Latin American Philosophy
LATIN AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY
Latin American philosophy covers primarily the philosophy produced in the parts of the Americas that belonged to the Spanish and Portuguese empires after 1492. The Maya, Toltec, Aztec, and Inca civilizations engaged in some philosophical speculation in the form of religious myths and cosmological accounts prior to the arrival of the Europeans, but most of the records of these efforts were destroyed during the conquest. As happened with almost everything else in the wake of colonization, Iberians took control over the development of philosophy and scholastic philosophy became the most influential philosophical trend in the New World.
The encounter posed new challenges to European thought and initiated new developments in both Europe and Latin America. In Iberia, new issues, primarily concerned with the rights of conquered peoples and just war, took center stage, and the greatest Iberian philosophers of the times, Francisco de Vitoria (c. 1492–1546) and Francisco Suárez (1548–1617) addressed them. In the colonies, some attention was given to pre-Columbian worldviews, but these slowly receded into the background, making way for the concerns, first, of the Iberians living in the colonies and, then, of criollos —that is, native-born authors.
The colonial roots of Latin American philosophy helped set the stage for the emphasis on sociopolitical issues, such as human rights and social justice, which have been so central to the philosophical development in the region. In addition to addressing standard philosophical questions concerning the nature of being, knowledge, and value, Latin American philosophers have demonstrated a strong commitment to more concrete issues involving educational policy, political organization, and social reform. In contrast to their Anglo-American colleagues, many Latin American philosophers have developed their ideas not in technical articles and systematic treatises intended for specialized audiences, but in newspaper articles, essays, and even fiction, meant to be read by a broad public. This is consonant with the view that philosophy should be a tool for social change and has led some historians to speak of two trends in Latin American philosophy: academic and Latin Americanist. The first is inspired by European philosophy and is practiced in universities; the second is more autochthonous and extends beyond the boundaries of academia. Most authors cited in this entry belong to the first trend. Some of the best known thinkers who belong to the second are Eugenio María Hostos (Puerto Rico, 1839–1903), Justo Sierra (Mexico, 1848–1912), José Martí (Cuba, 1853–1895), José Enrique Rodó (Uruguay, 1871–1917), Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina, 1899–1986), Octavio Paz (Mexico, 1914–1998), Carlos Fuentes (Mexico, b. 1928), Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru, b. 1936), and Luis Castro Leiva (Venezuela, 1943–1999).
Major Periods of Latin American Philosophy
Four major periods in the history of Latin American philosophy stand out: colonial, independentist, positivist, and contemporary.
Colonial Period (C. 1550–1750)
Latin American philosophy begins within the scholastic fold provided by the Iberian clergy sent by the Spanish and Portuguese Crowns to convert the indigenous inhabitants of the territories they had conquered. The main philosophical centers during the early colonial period were Mexico and Peru, the two places in which major empires had flourished and the Europeans found the gold and silver they coveted. The texts studied were those of medieval scholastics and of their Iberian commentators, and the issues addressed concerned logic, natural philosophy (physics), and metaphysics. The first author to publish systematic treatises on these topics was Alonso de la Vera Cruz (1504–1584), but it was Antonio Rubio's (1548–1615) Logica mexicana (Mexican Logic, 1603) that first gained prominence in the New World and Europe.
Although scholasticism was central to, and many thinkers continued to write within, this tradition, others were guided by humanist ideas. In particular, they were concerned with the political and legal questions raised by the process of colonization. Arguably, the most important of these thinkers was Bartolomé de las Casas (1474–1566), a Dominican friar from Spain who became the leading champion of the rights of the Indians. His long life was devoted to arguing before the Spanish Crown that the indigenous groups of New Spain were not barbarians "in the strict sense"; they were no less human than Spaniards and so just as deserving of the same basic human rights.
Las Casas first brought up what became known in Spain as "the Indian Question." As early as 1515, he began to petition the Crown to enact laws that would eliminate the notorious encomiendas. This system gave Spanish settlers custody of groups of indigenous peoples who were then exploited in mining and agriculture. In 1550 an important debate took place in Valladolid, Spain, between the humanist Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (1490–1573), a leading ideologue of the Conquista, and Las Casas. Las Casas argued that it was unjust to wage war against the indigenous peoples and to enslave them.
Las Casas's defense of the Indians reflects the influence of several sources. The thought of Aristotle (384–322 BCE), known as "the Philosopher" among scholastics, is behind several distinctions upon which Las Casas based his defense. Other sources included canon and Roman law, and such Christian thinkers as Augustine (354–430) and Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274). Las Casas was scholastically trained and the scholastic method informs the structure and content of his rebuttal of Sepúlveda.
The debate between Las Casas and Sepúlveda raised questions concerning the natures of humanity and justice, issues that continue to shape Latin American philosophy to this day. Social injustice did not have only one face. Women also suffered oppression, although for most of the thinkers of the colonial period, this went unnoticed. Aristotle had claimed that women were inferior to men, and most of his scholastic followers did not question this view. But there were isolated voices that cried out against the claim that women were not fit for intellectual activity. One of the most eloquent and powerful of these voices was that of the nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Mexico, 1651–1695). A recurring theme in her writings is the image of a human being as a microcosm, and reflects the influence of neoplatonic philosophy upon her thought. Much of her writings, whether in prose or poetic form, displays a concern with the unjust position of women in colonial society.
Independentist Period (C. 1750–1850)
A more complete break with scholasticism was attempted during the independentist period. This phase of Latin American thought receives its name from the political rationale articulated in the eighteenth century to gain independence from Spain and Portugal. The intellectuals engaged in this enterprise were men of action who used ideas for practical ends. The strong influence of Utilitarianism is reflected in their emphasis on progress and the attempt to employ ideas as tools for social change. Another source that shaped the period came from the liberal views of the French philosophes, who made reason a measure of legitimacy in social and political matters.
Most leading figures from this period were not philosophers in the strict sense. Simón Bolívar (Venezuela, 1783–1830), José Joaquin Fernández de Lizardi (Mexico, 1776–1827), Mariano Moreno (Argentina, 1778–1811), and José Cecilio del Valle (Honduras, 1780–1834) can be most accurately characterized as independence leaders rather than as philosophers. Instead of devoting their lives to developing systems of thought, they were more interested in concrete political and military action that would lead to the independence of the Iberian colonies.
Bolívar, known as the Liberator, successfully led northern South America to independence from Spain and was the founding father of five republics (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia). Monumental deeds such as these are a central part of his legacy. Yet, his writings also helped to change the political structures in America and drew attention to the dangers confronting the newly liberated regions. In his Carta de Jamaica (Jamaica Letter, 1815), a call to independence from Spain, he complains of both a state of permanent infancy experienced by the nations of Spanish America and their dependence upon Europe. The problem of dependence is an enduring one in the Latin American philosophical tradition, shaping one of the most widespread strands of Latin American thought, the philosophy of liberation. In the Carta, Bolívar also touches upon the question of identity, another central theme of the tradition, prompted by the merging of indigenous and European populations and cultures.
Bolívar influenced thinkers of the contemporary period, such as the father of the Cuban revolution, José Martí (1853–1895), as well as the Mexican philosophers Samuel Ramos (1897–1959) and Leopoldo Zea (1912–2004). All of these thinkers devote considerable attention to the issues of liberation and cultural identity.
Positivism (C. 1850–1910)
Once political independence had been achieved, a somewhat more stable period of philosophical activity, known as positivism, began. With the exception of scholasticism, positivism has been the most widespread and deeply rooted current in Latin American thought to date. The depth of its impact can be explained in historical terms: It took shape just in time to address the need for nation building in the region. Positivism was in part a response to the social, financial, and political needs of the newly liberated countries of Latin America.
The European father of positivism was the French philosopher Auguste Comte (1793–1857), who attempted to develop a rigorous and systematic understanding of human beings in both their individual and social dimensions. He emphasized experience over theoretical speculation and empirical science over metaphysics. The value of knowledge rests on its practical applications: Knowledge is a servant of action and should lead to the solution of concrete problems. This practical dimension was one of the most captivating aspects of Comte's thought for Latin Americans, for they wished to overcome anarchy, eradicate poverty and disease, and place their own countries on the path of progress.
Practical considerations, however, were not the only cause of positivism's success. Cultural and theoretical reasons also played a role. Since the colonial period, Latin American philosophy had been nurtured by scholasticism and, consequently, important practical issues had been neglected. Conceptual and terminological vagueness, excessive speculation, as well as unfounded and archaic dogmatism were predominant characteristics of much of the philosophy of the region. Positivists, by contrast, emphasized principles based on experience and logical rigor, and offered the assurance of progress, insisting that their claims rested on solid empirical evidence. With positivism, the leaders of the newly liberated republics thought they would finally leave not only the political legacy of the colonization behind, but the philosophical one as well.
The movement benefited greatly from the increasing prestige of science, because it proposed to limit its methods to those used by natural scientists. It was widely believed by those who favored this perspective that a new era had begun in which scientific study would make it possible to identify the causes of social evils and to eliminate them, just as medicine had begun to do with endemic diseases.
Comte's law of the three stages captured the attention of many Latin American intellectuals. According to this law, humanity passes through a theological, a metaphysical, and a scientific or positive stage. In the theological stage, the interpretation of reality is founded on prejudice and superstition. In the metaphysical, it is characterized by speculation, and facts are either ignored or not given adequate attention. Finally, in the positive stage, superstition and speculation are replaced by the establishment of facts, and knowledge is founded on experience.
Latin American thinkers applied Comte's law to the history of their own countries. An example of this application is found in the Oración cívica (Civic Oration, 1867) delivered by the Mexican Gabino Barreda in Guanajuato. With this text in mind, President Benito Juárez named Barreda member of a committee to draft a law, approved on December 2, 1867, that gave birth to public education in Mexico. The fact that another renowned teacher, Justo Sierra (1848–1912), succeeded to Barreda's position and continued to apply positivist principles to educational policy explains the strength that this perspective had in Mexico until the fall of the dictator Porfirio Díaz in 1911. Positivism was the official philosophy in Mexico during the twenty-seven-year dictatorship, and the government was guided by Comte's slogan "Order and Progress."
The chaos and backwardness that prevailed in some Latin American countries as the power vacuums left in the wake of colonial rule were filled by caudillos and other nondemocratic political leaders and structures helps to explain in part why positivist teachings captivated the minds of so many intellectuals and politicians. For example, the influence of positivism can be observed in the work of the Argentine thinker and statesman Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811–1888). His account of civilization in Facundo, o civilización y barbarie (Facundo, or Civilization and Barbarism, 1845) is shaped by positivist principles.
Each country of Latin America had its own particular way of appropriating positivism. Latin American positivism was shaped not only by Comte, but also by the social Darwinism expounded by the English philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820–1903). Comte had a stronger impact in Brazil, Mexico, and Chile, whereas Spencer was more influential in Argentina, Uruguay, and Cuba. In some cases, preference was given to one over the other for purely political reasons. In Cuba, for example, Enrique José Varona (1849–1933) rejected Comte's ideas because they did not favor the emancipation of Cuba from Spanish rule, and he adopted instead Spencer's notion of liberty. In spite of these and many other national differences, one can speak of Latin American positivism as a unified, yet evolving movement in which the influence of Comte was greater toward the beginning of the period and that of Spencer predominated toward the end.
Juan Bautista Alberdi (Argentina, 1812–1884) and Andrés Bello (Venezuela, 1781–1865) were also influenced by positivism. Positivism's legacy in Argentina remained strong because it was never involved in any political movement, so it never came to be associated with dictatorships as, for example, was the case in Mexico. Furthermore, in Argentina positivism had an effective role in the development of educational institutions and, through the work of José Ingenieros (1877–1925), acquired renown in scientific and philosophical circles.
As in Argentina, positivism played a role in the development of Brazilian education. Nisia Floresta (1809–1885), one of the founders of the positivist movement in Brazil, was director of a school in Rio de Janeiro and, upon moving to Paris, established a close friendship with Comte. Furthermore, in Brazil, positivism was associated with the founding of the Republic in 1889, and the positivist motto, "Ordem e Progresso" (Order and progress), is inscribed on the Brazilian flag. Brazil was one of the last countries of Latin America to abolish slavery (1888) in part due to the positivist movement in Brazil. An understanding of Brazil's history in the eighteenth century is impossible without an appreciation of the role that positivist thinkers such as Raimundo Teixeira Mendes (1855–1927), Miguel Lemos (1854–1917), and Luis Pereira Barreto (1840–1923) played in the founding of the Republic.
Contemporary Period(C. 1910–PRESENT)
The period following positivism is known as the contemporary period, and it can be broken down into three phases: the foundational stage, the period of normalcy, and the period of maturity.
foundational stage (c. 1910–1940)
This phase begins with the decline of positivism. The generation of thinkers who first rejected the central tenets of positivism became known as "the founders," a label coined by Francisco Romero (Argentina, 1891–1962). It included: Deústua, Alejandro Korn (Argentina, 1860–1936), Enrique Molina (Chile, 1871–1964), Carlos Vaz Ferreira (Uruguay, 1872–1958), Raimundo de Farias Brito (Brazil, 1862–1917), José Vasconcelos (Mexico, 1882–1959), and Antonio Caso (Mexico, 1883–1946), among others.
The general decline of positivism stems from several factors, and the national context must be taken into consideration insofar as the predominance of any particular cause varies from country to country. Still there were causes common to all Latin America. The first of these was the disappointment that Latin American intellectuals experienced when reality did not measure up to positivism's promises and aspirations. Immediate and assured results were envisioned and anxiously awaited, but progress was slow and uncertain. To uphold general principles and criteria for the study of social problems is one thing, but it is quite a different matter to develop effective, scientifically based procedures that can be applied in order to solve concrete problems. Stark reality shattered many illusions. The ideal of a scientific knowledge of society began to crumble in the face of difficulties, and the initial naive optimism gave way to corroding pessimism.
In addition, many thinkers began to discover fundamental theoretical shortcomings in positivism. The indiscriminate application of the principle of causality led positivists to deny freedom to human beings. Theoretical objections to determinism acquired momentum in the moral realm. No one can be held accountable for an act if it is determined, the critics of positivism claimed: positivism seemed to lead to an ethical dead end.
In particular, positivism seemed to spell disaster for aesthetic creation. If humans are not free, how can they be aesthetic agents? A mechanical explanation of the creative process factored out the very meaning of artistic creation, something that many Latin Americans found unacceptable. Deústua in particular responds by developing an aesthetic theory in his influential Estética (Aesthetics, 1923), in which aesthetic value is conceived as the source of all value. This "value of all values" as he calls it, is the product of free activity whose essential function consists in the creation and contemplation of an ideal aside from any practical intent. In contrast to the essentially instrumental character of other values, aesthetic value constitutes its own end, generating a completely disinterested activity, the creation of beauty.
Political considerations also factored into the general disenchantment with positivism. As already mentioned, in some countries such as Mexico, positivism was associated with a dictatorship that had been overthrown; in others such as Cuba, Comtian positivism was believed to support the colonial status quo against the possibility of independence to which many Cubans aspired. For countries that had suffered first under Spanish oppression and then under a succession of dictators, setting freedom aside seemed too high a price to pay for the promise of progress. Indeed, freedom had become the battle flag, so if positivism could not make room for freedom, then positivism must be abandoned.
In 1909 a group of young intellectuals in Mexico, who later acquired well-deserved renown in the field of philosophy and literature, founded the "Ateneo de la Juventud" (Atheneum of youth). They studied the philosophical classics, especially Plato and Kant, and contemporary philosophers who had rejected positivism in Europe, such as Henri Bergson (1859–1941) and Benedetto Croce (1866–1952). The influence of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) and Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), whose thought was a counterweight to the narrow, scientific emphasis of positivism, was also felt. Following these studies, lectures were given in which positivist doctrine was roundly criticized and new ideas were proposed.
Vasconcelos is one of the most influential figures of this generation. He was not only an accomplished philosopher, but, like so many other Latin American intellectuals, also a devoted educator and political activist. Much of his work focuses upon the meaning of Mexican culture in particular and the destiny of Latin America in general. In two of his most popular works, La raza cósmica (The Cosmic Race, 1925) and Indología (Indology, 1926), he claims that the future will be constituted by the cosmic race, a synthesis of the four basic races of the world that will emerge in the region of the Amazon basin and fulfill "the divine mission of America." He contrasts this to the ethnic egoism and nationalism that dominates in Anglo-Saxon culture and claims that the new race of which he speaks will be characterized by a universalist spirit based on love.
Two other key figures are Caso in Mexico and Korn in Argentina. They are particularly important because they functioned as influential teachers and mentors of the generation that followed them. The first developed a moral theory based on the principle that there are two basic attitudes toward existence: One is based on the notion of existence as economy, where action is dictated by maximum advantage with minimum effort; the other is guided by disinterest, where action is dictated by maximum effort with least concern for advantage. The first is a positivist morality, the second is a morality based on love. In a somewhat similar vein, Korn developed a philosophy of creative freedom inspired by Kant. Although the physical realm operates according to necessary laws, subjects can formulate ideals and act according to them, thus resisting the tyranny of nature.
Crucial influences in the overcoming of positivism and its legacy were vitalism and intuitionism, especially the versions imported from French philosophers such as Émile Boutroux (1845–1921) and Bergson. Vitalism was a metaphysical position that conceived reality in terms of life. Intuitionism was an epistemic view in which knowledge, particularly about values, is based on intuition. Representative of this move away from positivism's narrow approach was the work of Vaz Ferreira. In books such as Conocimiento y acción (Knowledge and Action, 1907), Lógica viva (Vital Logic, 1910), and Fermentario (Fermentary, 1938), he attacks the narrow, purely rational concept of knowledge that excludes the dynamic vitality of reality. He also pioneered the discussion of feminist issues in Sobre feminismo (On Feminism, written between 1914 and 1922, but first published in 1933).
An important force in the transition from positivism to vitalism was the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955). But there were also others, who belonged to what has come to be called the Generation of 98. The year 1898 marked the end of Spain's colonial empire, yet it also signaled the opening of a promising, new intellectual movement. The famous generation of 1898 gave Spain some of its most brilliant intellectuals, including two of its greatest philosophers, Ortega and Miguel de Unamuno (1864–1936).
Many thinkers in Spain, a country located at the geographical margins of Europe, struggled to be recognized as European, but Unamuno was more interested in developing the notion of hispanidad (Hispanicity) and to the hispanización (Hispanization) of Europe. The notion of hispanidad came to serve as an important bridge between the philosophy of Spain and Latin America. Interest in analyzing the meaning of hispanidad has continued into the twenty-first century, with philosophers in the United States developing arguments concerning rights for Hispanics and debating the very meaning of the term "Hispanic."
Like Unamuno, Ortega also made the intellectual, political, and social situation of Spain central to his philosophy. He developed what has become known as a "philosophy of circumstance," well captured in the famous lines: "Yo soy yo y mis circunstancias y si no las salvo a ellas no me salvo yo " (I am myself and my circumstances, and if I don't save them, I cannot save myself). The idea is that the self is not an entity apart from its context. Integral to this view is the notion that all knowledge is perspectival—that is, it is the expression of a view from a particular perspective. Ortega's perspectivism came to play a critical role in the work of several Latin American philosophers.
The thought of the generation that followed the founders was shaped by ideas imported from Spain, France, and Germany, and Ortega is generally credited with having introduced them, particularly German philosophy, into Latin America. The extraordinary impact of Max Scheler (1874–1928) and Nicolai Hartmann (1882–1950) can be explained only through Ortega's influence. This group of philosophers has been characterized by Francisco Miró Quesada (Peru, b. 1918), as "the generation of forgers" because of the major role they played in setting the parameters for the subsequent development of Latin American philosophy. A major figure of this generation was Samuel Ramos (Mexico, 1897–1959). He focused upon Mexican culture, thereby inspiring interest in what is culturally unique to Latin American nations. Ramos' book, El perfil del hombre y la cultura en México (Profile of man and culture in Mexico, 1934), was the first attempt at interpreting Mexican culture. Francisco Romero was also an important thinker who developed an elaborate philosophical anthropology in his Teoría del hombre (Theory of man, 1952). He sought to frame a view of human beings in terms of universal notions such as intentionality and spirituality, rather than the culturally specific parameters used by Ramos.
Throughout the history of Latin American thought there has been a tension between philosophers who focus on the universal human condition and those who emphasize particular cultural circumstances. In Mexico, for example, many philosophers have discussed the impact of the colonization on the development of culture in Mexico. And in Siete ensayos de interpretación de la realidad peruana (Seven interpretative essays on Peruvian reality, 1928), the Peruvian Carlos Mariátegui (1894–1930) proposed an interpretation of Marxism that emphasized the particular conditions that characterized the Peruvian situation. This particularist tendency grew in part as result of a historical event that brought the Spanish and Latin American philosophical traditions into even closer contact with one another and heralded yet another stage in the latter.
The historical circumstances of Spain in the twentieth century were complicated, and part of the influence that Spanish thinkers came to have upon the development of philosophy in several Latin American countries can be attributed to the political upheaval caused by the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) and the ensuing dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1939–1975). Many of the most important Spanish philosophers of this period were driven into exile during the years of Franco's oppressive dictatorship and several of them settled in Latin America.
the "transterrados" and the period of normalcy (C. 1940–1960)
During the late 1930s and 1940s, due to the upheavals created by the Spanish Civil War, a significant group of thinkers from Spain arrived in Latin America. These philosophers became known as the transterrados (trans-landed). Seeking refuge from Franco's dictatorship, they settled in various countries of Latin America. Among them were Joaquín Xirau (1895–1946), Eduardo Nicol (1907–1986), José Ferrater Mora (1912–1991), José Gaos (1900–1969), Luis Recaséns Siches (1903–1977), and Juan D. García Bacca (1901–1992). Their presence helped to break some of the national barriers that had existed in Latin America before their arrival. The conception of hispanidad that they inherited from Unamuno and the need to establish themselves in their adopted land helped the process; they went from country to country, spreading ideas and contributing to an ever broadening philosophical dialogue. Their influence showed itself most strongly when the generation born around 1910 reached maturity.
Gaos was one of the most influential transterrados. He was a student of Ortega and became the teacher of one of Mexico's most important philosophers, Leopoldo Zea. Gaos encouraged Zea to study the history of Mexican thought, and this resulted in one of Zea's most important books, El positivismo en México (Positivism in Mexico, 1943). Through Gaos, Ortega had a strong influence on Zea's views. Following Ortega's insights that in order to understand ourselves, we must understand our circumstance, and that all knowledge is perspectival, Zea turned to the meaning of the Latin American circumstance for the development of the philosophy of the region.
Zea's philosophy was also influenced by Ramos's work. The latter's existential, psychoanalytic approach to the problem of cultural identity was transformed by Zea into a critique of philosophy and the articulation of a mestizo (mixed) consciousness. The term mestizo points to issues associated with race and culture, opening a philosophical discussion concerning the identity of persons who share Spanish and indigenous heritage. The source of this line of questioning can be traced back to the events following the colonization, when the Spaniards began to mix with the indigenous people to create what has come to be known as a mestizo race and culture. Zea's notion of mestizaje had a strong influence on the Argentine philosopher Arturo Andrés Roig (b.1922) and the Peruvian Miró Quesada. The relation between these thinkers constitutes an example of a growing philosophical Pan-Americanism. During this period, philosophers from different countries in Latin America began to respond to each other and to interact critically with one another.
period of maturity (c. 1960–present)
This Pan-American trend continues to the present and has been further supported by the activities of various organizations founded to facilitate meetings and publications. From 1960 to the present, the level of philosophical activity in several Latin American countries has improved significantly. This is due, in part, to the institutionalization of philosophy. The number of national philosophical societies and of centers, institutes, faculties, and departments that have as their exclusive end the teaching and investigation of philosophy has increased substantially as have the number of philosophy journals. All of this activity has begun to awaken interest outside of Latin America, and indeed to give rise to a diversification of philosophical trends within Latin America itself. Three trends in particular illustrate the current situation of Latin America: philosophical analysis, liberation philosophy, and discussions of identity.
Analytic philosophy is characterized by a preoccupation with language, a strong interest in logic, a positive attitude toward science, and a general mistrust of metaphysics. Its founders are G. E. Moore (1873–1958), Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), and the members of the Vienna Circle. Analytical philosophy is often contrasted to Continental philosophy, which has its roots in France and Germany and is based on the thought of such figures as Hegel, Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980), and Martin Heidegger (1889–1976). Continental philosophy was disseminated earlier and more widely than analytic philosophy in Latin America. Even in the early twenty-first century, authentic Latin American philosophy is often taken to be concerned exclusively with issues of Latin American cultural identity and liberation, and so to have little in common with the analytic tradition. Yet, this is a misconception.
The groundwork for the favorable reception of analysis in Latin America can be traced back to positivism. In the 1920s, key texts from the analytic tradition, such as G. E. Moore's Ethics and Bertrand Russell's The Problems of Philosophy, were translated into Spanish. While marginalized from its inception, philosophical analysis has provided a robust methodological alternative to Ortega's perspectivism and Continental philosophy.
The fruits of the interest in analytic philosophy became evident in the 1940s, when Vicente Ferreira da Silva (1916–1963) published a manual of mathematical logic in Brazil, and Miró Quesada published one in Peru. Miró Quesada has maintained a balanced view of philosophy throughout his career. His works, Despertar y proyecto del filosofar latinoamericano (The awakening and project of Latin American philosophy, 1974) and El problema de la filosofía latinoamericana (The problem of Latin American philosophy, 1976), testify to his view that philosophy must combine both solid philosophical analysis and a historical approach that takes into account the particular circumstances of Latin America.
In Buenos Aires, Hans A. Lindemann, who had connections to the Vienna Circle, brought attention to philosophical analysis in Argentina, as the work of Gregorio Klimovsky (b. 1922) and Julio Rey Pastor (1888–1962) illustrates. In El punto de partida del filosofar (Philosophizing's point of departure, 1945), Risieri Frondizi (Argentina, 1910–1983) offered a serious critique of logical positivism while displaying the influence of philosophical analysis.
In the 1960s, philosophical analysis was integrated into many philosophy departments throughout Latin America. Argentina continued to be a center of this kind of philosophy. Mario Bunge's (Argentina, b. 1919) Causalidad (Causality, 1961) and Tomás Moro Simpson's Formas lógicas, realidad y significado (Logical forms, reality and meaning, 1964) are examples of philosophical analysis in Argentina. In 1972 Eduardo Rabossi (b. 1930), who has published extensively on human rights, founded the Sociedad Argentina de Analísis Filosófico (SADAF), which, as its name indicates, is committed to the advancement of the analytic tradition and publishes the journal Análisis Filosófico.
The influence of philosophical analysis is also evident in Brazil, particularly in Manuscrito, a journal published by the Center of Logic, Epistemology and Philosophy of Science at Campinas. In Mexico, Alejandro Rossi (b. 1932), Fernando Salmerón (1925–1997), and Luis Villoro (b. 1922) founded Crítica in 1967, a journal devoted to discussions from an analytic perspective. And the Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas of Mexico has been actively engaged in supporting the work of analytic philosophy.
While we can speak of a period of stability in the development of philosophical analysis in Latin America, there has been widespread political instability in many countries of the region. As a result, many outstanding analytic philosophers had to leave Latin America. Bunge was a professor of philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires from 1957 to 1963, but has worked at McGill University in Montreal since 1966. Hector-Neri Castañeda (Guatemala, 1924–1991) worked in the United States for most of his career, and Ernest Sosa (b. 1940) and Jorge Gracia (b. 1942) came to the United States from Cuba. Apart from contributions in the history of philosophy, metaphysics, and hermeneutics, Gracia has published in many areas of Latin American philosophy, including the impact of philosophical analysis in Latin America. Sosa works primarily in epistemology and metaphysics and was recently elected president of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association; he is active in the promotion of analytic philosophy in Latin America.
Philosophical analysis is generally recognized as an important philosophical current in Latin America and analytic philosophers have the support of several institutes and journals, but there is some animosity in some quarters against this philosophical approach. Indeed, some Latin American philosophers have explicitly accused analytic philosophers of turning a blind eye to social injustice and the pressing political and economic issues that plague the region.
The philosophy of liberation
One current within the Latin American philosophical tradition that puts social concerns at the center is the philosophy of liberation. For this movement, the fundamental task of philosophy consists in the social and national liberation from the unjust relations, such as that of dominator-dominated, which have traditionally characterized Latin American philosophy. The philosophy of liberation is rooted in the political discourse of marginalized and exploited segments of society.
This current grew out of liberation theology, which in turn began in Peru and Brazil. Its origins can be traced to the 1970s in Argentina, to a group of thinkers that included Arturo Andrés Roig (b. 1922), Horacio Cerutti Guldberg (b. 1950), and Enrique Dussel (b. 1934). Because of the political turmoil during this period, many of these philosophers were forced into exile, thus disrupting the continuity of the movement and leading to the creation of various distinct strands of the philosophy of liberation. In spite of differences, however, they share a common concern with what it means to do philosophy from the periphery—that is, from the condition of dependence that these thinkers claim characterizes Latin American culture. The philosophy of liberation has been influenced by Marxist and Catholic ideas and is one of the most active philosophical currents in Latin America.
The problem of identity in Latin American philosophy has two dimensions: the identity of Latin American thought and cultural identity. In dealing with these aspects of the problem, philosophers tend to favor either what may be called a national approach or a continental—in a purely geographical sense—approach. Mariátegui, for example, addressed Peru's reality, applying Marxist principles in order to solve the problems facing Peruvians, not Latin Americans in general. In contrast, the Cuban thinker José Martí addressed issues of nuestra América (our America), emphasizing what is common to all the nations that comprise the region. Both thinkers prepared the way for the exploration of what it means to speak of Latin America and of Latin American philosophy.
The question of the existence and character of Latin American philosophy was first explicitly raised by Zea and Frondizi in the 1940s, although related questions had been alluded to even earlier by Alberdi. According to Alberdi, a Latin American philosophy must have a social and political character intimately related to the most vital needs of the continent. Because he conceives philosophy as an instrument for social, political, and economic change, Alberdi rejects metaphysics and other "pure and abstract" philosophical fields.
Zea's work extended the discussion of the meaning of Latin American philosophy. His culturalist perspective, according to which philosophy is intimately related to the culture and history from which it emerges, has won many adherents. Supporters find in this approach to defining philosophy a way of opening space for contributions that do not fall under the umbrella of the European and Anglo-American philosophical traditions under whose shadows they tend to remain marginalized. Abelardo Villegas (Mexico, 1934–2001), Ricaurte Soler (Panama, 1932–1994), and Guillermo Francovich (Peru, 1911–1990) are just three of the many philosophers who have adopted Zea's view. In Venezuela, Ernesto Mayz Vallenilla (b. 1925) has addressed some of these issues both in his work and in his capacity as public educator.
The problem facing philosophers as they grapple with the issue of the identity of Latin American nations, peoples, and intellectual traditions has become even more complicated as these discussions have entered the United States. Philosophers concerned with the place of Hispanics or Latinos in the United States explore questions related to what happens to the identity of Mexicans, Cubans, Colombians, and other Latin Americans who immigrate to the United States. Is there a term that can capture the identity of this diverse group? If so, which term? Or should we give up on the enterprise altogether? These questions take on particular relevance in light of the discussion of group rights. Latin American thinkers working in the United States on such issues include Ofelia Schutte (Cuba, b. 1945) and Gracia.
Latin American philosophy has a rich and variegated history. Latin American philosophers have a tradition of concern for the specific social and political problems that plague the population of the Americas. But they remain engaged with the universal concerns that have characterized philosophy since its inception—problems of truth, goodness, and justice, among others—that are not the product of any particular political structure, social context, or geographical location.
See also Aristotle; Augustine, St.; Bergson, Henri; Caso, Antonio; Comte, Auguste; Continental Philosophy; Croce, Benedetto; Farias Brito, Raimundo de; Hartmann, Nicolai; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Heidegger, Martin; Identity; Ingenieros, José; Kant, Immanuel; Korn, Alejandro; Liberation Theology; Logical Positivism; Molina Garmendia, Enrique; Moore, George Edward; Neoplatonism; Nietzsche, Friedrich; Ortega y Gasset, José; Plato; Positivism; Romero, Francisco; Russell, Bertrand Arthur William; Sartre, Jean-Paul; Scheler, Max; Schopenhauer, Arthur; Sosa, Ernest; Spencer, Herbert; Suárez, Francisco; Thomas Aquinas, St.; Unamuno y Jugo, Miguel de; Utilitarianism; Varona y Pera, Enrique José; Vasconcelos, José; Vaz Ferreira, Carlos; Vitalism; Vitoria, Francisco de; Wittgenstein, Ludwig Josef Johann.
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Jorge J. E. Gracia (2005)
Elizabeth Millán-Zaibert (2005)
"Latin American Philosophy." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 13, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/latin-american-philosophy
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