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Open Access Publications from the University of California


  • Author(s): Taiwo, Olufemi
  • Advisor(s): Julius, Alexander
  • et al.

The project of my dissertation, “Autobiography”, is to answer the question: How can we be free? Many philosophers describe the problem of freedom as arising from the limits of our agential powers, given the existence of other individuals and aspects of the world that might interfere with us. When thinking about it in the first person singular, it can seem that the task of the ethical and political philosopher is to figure out how to wrest freedom for each of us from the clutches of other people and from nature. In attempting to describe our complex social worlds, we may eventually arrive at some reformulation like: How can you and I both be free, at the same time, in the same place?

But there is another way of framing the philosophical problem of freedom: how can we be free? When asked from the first person plural rather than the singular, our understanding of the problem of freedom shifts from asking how to rescue the possibility of each individual’s freedom from being tampered with by others, to asking how to create the possibility of our collective freedom in the face of various historical forces that separate us from each other, especially those forces that enlist some of us to perpetuate the unfreedom of all of us.

In chapter one, I engage with “National Liberation and Culture”, an essay by Am�lcar Cabral that characterizes colonialism as a particular kind of historical unfreedom. I argue that the kind of unfreedom Cabral identifies both establishes what political freedom would look like from the first person plural perspective and provides a unified explanation of large-scale collective, individual unfreedom. In chapter 2, I turn to a discussion of conversation as a site of unfreedom in small-scale collectives as an intermediate case between individual and the kinds of collectives that involves nation states and races of people. I discuss how colonialism can meaningfully add to our descriptions of communicative dynamics, particularly how public information is used by differently socially positioned speakers. Finally, in chapter 3, I discuss individual unfreedom in a colonial social context, returning to Cabral’s “National Liberation and Culture”, providing considerations in favor of reworking foundational concepts in ethical theory and political philosophy like rational agency.

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