The 24th Philosophy Born of Struggle Conference, titled Answering the Call: Philosophies Born of Struggle in the 21st Century, opened with an address presented by Charles Mills, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York, on Friday, Nov. 2. In his lecture titled “Rawls’ Unrealistic Whitopia: Ideal Theory of Epistemic Justice,” Mills accused John Rawls, the 20th century’s most prominent political philosopher, of engaging in a “whitopian project.”
Alfred Prettyman ’56, one of Hamilton’s first African American philosophy majors, introduced Mills. Conference organizer, Christian A. Johnson Excellence in Teaching Professor of Philosophy Todd Franklin, described Prettyman as a “seminal figure in the development of African American philosophical thought and the struggle for social justice.”
Mills charged that Rawls “presented a liberal conception of justice, which he intends to be operative in a ‘realistic utopia’ [but that] actually offers ‘a sanitized conception of Western society and history... that obviates any need for rectification of historical racial injustice.’”
Mills’ indictment stemmed from the peculiar absence of any substantial treatment of racial justice in Rawls’ large body of literature. He presented “an idealization of the present and past via a white social imaginary that erases the hundreds of years of European domination, expropriative white settlement, racial slavery, and the establishment of white supremacist states,” said Mills.
Michael Valari ’19 described Mills address as “illuminating and insightful.” Indeed, for those of us who are sympathetic to the Rawlsian project, Mills’ insight forces us to wrestle with the possibility that Rawlsian political theory cannot begin to address concerns of corrective racial justice without significant alterations.
According to Franklin, the Philosophy Born of Struggle (PBOS) conference “has remained a traveling conference dedicated to bringing Africana philosophy to various communities, be they academic or not, in the United States. Over the last several years, PBOS has sought to be a home to voices that hear and speak to new, historically excluded, immigrant, déclassé, discriminated against, gendered and non-gender conforming philosophers.” In keeping with this aspiration, the presentations and panels at this year’s conference addressed the role of philosophy in relation to 21st Africana struggles from a variety of different perspectives and in a variety of different contexts.