Importance of ‘centredness’ in literary analysis: Part Three …of sponsored thinkers and theorists

L0019669 Aristotle refusing the hemlock (?). Oil painting by a painte Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Aristotle refusing the hemlock (?). Oil painting by a painter in the circle of Johann Carl Loth. By: Johann Carl LothPublished: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

IN his essay Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations (1748), David Hume advances the theory that history grows like an organism through stages such as infancy, youth and maturity.
This evolutionary character provides the context for his second essay, Of National Characters (1748), where he claims that negroes are naturally inferior to whites.
He says: “I am about to suspect that the negroes and in general all other species of men (for they are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites.
There never was a civilised nation of any other complexion than white, nor any individual eminent either in action or speculation: No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences.” (cited in Eze: 1997:33)
Hume’s mentality follows in the racist tradition of Aristotle who earlier on had claimed that certain groups of people are more suited for physical labour and therefore are naturally destined to be servants of those naturally made superior.
Aristotle had argued: “That men of little genius and great bodily strength, are by nature destined to serve and those of better capacity, to command; that the natives of Greece, and of some of other countries, being naturally superior in genius, have natural right to empire; and that the rest of mankind, being naturally stupid, are destined to labour and slavery.” (cited in ibid: 34)
By inference, the African is among the ‘naturally stupid’ as illustrated by their subjection to slavery owing to their ‘bodily strength’.
And you call this enlightenment?
You call this the wisdom of ‘enlightened’ philosophers?
May our ancestors knock sense into us!
It would seem both Aristotle’s and Hume’s sentiments do not deserve academic credit at all.
They are, plainly, philosophies/theories justifying empire.
Immanuel Kant (cited in ibid:38) also argues there are four distinct varieties of the human species, each with a specific ‘natural disposition’ deriving from what he calls ‘stem genus’, supposedly a race of ‘white brunette’, now best approximated by ‘white’ Europeans, believed to have existed between 31st and 52nd parallels in the old world.
In the hierarchy of these varieties, the African is placed at the bottom as the least endowed.
Again, such a regimentation of people is based not on scientific fact, yet Kant seems to believe so much in the lie.
Imagine such a popularised philosopher claiming: “This fellow was quite black … a clear proof that what he said was stupid.” (Kant 1804, cited in ibid: 38)
Again, this utterance defies basic common sense.
In it, one can detect a pathological distaste of black people, which is shared by both the ‘philosopher’ and those who valorise such ‘philosophy’.
That the statement has no ‘truth value’ can only be contested by an imbecile.
Clearly, the premise, which is that the fellow is black, does not justify the conclusion that what he was saying was stupid.
There is no link between skin pigmentation and the quality of mental perspicacity.
The link is therefore superimposed to fulfill the Aristotle- Hume-Kant value agenda.
At best, these utterances are mere statements of beliefs or opinions based on their cultures.
Their claims are not supported by evidence.
At worst, they are ‘loosely associated statements’.
They are just premises that do not support conclusions or conclusions which do not follow premises.
In the words of Hurley (1997:16), what is missing in their statements ‘is a claim that a reasoning process is being expressed’.
On the other hand, the glaring fallaciousness of their utterances cannot simply be attributed to lack of logic.
Behind the nonsensicality of their claims, there is a latent ‘logic’ – the conscious or unconscious bid to project one’s ways of seeing as superior to the rest; and this is done to one’s advantage.
Imagine also a renowned 20th Century philosopher, Georg Hegel (1956:93) blatantly asserting that: “The peculiarly African character is difficult to comprehend, for the very reason that in reference to it, we must quite give up the principle which naturally accompanies all our ideas – the category of Universality.
In negro life, the characteristic point is the fact that consciousness has not yet attained to the realisation of any substantial objective existence.
The negro, as already observed, exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and tamed state.
We must lay aside all thought of reverence and morality – all that we call feeling – if we could rightly comprehend him; there is nothing with humanity to be found in this type of character.
The copious and circumstantial accounts of missionaries completely confirm this.
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.”
If you have not withdrawn your erstwhile loyalty to such purveyors of truth after reading this, then you require a special type of kurutsiswa (exorcism).
This de-historicisation of Africans is further echoed by another 20th Century scholar, Hugh Trevor-Roper.
In 1963, the Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford gave a series of lectures at Sussex University that were later published in a periodical and in a book.
These lectures argued ‘sub-Saharan Africa had no history’ (Trevor-Roper cited in Fuglestad: 152).
To him, the past of this part of the world was ‘clouded in darkness’ and ‘darkness is not the subject of history’ (ibid: 152).
It seems his notion of history is essentially a form of purposive movement which, as he thought, Africa did not exhibit.
Such miscomprehension of African history can be understandable on grounds that he is not African, even though he is not under academic pressure as a professor to speak on what he does not know.
What is worse, however, is to proceed and say that prior to its contact with Europe, Africa consisted of only ‘the unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes in picturesque but irrelevant corners of the globe.” (ibid: 152).
This is unpalatably insulting.
It invokes an ambiguity which borders on inflammatory ethnocentrism.
Apparently Roper’s definition of history as purposive movement is rooted in an intellectual tradition that goes back to the ‘enlightenment’ period.
Such arrogant dismissiveness of other people’s history emanates from a false sense of patronage.
Even if it were true that Africa did not demonstrate ‘purposive movement’, not all human societies were bound by such notion of history.
In any case, Africa did show evidence of purposive movement.
Ropers’ argument is dehumanising of a fellow race.
His site of discussion is far from what history is, but whose view of history matters; a clear testimony of racist ethnocentricism!
From this discussion, it is clear part of the enlightenment philosophy was instrumental in codifying and institutionalising both the scientific and popular European perceptions of the human race.
The works of Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Hegel and Trevor-Roper, show how ‘reason’ and ‘civilisation’ were synonymised with ‘white’ people and how ‘unreason’ and ‘savagery’ have been conveniently located among the non-whites.


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