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A philosopher of everyday life

Teacher and mentor to multiple generations, Oswaldo Porchat criticized the speculative theories that distance philosophical reflection from the essential truths of ordinary people

PERSONAL ARCHIVE Oswaldo Porchat, original thinker, teacher, and architect of philosophy in BrazilPERSONAL ARCHIVE

The image of a recently graduated professor of classics captivating a São Paulo classroom full of students, speaking Latin, eloquently represents the journey of philosopher Oswaldo Porchat de Assis Pereira da Silva, who died on October 15 at age 84 in São Paulo. In recalling the intellectual’s life history, friends, alumni, and teachers highlighted the originality of his philosophical thinking and his open attitude towards dialog with students and people with ideas different from his own.

Porchat described himself as a neo-Pyrrhonic philosopher, a contemporary heir to the thinking of Pyrrhus of Elis (365–275 BC). Roberto Bolzani Filho, a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of São Paulo (USP), states that Porchat’s main contribution was his critique of speculative philosophies that distance philosophical thought from the basic truths of daily life and from ordinary people. “Porchat always praised the ordinary life, guided by the simple truths of humankind, devoid of metaphysical pretensions. So over the course of time, he ended up finding in skepticism—and the criticisms that this philosophy makes of dogmatisms, through rational arguments—the best position to adopt, becoming a neo-Pyrrhonic skeptic,” he explains.

Professor emeritus at both the School of Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Human Sciences at the University of São Paulo (FFLCH-USP) and at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP), the philosopher received a bachelor’s degree in classics at USP in 1956, and a degree in philosophy from the University of Rennes in France, in 1959. In 1967, at the Department of Philosophy at USP he defended his thesis “The Aristotelian doctrine of science,” a work that, after a thorough revision in 2001, was published under the title Ciência e dialética em Aristóteles (Science and Dialectics in Aristotle) (UNESP Publishing) becoming a reference for philosophers and philosophy students. “Once, Jules Vuillemin (1920–2001) told me that few were as familiar with the Aristotelian texts as Porchat was,” says Jose Arthur Giannotti, also an emeritus professor at FFLCH-USP.

In the book, Porchat analyzes Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics, seeking to show its internal coherence, in opposition to critics who find many ambiguities and uncertainties in it. In addition, he argues that for Aristotle, science and dialectics are complementary, as opposed to those who see his theory and practice of science as contradictory. For Marco Zingano, a professor in the Department of Philosophy at FFLCH-USP, Porchat’s doctorate should be considered as a precursor to the strand of commentary on Aristotle’s works which culminated with the book Aristotle’s First Principles, published in 1988 by British philosopher Terence Irwin, professor emeritus of ancient philosophy at the University of Oxford in England.

From 1969 to 1970, Porchat completed a postdoctoral degree in logic at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1983, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences. He taught philosophy at USP from 1961 to 1975.

Building the institutions of philosophy
In the 1970s, engineer and physicist Rogério Cézar Cerqueira Leite, professor emeritus at UNICAMP and chairman of the Brazilian Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM), was the general coordinator of UNICAMP’s various colleges. He invited Porchat to develop a project that became the Center for Logic, Epistemology, and Science History (CLE), with a cross-disciplinary structure to the institute’s other departments. “I had already created a similar center for the study of alternative energy. Zeferino Vaz, dean at that time, embraced ​​Porchat’s idea of bringing a group of brilliant young philosophers to UNICAMP,” recalls Leite. At UNICAMP Porchat also founded the Department of Philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy and Human Sciences (IFCH).

Raul Landim Filho, retired professor of philosophy at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), states that the founding of the CLE paved the way to innovating the Brazilian philosophical universe. “The center sought to integrate the detailed study of classic texts from ancient and contemporary philosophers, which characterized the teaching of philosophy in Europe, with the methods of conceptual and logical reconstruction, which were used by the analytical philosophers, mostly of Anglo-Saxon origin,” he says.

In 1985, Porchat retired from UNICAMP and was invited to resume his teaching activities at the Department of Philosophy at FFLCH-USP, where he remained until 1998.

Bento Prado de Almeida Ferraz Neto, professor at the Department of Philosophy and Science Methodology at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCAR), recalls the “philosophical friendship” between Porchat and his father, the philosopher Bento Prado de Almeida Ferraz Júnior, a professor at UFSCAR and USP professor emeritus. “They had totally different philosophical mindsets, but they treated each other as partners in dialog,” he says. In the same way, Oswaldo Chateaubriand, a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio), also recalls that Porchat developed a philosophy very different from his own, but nevertheless they maintained a constant dialog.

“It’s impossible to overestimate Porchat’s importance to Brazilian philosophy,” says Luiz Henrique Lopes dos Santos, a senior professor in the Department of Philosophy at USP and the author of the first doctoral thesis for which Porchat served as advisor. “As a philosopher, he was an original thinker, establishing a two-way street between philosophy and the history of philosophy; as a teacher, he left his mark on several generations of teachers and researchers; and as a manager, he was, during his years at UNICAMP, the leading proponent for the institutional organization of the Brazilian philosophical community.”

The philosopher’s daughter, Patrícia Porchat Pereira da Silva Knudsen, a professor of psychology at São Paulo State University (UNESP), Bauru campus, and at the Graduate Program in Sexual Education at the Araraquara campus, notes that one of the greatest impacts that her father left behind was the ability to think about psychoanalysis from a critical vantage. “My father reflected a lot on the issues of everyday life. He was passionate about his profession and liked being with his students during moments of relaxation after classes,” Knudsen says.

Born on January 11, 1933, in Santos, Brazil, Porchat suffered a stroke in July of this year, and remained in declining health until his death due to complications caused by pneumonia. He leaves behind a wife, daughter, and two granddaughters.