chapter  1
16 Pages

Modernity and the Other: A Story of Inequality

In 1492 . . . we all know the story . . . Columbus sailed the ocean blue. The subsequent European arrivals in what became known as the New World over the course of the next half-century led to one of history’s most remarkable cultural encounters. The encounter was a monumental political event that blended war with philosophy, juxtaposed “barbaric” cannibals with cruel conquistadors and virtuous priests, and set in opposition the moral universalism of the Spanish and the alterity of the Indians. It was a quintessential encounter between Europe and the Other, resulting in a large-scale conquest that forever altered the destinies of nations, but also the course of European philosophy. This book traces the impact of the discovery of the New World on European thought from the Spanish debates about the Indians in the sixteenth century to the French Enlightenment in the late eighteenth century, and draws implications for contemporary dealings with the Other.1 While some scholars suggest the Discovery had no more than a blunted impact on European thought (Elliott 1970, 1976),2 and others focus on the important role the Discovery played in the emergence of human rights (Tierney 1997; Pagden 2003), I am interested in a diff erent philosophical narrative-the role of the Discovery in crystallizing the place of inequality in modernity.3