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FAPESP Week France


Back to news   |   25/11/2019 13:20

The importance of France to Philosophy in Brazil

From the origins of public university in São Paulo to current works on republicanism and Machiavelli, French collaboration has always been present in the study of Philosophy in Brazil, says Sérgio Cardoso (FFLCH-USP) at FAPESP Week France.

By Heitor Shimizu, from Lyon  |  Agência FAPESP – The close relationships between Brazil and France in teaching and research in Philosophy were highlighted by the participants of a session at FAPESP Week France, an event occurring until November 27th in the cities of Lyon and Paris.

“We cannot fail to recognize that Human Sciences and Philosophy in Brazil are strongly linked, in their origins, with France. Since the creation of the first public university in São Paulo, in 1934 [University of São Paulo], its founders have understood that without contributions from more well-established universities it would be impossible to overcome the cultural distance that separated us in the aspiration for modernization in Brazil, for which the opening of universities was decisive,” said Sérgio Cardoso (photo, at the center), a professor at the School of Philosophy, Arts, and Human Sciences of the University of São Paulo (FFLCH-USP).

“The support of French philosophers, as well as Italian, German, and Portuguese ones, enabled us to make ‘in one generation the leap of various,’ in the words of one of those professors, Claude Levi-Strauss,” said Cardoso at the session on Philosophy presided by Fernando Menezes, administrative director of FAPESP and a professor at the USP Law School.

Along with Levi-Strauss in Anthropology, Cardoso then remembered other French professors who contributed to the development of public universities in Brazil in the 20th century: Fernand Braudel, in History; Roger and Paul-Arbousse Bastide, in Sociology; and Pierre Defontaines and Pierre Monbeig, in Geography.

“In Philosophy, there are many important names, such as Jean Magué, Martial Guérroult, Gérard Lebrun, and, more recently in that lineage, Francis Wolff,” said Cardoso. “In short, French genes have infiltrated into our DNA, such that, despite the recent progress both in analytical Philosophy and the philological history of Philosophy, we continue to be intimately linked to the literary and reflexive standards of the French tradition.”

Next, Cardoso spoke about the recent production in Philosophy in São Paulo in the field of political Philosophy, raising topics that could be reinforced in current or developed in new collaborations with French researchers.

“At USP, since the 1950s the work in the areas of political Philosophy had centered on contractualist doctrines [which try to explain the paths that lead people to form governments and maintain social order] of the 17th century and the French Enlightenment, in an effort to rebuild the bases of the modern political theories, given an adequate understanding of the clash between Liberalism and Marxism,” he said.

“Consequently, we have trained a great number of academics specialized in Hobbes, Spinoza, and Rousseau, who today are spread throughout Brazilian universities. This work has also enabled the establishment of strong ties with international universities and projects,” said Cardoso.

“However, since the 1990s, the challenges of contemporary political thinking have been forcing us to promote a more comprehensive qualification, which enables us to go beyond the modern ‘contractualist’ horizon. The republican deficit of our social and political institutions has been largely responsible for promoting a detailed reflection on the various historical and conceptual matrices of modern republicanism,” he said.

Within this context, the professor from FFLCH-USP explained that his study group has focused initially on the period of Civic Humanism and the “Machiavellian movement at the start of the 16th century, next moving on to English republicanism of the 17th century, a research topic of Professor Alberto Barros, present here, and then, subsequently, to French republicanism of the 18th and 19th centuries, currently studied in his area.”

“This itinerary has resulted in the production of a significant number of well-conducted studies. Here I would highlight the current reverberation among us of the works of Machiavelli, an author about whom I will soon publish a collection of essays. I would also emphasize the high impact of Claude Lefort’s reading of Machiavelli – his work Le Travail de l’Ouevre Machiavel is being translated into Portuguese,” he said.

According to Cardoso, the critique of totalitarianism and the Machiavellian theory of Lefort on democracy “has helped us to think not only about the authoritarianism rooted in Brazilian history, but also about the slide in our recent history toward ultraneoliberalism and populism, questions that are evidently being faced not only in Brazil.”

The professor mentioned a meeting organized in São Paulo, two years ago, in collaboration with the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences and with the Raymond Aron Center, both in France. The event saw the participation of a large number of French and Latin American academics and resulted in the publication of various articles.

Cardoso also highlighted the productive collaboration with the University of Lyon, especially through the actuation of Professor Thierry Gontier, who also took part in the same session at FAPESP Week France. Director of the Lyon Institute of Philosophical Research, Gontier also stressed the importance of international collaboration for the development of philosophical thought.

The FAPESP Week France symposium is taking place between November 21st and 27th, thanks to a partnership between FAPESP and the Universities of Lyon and Paris, both in France. Read other news about the event at  

Photo: Sérgio Cardoso speaking at the Philosophy session of FAPESP Week France sided by Alberto Ribeiro Gonçalves de Barros (left) and Thierry Gontier (right) / photo: Heitor Shimizu, Agência FAPESP