Reading policies in philosophy

Image: Alexey Demidov


Considerations on the study of philosophy

“Attentive reading is intelligent repetition” (Paul Valéry).

The formula that a new book comes to fill a bibliographic gap is a recurring topic in the review genre. Due to the repetition, it can sometimes seem that it is worn out as an expressive resource and, therefore, would have a merely cosmetic function without adding anything significant to the reader's interest. However, at other times, the work in question actually does something different and that changes the approach or treatment of issues that are still present, which would justify and reinvigorate the original meaning of the commonplace.

It is this second case of the book Introduction to argumentative analysis: theory and practice, by Marcus Sacrini, recently published by Editora Paulus, because it exposes in vernacular a propaedeutic concern aimed at guiding, supporting and mastering writing and reading skills by students and those interested in general, normally required in various circumstances of the intellectual life, but above all as an indispensable requirement in Philosophy, Humanities and Science courses.

As I intend to expose, until very recently, there was a tacit agreement in philosophical studies at the University of São Paulo that learning philosophy required from students a type of commitment, disposition, preparation and personal effort whose result would lead to knowledge, necessarily and providentially, to a political conversion and a consequent ethical transformation, in a broad sense, which, in turn, would request domains and procedures to handle the study project that included a renewal of the life project itself, but whose scope the student would realize only some time later.

Among these preparatory measures, in addition to language studies and the constitution of one's own erudition, to elaborate, with the help of the philosophical tradition, a methodology of analysis, comment and interpretation of texts, either for the more immediate purposes that the philosophical disciplines in degree require, whether for the sedimentation of philosophical perspectives in research that are of distinct interest to each student. Hence the tacit agreement, male and female professors should interfere as little as possible and only do so in the fair measure of the request for support and, very eventual, monitoring of students' studies. This meant, among other things, that studying philosophy was seen more properly as a political act, therefore, it presupposed, in the case of the student, the constitution, with autonomy, of values ​​and principles that would even embody the perspective that calls for the study of the classics of thought.

At USP, this moment was, above all, French. “The successful colonization”, in prof. Paulo Arantes to Michel Foucault.

Marcus Sacrini's book participates in the change in that way of seeing the peculiar condition of philosophy students at USP. Precisely because the book Introduction to argumentative analysis it is, first of all, a manual to support students in their previously solitary and hesitant effort to understand philosophical texts, in particular, and humanities, in general. Studying philosophy began to be seen as a problem, because when the criteria for evaluating university performance were changed, the indices began to decide what should be considered problematic. Since basic education is what it unfortunately is in Brazil, dropping out of the philosophy course has become a central concern of widely implemented administrations.

Therefore, it was a question of researching the dropout factors. Among the various social and pedagogical factors, the effect of the chronic difficulty in keeping up with the disciplines stood out. The proposed possible solution sees, however, the issue as, above all, one of technical training and, with luck, the awakening of a sixth sense for the need to advance in this domain towards a new rationality.

Let me say something about a factor that can interfere with the formation of students' reading expectations. This is because the educational culture of basic schools in Brazil tends to consolidate the misconception of didacticism at any cost as a criterion, expectation and model of expository clarity in the sensitivity of students' training, which, when adopted as an evaluation parameter, can, however, operate in the opposite direction of the best procedures of most of the philosophical purposes themselves and of the development and mastery of attention and discernment over the texts, because it hijacks the reader's opportunity to extract, by his own effort and autonomous perspective, the meanings that the text and the philosophical doctrine in question can offer and even win with brilliance, wit, and interpretive imagination. Therefore, it should be understood as availability for the application of this autonomy at times when, citing the texts of the thematized authors, this exposition seems obscure, enigmatic or, as students tend to hastily classify, confused. Theme, incidentally, central to the work here under review.

I would also like to remind you that the genre of the review, in cases where, like this, one intends to value the work in question, never includes the intention of saying in a few words what the author of the reviewed book thought fit to express in almost four hundred pages. In addition to a flagrant inelegance, the mistake produces, at most, a deviation from the original purposes of the book, more than clarifying what was accomplished.

As I have been doing a work on the history of ideas related to the moment of genesis of some of the political, philosophical, intellectual and educational orientations in Philosophy studies in Brazil, it would be important for me to say a few more words about the mode of participation of this work in the history of providences methodological approaches taken in the same sense of avoiding the early shipwreck of the good intentions and efforts of students who venture and dedicate themselves to the study of philosophy in Brazil.

To that end, I have divided this presentation into three scenes: the fundamental scene, the structural scene, and the current scene.


the key scene

In 1936, Jean Maugüé, responsible for the philosophy course at the newly founded University of São Paulo, wrote a seminal document that served as a guideline for the new way of dealing with philosophy in Brazil. The text “The teaching of philosophy and its guidelines” represented a milestone of change in the approach that philosophy would take in São Paulo and Brazil.

Discovering, exercising and learning good ways of reading, commenting and interpreting philosophical texts requires care and preparation that are not always evident. These modes are similar to the rules of etiquette for a convenient and adequate social coexistence. It would only make sense for the apprentice who claimed to participate in this sociability, when then the set of recommended conventions and precepts could help, but not without demanding the dedication and willingness that suits.

Here is a summary of the content of Jean Maugüé's propositions contained in the aforementioned text, initially published in the FFCL Yearbook, in 1936, and republished by Notebook of the Jean Maugüé Study GroupIn 1996.

“The teaching of philosophy must be personal, both on the part of the professor and on the part of the students. Teachers are asked to reflect on their intellectual responsibility. It would be nice if the students were asked for a little more personality”.

“The student's personality is formed in the attention given to the lessons, above all in reflection, and even more so by slow, continuous and meditated reading”.

“Reading should be a rule of life for the student. This should naturally read only good authors. It is safer to read those that time has already consecrated. Philosophy begins with a knowledge of the classics.”

“The history of philosophy must have a primordial place in Brazil. It can be taught, following rigorous and perfectly modern methods. There is no present life without the knowledge of the past life.”

“Anyway, the future of philosophy in Brazil depends on the culture that the student has previously acquired. Philosophy, according to one of the conceptions of Plato's Republic, is nothing more than the dialectical crowning of a harmonious and complete teaching”.

The ethical character of these propositions is evident, less merely methodological protocols, they require an intellectual posture from the learner in the face of philosophical works. There was a bet in this that, willing to face the challenge of understanding the history of western thought, the student would be able to find means and interest in assimilating procedures of textual analysis, interpretation and commentary, as has, for example, occurred in the wide experience of studies of sacred texts in the form of exegesis and commentary.

And adds Maugüé: “Philosophy is communicable as a feeling is communicable. […] A far cry is the philosophy of being a 'subject' to be taught. The philosopher is a spirit that works in front of other spirits, and, in this way, everything depends on the philosopher. Thus the force of a passion is all in the power of the one who feels it, in his heart, and in his intelligence, so the teaching of philosophy, that is, the passion of philosophy, goes as far as the reflection of the one who professes it”.

As with music, what would great achievements be if it weren't for the performer's talent, intelligence and love to revive them?


the structural scene

The text “Logical time and historical time in the interpretation of philosophical systems”, by Victor Goldschmidt, was translated and disseminated in Brazil through the work and commitment of Oswaldo Porchat in the late 1960s. Oswaldo Porchat was a disciple of Goldschmidt, but without Goldschmidt having professor at the Department of Philosophy in São Paulo.

I proceed, below, to a drastic summary of it, but useful for the purposes that this review intends: The interpreter's technique in thirteen theses[1]:

1- The role of interpreter cannot consist in forcibly reducing this development to its embryonic stage, nor in suggesting, through images, what the philosopher thought he should formulate in reasons.

2 – The interpreter places himself above the system and, in relation to the philosopher, instead of first adopting the attitude of the disciple, he becomes an analyst, doctor, confessor.

3 – It is necessary to study the “structure of behavior” of the text and refer each assertion to its producing movement, which means, finally, referring the doctrine to the method.

4 – The interpreter's main task is to restore the indissoluble unity of this thought that invents theses by practicing a method. Never, therefore, separate method of exposition from method of discovery.

5 – Never give in to the retrograde illusion that a doctrine can pre-exist its exposition, as a set of fully constituted truths and indifferent to its mode of explanation.

6 – The performer must admit a logical time crystallized in the structure of the work, similar to the musical time in the score.

7 – The apprehension of logical time where the method is developed is independent of the magnitude of chronometric time, clock time, necessary.

8 – The interpretation may be scientific and, therefore, suppose a becoming, but as long as it is internal to the system.

9 – The truth is never given in a block and all at once, but successively and progressively, at different times and levels.

10 – Never try to measure the coherence of a system by the agreement, effected in an eternal present, of the dogmas that compose it.

11 – All philosophical efforts that seek a unique and total intuition, establishing itself in eternity, are in vain.

12 – What measures the coherence of a system and its agreement with reality is not the principle of non-contradiction, but philosophical responsibility.

13 – What is essential in a philosophical thought is a certain structure.

Goldschmidt did not write this text in view of the conditions of teaching and learning philosophy in Brazil, it was originally a paper presented at the XII International Congress of Philosophy, in Brussels, in 1953, with the aim of participating in the debate on the foundations of history of philosophy. But with due and characteristic care and zeal, Professor Porchat gave the text a providential insertion in the scenario of philosophical studies at USP.

During the exhibition, the Goldschmidtian narrator subtly constructs the figure assumed by those dedicated to the study of philosophy. From the beginning of the text until more than halfway through, he refers to his interlocutor as an “interpreter”, when then, imbued with the basic principles of structural reading, Pedro and Paulo, their characters and different “physical times” or “chronometric times”, pardoning the redundancy, already in a new stage of instruction, they begin to embody, albeit very briefly, the role of philosopher-readers, to be awarded the title of historians at the end of the text, which for Goldschmidt has a meaning if not accurate, at least better expressed by the denomination of “historians of philosophical systems and doctrines”, thinking as a genre of writing and university discipline; in the terms in question, history of philosophy means for Goldschmidt, respectively, a science and rigorous.

This perhaps meant that our training path could only lead us to the position of historians of philosophy, to the privileged condition of professionals in the assimilation of philosophical structures through the development of rigorous archaeological-genealogical-structural skills in the sense of rediscovering the vein of argumentation and reconstitute it in its successive layers that resulted in a certain and finished philosophical purpose.

As we know, this has always been and still is a prophylactic pedagogical expedient that repositions a vehement and often rash desire on the part of the student to finally “think with his own head”. It does not mean, of course, that this kind of fury, often necessary and, moreover, constitutive and legitimate, needed to be extinguished, rather what happens, as I understand it, is that he, with the temporary suspension of his personal convictions, ended up reinvigorate yourself, improve yourself, gain in capacity for reflection and elaboration to, then, express yourself with the urgency that the present demands and, at the same time, with responsibility, with honesty and the enthusiasm of patiently philosophical thinking strengthened.

Thus, the main elements of a structural scene were erected as a chapter in the history of philosophy that made concessions to the spirit of the time and once again offered services of ethical guidance or a minimal morality to the conscience that seeks to guide itself in the tangle of philosophical systems and doctrines.

Complementing the bibliographic orientation followed, however, in the direction of another French professor who was a professor at USP between 1948-50, Martial Guéroult, whose text “Le problem de l'Histoire de la Philosophie”, from 1956, also entered our guide to good intellectual manners with the classics. It is important to emphasize that, like Goldschmidt's text, Guéroult's text was not written specifically with a view to teaching philosophy in Brazil, as, on the contrary, considered Maugüé. This does not fail to offer some measure of the different perspectives that a teacher's measures can take on what he considers or not as his intellectual attributions and responsibilities.

The book Philosophie de l'histoire de la philosophie , where the aforementioned chapter appears, is an investigation into the idea, scope, and even the possibility of a History of Philosophy, whose expression holds, as we know, an antinomic character. Guéroult says: “By its very terms, the notion of the history of philosophy poses a problem. No expression brings together such contradictory concepts at first sight. How is an objectively valid history of philosophy possible from the point of view of philosophy and from the point of view of history?”

History is intended to be the narrative of events relating to a particular time and place. It is up to the historian to follow the regulatory idea of ​​the effort to try to revive the past as it should have happened. The chain of data and particular and fortuitous causes suggests an explanation of the present as ineluctably dependent on the past. The historian proceeds with the selection, sorting and hierarchization based on the perspective of questioning himself about “if and how, at such a moment, such things happened in such a way”, without him becoming the author of his object. His intellectual aim, shall we say, is on the focus of the most exact and concrete data possible. From this perspective, history would be outside the ranks of the so-called abstract sciences.

The discussion is dated and perhaps sounds old fashioned to historians of mentalities; the “scientific character” no longer enjoys the same prestige and status, although it still marks out the perspective and demands for novelties in the areas of knowledge. In any case, Guéroult redesigns the epistemological exercise of the historian as a type of professional of particularity, of the collection and search for the validity of facts, of objective explanations and, at the same time, freeing himself, as far as possible, from the authorship of his object.

Philosophy, according to Guéroult, is an autonomous construction of abstract thought and is not constituted by events, but seeks the ultimate and internal reasons for things, and even discusses the possibility of doing so. The philosopher seeks the maximum generality. The historical past does not correspond to the history of philosophy, whose character is of non-past. The philosopher follows pari passu “an order of reasons that structures theses by practicing a method”. Philosophy is essentially systematic and abstract in that it stands at the extreme opposite of history.

Now, the conciliation comes from the side of philosophy, I mean, in the sense of the type of activity of synthesis manifested in the work of a historian of philosophy. From this perspective, the idea of ​​history would fulfill the requirements for a productive coexistence. That being philosophy and leaving aside the complicating factor of considering a philosopher of history, in addition to Guéroult, of course, the agreement would take place via the mental attitude of the historian of philosophy. It is clear that philosophy has a succession of doctrines, but they would not be considered and explained by the game of causality and contingent and particular consequences, where the past would be taken as an explanation of the present, proper to historical research, on the contrary, only by maintaining the philosophical content of the doctrines that constitute, after all, the object of this new historian is that it becomes possible to reconcile in practice the contradiction embedded in his concept.

If the past of philosophy were taken as an explanation of the present, proper to historical research.[2] Such a position would lead to skepticism, that is, the transformation of doctrines into historical events presupposes the denial of their claim to philosophical truth and ends up being a mere set of historical data, devoid of properly philosophical interest. Guéroult tells us that this being so, this history of philosophy “would be reduced to the consideration of ideological factors of political, social, economic history, etc.” The “revenge” of Philosophy on History would be to impose, a priori, its own categories of evolution, progress, decay and, thus, systematically rethink it according to its own orientation.

On the other hand, with the maintenance of the philosophical content of the doctrines, according to Guéroult, “the history of philosophy is given back its own value, which is to distinguish it completely from the history of the sciences to which it is, however, historically linked. […] If it is because they have a philosophical sense that history preserves these doctrines as its objects, it is evidently to the extent that the history of philosophy is philosophical that it is possible” (Guéroult, op. cit., p. 18- 21).]

As we can see, Guéroult and Goldschmidt indirectly continue and complement Maugüé's mission, both at the methodological level, since the platform for the new generation was already in place and forming its first cadres, and at the level of realization, since his works of interpretation, for example, on Descartes and on Plato, respectively, offered safe guides, although particular, to the study and understanding of classical philosophical systems.


the current scene

Em Pensée formelle et sciences de l'homme, from 1960, Gilles-Gaston Granger, professor in the Philosophy department from 1947-53, puts the discussion in a renewed key by thematizing the importance of language as a scientific dimension and epistemological configuration in the so-called human sciences. The purpose is to discuss in what terms one can speak with propriety about a contemporary epistemology, which benefits both from historiographical (understanding) and philosophical (interpretation) methods. Achieving, as Granger clarifies, an “epistemological attitude” that aims at scientific practice in its creation process.

This epistemological program provided an understanding of the interpreter's task and care, not only in the face of scientific data, but also as an interpreter of theses, doctrines and philosophical systems. Making sure you are dealing with a specific language, produced under conditions that are almost always different from the immediate present, providing yourself with contextual subsidies that allow you to decode the type of discursive elaboration specific to each philosophy, these are the measures of caution and preparation for the interpretive act of the historian of philosophy in training.

Marcus Sacrini's book proceeds with meticulousness and dedication in part similar to Granger's book insofar as it remains within the regime of a philosophy of logic and an Anglo-Saxon base to think and propose a theory of knowledge proper to philosophical studies , but while Sacrini aims at a methodological use aimed at training students and interested parties in general (which, of course, does not exclude specialists), Granger intends to establish his own perspective on the epistemological discussion in the approach to philosophy. That is, while Sacrini is being a teacher, Granger seeks to be a philosopher.

As I have already hinted, the book Introduction to argumentative analysis is the result of extensive and rich research on logic, philosophy of logic, theory of argumentation, argumentative aspects of rhetoric, hermeneutics, conditions for structuring critical thinking and the validity of what the author calls “rational action”, carried out, above all, from the interests, concerns and needs arising from the experiences in the disciplines that the author offers as a professor in the Department of Philosophy at FFLCH-USP.

The arc of the book's objectives circumscribes a set of important domains aimed, above all, at:

1 – provide elements that help in the reading and understanding of philosophical texts (what arguments are, how they are structured, what functions they assume, grammatical indicators of logical functions, inferential force, sentences, correlations, etc.);

2 – that allow going beyond the first reading, in general, restricted to the first and most superficial layer of the text;

3 – allow the identification and understanding of the philosophical position adopted by the author (vocabulary, argumentative peculiarity, fundamental theses);

4 – develop reading and text analysis skills (identification and dismemberment of the basic constitutive elements of the exposition of ideas and doctrines);

5 – allow students to capture the conceptual subtleties in philosophical expositions (classification of argumentative forms, study of correlations, consequences and analysis of assumptions);

6 – Technically enable students to understand how the theses of the text are exposed, structured and legitimized (with exercises of analysis and elaboration of diagrams and textual markings);

7 – exercise the students' “rational action”, a decisive step to understand the requirements of “rational justification”, “rational support”, “assessment of assumptions” and “reconstruction of the expository structure of the texts”;

8 – provide students with the possibility of productively participating in discussions that interest them, in the sense of knowing how to examine arguments, formulate consistent critical hypotheses, conceive and present convincing arguments, avoid fallacies, respond to objections and make proposals.

Each chapter brings exposition on the subject, and a series of illustrative examples, in most cases in natural language and, when necessary, in common symbols of formal logic. At the end of the chapters, exercises are proposed as a practical part of sedimentation of the presented procedures. This is the case in the eleven chapters of the book. In the epilogue, the author explains the meanings he attributes to the idea of ​​“rational action” as a synthesis of the cultural aspects necessary for the practice of argumentation to be in fact a resource beyond textual techniques, a way of conceiving intellectual life in social conditions. .

The mobilized bibliography allows the reader, in the various moments in which the author skilfully awakens our interest in a topic, to find suggestions on how to deepen the lessons of each passage in the book. The file instructs the reader about the thematic sources of the book without the author failing to emphasize his personal position regarding the particular elaboration he carries out on each sub-theme. A rare procedure of honesty and intellectual responsibility, interpretive personality and professorial diligence.



The methodological and propaedeutic procedures used in the studies and interpretations of philosophical texts, in the Department of Philosophy at USP, had, so far, at least a double history.

A trend that we could identify as French-inspired and grounded, from a historical-technical point of view and made explicit in the development of the practice of reading and interpreting the great authors of the philosophical tradition. It is important to include Gérard Lebrun's peculiar style of philosophical questioning, a lasting mark even on some of his former students. There are some testimonials about him available that allow you to imagine how these famous courses would have been in action, but I especially highlight the preface that prof. Carlos Alberto Ribeiro de Moura wrote for the volume Philosophy and its history, which brings together texts by Lebrun published in Portuguese. There, I think, it is possible to catch something of the terms of Lebrun's style in full operation, and, with patience and detail, extract from the texts that Lebrunian meaning left for what Granger called "philosophical style".

And another strand with a marked Anglo-Germanic hue, with bibliography, in general, contemporary, from a logical-argumentative point of view, with specific protocols, programmatic concerns and with broader application than the specificities of philosophical texts. Emergency measures to make philosophical education advance and remain with dignity in the grids and statistics of university spreadsheets and research funding agencies. Nothing more contemporary. The fact that it has now become difficult to continue proceeding as before is less a reason for nostalgia than for reflection, less due to deviations than to projects, even less the result of mere choice than of political determination in the progress of philosophical culture in Brazil .

*Denilson Cordeiro Professor at the Department of Philosophy at UNIFESP.



[1] A caveat: the way in which I try to expose Goldschmidt's text to the famous Benjaminian theses does not mean more than that, I mean, reducing it to a character of minimal architectural structure, without, however, intending to with the maneuver to insinuate any approximation with the dialectical spirit – whose literary form cunningly hides the philosophical depth and reach of social sensitivity – of the author of “The critic's technique in thirteen theses”.

[2] Such a position would lead to a radical skepticism, that is, the transformation of doctrines into historical events presupposes the denial of their claim to philosophical truth and ends up being a mere set of historical data, devoid of philosophical interest. Guéroult tells us that this being so, this history of philosophy “would be reduced to the consideration of ideological factors of political, social, economic history, etc.” The “revenge” of Philosophy on History would be to impose, a priori, its own categories of evolution, progress, decay and, thus, systematically rethink it according to its own orientation.

[3] “Giving back to the history of philosophy its proper value is to distinguish it completely from the history of the sciences to which it is, however, historically linked. […] If it is because they have a philosophical sense that history retains these doctrines as its objects, it is evidently in so far as the history of philosophy is philosophical that it is possible.” (Guéroult, op. cit., p. 18-21).

[4] This is my speculation, as Granger's book does not even appear in the bibliographical references of the book reviewed here.

[5] Gérard Lebrun's peculiar style of philosophical questioning was one of the hallmarks of the courses he taught at USP and of the important contributions he made to studies and scholars of philosophy in Brazil. There are several testimonials from his former students and former students available that allow you to imagine how these famous courses would have been in action, but I highlight above all the preface that prof. Carlos Alberto Ribeiro de Moura wrote for the volume Philosophy and its history, which brings together texts by Lebrun published in Portuguese. There, I think, it is possible to profitably catch the terms of Lebrun's style in full operation, and, with patience and detail, extract Lebrunian significance for what Granger called "philosophical style".

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