segunda-feira, 9 de maio de 2011


What does it mean to say: "There are no philosophers in Brazil?"

Many readers might feel the urge to exclude this item for thinking that philosophy is just philosophy, and that questions about “national philosophies” have no sense. To this I reply that I agree, and I do not like asking this question; but it is a response to a situation already existing: Brazilian philosophers are not studied in the curricula of philosophy, not even mentioned; they are not presented at meetings and conferences (except in specific groups of study, where these philosophers are confined in narrow fields of discussion) and a large part of the academic community is convinced that there are no philosophers in Brazil. We might have the impression they were being excluded because they are Brazilian, unless it is demonstrated that none of them has ever thought anything of value. That is why we must (reluctantly) put the question, precisely because philosophy is simply philosophy (or should be), regardless of nationality.

Both those who do not believe in the possibility of a “Brazilian philosophy” (the “universalists” or “internationalists”), and those who do believe (the “independentists”), always put the whole issue in social and institutional terms. The former think that a community of scholars of texts, good commentators and connoisseurs of classical and modern philosophy should be created, capable of generating papers and books that can compete internationally with dignity. This should, in their view, be regarded as the Brazilian contribution to philosophy. Some of them do not see any sense in the question of whether this type of philosophical practice will generate or not “genuinely Brazilian” thinking, while others bet on a continuation, sometimes difficult to understand, between these erudite activities and the birth of an original Brazilian thought. The universalist ideology seems to be prevalent among teachers.

Moreover, the few critics of academic philosophy think that social, cultural and even institutional conditions should be created to promote a creative and original thinking, and to fight against colonialism still on the minds of Brazilian thinkers, which leads them to copy external patterns instead of thinking for themselves. In both cases, the problem of original and creative philosophizing is thought within terms of a socio-cultural and institutional framework that would allow its development. In sum: from the universalist point of view, generations of scholars and commentators should be prepared, then creating a community of contributors to international philosophy; and from the independentist point of view, a “critical mass” (to use the jargon) should be created, able to “shake” the structures of cultural dependence and paving the way for an independent thought.

I'm perplexed by this kind of approach! For it suggests that a philosopher should be the product of some favorable socio-political and cultural environment, in such a way that, given certain conditions, the philosopher will arise. Hence, teachers spend much time talking about “social and cultural conditions” for the creation of philosophy, the conditions of philosophical formation in the current cultural context, the number of existing translations, the creation of post-graduation courses, and so on, as if these issues were crucial for the creation of an authentic and creative philosophical thinking in Brazil, as if from certain social conditions, a true philosopher would emerge.

After the initial amazement, I begin to think about the best way to formulate my own ideas about the issue. I here venture the following theses:

(a) I believe that in all these analyses, the deepest singular motive for the act of philosophizing is systematically forgotten. When I say “singular”, I do not mean personal, biographical or private contents or experiences of the philosopher, but his personal attitude in relation to ideas, which can emerge from a highly individual philosophizing (Kierkegaard type) or in strongly social and public projects (Marx type) or from other sharply erudite (Husserl and Heidegger type); this singularity of attitude should manifest in all cases. The philosophizing itself comes from a personality suffering from some problems (deeply personal or markedly public, but always within an act of thinking of his own), which cannot avoid putting them in texts, written or oral. It comes from the own life of the philosopher, both from his personal torments and from his intellectual perplexities and social concerns.

(b) Someone is a philosopher when he cannot avoid talking and writing about the world in a particular and singular perspective. Someone does not begin to philosophize just because he feels that the social and cultural conditions of the country where he lives reached a point where philosophizing became possible. The philosophizing itself comes from a natural impulse to expose the world in an inevitably personal way, but in either way, it appeals to the human, to what affects everyone. This does not mean that this thought does not reflect their origins and socio-cultural context; it is clear that it will reflect them, inevitably. But that is not what should be emphasized when asking how that singular thought will emerge.

(c) In Brazil and many other Latin American countries (and perhaps also in India, Japan and Africa), there is the idea that generating an independent thought requires long “preparation”. They talk about “stages” such as a first step of acquiring study material (translations, etc), the second of preparation of commented and erudite philosophy, and, finally, a stage of original philosophy. They talk about (and it makes me literally terrified and it should also terrorize the younger) burning generations of young philosophers in favor of a generation that, finally, will make philosophy. I believe that this ideology that philosophizing requires a big “impulse” is dangerously destructive and simply false. Philosophizing does not require any impulse or burning generations: we are now able to philosophize on our own, if we have the sensitivity and willingness to try it, which is always a task full of risks of all kinds.

This is a heresy that nobody will accept: a philosopher, as I conceive, does not even need libraries or “good translations” or a “favorable environment” or indefinitely renewable scholarships. A philosopher also consolidates in his opposition to his failures. The lack of “conditions” could lead to particular difficulties for the philosophizing of a philosopher (as they say it happened, for example, with Farias Brito), but the presence of such conditions could lead to other difficulties (as it seems to be the case, in fact in the current situation, in which Farias Brito maybe could not do everything he did in the nineteenth century).

(d) My final thesis is that there are already Brazilian philosophers (and Argentinean and Chilean and Bolivian and Paraguayan. And Indians, Japanese and Africans, for how can a people exist without philosophy?). However, institutional and evaluative mechanisms in order to view their philosophies are not available. There is no point that an activity exists if the logic of the distribution of information prevents people from seeing it. I am not talking, of course, about a technical matter, because the Internet allows today to see it all, and even too much, but the very logic of the selection of authors and themes, the institutional targeting through programs, curricula, mechanisms of authority, guidance and counseling. The “existence” of something goes through the policy of information: the ontology was computerized. Today, we have a device of information that allows us to visualize all sorts of works produced in Germany and U.S.A., but that prevents us from viewing great reflective efforts in South America. Everyone knows “Mortal Questions”, from Thomas Nagel, but few know the Metafísica de la Muerte, from the Mexican thinker Agustin Basave Fernandez.

The “non-existence” of philosophy in Brazil (and in many other countries) is an effect produced by the particular distribution of information dominating in today's world, by the particular structure of educational and research institutions and by unilateral ideas of when a philosophy has a value or not. Changing these conditions, we will begin to “see” our philosophers, that is, when we no longer search for them in the wrong places and with the false images and expectations.

(e) Although social and cultural conditions cannot, I believe, provide or explain the emergence of a creative and own philosophical thinking, these conditions may contribute for this thought not to appear. Despite the genuine philosophers end up expressing themselves and shouting their philosophies after all, in many cases, it becomes extremely difficult. Denmark at the time of Kierkegaard did nothing to Kierkegaard to arise, but neither did anything to stop him. I believe this does not happen nowadays in Latin America, because the institutional conditions far from promoting the emergence of philosophers may in fact be suffocating and eliminating them before they were born.

The complaint of “lack of philosophers” in a country is thus largely unaware of this lack being generated by the mechanism of production and evaluation of philosophy. It is not an “objective” phenomenon.



4 comentários:

Patrick (Atoron!) disse...
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Patrick (Atoron!) disse...
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Patrick disse...


I'm a student of philosophy from Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro. I thought about your text, and in fact, it's the better mirror who someone already made of academic community of brazilian philosophy.
Everybody expects a social context for the rise of brazilian philosophy, like a political change or someone wins a nobel prize that put the life condition of academics in another level of success, cause currently the image of the teacher is very wrong. Bad payment for hour to teach, a market with few customers of philosophy books as argentina, etc.

I guess awesome this analyze.

Aldair Massardi disse...

I ran up this (great) post of yours because I’m writing about what I termed “Brazilian pop stars philosophers”.
I can’t help but to note that, though I agree with your general idea that the rise of philosophers disregards the circumstances in which they find themselves in, you seem to have neglected a third possible hypothesis which seems to play a role.
The environment may “kill” the philosophers at birth. Yes I’m afraid it may be, in a great extent, true here in Brazil.
The way philosophy is taught. The deliberately intricate words used, the lack of context, the boring and unattractive style of teaching, etc. not to mention the suffocating Christian thought, are all killers.
Yes. Not a objective phenomenon, but Brazilians themselves are helping much.

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