The executive committee of the Brazilian Logic Society has issued a statement in response to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s announcement about his plans to eliminate funding for philosophy and sociology in public universities.
The text of the statement is below.
Note in repudiation of the statements concerning Philosophy and Sociology made by His Excellency, the President Jair Bolsonaro, and His Excellency, the Minister of State of Education Abraham Weintraub
by the Brazilian Logic Society
In support of ANPOF – National Brazilian Association of Graduate Studies in Philosophy.
In support of SBPC – Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science, the #ScienceOccupyBrasilia movement, and the national mobilization of May 8th and 9th, 2019, against cuts in the budget for Science, Technology and Information.
And in support of all other Academic Associations of Brazil that have raised their voices against the same declarations
The Brazilian Logic Society (SBL) vehemently disavows His Excellency the President Jair Bolsonaro’s and His Excellency the Minister of State of Education Abraham Weintraub’s statements about teaching and researching in humanities, particularly philosophy and sociology. The President announced on his official Twitter account the intention to defund teaching and researching in Philosophy and Sociology. The justification given was that the objective is to concentrate funding on fields that “generate an immediate return to the taxpayer”. By way of explanation, the President added that the government should teach “young people to read, write, and learn job skills that generate income for the person and well-being for the family”. In and interview in 2018, the current Minister of Education had already said universities in Northeastern Brazil—allegedly Brazil’s poorest region—should quit teaching philosophy and sociology in favor of more useful activities, quoting then agriculture programs in cooperation with Israel. In a live transmission on Facebook together with the President, the Minister repeated his claim, adding Brazil should follow Japan’s example: defund philosophy and sociology, which are faculties for the rich people, and give this funding to faculties capable of generating “actual reward, like nursing, veterinary, engineering, medicine”.
Those declarations are disastrous and not only offend all professionals in Philosophy and Sociology, but also delegitimize all of the Humanities field in all levels of Brazilian education, including the most basic level of abecedarian literacy, mentioned by His Excellency the President himself—as if it were possible to learn to read and count without reflexion and self-awareness. Together, the President and the Minister both restate the most superficial prejudices, a short-sighted utilitarianism, and a ruthless elitism. Many problems could be highlighted in such declarations, but we chose to pinpoint just two mistakes.
The first mistake is to assume that only what is useful is also valuable. As philosophy and sociology do not bring “actual reward”, they should be deemed useless, so invaluable. Now, this discourse actually betrays an exaggerate concern with what it aims at dismissing—if philosophy and sociology actually produce nothing, why then they deserve the attack? If they are useless and invaluable disciplines, why then they would be of any interest to the rich? The attack seems to unveil just the opposite of what it says: philosophy and sociology really are of uttermost value, even to the point of deserving direct mention, and, for the very same reason, they should be eliminated from the curriculum or reduced to a minimum, available only to the wealthy classes. It is then worth asking if the words of his Excellency the President and his Excellency the Minister reveal all the speakers’ thoughts or if there is something they think and do not openly say.
Rooted in a rigid and untenable dissociation between theory and practice, the second mistake is as grave as the first one. If the value of a field of studies is reduced exclusively to its employments and immediate results, then the very logic of the process of knowing is turned upside down: we reason to get to the conclusions, then seeking to find out what to do with them, and not the converse. If practical employments and immediate results become the normative criteria to assess our knowledge, we could then quit reasoning at all, the application of known formulae would suffice. Why should we think, if repeating is enough? “Work, don’t think” is a well-known motto of subjugation.
Of course, it would be just naïve to say only philosophy and sociology are capable of producing “critical” and “conscious” thinking, or to try to defend their “usefulness”. In any area, knowledge is above all useless, however only in the specific sense its main product is not immediate or material. Indeed, in contact with the real world and by taking hold of the knowledge made available by other people in all areas, thought autonomy and critical awareness are the results of knowledge.
In this respect, one cannot forget the motto in the Brazilian flag is adapted from another, by Auguste Comte: “Love as the principle, order as basis, and progress as objective”. The reason for this comes from the fact that during the 19th century the Military School in Rio de Janeiro was the main center for studies on Comte’s positivism. Thus, a whole generation of Brazilian military officials became positivists, constituting the very same generation that in 1889 would be at the head of the Proclamation of the Republic. In fact, Comte himself became a philosopher after graduating in engineering and being a teacher of mathematics. Comte’s positivism comprehended a classification of the sciences strongly influent over sociology. So, in spite of the fact that we debunked just love from our flag, it after all seems philosophy and sociology are much more important to the country than admit the last statements made by his Excellency the President and his Excellency the Minister.
Anyone who thinks also philosophizes, even though one may not know it. Anyone who ponders upon the practical conditions of his or her professional activity in the context of his or her community is always thinking sociologically as well. Philosophy and sociology do add method and self-awareness to the curious impulse of willing to know that is the life of knowledge. In truth, since Socrates to our days, to ask why we should prefer the answers to the questions ends in shaking the foundations of uncritically held beliefs.
The mighty and powerful of all times and places usually do not tolerate questions of such a nature. And it is our responsibility as citizens and members of the Brazilian academic-scientific community to keep this question alive.
Brazilian Logic Society Elected Committee-2017-2019, 26th of April, 2019.