Reflections on Brazilian philosophy

Image: Chait Goli


The “USP philosophy”, the profile of its representatives, its working model, its discussion, more taken place than assumed

My first contact with the “USP philosophy” took place back in 1969, when its postgraduate course, the first in the country, was not even accredited yet. I was attending the UFBA graduation ceremony, when José Arthur Giannotti and Oswaldo Porchat arrived here, hand in hand, bringing the good news of training in philosophy as an “internal”, “technical”, “structural” reading of the work of the great philosopher, historical-canonical. From here they took two promising recent graduates to train in the new method/idea, who returned to be teachers, one of which was my brother Vítor, who did not expect such a rise.

Moving forward, we would understand this visit as an extension of the French mission that implemented the “USP philosophy”, José Arthur Giannotti and Oswaldo Porchat as national founding fathers, who studied in France with Martial Guéroult and Victor Goldschmidt, the author of Logical time and historical time in the interpretation of philosophical systems, which can well be taken as the epitome of the new recipe, of philosophy as the history of philosophy, sempiternal philosophy, exemplarily system philosophy.

The Uspian professors mentioned by my brother, all admirable, also included Marilena Chauí, Gilda de Mello and Bento Prado Jr. “The people are left-wing, but not exactly Marxists, rather Marxologists”, Vítor told me, who chose to study Friedrich Nietzsche, a philosopher who, under the dictatorship, could fulfill the role of Karl Marx, this was an idea, as to some extent could other exponents of European philosophy, upstream and downstream of the author of The capital. After all, Marx intended the realization, in the world, of that tradition, especially German, not its suppression, right?[I]

Since then, I have become more aware of the “USP philosophy”, the profile of its representatives, its working model, its discussion, which was more discussed than assumed. It was only much later that I was able to do postgraduate studies in São Paulo, between Unicamp and USP, after an interregnum of more than thirteen years, in which I faced the Dictatorship (after AI-5 there was no way around it), pro domo mea same. Between practice (democratic-popular) and theory (non-academic), it was a great school, at a time when, even so, I participated in the pioneering (1976) Society for Philosophical Studies and Activities (SEAF), with a less “structuralist” intention. , with Anchieta, Pegoraro, Chasin and Marilena.

From that first visit by José Arthur Giannotti, I kept his metaphor, almost mystical, for the new method/idea: “Merging with the studied philosopher, to the point of dressing him like your own skin”, which would later involve “ the painful challenge of undressing him”, and then doing philosophy. A true asceticism, then, part of which was not asking for your material truth, not “finding” anything for yourself, not before the remote second step. A metaphor that anticipated the dilemma that our academic philosophical community would later face, and I understand still faces.

Survivor and enrolled at Unicamp, whose selection model was further away from what Safatle, rightly, criticized as “affiliation” (Anpof Column, 19/10/2016), I began my philosophical experience in São Paulo in 1983 with a visit to José Arthur Giannotti , in which he generously showed me the manuscript of his ambitious Work and Reflection, claiming, in front of my astonished face, that “it is not only European philosophers who can write that is not understood.” I congratulated him. By coincidence, that same year, under the leadership of José Arthur Giannotti, the National Association of Postgraduate Studies in Philosophy was created, which he first presided over, and its memorable biennial meetings began, which I was able to follow from the beginning, for decades.

Together with Anpof, with the support of Capes and CNPq, the great national expansion of our postgraduate studies began, “from a centralized nucleus”, as our colleague Vinicius Figueiredo narrates, which “gave the first programs intellectual and institutional ascendancy over the others” (V. Figueiredo, Anpof Column, 27/07/23). This nucleus also included, for example, the URGS, which, however, was more directly German, showed itself to be less philosophically inhibited and without the same Franco-Paulista missionary spirit. The nucleus of the nucleus was, therefore, the Philosophy of USP, understandably hegemonic in this process.

In any case, it was an expansion marked by “our difference”, “our method”, that is, the “emphasis on intense reading of works” (more apologetic than critical-appropriating, I would say), aimed at “identify its internal articulations” (V.F., ibid.). This resulted in the orientation of monographs to the "grand these French” (Giannotti, 1999),[ii] that accounted for canonized philosophers, and the valuable “consolidation of a philosophical lexicon, through careful translations”.[iii]

What would supposedly represent a “break” with our “bachelorism and clericalism” (V.F., ibid.) – in fact, historical. It would also result in a break with the “panoramic history” of philosophy (which we later, unfortunately, relapsed into) and, square one, a break with everything that had originally been written in Portuguese. Even if this implied, José Arthur Giannotti would later regret, “rejecting the creativity of an Oswald [de Andrade]” and “the essayism and inventiveness of a Sílvio Romero” (G., ibid.).

For a little more context (with a tripod look): It was an expansion that contrasted us, (i) on the right, with the generically conservative Instituto Brasileiro de Filosofia, by Miguel Reale, linked to Kant, culturalism and Brazilian thought, and (ii ), on the left, to the philosophy, or philosophies, of ISEB (Instituto Superior de Estudos Brasileiros), more political and national, immediately closed by the Dictatorship in 1964, supposedly less “technical” and “classist”, involved with a similar set of influences philosophical, predominantly German, but allegedly with greater autonomy in relation to them.

In this context, the Uspian – and “structuralist” – “Seminário d’The capital”, José Arthur Giannotti and FHC at the head, created before the Military Regime, would impress our colleagues in the social sciences for its superior logical-methodological technicality, and, later, through them, it would contribute to the constitution, with Golbery's redemocratization, of a new Brazilian left, “social democratic”, PT/PSDB. A left that, in fact, even today, has difficulty considering the national question and the illogical mix of production relations and sociability that people actually inhabit throughout the country, because The capital It is not a good political orientation, nor is its correlative humanism.

In São Paulo, between Unicamp and USP, I got to know the best of the new method/idea, which, in its variations, even oppositions, was well represented there, along with its debate, in the following years. I laboriously played the game, with great academic benefit, secretly pursuing my direct doctorate, which was successful. I had the privilege of studying with Salinas, Brum Torres, Monzani, Fausto Castilho, Carlos Alberto, Paulo Arantes, Debrun, Marcos Müller (dear advisor). The last four, plus the gaucho Cirne Lima, made up my panel, of the thesis in which I tried (500 pages, 6 languages) to circumvent the “stage-internalist” side of the method, through a critical and detranscendentalized reading of Marx (not only his ), involving a disguised position of its own.

Over the next few decades, this Uspian philosophy, erudite, reading and historical, would try to become more interesting, questioning and productive. Firstly, Oswaldo Porchat, re-founder, announced that, now a common man, he would create a philosophy tailored to common life, no longer a Goldschmidtian history of philosophy, and would train his students in arguing and elaborating on issues and themes, not authors.

Marilena Chauí created, in practice, democratic, contemporary, non-eternal political philosophy. Carlos Alberto pushed Guéroult and Goldschmidt, his “past as present”, to the side of “history stultitiae”. Paulo Arantes exposed, as a commentary philosophy, his “French overseas department.” Ricardo Terra suggested getting closer to the present, by considering the receptions of the commented historical philosopher. And Ricardo Musse understood that our most “excellent” academic philosophers, Balthazar at the head, exhibited a competence of simple graduation when questioned about any thematic subject.

All of this, however, always seemed to me to fall back on the unquestionable authority of the eternal Author, classic or modern, who could also be Marx, as the absolute critic of capitalism or, Theodor Adorno combined, absolute philosopher of the history of our time. Among all of them, however, José Arthur Giannotti bravely went ahead, with a tentatively authorial philosophical project, also with an apparently more radical questioning of the Uspian method/ideas.

In 1999 (cf. his “Testimonial”), our philosopher no.1 disbelieved the reduction of the philosophical to the “discipline of the text” and “alienation in the Author”, declared that “the department [at USP] has exhausted itself”, that “this technical thinking has become a rigidity”, and suggested that its students “abandon the grand these French” and “looked for [previously excoriated] essayism”.

Then, now ecumenical, José Arthur Giannotti finally recognized the visitor Vilém Flusser as a philosopher, which the IBF staff had already done long before, of whom, he now recognized, “we had a flat view” – therefore, a fortiori, also from ISEB, right? This delay, naturally, reinforced my suspicion that, with that new-old ideology, we would not be able to recognize a philosopher when we saw one in front of us, let alone produce him. After all this review, we can only imagine where José Arthur Giannotti's critique of the “Uspian method” would end up, and what he would put in place of his “exhaustion”, in step with the “wake of logic” and the “ critique of classical rationality, which he embraced in his last book (2020), by Heidegger and Wittgenstein.

The most relevant thing, however, remains that no one sought as much as José Arthur Giannotti to arrive at his own philosophical construction, in this case through a logical-ontological exploration/updating of Marx, which began, however, by “studying him as [the structuralist] Guéroult commented on Descartes” (Lebrun) – which would mark, I believe, his entire subsequent development. Our philosopher no. 1 continued logical-transcendental until the end, or almost, first with Husserl, Kant always in the background, while his de-Shegelianizing examination of Marx's dialectic elevated him to targeted heights of technicality and idealist-German difficulty, finally, transmodernly, to Heidegger.

In this itinerary, he asserted his postulate, curiously historicist, that a good philosophy must correspond to the “most advanced” logic of its time, hence Wittgenstein (Kantianized), whose life forms Giannotti rightly tried to enlarge – as capitalism to the Marx. With that, we would have The capital logically remastered and an ontologically secularized Marx, at the end with Wittgensteinian and Heideggerian resources. Almost a complete, detranscendentalizing, practical philosophical turn to a practical-worldly logos.

Out comes dialectical logic and in comes grammar, supposedly from capitalism itself, in a journey in which José Arthur Giannotti followed in his own way the traditional, unfortunately linguocentric, contemporary cancellation of the “philosophy of the subject”, echoing at the same time a certain pragmatizing movement of those two super -Majors, Wittgenstein and Heidegger, whose unusual approach has been common in the metropolitan philosophy of our time. Had he been less logical-transcendental, Giannotti would have been interested in the indecisive pragmatist turn of the Marxian German Critical Theory, a change of paradigm, which at least was able to leave behind the sterile Adornian complication.

At the same time, José Arthur Giannotti was unable to understand, for example, the 1st thesis “ad Feuerbach”, by Marx, which he translated backwards, nor the meaning of the famous 6th thesis, which he sought to clarify through an unreasonable logical complication. And he attributed the flaws in his translation of the Tractatus, plausibly, to the fact that we still “didn’t know the panorama in which the author was inserted” – something that obviously no “internal reading” would give him, and which until the end I believe he was unable to achieve (vg. the Peirce-James-Ramsey-Wittgenstein “panorama”). In the end, still entangled with alienation, fetishism and necessary illusion, he escaped, as I understand it, the constitutive reach of Marx's problematic normative foundation, hence also the opportunity for a detranscendentalized, non-representationalist, non-dualist reconstruction of the its practical, interactive materialism, with less simple political conclusions.

And now? After all this history, as if through an unresolved path, an unfaced dilemma, the problems of our philosophy, generally considered, do not seem to me to be the same as those of the national philosophical communities that effectively produce philosophy. It is not surprising that, after all, we do not have our philosophers, civilians, like, mutatis mutandis, Charles Taylor, R. Jaeggi, V. Descombes, K. Wiredu, Linda Alcoff, Vattimo or Timothy Williamson.

Instead, generically, we still exhibit – now faced with the challenge of shallow “variants of contemporary proselytism” (also structuralist, Franco-Americanized, linguistic and subjectless), as a pseudo second step of the method – the deficit of autonomy of thought and argumentative elaboration, in which we were apparently trained. In many cases, our escape from critical consideration of imported thought (reminder Guerreiro Ramos and Roberto Schwarz), and our fear of philosophizing about themes and problems, only reproduce, now in a supposedly non-Eurocentric, anti-patriarchal, non-Western, ethnic way, always the same atavistic Dixerunt Magistri, out of place.

Despite this, at the end of the day, we do have our brave and hard-working José Arthur Giannotti, at the extreme end of this unfinished development, to “de-municipalize” and “conclude”.[iv] That is, we have both (a) his logical-ontological remastering of Marx for our days, and his critique of the classical notion of rationality, as well as (b) his metaphilosophical disposition to reflect on the state of philosophy and our itinerary followed so far, a and b as two sides to be placed in relation to each other. Better still, we have Marx himself, with the very unique place he still holds among us and in all of history, to, by changing his declared assumptions, reconstruct a better “critical philosophy”, for our time, circumstances and practices: a point of view materialistic, sensual, artefactual, of practice as poiésis, post-Giannottian, which dispenses with metaphysical subjects, as well as linguocentrisms and more metropolitan fashions.

A few years ago, our now forty-year-old Anpof, under the presidency of another Uspian colleague, proposed to the Brazilian philosophical community the challenge of finally reaching its philosophical majority, the so-called second step, through a productive effort, of autonomy, topicality, relevance, which certainly He will not give up the varied experience he has had so far. In fact, for such a challenge, a national community of research and elaboration – plural, (self)critical, decolonized, with a vocation for independence and creation – may be what matters most. Under the refounding blessings of José Arthur Giannotti and Oswaldo Porchat, again hand in hand, but also from many more people.[v]

*José Crisóstomo de Souza He is a full professor at the Department of Philosophy at UFBA. Author, among other books, of The question of individuality (Unicamp Publisher).


[I] In 1976, at the age of 32, Vitor Hermenegildo de Souza left us without his talent.

[ii] See Giannotti, “Testimony”, in Bernardo & Mendes (org), Vilém Flusser in Brazil, SP: Relume-Dumará, 1999.

[iii] In Giannotti's assertive terms: “We were interested in creating a Brazilian philosophical language” (ibid.); that is, translating the vocabulary of classical European philosophy into Portuguese.

[iv] Giannotti, with good humor, decided to call himself “municipal philosopher”, due to the fact that his work did not constitute a relevant reference beyond the municipality of São Paulo.

[v] On the occasion of USP's 90th anniversary, our national universityo. 1, and its valuable FFLCH.

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