Painted representation of Amo

"Adventures in Early Modern Philosophy: Anton Wilhelm Amo" with Dwight K. Lewis Jr.

Thursday, April 18, 2024
Event Time 05:15 p.m. - 06:15 p.m. PT
Cost Free
Location Humanities 391
Contact Email


The department is honored to welcome Dwight K. Lewis, who is an assistant professor of philosophy and the Stephen R. Setterberg, M.D., Faculty Fellow in Philosophy at the University of Minnesota, and host of the podcast, "Larger, Freer, More Loving”.

Prof. Lewis will be spending a few days around the department, meeting students, giving a more technical philosophical presentation to the department, and generally engaging with the philosophical community on campus. The abstract for the department talk, Adventures in Early Modern Philosophy: Anton Wilhelm Amo, is below.

ABSTRACT: 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 18thCentury African’s critique of mind/body causation be different? Is it different from the early 18th Century Germans, where he studied and taught? 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.

The Philosophy Department is grateful to donors Elaine Plaisance and Kenny Chin for funding the Chin-Plaisance Philosophy Colloquia Series. The department can provide this type of quality and pioneering scholarship entirely due to their generosity.

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