Why is it that America has noticed the “Boom” in Latin American fiction but has ignored Latin American philosophy? One obvious reason lies in the unavailability of translated texts. While novelists have energetically and strategically combined efforts to publish translations of their works in the United States, nothing of the sort has happened in Latin American philosophy. This anthology, part of a Frontiers of Philosophy series, is the first to appear in English in more than 30 years.

The task was challenging. Material that might have been included is abundant, diverse, uneven in quality, and often scattered in periodicals difficult to locate. The editor has selected from the writings of 14 thinkers from five countries. To achieve a certain unity, he has focused on three fundamental topics of particular concern to Latin American philosophers: man, values, and the search for philosophical identity. The selections for the first two parts were made in collaboration with Risieri Frondizi, one of the writers represented in the book.

The major trends in contemporary Latin American philosophy emerged in reaction to positivism. The philosophy of Auguste Comte had been welcomed in Latin America as a corrective to the prevailing scholasticism. It seemed to offer empirical rigor and an assurance of progress in place of archaic dogmatism and fruitless theorizing. In Mexico, Comte’s slogan, “Order and Progress,” guided the 27-year dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, and in Brazil, the phrase was incorporated into the national flag as well as into the attitude of political leaders.

But positivism failed to deliver on its promises, and its determinism generated dissatisfaction with diminished freedom in the moral, aesthetic, and political realms. The selections in the “Man” and “Values” sections of this book display a preoccupation with ontological and metaphysical questions. Many of these philosophers were trained in the humanities and are much concerned with social and political issues—the themes of freedom, personalism, and human spirit appear repeatedly.

The most pervasive and characteristic concern of Latin American philosophy over the past hundred years has been the search for philosophical identity. Is there, can there be, or should there be a distinctively Latin American philosophy? Part three of this anthology provides sample answers and concludes with Arturo Andres Roig’s arguments for a “philosophy of liberation.” Rejecting the classic conception of philosophy as contemplative and disinterested knowledge, Roig looks to Marxism and Freudianism to provide a basis for the social function of knowledge. Philosophy, he insists, should acquire substance by involving itself in the historical process: “The ‘theory of freedom’ that fills the discourse of our ‘founders’ [the philosophers represented in part one of this book] must, no doubt, be replaced by the ‘theory of liberation’ that should have as its fundamental task the elaboration of new integrating categories beginning with a redemption of the historical sense of man.”

The anthology thus moves in its considerations from the inner life of the person to the external concerns of collectivism, from universal concerns with human freedom to political liberation in the particular context of Latin America, from philosophy as metaphysical questioning to philosophy as political ideology. It is a pattern characteristic of contemporary Latin American experience in general and one that the United States must soberly reflect upon.


[Latin American Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, edited by Jorge J.E. Gracia; Buffalo: Prometheus Books]