The Western tradition and its great thinkers are currently facing a concentrated attack, often dismissed as “dead white European males.” This assault not only disrespects the deceased but also undermines the principles that form the foundation of a free society. Rational thought, a crucial aspect of understanding these principles, is under attack by the “woke” movement, which disregards rationality as a mere expression of class prejudice. There is a failure to critically analyze the ideas put forth by Western thinkers due to their perceived privileged status. However, it is important to acknowledge that these thinkers have played a significant role in shaping the principles of a free society, alongside counterparts from other civilizations.
Aristotle, the founder of logic, contributed immensely to the development of rational thinking. Despite the time that has passed since his work, his logical theory remains highly respected. However, some contemporary perspectives seek to cancel Aristotle based on his support of slavery, his beliefs about the incapacity of women, and his exclusion of manual laborers from citizenship and education. These critics argue that Aristotle’s philosophy conflicts with the intrinsic human dignity and equal respect upheld by modern society. While it is valuable to interpret Aristotle’s ideas within the context of his time, it is equally important to consider the progress made beyond his theories.
John Locke, another influential figure in the Western tradition, defended the principle of self-ownership and the acquisition of unowned resources through labor. This theory has been foundational to libertarianism. However, some interpretations, such as Charles W. Mills’s perspective, claim that Locke aimed to justify slavery, particularly targeting black individuals. According to Mills, the social contract theory, which establishes political and moral obligations, was inherently racialized from its inception. Mills argues that Western philosophers, including Locke, constructed their theories using racial classifications that positioned white Europeans as rational and suitable for governance, while marginalizing non-white individuals as lacking cognitive power. This interpretation challenges Locke’s legacy as a defender of individual liberty.
While it is crucial to acknowledge the faults of Western thinkers, dismissing their contributions solely based on criticisms from contemporary perspectives would be a disservice to the pursuit of truth in philosophy. The truth should not be compromised to cater to particular ideologies. As Ludwig von Mises emphasized, truth is the measure of itself and falsity. Rather than canceling these thinkers, it is essential to engage in critical analysis, considering their ideas within historical contexts and building upon them to further our understanding of a free society.
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