certain marxist heritage

Eduardo Berliner, Knees, 2018, oil on canvas, 35,5 x 25,5.


Commentary on the book by José Arthur Giannotti

How to do useful work presenting, within the limits of a review, a book as complex as José Arthur Giannotti's? It is clear that we are condemned to fall far short of what awaits the reader's curiosity in the face of a book with so many facets and so controversial.

But perhaps we can make a minimal contribution, reducing our task to just two operations: first, offering a summary radiograph of the book (or the multiple stratigraphic layers of which it is composed), giving clues to the reader, who may feel disoriented going through its pages; and, second, formulating a general question that aims less at the work itself than at its future developments, that is, its telos last, without which its meaning cannot be fully clarified. I risk more, of course, in the second operation, but I could not avoid it without greatly diminishing the lively interest that the discussion of the book must provoke. Without a minimum of controversy, especially among friends, our speech loses much of its eventual weight.

Let's start with the first operation, less difficult for those who can follow Giannotti's theoretical work since 1956 (!), first as a student and later as a colleague in the philosophy department at USP. And let us repeat, from the beginning, an old observation of mine, concerning the continuity of his theoretical work since those distant times or the obsessive nature of his reflection that repeats, at each new stage, in the face of ever new problems, the same reflective circle: in a word, the story of a reflection that is always renewed in order to go deeper and deeper.

Which already allows us to introduce a curious stylistic observation: I am thinking of the way in which Giannotti gives a new destination to the different styles of the components of the beautiful school, the members of the canon to which he permanently refers: Husserl, Hegel/Marx, Wittgenstein… But what could such different authors have in common? Some common style among the science of logic of Hegel and the Tractatus of Wittgenstein (apart from the "phrasism" and ubiquity of Lichtenberg-like paradox that can be found in both)? The constant (reflective) return of thought about itself, in the form of the circularity of Hegelian Knowledge, or the obsessive reformulation of the same thought in Wittgenstein, in the incessant search for the clearest expression of what is never perfectly expressible, unless poetischerweise [poetically]…

But what matters is not the style itself (thought of as a mere form of literary expression) but the theoretical and practical problems that, by their nature, necessarily impose this form of writing. But what is this problem? Nothing more and nothing less than the question of Reason or the form of rationality. It is no coincidence that Giannotti begins his career with a thesis on (or against?) Stuart Mill, tuning up with Husserl his conceptual instruments in the fight against psychologism. Here is fixed, from the beginning, the pet peeve by Giannotti, psychologism as the “other” or the limit of Reason. Or as the counterpoint that allows negatively to fix a certain idea of ​​Reason.

But what idea are we talking about? Essentially from the layer of logos, irreducible both to the empirical or natural referent and to psychological operations (a bit like Frege's “third kingdom or empire”, which was always an important reference for Giannotti).

But, at the same time that Giannotti led us to the heavenly world of the transcendental foundation of logic, he also pointed us to the instance of the social or to reflection on the fundamental categories of the human sciences (essentially anthropology and economics, but also Durkheim ). What was outlined, thus, in parallel with the philosophy of logic, was a vision of the way of being of the social irreducible to the models of a positivist epistemology (or individualist, in the sense of the so-called “methodological individualism”). This is how, critically reviewing the beautiful book by our common teacher, Gilles Granger (Formal thought and the sciences of man), in the 1960s, Giannotti could not help opposing what he called the “self-productivity of the social”.

Nor will it be difficult to understand this apparently unusual passage from the philosophy of logic to the ontology of the social, if we remember the Husserlian and transcendental origin of our philosopher. Indeed, is not the idea of ​​constitution crucial in the phenomenological procedure? Does it not operate at the level of both transcendental logic and regional ontologies? But the greatest originality, at that moment, and which distinguishes his company from similar ones in the phenomenological tradition, is the articulation that he will propose between the idea of ​​constitution and what we can call the “logic” of capital.

Nothing is further from the “criticism of political economy” than the conception of the temporality of Humanities (sciences of the spirit) of Dilthey, but the operations of Heidegger and Giannotti, in the exploration of intersubjectivity or the Mitsein (being-with), are still isomorphic (and it is not indifferent that the Brazilian philosopher is still interested in the “logical” writings of the Black Forest thinker).

What we have done so far, very caricaturally, is to describe the itinerary drawn from the doctorate on Stuart Mill (1950s) to work and reflection (1970s), passing through Origins of the dialectic of work (1960s). But, in order to understand the current book well, it is still necessary to go through presentation of the world (1990s). Wittgenstein is not Giannotti's recent concern, but it is clear that until the 1980s his Wittgenstein was that of Tractatus, whose translation he published at the end of the 1960s. In the preface he wrote then, after presenting Tractarian philosophy, he refers to the second Wittgenstein as responsible for a theoretical deviation that would have led him, unfortunately, to the margins of pragmatism.

It is only later that he discovers, in the late work of the Viennese philosopher, a new instrument to be assimilated by his own work. A new reading of the ideas of form of life and language game, of rule and application, will allow you to rework your idea of ​​a logos practical. With presentation of the world the final step was taken towards a resumption of the attempt at a philosophical understanding of the “criticism of political economy”.

Ideas from the second Wittgenstein (some perfectly dialectical, such as that the application of the rule is constitutive of the rule itself, or the idea of ​​projection, reworked in a new spirit) help to rethink the expression of value, its presuppositions, its position and its replacement .

It is again about understanding Marx and his limits, as well as sketching the lines that this understanding opens up for our practice, ethics and politics.


Critique of Political Economy

I lack the necessary competence to follow, step by step, his attempt at a categorical reconstruction of the “criticism of political economy”. And I confess that my reading of the Frankfurtians does not lead me to follow the criticisms that Giannotti addresses to them. But my more or less (more less than more) well-founded opinions don't matter. I believe that, with regard to Marx, Giannotti's operation is twofold: to show the (permanent) interest of his critical work, which would not have been made peremptory by the evolution of economic science, and the death of the “political” dimension of Marxism. Ultimately, the impossibility of thinking about the idea of ​​revolution. But the essential thing is that the eclipse of the idea of ​​revolution does not seem to derive from a properly historical-political reasoning (say, in the language of Merleau-Ponty, from the slippage of the labor movement or the paralysis of negativity), but rather logical-categorical. .

This is how one of his fundamental criticisms of the Frankfurtians concerns the renunciation of the perspective of “criticism of political economy” and its replacement by “critique of culture”. This is how this resumption of a certain Marxist tradition, at its most classic, if The capital which provides the heart of Marxism, ends up inverting one of its original meanings.

What is Giannotti's final conclusion? He closes his book with the following proposition: “However, what is the meaning of the class struggle, the struggle for control of the norm, in a society in which the norm has become fibrillated, it serves to mark intervals whose intermediate space, however, is filled by decisions and following the best practices?”.

As I lack, I repeat, the economic culture to discuss technically and politically the thesis thus exposed (the ultimate meaning of the idea of ​​“fibrillation of the norm” escapes me), I leave it aside to formulate my problem, which does not seem to be external to the book. I am referring to the two divergent lines of flight that the work projects into the future, promising us a future “critique of practical reason”. What are these two lines of flight? They are those that unfold against a background of finitude and precarious intersubjectivity and that point, in one case, to an ethics of intimacy and, in another, to an objective morality.


Rationality of the contemporary world

Before the writing of “Certa Herança Marxista”, Giannotti had already expressed these ideas, responding to a question from Balthazar Barbosa Filho, during a debate that we devoted to his previous book. The question formulated by Balthazar aimed at something like a necessary limitation in Giannott's description of the “rationality of the contemporary world”. Roughly speaking, there would be a problem with Giannotti's “modest Enlightenment project”, since the use of Wittgenstein implies the recognition of an essential limit in the process of “grammatical disalienation”.

Of course, Giannotti does not ignore (on the contrary, he theorizes) the idea of ​​something like an illusion that is both necessary and objective (what is, in fact, the commodity?). But it must be recognized that it seems difficult to conceive, as Balthazar insists, an illuminist project, even a modest one, “because it is part, I think, of any transcendental grammar, the preservation of the necessity of grammatical error”.

Giannotti's way out seems to be to recognize in the part of shadow, of opacity, that is, of lived intimacy or authenticity, the field of an ethics that escapes the formulated aporia. But what can an ethics in intimacy mean? This is my question, which I know to be perfectly naive. Wouldn't we be close to something similar to a “private language” here? Lending myself money or being ethical in secret? On the other hand, doesn't the idea of ​​an objective morality formally contradict any opposition between being and ought to be? Sanctification of what is there?

Bento Prado Jr. (1937-2007) was professor of philosophy at the Federal University of São Carlos. Author, among other books, of some essays (Peace and Earth).

Originally published in the newspaper Folha S Paulo, section “mais!”, on October 22, 2000.



Jose Arthur Giannotti. certain marxist heritage. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2000, 336 pages.


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