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We Lost a Truly Great Philosopher - Part One

Education 08 Dec, 2021 Follow News

Dr. Livingston Smith is a Professor at the University College of the Cayman Islands. He is also Director of the CXC Education Volunteer programme

Professor Charles Mills

Let us face it, the human life-span is a poetry of brevity and at the end of it, death smiles at us, to quote Marcus Aurelius, as it stands waiting with open arms and with a cold certainty. Irrespective of how much power, material possession, education, prestige, or education one has, as all flesh and blood, we await a hole in the ground.

In the Greek mythology, Sisyphus, a deceitful king who tricked the god of death and stayed alive longer than he should have, is punished by Hades. To use the words of James Fieser in his Great Issues in Philosophy, Sisyphus has the endless task of raising his gigantic stone with both his hands. With hands and feet, he tried to roll it up to the top of the hill, but always, just before he could roll it over onto the other side, its weight would be too much for him, and, without pity, the stone would come thundering down again onto the plain below. Then he would begin trying to push it up hill again, and the sweat ran off him and steam rose from his head.

The story of Sisyphus is meant to demonstrate the view that the sum of a person’s life efforts is pointless in the face death, and that life itself is absurd, that we strive to be happy, but instead are trapped in a life of futile efforts. As much as we try to make sense of it and solve the problem, we can’t, and the sober reality of things simply does not live up to our optimistic expectations. So, Sisyphus represents the overwhelming struggle that we each have in overcoming a pointless life.

In William Shakespeare's play "Macbeth" in Act 5, Scene 5, in shock, Macbeth, his life coming to an end, declares that life is ... “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (Act V, Scene V, 25–27).

Famous philosopher Camus, says that we should revolt against the apparent pointlessness of life, accept our condition as limited as it is, and in that find happiness.

Noted atheist Richard Dawkins, describing the fact the universe is expanding farther and farther, and getting colder while doing so, explains how, in time, all the stars will be burnt up and all left will be dead stars and blackholes, no light, no heat, corpses of dead stars and galaxies, ever expanding into endless darkness into the cold recesses of the earth. In this context therefore, for him, there is no purpose to life, no evil, no good, just pitiless existence, and we, machines for propagating DNA.

As a Christian, while I do not share Dawkins’s rather dreadful view of pointlessness, it seems to me that in addition to the pursuit of a knowledge of God as ultimate reality, that defining and realizing a ground project is a cornerstone of a meaningful life.

And this brings me to the main point of this article, the recent passing of prominent philosopher Professor Charles Mills, who, coming out of the Caribbean, became a presence in philosophy, a feat not easily achieved in a discipline which has historically been bereft of racial diversity.

It was the life work, the ground project of Charles Mills, to dismantle the racial project using the tool of the intellect in exposing it for what it was and is, making us rethink it and hopefully change it.

Mills is the author of such books as: The Racial Contract, Black Rights/ White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism (Transgressing Boundaries: Studies in Black Politics and Black Communities), Black Visible: Essays on Philosophy and Race; Radical Theory, Caribbean Reality: Race, Class and Social Domination; The Contract and Domination; From Class to Race: Essays in White Marxism and Black Radicalism (New Critical Theory).

In subsequent articles, I will explore Mill’s analysis of the complex subject of race and some of the conclusions he arrived at.

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