From Athens to Jerusalem and beyond



Considerations on Brazilian philosophy.

There is a Brazilian philosophy because, above all, there is philosophy in Brazil, as in all times and places where the question of our finiteness and vulnerability is raised.[I] A properly unanswerable question, it was stated for the first time in the Greek language as philosophy, “love of wisdom”, not wisdom, not possession” of a knowledge a sage, but interrogation of those who seek it – with wonder (thauma) and also terror (trauma) –, because he doesn’t have it. Etymology as memory of the word reveals that all philosophy is, in a certain way, “Greek”. What does it mean to say, “mestizo”, a crossing of East and West, profane and sacred, reason and mythology, of different histories, cultures and temporalities.

Philosophy exists in Brazil because there is a philosophical reading of the history of philosophy, its authors, its questions and the culture they inhabited and inhabit, questioned from this heritage, as semiophores: “[semiophorus] is a sign brought to the front or wielded to indicate something that means something else and whose value is not measured by its materiality but by its symbolic force”.[ii]

If Philosophy is the History of Philosophy, it is because it concerns a tradition, a transmission. If it is possible for contemporary Physics to interpret the rainbow phenomenon at an atomic level, disregarding the history of its problem, without referring to Aristotle, Newton, Goethe or Schopenhauer, what would Philosophy be without its History? For if, as Walter Benjamin wrote, it is true that a work is born in a determined space and time, it is also true that it also only becomes intelligible in a determined space and time and not only in those who saw it born.

Therefore, Philosophy has a duty to the classic texts, as a feeling of acknowledging a debt: “Debt is not simply an economic fact (debit, what should I) or social - (obligatio, a relationship of obligation), but a fundamental anthropological reality that designates the primary situation of man in relation to the other and to time. The debt is, in fact, inseparable from the issue of origins. […] is to recognize that man cannot become his own creator alone[…]. This structural dependence [can] give rise to trust (credit, the gift) and support (responsibility and solidarity)”.[iii]

The debt makes us heirs, keeping the memory of our origins and the constitution of its reception; not being unitary, the origin is lacunar and, therefore, must be interpreted in each generation. About this, Marilena Chaui observes: “By instituting the new on what was sedimented in culture, [philosophy] reopens time and shapes the future, [...] when the present is apprehended as that which demands of us work [... ], in such a way that we become capable of elevating to the plane [of experience], […] a question, question, problem, difficulty”.[iv]

If Philosophy and its History are questioned today, this is happening on the horizon of the contemporary antigenealogical crisis, which dissipates all traditional, cultural and moral belongings. Benjamin writes: “We became poor. One after the other, we abandoned all the pieces of human heritage, we had to leave this treasure in the pawnshop, often at a hundredth of its value, in exchange for the currency of the 'current'”.[v]

Let it be thought of Iliad, first work written in the West, whose origin is uncertain, as well as its authorship. Homer would have gathered verses and narratives from different spatial and temporal origins, himself being a Greek, but from Asia Smaller. Thus, literature written in the West has its origin in the East; Eastern and Western traditions were mixed in it, words of Semitic and Greek origin. In this sense, observes, in turn, Leda Tenório da Motta: “creative works reveal themselves in reference to each other[…]. Racine would not even have understood someone who denied him the title of French poet for seeking Greek and Latin themes. I think Shakespeare would have been astonished if they had intended to limit him to English themes, and if he had been told that, as an Englishman, he had no right to write Hamlet, with a Scandinavian theme, or Macbeth, with a Scottish theme”.[vi]

This brings us back to Socrates, for whom philosophy is a generous cosmopolitanism, homeless of all who use the word. In this free movement of Logos the ability to think for oneself and to apprehend an epoch in thought is formed. Philosophy organizes what we live in a dispersed way in everyday life and in history, contributing to the intelligibility of the world.

In this sense, the shift from the “universal” issue to that of local identities brings back the XNUMXth century quarrel between romanticism and the Enlightenment, the former valuing each culture in itself, considering it in its integrity, values ​​and traditions – with what the contact with other cultures would be a threat to their identity, thus tending to cultural closure. As for the Enlightenment, with its wanderlust and abstract universalist values, it created self-centered cosmopolitanism.

But if one thinks of the founding myth of Europe[vii] and on the theme of travel, which leads to the frequentation of other peoples, landscapes and customs, to seeing so many nations and diversity, which made it possible for Montaigne, Montesquieu and Lévi-Strauss to seek and recognize what is common to them: “Lévi- Strauss could justly speak of a 'distant look' to qualify the detached attitude of the thinker who, eccentricing himself, directs his gaze to the universal”.[viii]

Indeed, when reflecting on the particularism of the cultures of so-called primitive tribes, Lévi-Strauss writes: “Humanity stops at the borders of the tribe, of the linguistic group, sometimes even of the village, and to such an extent that a large number of populations so-called primitives designate themselves with a name that means 'the men', sometimes 'the good', the 'excellent', the ''complete', thus implying that other tribes, groups or villages do not participate in the virtues or even of human nature, but which are moreover made up of 'bad guys', of 'earth monkeys'. It often ends up depriving the foreigner of this last degree of reality, making him a 'ghost' or an 'apparition'”.[ix] And “Banto”, in sub-Saharan African language, means precisely “Humanity”.

In the horizon of the critique of colonialism and the anthropology that accompanied it, Lévi-Strauss identified in ethnology a dilemma according to which either the ethnologist remains trapped in the thinking of his scientific community, and the indigenous people would only be the object of his analytical curiosity , or so he links to exotic societies (exotes, foreign) to the point of identifying with them – and then his gaze becomes confused because he separates himself from his own culture: “Lévi-Strauss did not risk a definitive answer, because, at the same time that he wrote that ethnology was founded to exorcise 'the crime of destruction' of the New World[X] – and thus the life of the ethnologist would be one long regret –, he also admitted that Western civilization would not be the only one to be blamed, 'Aztec society having had a manic obsession and in that capacity excessive' of blood and torture”.[xi]

Anti-colonialism in general identifies colonialism and the white race, merging State politics and society, identifying colonialism in every European and Western culture, a generalization that is characteristic of the formation of prejudice.[xii] In this way, Princeton University, in 1990, decided to suppress the curricular unit “Western Culture”, replaced by “Culture, ideas and values”: “[this new discipline]understood [the replacement of classic works by recent feminists, by dealing with African, Hispanic, Asian and indigenous cultures. The example of cultural studies that became generalized, highlights the change in the direction of Western culture[…]. It [the discipline cultural studies] is no longer open to other cultures, as anthropology was, it loses itself[…]. A openness school, which intended to open up culture to all behaviors and all ideologies, has become a caricature of true openness: 'what was announced as a great openness is in reality a great closure'”.[xiii]

Thus, there is a philosophy in Brazil and this – like literature and the humanities in general – is transdisciplinary and supranational knowledge. For them, borders are not fronts, place of clashes, clashes and conflicts, but passages that translate Philosophy, cultures and ways of life. As Benjamin noted about translation, Philosophy in Brazil, like literature, the arts, the Humanities, is not the duplication of an “original”, as translation brings unprecedented axes of understanding, foreign culture enriching both the language and the culture. culture of origin, as well as the language and culture into which it translates, in a “playful space” of invention.

Because this circulation of ideas and words makes the original survive over time, it is not just a To Survive, a continuity, postmortem, beyond life, but above all a fortleben, a continuation of the life of the original in the linguistic body of the translation, the prefix “away” indicating, precisely, a distance from the original from which the work continues to live, transforming itself.[xiv] It is not, therefore, a question of canceling the traces of estrangement between philosophies in different cultures, but of recognizing the nature of Philosophy as undoing all sedentary identity and all isolationist isoglossy.

* Olgaria Matos is a professor of philosophy at Unifesp. Author, among other books, of Philosophical palindromes: between myth and history (Unifesp)


[I] Cf. in particular Nobre, Marcos, José Marcio Rego (eds.). Conversations with Brazilian Philosophers, Sao Paulo, Ed. 34, 2000, among others. Cf. also the interview with Denison Cordeiro, “A Arte da Aula”, in Sísifo Magazine,

[ii] Chaui, Marilena. Brazil: founding myth and authoritarian society. São Paulo: Fundação Perseu Abramo, 2000, p 12. There is Philosophy and the philosophical analysis of all issues, as in Marilena Chauí's works on Espinosa and Merleau-Ponty, among others, but also in her reflections on Brazil and its myths, the temporality of Boteco and the leisure of the popular classes, for whom, far from a cultural “poverty”, time does not have the same meaning as for Benjamin Franklin; or her presentation on the cover of a Dolores Durand album, in whose lyric Marilena rediscovers Rilke and the theme of love and the incessant farewell. Or his conception of culture and education. In the best Socratic tradition and that of Merleau-Ponty, Marilena was secretary of culture for the City of São Paulo. Philosophy is a “daughter of the city”, it develops between the public square and the solitude of subjectivity and writing.

[iii] See Sarthou-Lajus, Nathalie, Eloge de la Dette. Paris, PUF, 2012, p. 10-11.

[iv] Chaui, Marilena, “The public university in a new perspective. In: Brazilian Journal of Education, Sep /Oct /Nov /Dec 2003 No 24, p 12. Here we adapt the issue of education to that of experience in Benjaminian terms.

[v] Benjamin, W., “Experience and Poverty”, in Selected Works I, trans. Sergio Paulo Rouanet. São Paulo, Brasiliense, 2008, p.119, modified translation.

[vi] Leda T., idem p. 9.

[vii] Some derive the term Europe from the radical “ops”, “the look” and “opsis”, “the fact of seeing” that are found in the word “optics” Related to the eyes, these words are associated with the face, the aspect, the action of seeing from which they derive ideain and the word idea that connects to history, the one who knows, the historian who knew how to see, the “eyewitness”. EUR, is present in the adjective euro – “a vast expanse,” a poetic word for heaven, earth, and sea. eurus + oops = the woman with a wide face, with a wide look. Or else Europe comes from hebrew Erebus, the place where the sun sets, i.e. the West, while the term Asia would come from Asu, the sunrise. For an Asian, in fact, the sun sets in Europe, in the lands located in the West: “Europe, the Asian and non-European princess, since she was kidnapped in Phoenicia, would die in Crete[…]. Europe does not take its name from an indigenous princess […], which suggests that it does not find its identity in itself […] Nietzsche and Valéry highlighted in her a small cape of the Asian continent” (Cf. Valéry, La Crisis de l'Esprit, Works I. Paris, Gallimard, 1957, p. 995.

[viii] Mattei, Jean Francois. Le Procès de l'Europe. Paris, PUF, 2011, p. 124-125.

[ix] See Lévi-Strauss. Race and History. Paris, Denoël-Gonthier, 1968, p.19-22.

[X] “History is a long sequence of colonizations and, therefore, the miscegenation of peoples by more powerful peoples who used and abused their power, but also […] the introduction of ways of life, religions and political organizations[…]. [North African] lands were occupied for centuries by the Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, then the Arabs who imposed their language and religion on the Berber tribes, then the Spaniards who occupied Oran in 1509, and finally the Ottomans who expelled the Spaniards in 1555 to impose two centuries of domination.” (Mattéi, op cit, p. 163-164).

[xi] Lévi-Strauss. The Wild Thought. Paris, Plon, 1985, p. 466. About anti-colonial ideology, Mattéi writes: “Thus, the slave trade organized over centuries by Africans themselves for the benefit of Arabs and Europeans is silenced. It is forgotten, on the one hand, that the European slave trade lasted less time than that of the Arabs and Turks; and that it was the Europeans who put an end to this traffic, who prohibited[…] slavery throughout the world”. (Mattei, op cit. P171-172.).

[xii] Questioned the principles of cultural heritage in the West in his Dead White European Males, Susan Sontag wrote: “The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boole's algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary rule, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine's ballets, do not make up for what this particular civilization has spilled over the world. It is the white race and it alone – its ideologies and inventions – which eradicates autonomous civilizations everywhere, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet and which now threatens life itself” (Sontag, S. What´s happening in America? .in: partisan revue, vol. 34, p. 57, 1967.).

[xiii] Allan Bloon, apud Mattei, p. 177. Remember also the Christian heritage of the West and its universalism in the Epistle to the Colossians: “There is no longer Greek or Jew, Circumcised or uncircumcised, there is no longer Barbarian, or Scythian, or slave, or free man, but Christ who is everything and is in everything”. (Cf. Paul, Epistle to the Galatians 3, 28 and to the Colossians, 3, 11).

[xiv]  Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator”, p. 107, modified translation.


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