I have heard that accusation that I’m contributing to the stereotype, that I’m saying the province of intelligence and rationality belongs to the white male. But if you’re traveling a road that begins nowhere and ends nowhere, the ownership of the road is meaningless. If you have no land out of which the road comes, no place that road goes to, geographically, no goal, then the existence of that road is totally meaningless. Leaving rationality to white men is like leaving him a piece of that road that begins nowhere and ends nowhere.
Mohan comments: "A “road that begins nowhere and ends nowhere”. OK, the dreaded question looms. Why is it philosophical thus to characterize philosophy?" (etc!) In order to respond to Mohan it might be useful to capture Lorde's argument:
- i) traditional philosophy is the view from nowhere;
- ii) philosophy is a voyage/search for truth;
- iii) nobody ends up with perfect wisdom;
- iv) philosophy is traditional rationality.
- v) So, philosophy begins nowhere and ends nowhere.
- vi) That is, traditional philosophy is utopian—of no-place
- vii) And utopian rationality is not worth having for embodied (and potentially property-owning) humans
There is more to it, of course. But this is not silly (premises i-iv are widely shared), even if the starting places of traditional philosophy may be more specific than Lorde allows (but in a way that's her point).
In particular, I read Dotson as building on Lorde's position to argue for a pragmatism that can do justice to a wide variety of heterogeneous lived experiences. In particular, I read Dotson as claiming that certain lived experiences find no place in the culture of justification in professional philosophy. In principle, I don’t think that she is right about this, but in practice she is onto something important given the way the culture of justification is currently (institutionally and normatively) constituted.
More important, if Dotson is really accepting Lorde's position, we can understand her pragmatism as oriented toward human freedom. Something that in his polemics, Mohan skips over a bit too lightly. In particular, rather than seeing Dotson as targeting zetetic philosophy, maybe we should see her as reminding us of another genuine option for us: philosophy as fundamentally concerned with human freedom (one that can incorporate zetetic elements without thinking these fundamental). This conception of philosophy has a noble lineage in philosophy, too--Adam Smith, Rousseau, Kant, Mill, Harriet Taylor, Dewey, Fanon, etc. It is a sad fact if a professional philosopher, who earns one's "living" with "investigating reality" somehow finds the pursuit of freedom not even a "relevant" option for philosophy.
UPDATE CORRECTION: after corresponding with Dotson, it seems now uncharitable to me to read Dotson as endorsing Lorde's position. I regret that in the post above I contributed to that.