The field of humanities in the era of the technological university

Image: Janko Ferlic


It would be up to all of us involved with the humanities to try to suggest ways of judging the quality of our production, within the technological university in which we are increasingly inserted

By way of introduction

1. The different areas

The theme of the relationship between scientific knowledge, technological knowledge and critical reflection is broad and complex – the first focused on the formulation of theories about objects, the second focused on the formulation of immediate solutions to practical difficulties, and the third focused on the explanation of presuppositions present in the most diverse reasoning used to justify what we do, think and perceive, including when formulating theories of objects and solutions to practical difficulties. In addition to being broad, a sign of its complexity is the fact that this theme has been the center of intense discussions over the centuries, from the ancient Greeks to contemporary modernity. If it is still worth resuming – and it certainly will always be – it will be necessary to proceed in stages, choosing and suggesting aspects that may be more relevant to us at the moment, or more familiar, without losing, for that reason, their universal nature.

Let us consider an example, now classic – actually due to Aristotle, but common among thinkers at the time – of an aspect of the relationship between science and practical knowledge. In the case of medicine, the scientist would exclusively aim to elaborate a theory that could explain the diseases that afflict us; therefore, the scientist would have access to knowledge of universals. In turn, the doctor focuses his activity on curing sick individuals and, therefore, his interest is focused on the practical application of the universal knowledge of the disease. While the scientist formulates theories about universals, the doctor makes use of such theories and tries to implement them in the practical life of his patients - which certainly causes new questions to proliferate, absent from the exclusively theoretical reflection of the scientist, since he does not looks into the eyes of the individual who suffers, does not see his suffering, but only thinks of the universal disease.

There seem to be, then, two different fields, although not incompatible, between knowledge and practical knowledge: while the latter needs to gather knowledge to be able to act, the former does not need to act to know since it moves in theoretical contemplation. This separation of tasks does not, of course, reflect what happens in the daily practice of the scientist and the engineer – let's call the individual of practical knowledge – where, effectively, the roles can be alternated. The distinction, however, is important in guiding the analysis that follows of the humanities' position with respect to science and technology.

At first glance, it is not easy to see the limits that would clearly mark activity in the humanities area, in contrast to the areas of science and technology, since we see the emergence, within the humanities themselves, of disciplines with the intention of becoming scientific. – as is the case of linguistics, psychology, economics, certain branches of ethnology, anthropology, sociology, among others – or, also, with the intention of finding immediate practical solutions – as is the case of certain branches of linguistics and psychology more focused on therapeutic and care treatment, or instrumental training in different techniques; or, as is also the case in certain branches of economics, ethnology, anthropology and sociology, aimed at advising the most diverse institutions.

Thus, within the humanities, we have sectors focused on both theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge. However, there is another criterion that makes it possible to clarify the boundaries between the areas of humanities and those of science and technology – and even situate the various disciplines that emerged from the humanities with the intention both of becoming scientific and of implementing practical solutions to immediate problems. The criterion is very simple and certainly free from controversy: it is about the nature of the focus given to the object of study by these activities. If the explanations and descriptions produced are causal or mechanical, we can consider that these are scientific and technological activities. If, by contrast, the explanations and descriptions stick exclusively to the meanings of the object of study, we can consider that these are hermeneutic, reflective or critical activities – which we could qualify as humanistic, to contrast them with the previous ones.

For example, a branch of psychology that describes aspects of human behavior in terms of physiological or chemical reactions to stimuli might be considered an empirical science, just like physics and chemistry, whereas a branch of psychology that is interested in significant aspects of human behavior can be considered as part of the humanities.

We thus have a rather simple and illuminating criterion – albeit provisional and merely preparatory – of the complex relationships between the different areas: science and technology correspond to activities that focus on their objects of study from an empirical point of view, while the humanities focus on their objects from the point of view of the senses attributed to them. This criterion makes it possible to clarify, for example, that the humanistic approach to the object is always permeated by concepts of the researcher himself, who is led, therefore, to elaborate meta-concepts to interpret the meanings that he thematizes – in contrast to the empirical approach in which the researcher develops object concepts, not meta-concepts, to describe and explain natural processes according to mechanical and causal models.

2. Quantity and quality

The concern, incidentally, legitimate, in evaluating the intellectual production in the different areas of the university must pay attention to the basic differences between them, avoiding collecting criteria exclusively in a certain area and applying them to other areas. One of the great dangers of this generalized and dogmatic application, as we currently see it happening in our universities, is its markedly ideological nature, namely, the process that surreptitiously transforms measures of quantities – adequate, it is important to repeat, for explanations and descriptions with an empirical focus – on valuation criteria. The ideologically marked assumption is the idea that the objective character of quantification, which allows measuring natural processes, will be preserved in the judgment of the value of intellectual production - and, more than that, must be preserved to ensure an impartial and impartial judgment - if quantify this production. Intellectual production starts to be considered a natural process and the quantification technique an objective way of giving value to this process – as if n+1 meters or kilograms of some substance were better than n meters or kilograms of that substance, instead of just be longer or heavier.

A well-known process that has already been extensively analyzed by several philosophers is the spatialization of time – which is properly carried out by the natural sciences, borrowing the knowledge elaborated by the exact sciences. It is a matter of fixing properties of natural processes in extensive and discrete units, as defined by the theories with which one wishes to apprehend the processes conceptually. An important theoretical tool for the sciences, spatialization makes it possible to extend transformations, changes and the course of empirical processes in general, and to apply quantitative measures and causal models to them. It is physical time that thus becomes objectified in the form of discrete measurements, according to spatial coordinates that are days, hours, meters, weights, volumes, etc., which serve to build instruments such as clocks. , rulers, scales, and others – making measurable, and therefore intelligible, eg, the dissolution of sugar in water, the boiling points of different liquids and the expansion of different solids, the course of biological changes in different species and in individuals, etc. They are effective techniques for appropriating natural and mechanical processes by scientific thinking.

This theoretical work on objectification does not intend to apply, however, to processes that are not natural and mechanical in which meaning intervenes, such as symbolic processes. Thus, for example, the physicist and the chemist do not intend to measure objectively the amount of justice or beauty, or even the amount of thought or understanding evoked by a given concept or by a given relationship between concepts. This is not your object of study. It is not the same concept of objectivity that prevails in the two domains of study.

In fact, if the objective description and explanation of natural processes are, in large part, conquered through the spatialization of the course of these processes, the same does not occur with symbolic processes. In this case, as we have pointed out, it will be necessary to construct meta-concepts to preserve objectivity, since it is not limited here to spatializing as a condition for thinking about quantities and combining them in the form of descriptions and causal explanations. It will be necessary to build conceptual instruments that operate on other concepts, ie, that neutralize the subjective contents present in the meanings attributed to the studied symbolic processes. For example, the psychoanalytic concepts of the unconscious, drive, original scene, etc., are meta-concepts constructed by the researcher to neutralize the meanings presented by the patient and allow the analyst to objectively organize the reported mental processes.

The concept of objectivity present in this case is not assimilable to the homonymous concept of the sciences: while the latter corresponds to making discreet and quantifiable what appears to us as continuous and meaningless, the former, conversely, corresponds to neutralizing subjective contents present in the presented concepts. as justification for the meaning of what we do, think, feel and perceive. To objectively analyze the meaning, the construction of quantifiable units is not relevant, since it is not a matter of measuring, but of interpreting through the mediation of meta-concepts – the movements of the objectification process are, as can be seen, inverse: in in one case, measurement is a means of making sense of the natural process and, in the other case, interpretation is a means of controlling subjective forms of attributing meaning to symbolic processes.

That is why, when quantitative criteria are applied to evaluate intellectual production – both in the area of ​​science, technology and the humanities – the following conceptual transformation takes place: in the expectation of preserving the objectivity of scientific descriptions, measures are applied to what, however, is not quantifiable because it is not reducible to natural, mechanical and causal processes – in order to evaluate, to issue value judgments in a scientifically objective manner. Value starts to be seen in the form of quantity, since an instrument of the sciences was applied to evaluate symbolic processes, bearers of meaning, operating, with this, their spatialization: connections of meaning come to be considered as spatially discrete quantities – in the form of number of books, articles, international or national publications, indexed or not indexed journals, texts written in a foreign language or not, in English or in another language, number of classes, conferences, courses, events, advisory services, consultancies, administrative activities, and so many other spatial units that one wants to invent so that they can be measured – and, unfortunately, disputed between the best candidates…

Here is a conceptual transformation of quality into quantity, ideologically operated through the indiscriminate generalization of the scientistic ideal of objectivity. This operation is ideological in at least two senses. In the first place, as we have already indicated, because it corresponds to what we could call the technological scientifization of society – by applying the idea of ​​objectivity present in the sciences to all spheres of social life, implicitly taking it as a correspondence with the truth , which would be supposedly proven by the effectiveness of the solutions found by technology. Here we have the three key concepts that embody the argument used to justify this ideological operation: the objectivity of scientific knowledge leads to the effectiveness of practical technological solutions, and this proves that we have reached the realm of truth. Secondly, and in addition, with regard to the evaluation of intellectual production at the university, the operation is also ideological because it corresponds not only to the conjunctural interest in showing society the excellent quality of this production, but, mainly, in showing it through measures marked by the objectivity of the sciences – as well as, of course, being able to objectively exclude all intellectual production that does not respond to the same requirements, or rather, exclude all those who do not apply for the dispute, those who do not want to collaborate...

3. The evaluation

This broader and previous framework could clarify the different situations and difficulties that the evaluation process of the different areas of the university must face. Once it is possible to clarify, as we tried to suggest, the conceptual transformation of quality into quantity, which leads to confusing the measurement process with the attribution of value, it will then be possible to distinguish two different procedures and characterize their respective purposes – without further confusion. them.

First, the procedure of quantifying intellectual production corresponds to describing this production empirically. Procedure that can be very useful, for certain purposes, but that is not able to accomplish what it is intended, namely, to evaluate, to assign values, from excellent to terrible. Secondly, the procedure for evaluating this production corresponds to issuing value judgments on the most diverse symbolic processes – in the areas of science, technology and humanities –, judging from what is excellent to what is terrible. In the second case, it is a question of judging the pertinence, importance and originality of a given connection between concepts that were previously unrelated to each other – connections that are so frequent and revolutionary in the history of science as well as in the history of philosophy. Links that allowed the creation of new areas of research, links such as between mathematical analysis and geometry, or between the analysis of functions and the logical analysis of language; the passage from the corpuscular conception to that of an electromagnetic wave, as well as the passage from the conception of absolute space to that of relative space, speed and time; or, still, the connection between the monolithic medieval conception of the idea and the conception of the idea as a psychic process and as representation, in Descartes, which allows the passage from traditional philosophical realism to the various forms of modern idealism.

Conceptual connections can only be evaluated, they cannot be quantified, and this evaluation depends on criteria that are internal to the area in which the concepts and their connections are produced. Hence another fundamental distinguishing characteristic between evaluation and quantification: the criteria for evaluation must be gathered from within the processes to be evaluated – which does not occur and should not occur, in the case of quantification, since natural processes do not make sense as natural. Conceptual links must be evaluated through meta-concepts, which are instruments that allow organizing the concepts whose link is being evaluated. For example, the concepts from the field of analytical geometry allow commenting, meta-linguistically, the concepts from the fields of geometry and analysis and, thus, judging on the pertinence, importance and originality of the new area of ​​knowledge – in the same way for the cases mentioned from physics, mathematical logic and Cartesian philosophy. In the case of the measurement of quantities, as we have already noted, the criteria are external to the natural processes and even, for methodological reasons, they should be, since their spatialization is an operation imposed by the scientist to make them intelligible and allow a meaning is attributed to them – namely, the meaning conferred by quantitative criteria for extensive measurements – ie, in space – of duration, volume, weight, mass, energy, etc.

It seems clear, therefore, that the evaluation of the symbolic processes that make up the multiform intellectual production of the university can only be carried out using criteria internal to the very areas in which the evaluations are carried out, respecting the logic of their concepts, their Connections. There are no universal standards that can be applied to all areas to judge the value of conceptual links, but criteria internal to each area of ​​activity and even internal to each branch within the same area and even internal. to each theory – with the degree of detail to which the evaluation is proposed.

Thus, with regard to the activity of evaluating intellectual production at the university, all areas can be subject to internal and specific criteria – let us repeat, with the desired degree of detail – that allow judging the quality of the conceptual links presented, from the cases of excellence to cases to be despised, including cases of fruitful errors, so common in the history of science and philosophy. In this sense, it would be a profound mistake to evaluate trying to preserve the specificity of the different areas through differentiated quantifications, such as, for example, stipulating that books, articles, courses, conferences, advisory services, etc., would have different weights for each area - regardless of their quality symbolic, irreducible to weights and measures.

4. The Humanities

Finally, it is only within this context that it would be convenient to reflect, with a little more clarity and less confusion, on the specificity of the area of ​​humanities, on its position and function within a university increasingly dominated by the ideology that we could call it technological scientism – mixture of practical knowledge and scientific knowledge that underlies its conception of knowledge and its institutional activity, as we point out, through the concepts of scientific objectivity, effectiveness in solving natural and practical obstacles and truth, as a correspondence between knowledge , practical knowledge and effectiveness – or, in other words, as correspondence between science and technology.

In these circumstances – which, by the way, are not exclusive to Brazilian society – it would be appropriate to ask the poet, now transposed to the new context: Why the humanities in a barren age?


technological university

1. Objectivity and certainty

Diverse and ancillary are the conceptions about what subject and object are, as well as about what are the relationships they maintain between themselves. As a consequence, there are also different qualifications attributed to knowledge, depending on whether it is more linked to the subject's requirements or more linked to the object's requirements, such as subjective knowledge or objective knowledge. Long and deep is the history of the dialogue between the different conceptions and, mainly, of the criteria presented to support them – profound for revealing marks of the worldviews characteristic of each era and its transformations.

A striking case, and without a doubt exemplary, which is of direct interest to us here, is that of the Galilean revolution, which established a new paradigm for the objective knowledge of natural facts. From then on, it will only and exclusively be the activity of translating, into the mathematical language of men, the natural mathematical characters with which God wrote nature, when creating it – according to this instigating metaphor in which divine creation is did as mathematical writing and according to geometric calculations. It will be necessary to decipher the latter and translate them into the former, creating for that purpose an adequate language that is at the height of the other, divine one. This is the foundation of objectivity, from then on – as opposed to other forms of activity immune to mathematization, such as those invested in the inner and mysterious world of the subject, his passions, intentions, feelings and mental representations. This is the new paradigm for objective knowledge and its opposite, subjective knowledge.

This same paradigm of objectivity certainly prevails until today, and is even the ideal pursued by the various sectors of knowledge that progressively stand out from philosophical reflection and come to constitute the set of the so-called “human sciences”. This ideal then involves the construction of theoretical models that, like those of the natural sciences, reflect and explain the facts studied – in this case, human facts, respecting their symbolic nature. The same state of anxiety could legitimately be studied both by medicine and by psychoanalysis – or, the same crowd of people, in a restricted space, could legitimately be studied as a modality of enumerable saturation, of a finite interval, by any points, according to a certain constant rate of attendance as well as a protest meeting in front of the Rectory of a University. It will be necessary, for the human sciences, to build more sophisticated models than the “energetic” ones (according to the illuminating distinction suggested by G. Granger).[1] – in which the flow of energy is constant and this is functionally homogeneous throughout the course – namely, models that we can call “informational” because they introduce a surplus of resulting energy that returns to the input of the system, modifying its own functioning. It is the effect of feedback, in which the system collects and integrates external elements to modify its functioning; it is as if the system “learned” with its action, in the image of man.

Models of the latter type are well known in the areas of learning psychology and artificial intelligence – and, above all, the various historical attempts to implement them are also known, such as Marx’s political economy and Freud’s psychoanalysis – attempts, certainly, unsuccessful, for different reasons – Saussure's linguistics and Chomsky's generativism – each opening, in its own way, new promising horizons. It is the Galilean paradigm that remains, in all cases, as an inspiring backdrop for attempts at a scientific treatment of the human fact. Activities that used to be the subject of only philosophical reflection gradually began to participate in the area of ​​science, in the form of the human sciences, or – if we prefer to broaden the field of philosophical reflection and include other reflective and non-scientific specialties – these activities cease to exist. participate in the humanities to enrich the domain of the sciences.

The strength of the paradigm comes from its history of application and success, both through mastery of natural facts and the consensus that, for this very reason, it has consolidated over the centuries. Hence, ironically, the danger that this same paradigm can represent when imposing its image and, with that, leading to an ideological use, scientism – already so well known, since then –, namely, the idea that our access to to the absolute truth, because knowledge is objective and not subjective – even if the truth we have arrived at is provisional, even if it is only a stage on the royal path, however, already opened by the paradigm. It will be against this exaggerated use of the good paradigm that a new character appears in the drama of ideas.

In fact, although we can be sure of the objectivity of the scientific procedure, it will always be possible to doubt what we claim to know objectively according to the Galilean paradigm. We will always be able to raise doubts about any objective statement about facts of nature, about the same facts written in mathematical characters by God. All the classic arguments about the good reasons that the skeptic has in this case are well known: illusions of the senses, dream, deceiving god. Thus, a character from the subjective world wins the scene, a character who inhabits the domain in which God did not write in mathematical language, and who will be the only one capable of eliminating doubt and guaranteeing absolute certainty. It should be noted that, in this case, it is not the objective truth of the Galilean scientist, but an element of another nature, something that will found objective truth itself – something that is a condition for the objectivity of knowledge, but that cannot be reduced to to an objectifiable knowledge in mathematical characters. This subjective element will be the foundation of the very truth of objective knowledge, thus indicating that objective truth is not absolute but depends on a foundation external to it and of a subjective nature. This will, by law, avoid the ideological application of the Galilean paradigm of objectivity in scientific knowledge. This is how Descartes proceeds, as we know, when he insists that, although it is necessary to do science every day and reflect on philosophy only a few days a year, one must not forget to reflect at least a few days a year… – without which, we would add. on our own, one can fall into the ideological temptation of scientism.

Thus, it is a subjective element that starts to base the objectivity of the knowledge developed in Galilean science, for example, the truth that 2+2 is 4, or that a triangle has three sides – truths with which we decipher the book of nature written by God. The certainty that we think, when doubting, guarantees that we are not mistaken when adding, when defining geometric figures, when looking at the facts of the outside world – since God, certainly the same as Galileo, would not deceive us. It is not enough, therefore, to recognize the objective truth of scientific knowledge; it is necessary, more than that, to admit that it is not absolute and should not, therefore, be applied in a generalized way – nor affirmed in a dogmatic way. Just as it is not enough to appreciate a good wine from a superior strain, but it is also necessary not to let yourself be intoxicated by it – even to be able to enjoy it again… often.

Here is a profound lesson that philosophical idealism bequeathed us: by clarifying the meaning of scientific objectivity, it showed that this concept has its conditions of application and validity limited by the presence of a subject of knowledge – and not, of course, of an individual subject. and psychological – who thinks and acts, thus creating criteria to justify his thinking and his action. The construction of measurement techniques and systems is a simple but illuminating example of this profound lesson of idealism. Indeed, if objective knowledge, in Galilean style, led to absolute and independent truths from the point of view of an epistemic subject, then, for example, nothing could be said about the boiling of liquids except that they boil – because its different boiling points are related to different measurement systems that mark the presence of the epistemic subject: water boils at different temperatures, or rather, at as many temperatures as there are temperature scales proposed to measure its boiling point. This simple example is valid for other more complex situations that seem to have greater consequences: measurements of speed, such as that of sound and light, which are the basis for measuring astronomical and microscopic distances, as well as biological ones. For God, who has absolute knowledge of the truth, these distinctions would not make the slightest sense, as they are relative to the presence of the epistemic subject. The mathematization and formalization of scientific models is the guarantee of their objectivity, according to the Galilean paradigm, and, at the same time, it is the guarantee that we move away from the absolute knowledge of the truth. By relativizing the truth of the objective knowledge of Galilean science, idealism shows that the universal knowledge thus obtained will never be absolute. In other words, idealism clarifies the meaning of the concept of universal knowledge by placing it in the domain of human actions, such as the consensus regarding methodological procedures, and distancing it from supposed metaphysical connotations.

In the same way, idealism shows that the epistemic subject is the author of the criteria used to justify that scientific knowledge is considered as objective – as opposed to other forms of approaching experience considered as subjective. Finally, it bequeathed us the clarification of the conceptual situation in which the concept of objectivity tends to be applied in a dogmatic way, or rather, in which the same procedures of the Galilean paradigm are applied to all sectors of experience, to guarantee the objectivity of the results, including those sectors that are immune to such an application – such as, in the case that interests us here, the connections between meanings of concepts, not between natural facts. He bequeathed us, so to speak, the antidote against these excesses.

2. Scientism and practical knowledge

Clarifying this situation implies that it is possible to detect the assumption of the generalized application of the paradigm, namely, as we have already indicated, the illusion that objective truth is autonomous and does not need any foundation other than the object itself. The illusion consists, of course, in conceiving the existence of objects in themselves as entities independent of any other instance – an illusion, in fact, very close to our present day, and with which we are living, to the point of generating the need for texts like this one that reads…. The clarification allows us to apply the concept of objectivity, so to speak, with more objectivity, or rather, without assuming that its meaning is absolute and independent of any foundation other than its own application, according to the scientific paradigm. The foundation of the meaning of this concept, like that of concepts in general, rests on the constant activity of the subject of knowledge who, as we said, creates and transforms criteria for the meaning of the concepts that he will apply to experience. This is the mark of its profound relativity: the conventions around which we converge, but which need to be made explicit and at all times taken up again and placed in their proper place, namely, in the place of human conventions – and not that of autonomous metaphysical entities .

If we manage to get rid of scientistic dogmatism, thanks to the conceptual clarification provided by idealism – in fact, in all its forms, from Descartes to modern phenomenologies –, we will have a chance of avoiding the ideological consequence arising from it, which consists, as we have already mentioned, in transforming conceptual relationships of meaning in relationships between spatialized units through numerical indices. The original metaphysical illusion imperceptibly leads to ideologically marked attitudes and decisions that exclude everything that does not submit to the assumed standard of objectivity.

Conceptual relationships of meaning are not subject to quantification, but only to understanding. Evaluating is not the same as measuring: Evaluating means creating criteria to judge value, whereas measuring means creating discrete units to quantify extents. Now, when quantifying value judgments, according to the Galilean paradigm of objectivity, with the purpose of creating criteria to evaluate intellectual production – even without intending to reduce judgment to quantification – value units are agreed – such as types of publications and types of activities – and they are assigned numerical indices. Good intentions, once again, in this case, lead far away from paradise... In fact, when quantifying a value judgment, as well as when quantifying any other fact or process, it will be necessary, first, to neutralize its eventual value in order to, only then, number. However, would it be legitimate to neutralize the value of what should precisely be evaluated? It is in the act of value neutralization that we can indicate the ideological movement, in this quality quantification process. In fact, value is neutralized by suppressing the act of judging and replacing it with a “score”. It makes no sense to say that the book unit should be worth more or less points than the article unit or the class unit, etc. Each of these units does not have, a priori, any value that could be translated into a number of points, ie, subjected to a standard for measuring extensions. Value is not a substance that accompanies each object as if it were its physical extension, but something that is added to it in the use that is made of it. Therefore, when trying to neutralize the value of one of these units, we will, in fact, be ideologically applying the legitimate requirement of Galilean objectification to natural facts, namely, we will be acting as if it were less exposed to errors and mistakes to discretize what is not is discretizable than issuing value judgments based on interpretations of the meaning of concepts.

If it is not possible to escape the current situation that coerces us to act in this way - or rather, to quantify symbolic processes that are the intellectual activities at the university, subject only to interpretation and judgment, but not to quantification, and organize them under the form of accounting spreadsheets to render public accounts to society –, that we at least bear in mind the ideological displacement carried out here, so that we try to avoid it by focusing on the profound challenge that consists of suggesting evaluation criteria compatible with the diversity of these activities , including within the different areas.

On the other hand, it would not be less important if we managed to escape the metaphysical image of objectivity present in scientism, because this image favors another strong ideological strand present, in turn, in our current societies, namely, the one that establishes intimate links between scientific knowledge and technological activity. It is the connection, mentioned above, between the empirical success and effectiveness of technical implementations and the objective truth of scientific knowledge – as if success in making a machine move and manipulate the environment were a necessary consequence of theories of learning and the movement of bodies. In fact, and on the contrary, we act naturally without any theory – we eat and swim, and we can even learn by imitating, such as, for example, speaking –, without any prior knowledge of a theory that could support our responses to respect for what we do. This is the point of view of technology, namely the practical implementation of theoretical schemes, not the construction of theories about the way the facts are. The ideological link is very strong here, because it brings into play concepts from the philosophical tradition, such as the Platonic triad between truth, goodness and beauty. Once the conquest of the objective truth by technological means is assumed, as would be demonstrated by the effectiveness of its practical successes, then we would have achieved the good, with justice for all and equity - since, currently, the social entity market is invested with autonomy and of rationality, being able to distribute its products according to the needs expressed in social demands – and, consequently, the beautiful – contemplative social state of enjoyment of beautiful things, to be guaranteed by economic stability, unattainable by the ills of the political turmoil. In this scheme, scientific knowledge, according to the Galilean paradigm of objectivity, is placed at the service of practical knowledge through millionaire agreements between university and company – encouraging the technologization of university activities.

Now, it is easy to see that the forms of use and conception of time and space within university life are very different, just look at the different activities that constitute it. Spaces conceived for the patient assimilation of concepts, through classrooms, of medium size, and many individual reading rooms, in which even the walls and windows are built to facilitate the active assimilation of concepts, through ears attentive to silence and eyes thirsting for light – contrast with large laboratory spaces where ideas are materialized in microscopes and telescopes, come to life by dissolving and reacting with chemical substances or are projected inside accelerators, mixing with almost inapprehensible particles. Large libraries, true museums of the most remote past, small classrooms and many reading rooms, contrasting with large laboratories and many up-to-date periodicals, places where theoretical classes are confused, sometimes, with the manipulation of concepts inside tubes of rehearsal. On the other hand, because it is highly individualized, the assimilation of concepts and their interpretation, ie, and the production of meta-concepts, does not follow the same pace as group meetings and shared work. In the latter case, the production time is faster, as it is highly determined by testing the facts, through the verification of hypotheses, and the division of tasks can be an effective strategy, encouraging group work. Hence the healthy habit of also sharing publications, with several authors – a habit, however, hardly conceivable as being fruitful in the area of ​​humanities.

These differences deepen when we consider activities in the area of ​​technology. Space for laboratories becomes the most important factor, expanding and often replacing the space of traditional scientific research laboratories. Books and periodicals are replaced by “pre-print” publications, foreshadowing incomplete ideas, but testable by trial and error; hypotheses about the possibility of facts are replaced by ad hoc solutions, to be tested according to the material and empirical circumstances. Thus, production time also becomes faster, as this is what is expected from practical knowledge – we are expected to know how to swim, if thrown overboard, even if we have not learned swimming rules.

These are some of the differences in the spatial and temporal organization of those who seek to build a machine that moves adequately in a given situation; of those who seek to understand movement in order to become capable of answering the question of how it is possible; and those who seek to clarify the meaning of the concept of movement, ie, that something moves.

It is within this framework that we suggested the question of the humanities above.

Why the humanities, in a barren age?

A suggested answer could be the present text: without producing anything, nor intending to imprint any transformation in the facts of the world, it only launches an expectation of clarification, for thought, about the meaning of some concepts.

In this way, without precise criteria to even answer this question, we cannot avoid the temptation to raise a definitive doubt about the possibility of presenting internal criteria to the symbolic processes that allow judging their quality. In other words, would it not be a mere illusion to try to judge objectively what is experienced in the form of meaning, and not of the fact, namely, processes that we ourselves build and with which we are fully involved?

It would be up to all of us involved with the humanities to try to suggest ways of judging the quality of our production, within the technological university in which we are increasingly inserted.

*Arley Ramos Moreno (1943-2018) was professor of philosophy at Unicamp.

Originally published as a chapter on Human formation and education management: the art of thinking threatened (org. Águeda Bernadete Bittencourt and Naura Syria Carapeto Ferreira, São Paulo: Cortez, 2008). Republished on In defense of the humanities (org. and presentation by Rafael Lopes Azize, Salvador: EDUFBA, 2020). Available in


[1]     Gilles-Gaston Granger, Forms, Operations, Objects (Paris: Vrin, 1994, p.14).

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