McMaster Philosophy Department Speaker Series Welcomes:
Dwight K Lewis, Jr.
(University of Minnesota)
“(Re)imagining the Margins: Anton Wilhelm Amo”
Diversity and the concepts of difference are, or should be, central concerns both for the history of philosophy and for our current political reality. Within academic philosophy, these concerns are expressed in the growing demand for inclusion of undervalued and underrepresented standpoints within the canon, which is overwhelmingly white and male, especially in early modern philosophy. This talk engages the problem of the canon and aims to give an example for addressing this problem through Anton Wilhelm Amo. Amo (c. 1700 – c. 1750) – born in West Africa, enslaved, and then gifted to the Duke of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel – became the first African to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy at a European university. He went on to teach philosophy at the Universities of Halle and Jena. On the 16th of April, 1734, at the University of Wittenberg, he defended his dissertation, De Humanae Mentis Apatheia (On the Impassivity of the Human Mind), in which Amo investigates the logical inconsistencies in René Descartes’ (1596 – 1650) res cogitans (mind) and res extensa (body) distinction and interaction by maintaining that (1) the mind does not sense material things nor does it (2) contain the faculty of sensing. We will evaluate Amo’s critique of Descartes then inquire into why Amo critiqued Descartes. How might an 18th Century African’s critique of mind/body causation be different? Did race matter for Amo? This will be a two-fold historical investigation based, first, on human difference (i.e., racially) and, secondly, the history of ideas in the history of philosophy.
Dwight K. Lewis Jr – an assistant professor of philosophy and the Stephen R. Setterberg, M.D., Faculty Fellow in Philosophy at the University of Minnesota TC – received his PHD from the University of South Florida (Tampa, FL), working under Roger Ariew and Justin EH Smith in the History of Philosophy. His research focuses on concepts of human difference (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, power, colonialism, etc), underrepresented philosophers, early modern philosophy generally construed, Africana Philosophy, and philosophy of race.