segunda-feira, 9 de maio de 2011



I make an initial difference between an introduction to Latin American philosophy and a Latin American introduction to philosophy (or an introduction to philosophy from Latin America).

An introduction to the Latin-American philosophy is something like what is done in the books of Carlos Beorlegui (2006) and Dussel / Mendieta / Bohórquez (2011), a commented list of Argentine, Colombian, Brazilian or Bolivian authors who do "philosophy" in some sense of this word. What I want to think is: how we arrive at thinking from a Latin American perspective; or: what it means to think from our own perspective, how thinking is historically and existentially structured from a Latin-American perspective.

The term "Latin America" is particularly uncomfortable, since it refers, in part, to the name of a colonizer (Vespucci) and, in part, to a nineteenth-century denomination to distinguish ideologically the two "Americas", in terms of various interests of foreign powers and local elites. The name "America" recapitulates therefore the history of the invaders and "Latin America" refers to an ideological distribution of political territories, and leaves out all indigenous and black knowledge, which is not "Latin". We would like not even to speak of "Latin America" in our writings.

On the other hand, many argue that it is not possible - even as a reaction to that ideology - to speak of "Latin America" ​​as a unit, since it is composed of a fragmented set of very different countries, against Bolívar's famous continental ideal. But in the specific case of philosophy", the same scheme crosses almost all "Latin American" countries:

(a) they all were invaded by an Iberian country at the same time (from 15th to 16th century);
(b) their indigenous people were enslaved or exterminated and their cultures annulled;
(c) in many of those countries, blacks were brought from Africa to work as slaves;
(d) in all of them European culture was imposed as official and obligatory: first an imposition of Scholasticism, after Romanticism, positivism, anti-positivism (Bergson, vitalism), Marxism, and finally academic philosophy as an exposition of European philosophy;
(e) almost all of them became formally "independent" more or less at the same time (first decades of the XIX century);
(f) all of them retained their economic and cultural dependence in regard to the new world powers (England, France, and later the United States), and they were and are treated as Subalterns until today.

(a)-(f) configures what I call a negative unity among the "Latin American" countries, as they are united by the same process of exclusion regardless of their many positive differences (ethnic, cultural, etc).

But when we ask if there is philosophy in "Latin America", not only this last term is problematic, but also the very term "philosophy". For "philosophy" is the very specific kind of thinking generated from Greece, and that Europe considers, in its own cultural construction, as the cradle of thought. From the Latino-American perspective, "philosophy" is the specific name of the knowledge that the invader imposed on the colonies as an expressive part of the domination. So, when we ask if "there is 'philosophy' in America", perhaps we are assuming the type of knowledge that guarantees and perpetuates our domination.

We run the risk of understanding that we are asking if there is an ethics of the Aristotelian style in Bolivia, or a Descartes-style theory of knowledge in Paraguay or a philosophy of existence in the Heidegger style in Argentina, and that is certainly not what we want to ask.

What I want to propose is to think how to introduce ourselves, from "Latin America", to thinking problems of humans and the world, not by force through "philosophy" as exposed in the official history, from Thales to Habermas. For "philosophy" is just one manifestation of thinking. What we have to try to do is outline what would be a thinking perspective from Latin America, from our own historical situation, which is not coincidental with European historical situation. From this perspective, our ancestors are not certainly the Greeks or Chistianity.

The Latin-American perspective includes, of course, many things, but it begins with a situation of violent cultural invasion. There are many other elements, but that is the inaugural event. For the fact of having been colonized and educated in the culture of the dominator, forces a dramatic choice that all Latin-Americans have to face: either total adaptation to the colonization situation or open resistance to it, or intermediate positions. The Latin American perspective of thinking is then marked by this inaugural historical-existential line: invasion-colonization-choice between adaptation and resistance. It is evident that other countries or sectors of the planet do not have this perspective (because they were not invaded and colonized); and that other sectors of the planet (like Africa or Australia) were invaded or colonized in other ways. Thinking perspectives are different in all these sectors of the world.

A Latin American thinker, if he/she thinks from his/her situation of dependence and possible emancipation, is inevitably an "insurgent" thinker. This expression has to be understood as a technical term. The thinking perspective from "Latin America" ​​cannot, for historical reasons, simply arise, because in the current geopolitics, there is still a huge force doing everything so that it does not arise, a force that no longer comes exclusively from Europe or the EU but from the euro-centric Latino-american scholars.

The emergence of thinking from "Latin America" ​​is, therefore, necessarily "insurgent", because it will always arise in a place where it was not expected, where it was not wanted to arise.

(Remark: the Spanish word game between "surgir" (emerge) and "insurgir" (insurge) is lost in the translation to English. Latin American thinkers cannot simply "surgir", but they have to "insurgir").

"Insurgency" should not be understood as a mere act of "rebellion", but in an ontological-existential vein. It is not a "fight for freedom" (the terms in which Hegel saw European philosophy, and which many "Latin-Americans" still repeat), but as a struggle for existence, for coming to be, a much more primitive longing than "freedom". For to be able to fight for freedom, first we have to be recognized as existing.

But, on the other hand, we should not think this "perspective from Latin America" in "national" terms. A situated thought, historically-existentially constituted since the invasion, which cannot simply emerge but is forced to in-emerge, is not Brazilian or Argentinean or Cuban; it is a thought that fights for existing in its own circumstances, with their own problems and methods and their own styles of thinking.

In the discussions around "if there is or not philosophy in Latin America", both those who respond affirmatively and those who deny they seem to share the same following six assumptions:

(1) Indifference or open rejection of the indigenous tradition. Indigenous thinking is not a seen as a knowledge to be appropriated, and we do not feel in fact, it is said, any familiary to it; we consider it as something strange and distant.

(2) Acceptance of the Western European philosophical model. The problem is not in the model, but in our imitative and servile attitude regarding it. Instead of appropriating the model, we simply repeat it. But the European model is the right one and we should follow it. We just have to change our attitude concerning it.

(3) Pluralism and cultural miscegenation. In order for the European model to proliferate in our lands, we have to adapt it to American circumstances. American philosophy proceeds from a cultural miscegenation that makes "American philosophy" to be not systematic but characterized by diversity and pluralism, in a kind of racial and philosophical democracy..

4) Futurism. American philosophy does not exist yet; the conditions must be created for it to arise in the future. How?

(5) Through professionalization, training, technique, rigor and knowledge, by several and rigurous stages where "quality" is the supreme value; through the professionalization of philosophical activities, guided by systematic knowledge of the "history of philosophy" and by rigorous and technical methods of analysis, discarding all dilettant working.

(6) Originality conceived as "contribution". This "Latin-American philosophy" is going to be original not in the sense of arising from nothing but from the contact with the western tradition of philosophy, in the form of "contributions" to "universal thought".

I argue that this way of posing the question keeps us in cultural domination and delays our in-surgency. I propose another organization, completely different, of the problem, in the following terms:

(1) The Latin-American thinking has one of its inaugural matrices in the ancient indigenous antiquity, in spite of its dispersion and diversity and of the many difficulties of its reconstruction. We would have to make an effort to try to understand this millenarian thought, looking for an interaction between this original knowledge and invasive European knowledge within our present circumstances. Anthropologists, philosophers and geographers have to work together

(2) The (sudden and violent) appearance of the European model is an inevitable historical vicissitude for America, it painfully belongs to our circumstances, but it is not a model to be acritically and reverentially followed, but devoured anthropophagically, deformed and used for our emancipation, constituting a kind of intellectual betrayal (similar to how San Martin used the military strategics he learned in Spain to defeat the Spaniards in America).

(3) If Latin American thinking is pluralistic and diversified, it must be as a result from a multilateral miscegenation. We must not celebrate the miscegenation by itself, the mixture and interaction must occur under equal conditions. For frequently miscegenation was the product of rape and have, as explicit horizon, the disappearance of the black and Indian races by succesive mixtures. These mixtures should not be uncritically celebrated (in terms of a supposed "racial democracy") but it has to be resignified and diversified.

(4) Thought from Latin America ​​already exists, it is not something future that we would still have to wait. Our thinking is already there, but our Europe-centered eyes prevent us from seeing it, we look for it with inadequate images and expectations. This thinking has to be digged out through a kind of excavation. It is constituted, before the invasion, by the millenarian indigenous thought and, after the invasion, by the thought of the resistance, which is present from the first moment of the invasion, crosses the scholastic age, enters the European modern period and reaches our days under various configurations: physical resistance, intellectual resistance, formal independence, emancipation, insurgency.

(5) It is not at all through "professionalization" how Latin American thinking will be achieved, nor through the use of "rigorous" techniques of analysis or "deeper knowledge" of the "history of philosophy". On the contrary, this idea of ​​philosophical "formation" can operate as a powerful way of formal colonization through style and techniques. It is clear that insurgent Latin-American thinking will have to be clear, precise and contundent, but there are many forms of rigor and many ways of exposing ideas that do not pass through academic styles. In this perspective, "quality" is not a supreme value, because it may be a quality obtained paying the price of submission and domination. (As the colonel of "The bridge of the river Kwai", which builds a bridge of the best quality ... for the Japaneses).

(6) The originality obtained through the work of thinking from Latin-American circumstances must be an insurgent originality, not a mere "contribution" to the problems raised by the official history of "philosophy". Another agenda of problems should be developed, which will inevitably be anti-hegemonic. It is in this struggle that Latin American thinking will find its own originality, not as a "contribution" but as an instauration. (See my paper "European does not mean universal, Brazilian does not mean national").

We must have the audacity to write an introduction to thinking from Latin America ​​without the Greek philosophers, without the medieval theologians, without the English empiricists and the German idealists, without many of the "great figures" of official thought, once we apply to our studies the criterion of awareness of dependence and the need to resist and emerge. In this direction, "great thinkers" of the official history of "philosophy", like Leibniz (to give an example), can be perfectly insignificant in a program of studies of thinking from Latin America, oriented towards the issues of resistance, insurgency and emancipation. In general, all the "great philosophers" would be placed "in quarantine" in this new organization of knowledge, until their emancipatory elements were shown.

It is clear that absolutely nothing prevents us from putting Plato, Saint Augustine, Descartes, Leibniz or Kant in our programs of study, to make considerations or establish comparisons, with the aim of rescuing their emancipatory dimensions if they existed. But European thinkers will cease to appear in our formation as models of thought or absolute places of enunciation in discourse or as sacred and reverential figures, in front of which our own understanding is paralyzed. They will be our objects, not our subjects, our tools, not our guides.

Entering the European XIXth century, we find a very curious phenomenon in our relationship with Europe. The idea is that the cultural clash with America ​​would have produced in European intellectuals, at least from Montaigne, passing through Rousseau and Diderot among others, a revision of the traditional rationalist, moralist and religious European categories, a reflection on morality, justice, civilization and barbarism . Perhaps the presence of America helped to ​​make explicit a tension that always nested within European thought, from Socrates and the Sophists, Bacon and Descartes, on one hand, and Pascal and Vico for the other.

The mention of indigenous people is literal in some of these authors (such as Montaigne, Rousseau and Diderot), but I think that great European thinkers who criticized rationalism, moralism and Christianity (although not necessarily religion) of the nineteenth century, such as Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard , Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, and of the 20th century, like Heidegger and, to a lesser extent, Sartre, can be seen, in a certain cultural construction supported by facts of thought, as thinkers deeply hit by the contrast of European thought with American ways of thinking. It is as if those thinkers had been colonized by Americans, devoured by them (and it is not for nothing that they are authors read with such enthusiasm and passion by the American students).


A thinking perspective is not merely geographic but a historical-existential process. If  Brazil is part or not of Latin America is not an obvious fact but a problem. Brazil is a very peculiar case within the context of Latin American reflections, and I, as a Hispano-American living in Brazil for more than 30 years, I happen to have a privileged position to contemplate all sides of the matter.

What does it mean specifically to ask: "Is there philosophy in Brazil?"

Faced with this problem, a good part of the Brazilian scholars think that there are no genuine philosophers in Brazil. They think that philosophy is synonymous with European philosophy or that there are only European (and North-American) philosophers. Another part thinks that these thinkers do really exist, but they are strongly connected to the institutional project of the Brazilian universities, founded only in the 20th century. 

In neither case the possibility of an authorial philosophy is even considered, if understood as thinking beyond the analysis of texts and the study, exegesis and interpretation of the history of European philosophy. Any supposed "independent philosopher" would be considered incompetent, uninformed or dilettant from the point of view of the institutional philosophy project in Brazil.

It is a fact that Brazilian thinkers belonging to the tradition of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are not studied in the curricula of philosophy in Brazil, not even mentioned; thinkers like Tobias Barreto, Farias Brito or Jackson de Figueiredo are not even considered as genuine philosophers, because philosophy is defined on the basis of modern techniques of text analysis, a task in which the ancestors were obviously not competent. Therefore, they are not exposed in classrooms or in meetings and conferences, except within very specific and narrow groups of scholars, who work in a somewhat marginal way and are seen by their Eurocentric colleagues with a certain skepticism and irony.

The prevailing view in Brazil admits that there are philosophers in Brazil only after the creation of the University of São Paulo (USP) in the 1930s and  the creation of the national postgraduate program between the 60s and 70s, where the philosopher becomes a competent researcher of Euro-North-American thought.

In the background of this situation there is the curious idea that a genuine original philosophy will arise after a long preparation in the techniques of analysis and in the intense and careful study of the history of European philosophy. The whole matter is put in severe institutional terms. The prevailing view is that a community of scholars, good commentators and connoisseurs of classical and modern European philosophy was created, capable of generating papers and books that can compete internationally in quality and rigor. This should, in their view, be regarded as the Brazilian contribution to "universal philosophy".

We soon perceive a strong contrast between this calm and harmless view of the situation of philosophy in Latin America, and the Spanish-American view (from José Martí and José Carlos Mariátegui to Enrique Dussel and Walter Mignolo), which focuses much more expressively on the issue of dependence and the need for insurgency. In the Latin American context, philosophers in Brazil seems to be the ones that have most accepted the situation of colonization and are perfectly adapted to it, totally forgetting the indigenous and Latin American traditions of fight and resistance.

Brazilian social scientists (anthropologists, sociologists, educators, economists, geographers) had focused on the issue of dependence and emancipation much more than philosophers (if we think in great Brazilian intellectual figures as Florestan Fernandes, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, Gilberto Freyre, Milton Santos, Darcy Ribeiro or Paulo Freire, none of them strictly a philosopher trained by the hegemonic system).

Surprisingly, the problem of an original and creative philosophy is conceived in Brazil as the result of all this institutional manoeuvering; generations of scholars and commentators should be prepared, creating a community of researchers paving the way for an independent thought. This suggests that a philosopher should be the product of some favorable cultural environment, in such a way that, given certain conditions, the philosopher will arise. Hence, Brazilian scholars spend much time talking about “social and institutional conditions” for the creation of philosophy, or about the situation of libraries, the number of translations, the quality of post-graduation courses and so on.

All these issues are seen as crucial for the creation of an authentic and creative philosophical thinking in Brazil, as if from well prepared institutional conditions a genuine philosopher will emerge. They talk about “stages”: a first step of acquiring study material, the second of knowledge and erudition, and, finally, the stage of original philosophy. This long program allows burning generations of young philosophers in favor of a further generation that, finally, will make autonomous or original philosophy.

I believe that this ideology that thinking requires a big “impulse” is discouraging and paralizing. Thinking does not require any professional "training" or burning many generations: we are now able to think on our own if we have the sensitivity and willingness to try to do it, even facing all kinds of risks. In the institutional approach to thinking the singular and brave decision of thinking is totally missing. This dramatic decision can emerge from a highly individual mode of thinking (the Kierkegaard type, in the European tradition) or from a strongly social and public project (of the Marx type) or from severe erudition (as in the Husserl's and Heidegger's cases). This decision of thinking does not guarantee anything, but puts the thinker on the path of reflection, in the situation of facing things, experiences and events and not just in the endless task of commenting texts about texts about texts.

Someone acts as a philosopher when he/she cannot avoid talking and writing about the world in a particular and singular perspective. Someone does not begin to philosophize just because he/she feels that the institutional conditions of his/her country attained a point where thinking became possible. Thinking arises from an irresistible impulse to expose the world in an inevitably personal way, but , at the same time, affecting everyone. 

This is a heresy to be said at present in Brazil, but I think that a philosopher does not even need libraries or “good translations” or a “favorable environment” or large scholarships. On the contrary, a genuine thinker grows when faced with shortcomings and adversities, when he/she thinks with little social and institutional support, with few books and few possibilities to travel. In any case, genuine thinkers will not stop thinking because they lack these elements.

Although institutional conditions cannot provide or explain the emergence of a creative and original thinking, these conditions, by contrast, may cause a thought not to arise. Thinkers end up expressing their thoughts against all obstacles, and ordinary minds will not achieve it even with all the favorable instruments and conditions. By the time of Kierkegaard, the little Denmark was far from offering the best material conditions for the emergence of a great thinker. On the other hand, the better institutional conditions, far from promoting the emergence of philosophers, may in fact be suffocating and eliminating them before they were born.

Perhaps those who complain that "there are no philosophers in Brazil" do not realize that the very system of production and transmission of philosophy may be preventing them from arising. The Brazil case can be very pedagogical to understand the limitations and dangers of a purely institutional project of philosophical thinking.

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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