. Until the dissolution of Christendom. Although the twin classical doctrines of ﬁnal causes and the immutability of species ‘had held their ground through the medieval period well into the seventeenth century’. but had not yet learnt (matured) to exercise it. inﬁdels. it was the ‘most inclusive. Beyond the natural law tradition. human sacriﬁce. That is. and by scholastic Christian understandings of Man as possessing a human soul as opposed to the animal soul possessed by lower beings. assumed to belong to a universal order of things’ (Ryan.4 a mind still dominated by Aristotelian notions of civility and Man as a zoon politikon.
which is complemented by both the idea of ﬁnal causality and the immutability of species (principle of plenitude). as the highest of earthly creatures and the lowest of spiritual beings. Conversely. . subordinate and superordinate life forms).e. That is. the principle of continuity cannot be understood separately from the principle of gradation which supplies the hierarchical arrangement of species types from the lowest insigniﬁcant object to the highest superordinate being. Being a spiritual being. we arrive at the second principle that Lovejoy identiﬁed. For instance.e. the more one was a slave to desirous. there existed greater and lesser expressions of this essence (God’s being) in the design of nature (i. according to the sufﬁciency of speciesspeciﬁc attributes. Here. was created for the gloriﬁcation of God and. The principle of continuity relates to the linking or coupling of species types within and between the four key life forms – the inanimate. instinctual nature: the ﬂesh. Man’s consummation would see the ﬁnal resolution of all antinomies on earth. Man would cease to be torn between spirit and ﬂesh or reason and lasciviousness as he is seen to be in the Paulian doctrine. in JudaeoChristian eschatology. and indeed excels in these attributes. in other words. Man. the principle of continuity. appetite and sexual desire. 1934: 139). 1957: 183). human and divine – which constitute the chain of forms in the universe. he characteristically possessed a dual nature or essence. appropriated by the church fathers from Aristotelian metaphysics. held that the ‘most inconspicuous object in the universe has its appropriate place in the design of the whole for which it was uniquely and admirably adapted. animate.98
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which underlay this conception . This doctrine of ﬁnal causes. posited differentness more
. Thus. the former would transcend the latter once Man moved up the Great Chain of Being from his middle rung to the higher echelons. The diversity of life forms that Man was given dominion over not only testiﬁed to the splendour and fullness of the Creator’s design (i. Man possessed a human soul and the higher faculties of Reason but his earthly species-being made him also a sensuous creature with passions. even though they all had an equal claim to existence. it by no means is equal in its species-power/being with either one. Afﬁnities exist here with Plato’s trichotomy of the human soul: logistikon (mind). . The hierarchical arrangement of species types. threptikon (appetite) and epithumetikon (spirit). principle of plenitude) but also to the inequality in their manifestation of life (beingness). In the ﬁnality of God’s creation and design of nature. closer to the highest spiritual essence or Being. while the bee displays different species attributes from those of a ﬂower or an ape. attained their widest diffusion and acceptance’ (Lovejoy. and [so] all parts of the whole work together toward a single end or ﬁnal cause’ (Whitney. Although the various gradations of species types were linked by way of a common essence that emanated from God and was dispersed among the ranks in the chain of forms. the lower down on the scale or chain of life forms in the universe.
The difﬁculty concerned the inherent ambiguity in the Chain’s delineation of the human species from the lower animal species. according to Weber in ‘Religious Rejections of the World and their Directions’ (1970: 325). and ‘renders unstable any attempt to draw on its basis a deﬁnitive distinction between natives and “normal” men’ (White. Human nature had been negatively deﬁned by the great philosophical traditions: ‘Man is what the animal and the divine are not’ (White. The Chain’s hierarchy and linkage make it difﬁcult to differentiate clearly between two ways of life that might equally exist contiguously with one another. and fused with. intelligence) which is necessarily inferior in form or substance to his European counterpart. human alterity is poised somewhere between brutish instinct (savagism) and Christian asceticism. in mastering the world. superhuman. this issues from its intrinsic ‘conceptual instability’ in that the Chain’s vertical axis differentiates between human soul and animal soul in terms of superior and inferior states of being while its ‘principles of continuity’ posits an essence/quality that is common to all life forms. the sensitive soul (animalic) and the rational soul which was peculiar to Man. the Aristotelian schema had been absorbed by. There was another major difﬁculty with the concept of a universe constructed along the lines of a chain or scale of forms. seeks to tame what is creatural and wicked through work in a worldly “vocation” ’. 1983: 30). On this basis.e.g. animal and inanimate. by Aristotle and Rousseau alike. It had little chance of being properly accomodated by a world view which. Thus. As Thomas illustrated in Man and the Natural World. to possess intelligence or some form of reason. human. it nevertheless meant that early modern Europeans believed that there was a ‘fundamental difference in kind between humanity and other forms of life’ (Thomas. 1978: 186). the conceptual structure of the Chain of Being works against an ethic of the equality of diverse human types and forms. halfway between the beasts and the angels’ (Thomas. There is. i. Here.Mandalios: Being and Cultural Difference
forcefully and ﬁrmly than either commonality or equality since the Chain’s modus operandi was essentially classiﬁcatory and differentiating. an inherent critical tension between sameness (equality) and difference (inequality) in the Chain’s vertical order of types. 1978: 189). ascending–descending scales order values according to their relative share (greater or lesser) of an attribute or property common to all values in the system. owed much to a ‘rationally active asceticism’: ‘rationally active asceticism. To the distinctive human capacity for free agency
. the other (rather ambiguously) is thought to share some quality with the European (e. Although Man was thought to possess both corporeal and incorporeal qualities and animals were seen. How were these species linked or connected in the Chain given the critical distance that Christianity and the Greeks placed between the animal soul and human soul? Aristotle’s tripartite structure of the soul consisted of the nutritive soul (the vegetative). thus elevating him ‘to a wholly different status. as White (1978: 189) argues. 1983: 30–31). a Judaeo-Christian cosmology that made Man in the image of God.
wrote ‘the barrier which separates men from brutes is ﬁxed and immutable’ (in Thomas. no member could invade the province of the species just above it since generation and movement or ‘becoming’ would imply imperfection or deﬁciency in God’s design (of being). e. The whole structure of the Chain’s cosmology depended on non-intervention. Thus. This image was composed from a broader intellectual landscape that predated Christianity – traceable at least as far back as Solon – and which depicted man as a political animal who could only realize himself as a rational and communicative being within the public life of the polis. civic virtues and the establishment of a polity were necessary prerequisites for full inclusion into the human Oikoumene. perhaps this is the reason for bestiality becoming a capital offence in England as early as 1534 in sharp contrast to the registration of incest as a secular crime only in the 20th century. thereby constructing the notion of a peculiarly human soul. as stated above. i. that the symmetry and harmonious order of the cosmos testiﬁed to the fullness of God’s creation and design. boundaries were formed to demarcate the realm of inclusion (into humanity) from the realm of exclusion (the animal kingdom). propertylessness. the Hottentots) gave rise to notions of a Wild Man who was in kind closer to the beasts than the species of the civilized European. especially at the margins or extremes. incest. Europeans understood themselves and other beings in terms of a ‘static’ philosophy of nature and a Natural History of the Species which posited ‘being’ (a given essence/form) over becoming. licentiousness and diseasesusceptible bodies reported to exist in America (and also particularly in Africa. cannibalism. that were antithetical to the European selfimage of Man. moral responsibility (Plato) and speech (John Ray). by laymen and prominent ﬁgures of the 18th century. before the onset of a philosophy of history (Hegel) or a developmentalist (‘becoming’) approach to human culture developed from ethnography and biology. civility. The forms of nakedness. This divested human nature of its plasticity. so that growth or generation – which would enable movement up the Chain – had no valid cause to exist. idioms and identities. lawlessness. While members of the Chain strove to perfect themselves within their appointed sphere. William Bingley. Consequently.e. It was commonly held. 1934: 143). the naturalist. the happiness of each depended on each one ‘knowing and keeping his proper place in the Chain’ (Whitney. with its vast range of cultural practices.
. 1983: 35).5 Fellow species members were relegated to a precarious existence beyond the normative boundaries of European morality and rationality because they manifested characteristics.100 Thesis Eleven (Number 62 2000)
(Rousseau). These boundaries were relatively ﬁxed as the doctrine of the immutability of species propounded a static understanding of species types and their place in the vertical scale of forms in the universe. Christianity added a religious instinct and an immortal soul to the make-up of Man. The perfection of God’s creation demanded that all creatures along the Chain were perfectly endowed with species-speciﬁc attributes.g.
1983: 38–9). the power of the human mind could vary. Although some observers attempted to objectify the American Indian into something other than human. humankind and its place in the universal order of things. The idea of a subhuman being. we know from Elias (1982). Aristotelian moderation gave way to hubris in a celebrative fashion. and exuberant or luxurious modes of living. European civilization was further distanced from the ways of the ‘savage American’. but not the type. cleanliness. Again. their nakedness. the natives of America (and Africa) were required to possess real minds. This was at a time when clothes. 1982: 56). Christian and aristocratic – worked together to form a particular conception of the universe. To be considered human and not simply super-animals. ‘all men must behave alike or resign their claims to being men’ (Pagden. Europeans by the turn of the 18th century were increasingly distanced from nature by various processes of reﬁnement and ornamentation (e. From this. created formidable problems and led to alternative explanations of human alterity with more dire consequences.Mandalios: Being and Cultural Difference 101
In addition to classical and Christian inﬂuences. Variations could exist within species types but it was impossible for a species to possess the speciﬁc attributes of another species kind. and absence of familial structures (only hordes) and civilized manners rendered them primitive savages without ‘rational souls’ in the imagination of some Europeans.g. European relations to the American other were characterized by domination and. within certain parameters. we see that domains of either species could not be invaded otherwise a transgression against the harmonious order of the universal design would be committed. The reasons for his inclusion into humanity will be found to also relate to the Indians’ genealogy. To preserve the harmony and perfection of God’s design in nature it was demanded that. we only need to note that the urge to distinguish the human from the animal and to grade nature’s domain had important consequences for relations between divergent civilized societies. Courtly society. Pagden argues. he was generally thought of as a member of the human species.6 A new psychology had emerged from the aristocratic age. This was dictated by the principle of gradations which classiﬁed creatures according to their species-speciﬁc attributes. In this light. That is. and when it was considered ‘brutish’ for one to go swimming since it was ‘essentially a non-human method of progression’ (Thomas. of course. apparent promiscuity. For now. The three cultural traditions discussed thus far – the classical. familial life. colour and physiognomy. clothing). These natives were not mere pagans or barbarians. Europeans derived a particular understanding of sociability and civilization. artiﬁce and appearance had surpassed nature and substance. We come
. cooking and diminished hairiness were thought to be the marks of a civilized being. was predicated on the internalization of status distinctions consonant with the strictures of the court and the dictates of artiﬁce and appearance. subordination. for the native. who did not completely manifest either the attributes of a human soul or an ‘animal soul’.
animal and human life. The corporeal elements of human nature increasingly came to the fore as reports of the New World led to further investigation into its plant. While its narrative remained fundamentally intact. but an inferior member. A new consciousness of animal capabilities and behavioural traits as well as a heightened sensibility for their welfare had raised the status of these lower beings considerably. indicating that human beings shared more attributes – intelligence. pressure came increasingly from the aforementioned group. After all. though not incongruously. The Indian occupied that position in the Chain closer to the animal species which Man had formerly belonged to before Christianity had elevated him to a much higher rank. ethnologists and natural philosophers increasingly encroached on the authority and efﬁcacy of the Biblical account of Man’s origin and his relation to animals. This pronouncement seemed to lack the rapture that accompanied the announcement of a human soul in Man. as well as from religious and physicalist adherents of the Chain’s principle of continuity. to the dismay of the church fathers. closer to his Creator. both the ancients and early Christians placed anthropos closer to the animals than to God. Therefore. its depiction of animal life and human nature (‘soul’) did not. the noble savage idea grew out of the Romantic’s fascination with the savage’s seemingly simple yet organic life among nature’s creatures where domination over nature and human nature was relatively minimal. Somewhat heretically. represents the existence of a common essence or being among the ranks of the human species. On this basis. On the other hand. biologists. The ﬁndings of botanists.102 Thesis Eleven (Number 62 2000)
now to the axiological (evaluation) and praxeological (praxis) axes of the Chain’s rendering of otherness concerning the American Indian. i. The latter. human beings related simultaneously to each other in terms of both inequality and sameness. it was argued that Man’s superiority was more one of degree than of kind. the axiological level of European relations to the Indian concerns European dominance and Indian subordination founded on a doctrine of inequality. it was antithetical to the important distinction that Christianity made
. indeed. a rational mind or human soul that is shared by all persons. A narrowing of the gap between the two species. THE AXIOLOGICAL AXIS The foregoing discussion focused on the type of knowledge that the Chain of Being provided of the American other: a hierarchical one.e. on the other hand. It is a manifestation of the principle of continuity. The Indian in general testiﬁed to Man’s earlier condition and his more intimate relation with nature. had already begun in the 17th century. The Indian was a fellow species member. The former represents positions of superiority (European) and inferiority (Indian) along the human scale in the chain of forms and reinforces the principle of gradations. ability to communicate and instincts – with their lower counterparts than was supposed.
it merely lowered his position in the scale and his status to an undeveloped infant-like being. into ‘polished’ and ‘monstrous’ (Marshall and Williams. This saw scholars continuously ‘prowling along the [unbroken] chain in an obsessive search for “links” and “gaps” . unreservedly placed the ‘primitive’ American native alongside the descendants of Noah in the Chain. . the lowest of the human species shaded almost imperceptibly with the highest creature of the animal kingdom (i. he found considerable variation in intelligence within the human species and realized what political ramiﬁcations might stem from it. In On the Chain of Universal Being (1790) Soam Jenyns conceived of the Chain as a continuum arguing that the difference between the highest brute and the lowest member in the human scale was in degree of intelligence. Moreover. a manifestation of God’s wisdom and Will in creating a harmonious order: ‘the inﬁnite Wisdom of Almighty God chains things together. blurring the traditional dividing line between humankind and animals. the ape). . Here. complex bureaucratic organizations and animals of burden in the New World was interpreted as evidence of the natives’ failure to learn to read the Book of Nature.e. Jose de Costa and much later on. 1982: 215). and there were wide-ranging theories or speculations concerning a ‘missing link’ between the human and animal species which the principle of continuity inferred (Marshall and Williams. (b) cultivate reason (construct polities and establish rule of law) and (c) engage in self-improvement through social and moral regulation. Just as God made Man the caretaker of all the creatures in the Chain he had dominion over. private property. or. The primitive and ‘savage’ ways of the Indian did not actually exclude him from the human family.7 This was. according to Sir Matthew Hale’s The Primitive Origination of Mankind (1677).Mandalios: Being and Cultural Difference 103
between Man and Beast and it also meant the subdivision of humankind into civilized and savage. While Europeans disputed over the class of similitudines hominis and whether or not it should include the African brute. in Shaftesbury’s terms. the Indian savage was not a beast of some kind but an uncivilized member of the human species who greatly lagged behind his occidental superiors because he failed to realize his capacity to (a) dominate nature (technical know-how).’. so it was in the order of things that the white European wisely watch over his subordinate. In this way the ‘mode of continuity’. consonant with the backwardness thesis of the aforementioned writers. 1967: 482). Here. François Bernier. inferior fellow species members. The absence of writing. and ﬁts and accommodates all things suitable to their uses and ends’ (Hale in Glacken. In other words. Gonzalo de Oviedo. to use White’s term. Adam Ferguson. individuals such as Giovanni della Mirandola. in the hierarchy of things
. This proved to be a very simple and for a while successful method of accounting for the Indian’s natural inferiority within the parameters of the Chain’s principle of continuity. justiﬁed the tutelary role and rationale of those who occupied the top rung of the human ladder and the territories of the Indian. 1982: 215). James Adair and Matthew Hale.
continuity was ‘certainly more productive of tolerance and mediation by degree’ than was contiguity (White. 1978: 190). as Marx put it in the Grundrisse.e uncultivated Reason). Relations based on commonality or continuity of being would ﬁnd human differences being equated with superior or inferior expressions of the same human substance without necessarily including extermination or war. the fact that Indians were eating and sacriﬁcing one another. his mass enslavement. the European’s tutelary8 position was reinforced by the knowledge that even though the Indian lived in a state of invincible ignorance and had not learned the Book of Nature. his amenableness prevented outsiders from altogether disregarding his humanity and. Both of these conditions circumscribed the Indian’s state of being to a much inferior human condition. the praxeology of European relations to the American other. the barbaric and animalic Turks (Pagden. Furthermore. those whom Nature had placed at the top of the human scale within the Chain. Consequently. This relates to the question of praxis or in Todorov’s terms. were lazy and worshipped ﬁgures of nature was taken as evidence of their foolishness and ineptitude in governing themselves (i. THE PRAXEOLOGICAL AXIS There are essentially two forms of practice or politics that characterized the European conquest and settlement of America. in contradistinction to his black counterpart. 1982). he was not devoid of reason as were. Consistent with the outcomes of a mode of continuity. took it as their noblesse oblige to hasten the Indian’s ‘realization of his species-capacities’.104 Thesis Eleven (Number 62 2000)
harmony and unity requires inferior species to follow and obey while superior ones guide. Since the Indian was not discontinuous with the human types above him. the benevolence of the European’s position of tutelage allowed the savage to be civilized and the primitive native to be advanced without either his ruination or his extermination. were naked like beasts of the jungle. One testiﬁed to the Indian’s humanity established by the ‘mode of continuity’. The preceding discussion on axiology determined both the Indian’s moral inclusion and lower ranking consonant with a continuity of being. the other highlighted the native’s contiguous relation to Europeans as sanctioned by the mode of contiguity.9 Of the two modes of existence. by Las Casas’ reckoning. instruct and lead their subordinates. It was assumed that Nature had given European Man the responsibilities of stewardship and the native the desire to learn/follow by having placed the former at the top of the human scale and the latter towards the bottom of it where Threptikon dwells. This is consistent with the Chain’s mode of continuity which supplies the integrative function while the principle of plenitude ensures a plurality of life worlds each with its own ontic limitations and purposes. Slavery beﬁtted those bordering on the top rank of the animal scale while processes of assimilation were deemed to be good and just for the
Europeans ‘taught’ him the virtues of settled life. 1970: 43). abstract knowledge. The centrality of religion in Indian culture was interpreted by colonizers as being both an obstacle and an advantage to the Europeanization of American culture. the Indian’s differentness was identiﬁed and tolerated only to become standardized and assimilated into a peculiar (historical) European ontology. and this produced a wholly different kind of praxis. if the Indian’s mode of existence was thought to be discontinuous with the humanity that Europeans identiﬁed with. then their extermination. And following Paul III’s (1537) declaration that ‘the Indians are true men’. if the natives were represented as a subhuman or super-animal breed. That is. Thus. Christian worship and morality. for instance. stranded communities. the other was placed in a conﬂictual rather than a mediative relationship. The English maintained that they would ‘perform for the Indians the same function as the Romans once performed for the English – the bringing of civilization and Christianity’ (Kupperman. whether a stumbling block or an advantage. 1980: 113). In contrast. for which reason they could retain no Christian doctrine. To concede the point made by Todorov that spiritual expansion was an ideological corollary of the conquest of America is not to deny that Europeans. ruination or enslavement would become ‘justiﬁable’ on the grounds that human conventions and obligations could not apply to them. of course. assumed universal proportions because the notion of a single progenitor of all humankind had produced a picture of the world as having been fragmented into separate societies. nor virtue nor any kind of learning’ (Pagden. private property. regimented work and mannered conduct in public. the Indian’s spiritual disposition was the primary focal point of Europeanization policies. as Christians. then a contiguous relationship such as this would be far less productive of tolerance and mediation. In the mind of the bishop of Santa Marta (Columbia). existing contiguously to the Europeans. CONCLUSION By stressing the native’s differences rather than his similarities with the European.Mandalios: Being and Cultural Difference 105
more noble native of America. To receive the teachings of Christ and be baptized it was necessary for the native to ﬁrst possess either a soul or a rational mind: an essence/form common to all members along the human scale. it was thought by many that the American savage could only advance and beneﬁt by the intervention of Europeans into the dark tyranny of Indian life. also had to satisfy themselves that they were not ‘throwing pearls among swine’. the proselytization of the American Indian had commenced (Elliott. Indeed. 1982: 23). the Indians ﬁgured as ‘not men with rational souls but wild men of the woods. It was this
. Much of this civilizing process was inextricably bound up with missionary activity and conversion. The missionary enterprise. To save the Indian from such a lowly existence and to raise him from such a rank. and in the case of American (and African) tribes.
1978: 194). Mandalios. Queensland 9726.
. PMB50 Gold Coast Mail Centre. the native came to be objectiﬁed into an object to be used. This.
I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers of Thesis Eleven who provided helpful observations and comments on an earlier draft of this article originally presented at the Australasian Association of Philosophy Conference (June 1998). Gold Coast Campus. It ought to be noted that disease was by far the main exterminator of the Indian population in the Spanish conquest of America (cf. There is. does not preclude us from doing so. 2. see Habermas (1971).106 Thesis Eleven (Number 62 2000)
‘mode of relationship’ that both justiﬁed and underscored the practices of ‘war and extermination which the Europeans followed throughout the seventeenth and most of the eighteenth century’ (White. however.10 The attempt to place the native American ‘savage’ into the Occident’s universal history of humankind well illustrates the theoretical difﬁculty of delineating the essence of being essentially from within an historically conditioned and delimited civilizational horizon of meaning. So the ideology and practice of absolutist statecraft were intertwined. Todorov rightly linked ‘spiritual expansion’ with the absolutist state’s ‘material conquest’ which was ‘both the result and the condition of spiritual expansion’.
John Mandalios is in Philosophy. Europeans interpreted this phenomenon as a testimony to their superior bodily constitution and the superiority of civilization over wildness or primitivism. At the time. Todorov never posited any explicit criteria for distinguishing between ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ states of knowledge. is because the ‘process of assimilation tended to rob’ New World natives of ‘their difference and blunt the force of their impact’. furthermore. as a transhistorical category provided continuity in Western perceptions of exotic peoples. 3. This idea later prevailed over and against the Romantic’s valorization of the primitive native as a Noble Savage. Grifﬁth University. Las Casas. Faculty of Arts. Grifﬁth University. Australia. Address: School of Arts. See Ryan (1981: 523) who argues that the reason why the New Worlds ‘provoked no intellectual crisis’. As something other than fully human. attracted ‘comparatively little attention’ and remained on the ‘periphery of European vision’ until the end of the 17th century. 1976). McNeill. 4. 1. however. transformed or destroyed as desired by his or her superiors. a Gramscian ring to the statement that Columbus lacked any real knowledge of the Indians while the ‘ruthless’ strategist-warrior Cortes’ knowledge of the Indians surpassed even that of the empathetic Christian moralist. 1999). Paganism. 5. it points rather to the necessity to problematize established ‘horizons’ of meaning so that the interdependency of self and other is properly acknowledged (cf. On a priori forms of knowledge as distinct from knowledge derived from communicative action.
Therefore. . Due to the inherent conceptual instability of the Chain both sameness and difference are equally posited. the hierarchical scala naturae and the social hierarchy amongst humankind mutually reinforced one another (cf. To 18th-century observers. Took pains to make thee speak. curiosity and entertainment for his countrymen back in the metropole of the Old World. as I am. for without them He’s but a sot. Prospero the foreign master is equally cognizant of his dependence on the instinctual (lascivious) powers of this New World brute who slavishly provides for all of Prospero’s needs. When thou didst not.
Bynum. though the mode of contiguity may be an integral part of the chain it is not posited nearly as forcefully as the mode of continuity. taught thee each hour One thing or other. Bynum. nor hath not One spirit to command’ (1968: 90–97). . including local ‘indigenous’ knowledge of the island’s botanical. 8. following Montaigne’s essay On Cannibals): ‘I pitied thee. Know thine own meaning but wouldst gabble like A thing most brutish. It was in the context of 18th-century European decadence that Rousseau in his Second Discourse propounded his critique of European culture. with a log Batter his skull. instructive role of the educator infuses Shakespeare’s mystical The Tempest. The power of writing and eloquent speech subjugates the illiterate yet sensual islander while also establishing and maintaining the power of his aristocratic invader. Caliban is not at all deluded about the power of prosaic language: ‘Having ﬁrst seized his books . Remember First to possess his books. Conversely. 7. Basically. There the Duke of Milan Prospero takes pride in giving language to the instinctive half man/half beast brute called Caliban (which is an anagram of cannibal. The objectifying and not merely disciplining of this distant ‘savage’ never featured in Foucault’s studies of modernity’s emergent forms of otherness. One instance of the mode of objectiﬁcation was Cortes’ collection of native Americans as objects of spectacle. W. See Rousseau’s ‘A Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences’ in Cole (1975). I endowed thy purposes With words that made them known’ (Shakespeare. 1968: 355–9). or pauch him with a stake . Reminiscent of Hegel’s slave morality. the mode of contiguity is antithetical to the idea of a continuous (vertical) chain of forms wherein each species type embodies an essence/quality which is common to all members of the Chain. 1975). .Mandalios: Being and Cultural Difference 107
6. The latter in particular found its clearest expression in the theories of polygenesis and degeneration antedating moden evolutionary theory. History of Science 13: 1–28. arguing it was virtually devoid of any civic virtues. 9. the tutelage role seemed a logical imperative of nature’s uneven distribution of species powers within species types.
. 10. (1975) ‘The Great Chain of Being After Forty Years: An Appraisal’. The civilizing. This tended to emphasize rather than diminish the distance between the noble European conqueror and the exotic other of this New-found-land. zoological and spiritual life. It is for this reason that the present discussion has focused mainly on the native’s apparent inferior humanity as understood by the doctrine of inequality and sameness (continuity) outlined above. savage. . F.
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