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Philosophy 2.0

Comprehensive LibGuide for philosophy, covering world philosophy, branches of philosophy, movements, and concepts.

Overview of Latinx Philosophy

"The history of Latin American philosophy is usefully divided into five periods: Pre-Columbian, Colonial, Independentist, Nationalist, and Contemporary (that is, the twentieth century to the present). Most periods are characterized by the dominance of a particular tradition: the Pre-Columbian by Amerindian religious cosmologies, the Colonial by scholasticism, the Independentist by Early Modern philosophy and Enlightenment thought, and the Nationalist by positivism. However, the contemporary situation is more complex and varied. For that reason, it is discussed in a separate and subsequent section, apart from the other historical periods that are the focus of this section.

There is good evidence that in at least the major pre-Columbian civilizations there were attempts to explore questions about the nature of reality, the limits of knowledge, and the basis of right action. Moreover, such work persisted in various forms for some time after the Conquest (Restrepo 2010; Maffie 2014). Whether this body of work is rightly characterized as philosophy or something else is a disputed matter, with scholars disagreeing about how best to characterize it (see Nuccetelli, 2001, ch. 3; Mignolo, 2003). It is clear that the reflective and speculative work of pre-Columbian Amerindian peoples was undertaken without any familiarity with the Western philosophical tradition. Those inquiries were also generally undertaken within the religious frameworks of their places and times and the literary or presentational modes in which such questions were entertained were typically removed from traditional forms of European philosophical production.

Despite these differences with European philosophy, and despite the often fragmentary and frequently second-hand information that survives concerning pre-Columbian thought, extant works have nevertheless supported a variety of intriguing and subtle accounts of those philosophical or proto-philosophical reflections.[1] Still, the conventional view about the pre-Columbian period is that its reflections had little to no impact on the indisputably philosophical intellectual production in the period that immediately followed the Conquest.[2]

European-derived philosophy began in Latin America in the sixteenth century. Among the most notable figures of this period is Bartolomé de Las Casas (1484–1566), whose work on the rights of conquered Amerindians has had a particularly important and long-lasting legacy. Scholasticism, introduced by the Spanish and Portuguese clergy that arrived with the conquistadores, was the dominant philosophical perspective. Most of the work produced during the first two centuries in the colonies was cast in the framework used in the Iberian peninsula. It was particularly indebted to the thought of both sixteenth-century Iberians and their medieval predecessors. Important figures included Francisco Suárez (1548–1617) and Francisco de Vitoria (1492–1546), and earlier medieval philosopher-theologians, such as Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) and John Duns Scotus (1265/6–1308). Most of these authors were born in the Iberian peninsula, but many of them had settled in the colonies. Among the most important, apart from Las Casas, are Alonso de la Vera Cruz (ca. 1504–84), who composed the first fully philosophical treatises in Latin America, Tomás de Mercado (ca. 1530–1575), and Antonio Rubio (1548–1615). Some of the works of these authors, such as Rubio’s Logica mexicana, were known and used in Europe.

Humanism also had some influence, as is clear from the work of Juan de Zumárraga (ca.1468–1548) and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651–1695), among others. Sor Juana has the distinction of being the first Latin American thinker to raise questions concerning the status of women in Latin American society. She is also retrospectively regarded as the first Latin American feminist writer and philosopher (see also the section on feminist philosophy, below.)

The eighteenth century, under the influence of modern philosophy and the Enlightenment, helped prepare the way for the revolutionary wars of independence. Philosophical discussions of the time were dominated by political thought. Even so, scholasticism continued to influence the intellectual class and stoked an ongoing interest in traditional metaphysical questions. Authors such as Juan Benito Díaz de Gamarra y Dávalos (1745–1783) and Francisco Javier Clavijero (1731–1787), both from Mexico, were influenced by early modern philosophers such as René Descartes (1596–1650). However, the wave of independentist thought found its greatest inspiration in Enlightenment political philosophy. In particular, liberal political ideals based on the thought of the French philosophes helped to consolidate independentist views throughout Latin America. Among the significant Latin American inheritors of that tradition were Simón Bolívar (1783–1830) in Venezuela and Colombia, Miguel Hidalgo (1753–1811) and José María Morelos (1765–1815) in Mexico, and much later, José Martí (1854–1895) in Cuba.

In the early 19th century, many Latin American countries secured independence from European colonial powers. In the wake of independence, the newly liberated peoples faced the challenge of forming stable, enduring nations out of the remnants of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. The predominant political concerns of that era included the organization and consolidation of the new nations, along with aspirations for social stability, national integration of largely diverse peoples. The overarching ambition in many nations was to achieve the same economic and social progress enjoyed by other nations in Europe and North America.

In this context, the ideology of choice was a version of positivism. The positivist motto, “order and progress,” which graces the Brazilian flag, suggests why positivism was especially appealing in the context of nation building. Positivism’s emphasis on both empirical science and pragmatic solutions appeared to provide a practical foundation for attaining the diverse ends of the new nations. Indeed, positivism became so influential and widely accepted by intellectuals that it became the official state philosophy of several nations. It was even used to justify dictatorial regimes, as in the case of Mexico.

Positivism of the Latin American variety was derived from a peculiar mix of European ideas primarily originating in the thought of Auguste Comte (1798–1857), Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), and Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919). The period of positivist hegemony, in which it was the dominant philosophical perspective in Latin America, extended roughly from the middle of the nineteenth century to the first decade of the twentieth. Among the most famous positivists were Gabino Barreda (1818–1881) and Justo Sierra (1848–1912) in Mexico, José Victorino Lastarria (1817–1888) in Chile, and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811–1888) in Argentina. Andrés Bello (1781–1865), from both Venezuela and Chile, and Juan Bautista Alberdi (1810–1884) and Esteban Echevarría (1805–1851), from Argentina, were transitional figures between independentist liberal thought and positivism. Later, José Ingenieros (1877–1925), from Argentina, and Enrique José Varona (1849–1933), from Cuba, prepared the way for the revolt against positivism, although their thought arose in a positivist context and maintained an alliance with positivist ideas."

1. Gracia, J., & Vargas, M. (2018, April). Latin American philosophy. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from

Introductory and In-Depth Material

The Nature of Latin American Philosophy