29. Out of Africa: Slavery and the Diaspora

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An introduction to Africana philosophical thought as it emerged from the modern experience of slavery and colonization by Europeans.



Further Reading
• E. Abbott, Sugar: A Bittersweet History (London: 2009).
• Q.O. Cugoano, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery, ed. V. Carretta (New York: 1999).
• P.D. Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (Madison: 1969).
• D.B. Davis, Slavery and Human Progress (New York: 1984).
• B. Fra-Molinero, "Juan Latino and His Racial Difference," in T.F. Earle and K.J. P. Lowe (eds.), Black Africans in Renaissance Europe (Cambridge: 2005), 326-44.
• H.L. Gates, Jr. and M. Wolff, "An Overview of Sources on the Life and Work of Juan Latino, the "Ethiopian Humanist,"" Research in African Literatures 29 (1998): 14-51.
• P. Manning, "Why Africans? The Rise of the Slave Trade to 1700," in G. Heuman and J. Walvin (eds.), The Slavery Reader (London: 2003), 30-41.
• B.L. Solow (ed.), Slavery and the Rise of the Atlantic System (Cambridge: 1991).
• V.B. Spratlin, Juan Latino, Slave and Humanist (New York: 1938).
• H. Thomas, The Slave Trade: The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870 (New York: 1997).
• J. Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800, 2nd ed. (New York: 1998).
• E.R. Wright, The Epic of Juan Latino: Dilemmas of Race and Religion in Renaissance Spain (Toronto: 2016).


Ken on 20 August 2019

I'm nearly up-to-date. I was

I'm nearly up-to-date. I was wondering Dr.Adamson if you and Dr. Jeffers planned to comment on the 1956 Conference of Black-African Writers and Artists when you all get to the 1950s (which will proabaly be a busy decade to cover between Civil Rights and the Independence movement)? I recently read on this conference of writers from across the African diaspora when I read James Baldwin's write-up about it in his essay Princes and Powers that was include it in his book Nobody Knows My Name. Also can't wait for you guys to get to Du Bois, I've read The Souls of Black Folk, Black Reconstruction, and most recently Darkwater: Voices From Within the Veil by him and was amazed at every word.

I definitely look forward to learning about (or re-learning about) the folks and philosophy in this podcast!

In reply to by Ken

Peter Adamson on 22 August 2019

20th century Africana

Thanks, those are good tips, especially the 1956 conference. We are planning to cover Baldwin, and actually Du Bois is one of Chike's major research interests so we will certainly have a lot to say about him!

In reply to by Ken

Chike Jeffers on 23 August 2019


Thanks for this comment. As you know of the 1956 conference, you may know of the 1959 follow-up conference in Rome, and perhaps even of the 1968 Congress of Black Writers in Montreal, or the also relevant 1966 and 1977 world festivals of black art in Dakar and Lagos. While we have no plans at present for episodes focusing entirely on any of these gatherings, they are each bound to come up given the figures who were there, as we will be covering as best we can not only Baldwin but loads of other attendees (for example, at the 1956 conference alone: Leopold Senghor, Aime Cesaire, Frantz Fanon, Richard Wright, Cheikh Anta Diop, George Lamming, Jean Price Mars, William Fontaine...). 

I'm also happy to report that you can look forward to at least four episodes with a focus on Du Bois...

In reply to by Chike Jeffers

Ken on 23 August 2019

I'm happy to hear about folks

I'm happy to hear about folks from the 1956 Conference being covered as well as the full slate of Du Bois! I've head of the other conferences, but they don't have a play-by-play by James Baldwin lol. I know that while 1956 is notable for the all-star attendees (Du Bois was suppose to be there, but he was not issued a visa because of the Red Scare--Baldwin printed his written message to the other attendees), 1959 in Rome played a more important role in the development of post-colonial Francophone-Africa, given that Senghor had personally invited Andre Malrux, then-French Minister of Culture as a keynote speaker.


I know of the 66 & 77 conference mainly through my being a cinephile as well as a bibliophile. Those conferences in Senegal and Nigeria played a role in helping to shape black fimaking in the diaspora up to the emmergence of Spike Lee.


Thank you both for responding and making this podcast!

Scott Williams on 27 October 2020

Natural Slavery vs. Civil Slavery -- and Disability

Hi Peter,

I've noticed that there are (still) no podcasts about disability, and likewise none in relationship to Aristotle's "slaves by nature." Not to toot my own horn, but I edited a book about disability (with a chapter in relation to slaves by nature) called Disability in Medieval Christian Philosophy and Theology. I hope the philosophy (and theology) of disability will get some attention later. 

I am deeply thankful for A History of Philosophy without any Gaps. My students, and I, love it!


In reply to by Scott Williams

Peter Adamson on 27 October 2020


Yes, good point. I will think about where I can fit that in in the future! I don't suppose anything comes to mind for you from 15-16th century philosophy outside of Italy? Because that's what I'm covering over the next couple of years.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Scott Williams on 28 October 2020

Natural Slavery in Spanish Colonialism

Hi Peter,

15th-16th centuries outside of Italy-- sure! I'd recommend the chapter "Remembering 'Mindless' Persons: Intellectual Disability, Spanish Colonialism, and the Disappearance of a Medieval Account of Persons who Lack the Use of Reason," (in Disability in Medieval Christian Philosophy and Theology). Key authors from this period: John Mair, Gines Sepulveda, Bartolome de Las Casas, and Francisco De Vitoria.  It's in the details of how the term 'barbaros' was understood that you find discussion of what we'd call profound intellectual or cognitive disability. Las Casas's third kind of barbarian is a reiteration of what John Mair wrote. De Vitoria basically undermines their presentation with a closer reading of Aristotle and Aquinas (esp. on the Politics, Book 1). Miguel Romero (in the chapter above) gives a close reading of the relevant texts to show how severe cognitive disability fits into this disucssions.

I talk about the history in a two part talk: Part 1 (Aristotle, Roman Civil Law, Macrina the Younger, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine) here and Part 2 (Thomas Aquinas, John Mair, Las Casas, Ibn Sina, De Vitoria) here. I talk about the book as a whole, here.  Over the summer I translated the key text from John Mair, 2 Sent. q. 44, q. 3, that was often used to justify the Spanish pro-subjugation stance. He ignores the fact that Aristotle was talking about those we'd call profoundly cognitive disabled, and instead supposes he's talking about a whole people group who are this way because of adverse climates. De Vitoria "remembers" who Aristotle was talking about, thanks in part to Aquinas's discussions of those with "amentia", and so is a better reader of Aristotle and Aquinas, and undermines e.g., John Mair (and Columbus!) in his Lecture on the American Indians. I translated this over the summer too; he talks about the "amentes" quite a bit in this lecture (those who aren't well read in philosophy of disability typically overlook this part of De Vitoria's texts). There's another lecture by De Vitoria that I plan to translate that is all about those "who come to the use of reason." (Romero discusses this text briefly.)

I'm sure there are many more authors - this area of research is new (as I discuss in the "Introduction" to the disability book). SO much more to learn!

My email is swillia8 at unca dot edu    if you want to chat more about this.

Thanks again for all your work on this podcast series!!


In reply to by Scott Williams

Peter Adamson on 28 October 2020

Natural slavery

Yes, that was prominently included on my list already, though I had not really thought about it as being about disability; that is an interesting way to think about it, and indeed about the whole history of theorizing concerning natural slavery... one could also think about women as being in effect "disabled" according to standard ancient and medieval accounts of gender difference, no?

It seems like different philosophical issues arise from the (a) idea of whole populations/demographics, e.g. "barbarians" or women, who are (supposedly) "disabled" relative to some other group (European men), and (b) the idea of individuals who do not belong to such a demographic but are considered disabled, e.g. European men who are blind, deaf, or thought to have mental illness, right? Presumably something else we want to think about here is philosophers who fall into class (b). I was musing, after your original post, that an interesting case would be philosophers who had poor eyesight or blindness, like Plotinus (who apparently could not revise his works because of his eyesight) or a thinker who I just wrote a book about, Abu Bakr al-Razi. In the case of Plotinus I suspect this is something we are told by his biographer Porphyry to make a philosophical point, namely that Plotinus had a different, superior kind of "vision" of the intelligible world. Though it presumably is also true biographical information. Al-Razi tells us himself that he ruined his eyesight through so much writing, reading, and copying; here I am less inclined to think he has a larger philosophical point beyond stressing his great labors as a scholar.

Sorry, kind of thinking out loud there - clearly I need to consult your book!

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Scott Williams on 28 October 2020

Good points about Plotinus…

Good points about Plotinus and Al-Razi!    One thing that is important, I think (and I write this in my Introduction), is that we historians need to be familiar with contemporary philosophy of disability just like we might need to know about contemporary Epistemology, Metaphysics, Logic, etc. Once we are attuned to issues and debates in the philosophy of disability, some of the medieval and other texts, can come alive in a whole new way. This is especially evident in De Vitoria's texts. 

There's a chapter in the Disability book about Aristotle and sexual difference (see Christina Van Dyke's chapter). So, yeah, you are definitely onto something there!

Connecting cognitive disability to "slaves by nature" in this context is a new-ish interpretation put forward by Romero.

The bit about the "other" as being called disabled-- the key move with natural slavery is the claim that whoever that group is, they can (and should) be subjugated through warfare (claims John Mair). This goes entirely against what Aristotle was saying. It is a tricky issue in how we use the term 'disability' (there are big debates in the contemporary literature about the definition of disability, eg., the medical model, the social model(s), the welfare model, and intermediate models between these, and, other debates about the connection between disability (whatever that is) and well-being. Does a disability make a mere-difference, bad-difference, or good-difference?)

I'd be happy to chat about all this with you sometime, if you end up giving a podcast about disability.  (We are having a roundtable discussion of the disability book at the American Academy of Religion conference on Dec. 9th--the critics are philosophers and theologians, contemporary and medieval scholars.)


Peter Adamson on 29 October 2020

More on Disability

OK thanks! I am actually going to email you now but maybe others will jump in here with more comments and questions.

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