Civilization and Oppression


288 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-919491-25-1
DDC 305




Edited by Catherine Wilson
Reviewed by Jay Newman

Jay Newman is a professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph. He
is the author of Competition in Religious Life, Religion vs. Television:
Competitors in Cultural Context, and Inauthentic Culture and Its
Philosophical Critics.


This Canadian Journal of Philosophy supplementary volume contains 11
papers by academic philosophers on theoretical issues relating to the
history of oppression. Five of the 11 papers examine themes in the
writings of major modern philosophers: Locke, Rousseau, Vico,
Montesquieu, Kant, and Mill. Most of these focus on the limited moral
vision of eminent philosophers; reading about something like Kant’s
views on the races is perversely fascinating as well as disheartening. A
notable exception here is D.G. Brown’s sharp defence of Mill’s
liberalism from a critic who rather hastily associates Mill with
colonial oppression. The remaining six papers deal with a variety of
loosely related subjects, including postmodernism and democracy,
conceptions of social justice, epistemic privilege, and cultural
implications of Freud’s metapsychology.

In her introductory essay, which focuses on Rousseau, editor Catherine
Wilson of the University of British Columbia writes, “Historically,
the advance of civilization has been construed both as the proliferation
of modes of oppression and as the progress of freedom, and the present
volume is intended to explore both relationships.” Unfortunately,
apart from some observations made by Wilson herself, Brown, and Bhikhu
Parekh, the contributors have hardly anything to say directly regarding
this important theme or about the concept of civilization itself, which
figures so prominently in the volume’s title. Indeed, there is little
evidence in this volume that the contributors are familiar with the
principal philosophical theories of civilization or, with the exception
of Vico, with the philosophy of culture. Nevertheless, most of the
essays in this collection, and particularly those in the history of
ideas, are well crafted and informative. Six of the 11 authors are
currently affiliated with Canadian universities.


“Civilization and Oppression,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024,