build futures



Considerations on the book “The excluded middle – contribution to a dialectical anthropology”, by Fernando Haddad

“By expelling contradiction from its repertoire, the humanities allow themselves to be biologized, and the specific dimension of the human is lost in a pseudo-scientificism that, of science, only keeps the appearance. Hegel, in his time, had to enthrone contradiction in the realm of logic in order to find God. We must re-enthrone contradiction in the realm of the human sciences (now in the right place) if we are to pave the way for finding humanity.”

This is how it ends The excluded middle – contribution to a dialectical anthropology, by Fernando Haddad. From beginning to end, from the title to the last paragraph, there is an effort to delimit the effective horizon of the project that animates the book, namely, to create the conditions for dialectics to assert itself as a fundamental figure of critical thought, taking into account the state of the empirical sciences. In this sense, it is a possible update of the dialectic as a form of criticism that is at issue; even if the book, due to the length of its task, focuses on what we might call an “introduction” to such a project.

If we want to be more precise, The excluded third focuses on the conditions of possibility for a possible update of the dialectic in the face of the current situation of the empirical sciences, which are present through the triad: biology, anthropology and linguistics. For the question he seeks to answer is: “does the current state of the empirical sciences invalidate historical materialism or, rather, does it allow us to better define the place of its necessary emergence?”.

In its own way, this project dialogues with a certain tradition of national critical thought of which the author is a part, the same one that saw in the rigorous recovery of dialectics a privileged way to think about the impasses and paralysis of national life. The same tradition that made this recovery the spearhead for the Brazilian intellectual experience to read and criticize other forms of critical thinking that developed on the international scene from the 1960s onwards.

However, as it is a condition of possibility, Fernando Haddad's book seeks, in its own way, to take an unusual path that is enunciated in the first sentence of the opening section of this article. For if, until now, recovering the dialectic and operating a materialist shift meant, among us, establishing its genesis through the social contradictions that are made explicit mainly in peripheral countries or, even, understanding it as an engine for actions and ways of thinking capable of driving global transformations of structure, through the hands of Fernando Haddad, returning to historical materialism has another meaning. It is about confronting dialectical thinking with the current state of science, having as its axis a fundamental risk that would be expressed in the reduction of the human to the biological.

But could we ask ourselves why such a reduction to the biological would entail such a great risk? A possible answer is given by the author himself in the first pages, when he detects: “The presence of a certain evolutionary discourse in the new conceptions about the functioning of the economy and society, particularly regarding terms such as diffusionism, cooperation/altruism and institutionalism that traced parallels between national development, on the one hand, and evolution, on the other”.

Through biological means, our time would be producing a normative reconstruction of the discourses on society, imposing a confusion between social development and natural evolution that, after all, has a long history within what we currently call “human sciences”.

In this sense, the humanities' recourse to biology would appear as a strategy to naturalize social forms and exclusion processes linked to development. Because in this subjection to the biological, the social experience would be a prisoner of the variation/selection binomial, it would be at the mercy of a positivist ideology within which social violence would only be a necessary expression of the selection that would operate in the development of social life.

It is still useful to remember here an important tradition of theories of democracy for which the reduction of social forms to the organic nature of the biological is a sign of authoritarianism (Claude Lefort). Nor would it be less useful to remember that totalitarian regimes, such as fascism, defined themselves as: “nothing more than applied biology” (Rudoulph Hess).

Faced with this, there would be two possible paths. The first would be to problematize the view of the biological as a field subject to a normativity incapable of giving space to the antagonism and contradiction that would be human. This could lead us to rethink the relationship between contingency and necessity in natural variation (Monod), to take into account the way in which life uses negative values, such as disease and cellular suicide, to produce new forms (Canguilhem, Ameisen), or even explore the fact that certain theories of human behavior, such as Freudian psychoanalysis, accept that human drive does not imply strict distinctions between biological and social. Perhaps we would end up recovering Hegelian monism on other bases.

The excluded third follows, however, a second path. A path that consists of remembering that the effectively human experience produces the emergence of three absolutely unique realities. They are: historical temporality, the symbolic use of language and, perhaps most importantly, the production of internal difference through contradiction. The importance of these three emergencies lies in the fact that they allow the advent of the human as “a single group open to radical alterity”. The thesis deserves a more leisurely analysis.


Time, language and antagonism

When asking himself about how human behavior would transcend the biological, Fernando Haddad finds Francois Jacob's thesis regarding the specificity of social temporality. The thesis is important for allowing the defense of a process of emergence of self-awareness of the plasticity of time, which would allow operations such as: projecting oneself in time, defining the instant as present, between past and future, creating time as a process. In short, it would be such temporality that would allow us to “build futures”, freeing us from the immediacy of which all organisms would be prisoners.

Thus, the author will speak of “the ability to invent a future, expressed in the mental creation of possible worlds, even beyond the very death of the organism. The human brain, for Jacob, acquired the ability to fragment memorized images of past events and recombine them, from fragments, to produce hitherto unknown representations, with a view to possible future events”.

This temporality, which implies a memory not thought of as archiving, but as reconstruction (and which we find in neuroscientists like Eric Kandel), calls for another emergence, namely, that of a symbolic language that would also be the specificity of the human. And it is still suggestive that this way of understanding anthropogenesis has resonances with another reading of dialectics that also operates with a strict rupture between nature and history, such as that assumed by Fernando Haddad. This is Alexandre Kojève: an important reference for the dialectical tradition from which Fernando Haddad departs.

Because it comes from Alexandre Kojève the understanding that the temporality proper to the human world depends radically on the emergence of symbolic language, on overcoming dual and immediate relations and, necessarily, on the open constructivism that the symbol allows. Who once said that: “the word is the murder of the thing”, said this in the expectation of emphasizing that the immediate negation of the given is the possibility of projecting human action into a horizon of historically indeterminate nature.

But one of the really decisive elements of this The excluded third it is in its way of articulating historical temporality and symbolic language to the primacy of contradiction as a fundamental form of social production of difference. In a way, the book seems to be moving towards the defense of the productivity of contradiction as a process that allows the production of time and language.

There would be much to be said about this way of resuming contradiction in a philosophical horizon, such as that of our time, in which contradiction tends to be seen as a “false movement” that nullifies the power of creation of effective differences. But here it is worth recovering Fernando Haddad's proposal due to his elegance. It is not, for example, the way out that Theodor Adorno suggested, when remembering that, in a society like ours, in which difference could not be posited without being annulled by the reification of our language and by the dynamics of integration proper to capital , effective difference could only appear to us as a logical contradiction, as a torsion point of language.

In fact, the sewing of the book consists in recovering the concept of estrangement as it appears in Freud (unheimlichkeit) because it represents the movement that produces an internal differentiation. In a reflection between literary criticism and the analysis of human drive, Freud recalls the strength of these relationships with what seems to blur our distinction between familiar and unfamiliar, between close and distant, between I and other, ego and alter.

Freud then speaks of doubles and automatons that seem to have a human figure. His question revolves around how such relationships impose a decentring of subjects that lead them to a recomposition, often dramatic, of the distinctions between identity and difference. Fernando Haddad sees in this space the presence of a contradiction that drives human time towards a dynamic without origin.

This contradiction, which now operates at an elementary phenomenal level, would be the operator of an opening towards the human order. An order haunted by relations to non-stabilized alterities, an order that produces forms from such relations and that, therefore, inaugurates something more in relation to temporality and language. Order that inaugurates politics.

Therefore, it would not be possible to end this review without suggesting an articulation proper to the amphibious nature of the author, between institutional political life and intellectual life. As much as the book is very sparing with digressions into the current political order, it is not difficult to see how it is animated by a strong desire to find the foundations for a universalism of another nature. Not a universalism by general sharing of attributions, but a universalism by generalized implications.

In a historical era in which the relationship to otherness is shown as a dramatic political issue, and not just as a moral or epistemic issue, the defense of the establishing character of a relationship to otherness that cannot be understood as a relationship of “tolerance”, but which it is a dynamic relation of self-recognition and transformation, of tensioning and internalization of contradiction, it shows a clear awareness of problems that we are only now beginning to understand in their true extent.

*Vladimir Safari He is a professor of philosophy at USP. Author, among other books, of Ways of transforming worlds: Lacan, politics and emancipation (Authentic).

Originally published on the website of Cult Magazine.



Fernando Haddad. The excluded middle: contribution to a dialectical anthropology. Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 2022, 288 pages.


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