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Native American philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N078-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 18, 2024, from

Article Summary

Native American philosophies are multiple and multiply different, though with some palpable commonalities. Cosmologically, Native American thought posits phased differentiations of form from a primordial void. Form is fundamentally animate, and widespread metaphysical premises indicate a pervasive animism. The relationship between language and reality is grounded in the semiotic manipulation of animate forces. Encompassing force – like Siouan wakan or Iroquoian orenda – is the originating source of human ontology and subjectivity, which are strongly characterized by ideas of consciousness and will. Mind is critically informed by transcendental experience (dreams, visions and so on) as well as by reason. Ethically, the harnessing of individual energies to specified social goals is discursively and dramatically prominent especially in ritual performance. Ethical principles are extended to non-human ‘persons’ (particularly animals and deific forms) who operate within the human moral compass. Native American reason emphasizes analogy (especially in Lévi-Strauss’ interpretations) and aetiology, and there is a central concern with formal composition and decomposition. The latter is strongly evident in the ubiquitous philosopher-figure ‘Trickster’ – a subversive transgressor of constituted order.

Citing this article:
Whiteley, Peter M.. Native American philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N078-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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