Nelson Maldonado-Torres

Puerto Rican decolonial philosopher

Nelson Maldonado-Torres is a Puerto Rican philosopher and professor in Philosophy at University of Connecticut-Storrs.



"On the coloniality of being: Contributions to the development of a concept" (2007)

Cultural Studies, Vol. 21, Nos. 2-3, March/May 2007, pp. 240-270
  • The significance of the Cartesian cogito for modern European identity has to be understood against the backdrop of an unquestioned ideal of self expressed in the notion of the ego conquiro. The certainty of the self as a conqueror, of its tasks and missions, preceded Descartes’s certainty about the self as a thinking substance (res cogitans) and provided a way to interpret it. I am suggesting that the practical conquering self and the theoretical thinking substance are parallel in terms of their certainty. The ego conquiro is not questioned, but rather provides the ground for the articulation of the ego cogito.
  • Before Cartesian methodic skepticism (the procedure that introduced the heuristic device of the evil demon and which ultimately led to the finding of the cogito itself) became central for modern understandings of self and world, there was another kind of skepticism in modernity which became constitutive of it. ... I characterize this attitude as racist/imperial Manichean misanthropic skepticism. It could also be rendered as the imperial attitude, which gives definition to modern Imperial Man.
  • Unlike Descartes’s methodical doubt, Manichean misanthropic skepticism is not skeptical about the existence of the world or the normative status of logics and mathematics. It is rather a form of questioning the very humanity of colonized peoples. The Cartesian idea about the division between res cogitans and res extensa (consciousness and matter) which translates itself into a divide between the mind and the body or between the human and nature is preceded and even, one has the temptation to say, to some extent built upon an anthropological colonial difference between the ego conquistador and the ego conquistado. The very relationship between colonizer and colonized provided a new model to understand the relationship between the soul or mind and the body; and likewise, modern articulations of the mind/body are used as models to conceive the colonizer/colonized relation, as well as the relation between man and woman, particularly the woman of color.
  • If the ego cogito was built upon the foundations of the ego conquiro, the ‘I think, therefore I am’ presupposes two unacknowledged dimensions. Beneath the ‘I think’ we can read ‘others do not think’, and behind the ‘I am’ it is possible to locate the philosophical justification for the idea that ‘others are not’ or do not have being.
  • In this way we are led to uncover the complexity of the Cartesian formulation. From ‘I think, therefore I am’ we are led to the more complex and both philosophically and historically accurate expression:
‘I think (others do not think, or do not think properly), therefore I am (others are-not, lack being, should not exist or are dispensable)’.
The Cartesian formulation privileges epistemology, which simultaneously hides both what could be regarded as the coloniality of knowledge (others do not think) and the coloniality of Being (others are not).
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