Brazilian Government To Defund Philosophy in Public Universities


Jair M. Bolsonaro, the current president of Brazil, has announced on Twitter his plans to stop government funding of philosophy and sociology in the nation’s public universities.

A rough translation is: “The Minister of Education, Abraham Weintraub, is studying how to decentralize investment in philosophy and sociology at universities. Students who have already enrolled will not be affected. The objective is to focus on areas that generate immediate return to the taxpayer, such as: veterinary, engineering, and medicine.”

By way of explanation, he added:

Again, roughly translated, this says: “The role of the Government is to respect the taxpayer’s money, teaching young people to read, write, and learn job skills that generates income for the person and well-being for the family, which improves the society around them.”

Those with more knowledge of the situation are encouraged to share what they know in the comments here, or by email to [email protected].

(Thanks to Danielle Wenner and Chris Bertram for the tip)

UPDATE (5/1/19): Please consider signing the open letter protesting this proposal.


Related: Philosophers and Welders and PoliticiansPhilosophy Majors Make More Money Than Majors in any other Humanities Field


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Galen
Galen
2 years ago

I did an exchange at USP a few years back and I was impressed by the knowledge and ability of Brazilian philosophers. I also found that the educated laypeople there knew a lot more about and had a greater interest in philosophy than their counterparts in the U.S. do or have. So it would be a real loss if the government follows through with this plan. And for those who don’t know, the best universities in Brazil tend to be public ones.Report

Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
Reply to  Galen
2 years ago

It is not clear to me whether USP would be affected as it is a state, rather than federal university. But I don’t know how dependent USP’s budget is on federal funds; others might have more information on this. Even if I am right about this, we should not minimize this. Many of the best and most accessible universities are federal universities; if this goes forward it will have a major negative impact on Brazilian higher education, and it is part of a general attack on the universities (Bolsonaro had previously declared, falsely of course, that few public universities are engaged in research and that most research was done by private universities).Report

Daniel Nagase
Daniel Nagase
Reply to  Sergio Tenenbaum
2 years ago

Here’s the situation at USP, which is where I’m currently doing my PhD. We have about 250 grad students, counting doctoral and master students. Of these, about 75 students receive grant money from the federal government (including myself). So we could lose 30% of our grad students if the government decides to shut down its grants to humanities. Moreover, we also use federal government grants to promote events and help students who wish to study for a period abroad. So, if the plan is to shut down that money, it would most likely heavily affect even a rather independent department such as ours. I imagine that in other universities the scenario would be much worse.Report

Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
Reply to  Daniel Nagase
2 years ago

Thanks Daniel! Yes, I thought that USP might be somehow dependent on federal funds, but 30% of graduate students it’s even worse than what I had imagined.Report

Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
2 years ago

By the way, there is a “philosopher” in Brazil that is Bolsonaro’s ideological inspiration, especially when it comes to education. There is little in English to give the full measure of this charlatan, but the wikipedia entry on him might be a good start (some philosophers in Brazil have been trying to expose him as a fraud, but he is still popular among Bolsonarists): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olavo_de_CarvalhoReport

Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Wow. Having gotten used to thinking that academic philosophy is disconnected from broader culture, it is surreal to see right wing politicians in many countries (often taking each others’ cues) targeting philosophy departments as a sign of liberal culture.

Perhaps this is needed to wake academic philosophy from its dogmatic slumber – which can lead to its revitalization and also philosophy more generally in society. These moves by Bolsanaro and others are not the end. But they are a call to step up the game. A sign we are very far indeed from the times of Russell, Quine and Strawson, who could all take the institutions of their profession for granted.

Professors can work on whatever they want – be it racism or universals or trolley problems, etc. But before they can have that individual freedom, they need to stand together to affirm their collective voice. Will be fascinating to see if philosophy professors can manage to speak with such a voice.Report

Daniel Peres
Daniel Peres
2 years ago

The whole issue is much more worrying than simply reducing spending by cutting off the teaching of philosophy and sociology. It is a clear obscurantist project that seeks to create an imaginary that refuses all the gains of modernity in terms of respect for pluralism, human rights, and the progress of science. They intend to build a fanatical Christianity, which is presented as threatened on all sides, and with this, they react furiously. Olavo de Carvalho is a figure who galvanizes this movement of ideas, without properly thinking anything worthy and original. He only gathers theses of one and the other decadentist and mystical alt-right philosopher. Right now he is trying to indict me for crime, because of an essay I published against him. Now, they don’t just want to ban philosophy and sociology in public institutions. They are also in a strong movement to deny the existence of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1982, where many were executed and hundreds were brutally tortured and kept in prison illegally. They want to rewrite history so that the military are true democrats, criminalizing opposition to the dictatorship. In this scenario, it is not surprising that they wanted to put an end to the possibility of any critical thinking.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Daniel Peres
2 years ago

Sorry to hear about the difficulties you are facing in light of your essay. What do you think might be the most effective way to respond to this movement?Report

Todd
Todd
2 years ago

In Masha Gessen’s book, The Future Is History, she talks about how many practices of the USSR have re-emerged under Putin. One of the interesting things is that the Soviets suppressed the humanities and social sciences in universities, because they didn’t want new political ideas to foment, and they didn’t want sociologists and political scientists actually researching what the people thought (the government wanted to make up public opinion). There was a brief renaissance in these disciplines through the 90s and early 00s, and then Putin has been gradually defunding and censoring them since. It seems that authoritarian regimes, at least, have a clear idea about the value of the humanities and social sciences.Report

Rafael
Rafael
Reply to  Todd
2 years ago

You might not believe me, but Bolsonaro’s followers have an ardent hatred of Putin.

Mostly for 2 things, his antagonistic actions towards the US and because they think that Russia is still communist.

One such guys, who of course says he is not racist, has said on several occasion that the “Russian race” (he might have meant slav race or Russian culture) would do better to cease to exist. He has said the same of Chinese, Venezuelans, Chileans, Canadians, Sweedes, Muslins, Persians, Indians and French…Report

Lost
Lost
2 years ago

I suppose he did that because Philosophy “Corrupts The Youth of (insert relevant country here)” eh?Report

Chico
Chico
2 years ago

It’s not that easy to do what Bolsonaro announced because Brazil has a strong law and very good autonomy features to Universities set in the Constitution. He would have to change the Constitution and other laws to succeed in this madness. What he could do only by his will is to release public funding calls only for other scientific areas, but he can’t close courses or fire professors under our Constitution light. Restrict or stop funding on research through these types of calls, that had gone annually until now, will have a horrible impact on how research is done in Brazilian Universities. Besides that, it’s not because human sciences help people to be more critical on public matters. That isn’t the case here. Bolsonaro is an ultra-neoliberal conservative that wants to privatize everything to make a profit. It had been the case to attack Brazilian Philosophy and Sociology because these areas are more distant from the popular sight, but it would be the beginning of the persecution of everything his government doesn’t see fit in his ideological agenda. This is an ideological program to destroy our public and free education with his anti-intellectualism. (I’m a Brazilian anthropologist).Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
2 years ago

Few taxpayers have any idea of what benefit society receives in return for money invested in philosophy. There’s a common misperception that we help ourselves to the public trough without giving anything of value back. For as long as people don’t know the benefit they get fot their money, they are unlikely to want to pay.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
2 years ago

1) A lot of the public doesn’t even know what philosophy professors do. Many people in my broader family/friend circle routinely confuse it with psychology or religion, and often are uninterested to correct their misunderstanding.

2) Academic philosophy is cut off from large portions of the right and the left. From the right for being too secular; from the left for being too eurocentric. How many minorities in America are going to stand up for academic philosophy as important to their lives?

3) What if Bolsanaro quoted Schopenhauer, Nietzsche or Wittgenstein’s criticisms of academic philosophy? Academic philosophers would get more traction with the public by speaking to the best form of the argument Bolsanaro can be making and rebutting that, rather than dismissing him as anti-intellectual. Even if that is giving him too much credit, it might be a good way to reach out to the broader, ambivalent public.Report

André
André
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Bolsonaro doesn’t know who Schopenhauer, Nietzsche or Wittgenstein are. We are not being lightly when say he is an anti-intellectual. He just does not have complex beliefs or deep understanding of anything at all. People are comparing him to Trump and Putin here, they have no idea. He has been for 30 years the most obtuse fascist congressman you could imagine and that’s exactly why he was elected in the first place – it passed him for an “honest” and ordinary conservative person.
You could say he’s not a fascist leader, he’s a fascist soldier. That’s how deep his grasp of the world in general actually gets.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

I didn’t mean to downplay Bolsonaro’s worldview or tactics. I am concerned about the right wing tilt happening around the world. Also not claiming we should debate Bolsonaro. You say he is worse than Trump and Putin, but even if he is the same as them, it seems clear debate is not what they want. They want to use the vaneer of reasoning to shut down any opposition (as some on the far left do too).

My point was about how to engage the vast majority in the middle. If the terms are set up as a binary between anti-intellectuals vs academics, academics will lose, since most people don’t identify with academics. Professors shouldn’t confuse how students look at them in the classroom with how the public views them (two very different contexts). To reach most people, academics need to show they understand the feeling that something is off about the academic status quo – and for that, it is helpful to think about people like Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein. To inspire the public will require some public soul searching on the professors’ part and acknowledging some of their problems.Report

Jockinho
Jockinho
2 years ago

It is obvious that Bostanaro is trying to close the study of philosophy and sociology down because these subjects encorage people to think for themselves, and this is dangerous for his government as they will be found out for the frauds they are. I guess along with history (which I am studying) he is terrified of the so called “cultural marxism angle, but to be honest he’s just a clown. We must ask if he posted this tweet though and not his lunatic son Carlos.Report

Greg Gauthier
2 years ago

Perhaps its time philosophers stopped relying on the good graces of political powers for their survival, and started brainstorming ideas for existing and working independently of the political establishment. So many are trapped by the institutional mindset: there’s just one way to “do” philosophy, and that’s having a state patron, a state office, and a state title. Well, maybe that’s not the only way.Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Greg Gauthier
2 years ago

It’s very easy to be so high-minded when it’s someone else’s livelihood and aspirations that are on the chopping block. Also I’m not sure what these other arrangements are. Working as a life coach or pet thinker for the wealthy? Giving Silicon Valley companies and the like ethical cover for whatever terrible thing they’ve decided to do? Being so wealthy one doesn’t have to actually work for anyone? The first two hardly seem like they’ll make one any more independent than working for the state. The letter’s wonderful but sadly not an option for most of us.Report

Bill
Bill
2 years ago

‘I don’t want to threadjack, but this comment of Bharath Vallabha’s jumped out at me: ‘we are very far indeed from the times of Russell, Quine and Strawson who could all take the institutions of their profession for granted.’

Strawson’s reaction, when 6 philosophy departments in the UK were closed by the Thatcher government, was to wonder whether we really need philosophy departments ‘in places like Hull’. So perhaps we haven’t come as far as Bharath supposes.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Bill
2 years ago

Man, didn’t know of that reaction by Strawson. I was thinking of Strawson as a symbol of the 50s and 60s, but yes certainly the current reality has its roots in the 80s.

When I was in grad school a decade ago, there was some sense that things were different from when higher ed was expanding in America post WWII. There was still nonetheless a sense a decade ago that the from of faculty life of the greats from mid century was what we might aspire to and get if we are lucky and end up in R1 depts. Not the case anymore. Even the Leiterific private departments depend on public departments for placing their grad students. If the latter dwindles, in 20 years the terrain will look very different from 1950 and everyone will be affected.Report

Martin Lenz
2 years ago

Would it perhaps be a thing if some of the internationally established institutions, representations and indivduals of our profession circulated pertinent notes of support? This calls for a clear unanimous statement.Report

Zoltán Bretter
Zoltán Bretter
2 years ago

Since Socrates, in any government, be it democracy or dictatorship, philosophy always had been a dangerous pastime. Gave the impression of freedom, questioned the validity of standard beliefs, offered arguments against mainstream public opinion, “corrupted” the youth by encouraging individuals to think for themselves, rather than following the crowd. This attitude , conveying the message of overall independence, might be disturbing for any rule, especially for authoritarian populism. Here, in Hungary we’ve already experienced the anti-philosophy witch-hunt, and Viktor Orbán participated at the inauguration of Bolsonaro: same family.Report