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Philosophizing in Portuguese

Four major projects from USP's Philosophy Department discuss from Aristotle to Habermas

At the beginning of October, FAPESP approved funding for a project in the area of philosophy. So far, nothing very unusual. The Foundation merely met a demand from the sector. It so happens that, with this one, the Philosophy Department of the Philosophy, Literature and Human Sciences School of the University São Paulo now has three projects in the thematic category, the main characteristic of which is the comprehensive cover of the study, which also has a significant impact. Due to its importance, this modality of research calls for a responsible researcher with wide experience, the time limit for the conclusion of the work may reach four years, and there is no minimum budgetary limit. Besides these three thematic projects, there is a fourth one, based on the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (Cebrap), which is also coordinated by a professor from the same USP department.

The coordinators of the current thematic projects have in common their experience and a fondness for working collectively. Marilena Chaui, who is responsible for the most recent project approved, is one of the best examples of this practice. “Our thematic project is the consequence of the work of a group of specialists in the philosophy of the 17th century, which has now been in existence for ten years”, says the professor. “For this specific project, there is reciprocal support between the researchers, but it doesn’t interfere in the individual content of each work”. She points out that the individual works resulting from the project could exist without the project, but they would not be so mature and profound without the support of the collective discussions. That is to say, the group is not a condition of work, but conducting the work in a group is important for each researcher. It can be said that this same line of thought is valid for the other thematic projects in philosophy.

The project coordinated by Marilena is going to study the relationship between reason and experience in the birth of modernity. To do so, one of the aspects analyzed by the researchers places in doubt the supposition, which comes from Hegel, that there is a division between empiricism and rationalism, since classical thinking has rationalism as one of its hallmarks. The group itself concluded that the entirety of the 17th century thinkers is rationalist, like Spinoza, for example. The project gathers together 19 researchers.

Although the coordinators of the thematic projects in philosophy are from USP, there are professors from other universities directly involved in the project. A good number of them come from the Campinas State University (Unicamp), but there are researchers from universities in Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná, Rio de Janeiro and Bahia.

For Marco Zingano, the coordinator of the thematic project on Ethics and Metaphysics in Aristotle, from some ten years ago until now, the circuit for colloquy on philosophy has built up in the country. “I believe that an effort is being made to cause a greater interaction, which already exists in the area of natural sciences”, Zingano explains. Accustomed to working in groups, Zingano regards the conception of a thematic project as ideal. “The idea of our thematic project is to study ancient philosophy from the main gateway, which is Aristotle”, says the researcher. “This is also a way of strengthen studies in ancient philosophy, as there were no groups specially organized about this”.

Critical mass
In the case of Pablo Mariconda, the coordinator of the Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science project, the thematic projects have opened up the possibility of institutionalizing what has already existed. “Although introspection in humanities is also a style of working, there have always been researchers willing to study the same theme together”, he says. According to him, there is today greater critical mass and a pressure for the continuity of works regarded as important in philosophy. Mariconda’s thematic project deals with scientific revolutions, from the 16th and 17th centuries onwards, and the impact of the ideas of Isaac Newton on physical and biological sciences in the course of the 18th century. “Now, for example, we are working on Darwinian evolution and quantum physics”. There are 15 people in the group, three of them associate professors from other states.

An interesting experience under way, amongst the four thematic projects connected with USP Philosophy, is the Cebrap project. Coordinated by Ricardo Terra (USP) and Marco Nobre (Unicamp), the project called Morals, Politics and Law: An Investigation Following the Work of Jürgen Habermas, is working with groups from USP’s Law Faculty. This difference in the organization of the project lies in the fact that it has been planted in Cebrap, is coordinated by philosophy professors and has law researchers, and that it has as its monitors Professors from the Law School, and not the Philosophy School. “It’s a project with many openings”.

The study, which has gathered together some 30 researchers, started from the finding that there are two fundamental poles for democracy: economics and law. “Law is the great transformer of social movement in democracies”, Terra explains. “If social claims and demands do not become law, the conquests remain limited in part”. The juridical aspect has great strength because it is also the tool most used to resolve all kinds of pending matters.