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    Zea, Leopoldo, 1912-
    The Actual Function of Philosophy in Latin America / Leopoldo Zea
    Latin American Philosophy in the Twentieth Century. -- Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1986.
    p. 219-230
    Book/pamphlet article – Essays
    Zea, Leopoldo. "The Actual Function of Philosophy in Latin America. " In Latin American Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, edited by J.E. Garcia, 219-225. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1986.

In this text, Leopoldo Zea outlines his vision for the future of Latin American philosophy, explaining how in order to be relevant it must be universally applicable and a product of the specific context of Latin America. Zea begins by arguing that philosophy, at the current moment (circa 1942), has become extremely relevant in the public milieu for the first time in Latin America and that this has occurred because of the widely perceived failure of European culture. He continues that one of the central questions with which Latin American philosophy is grappling involves the nature of the nexus between Latin American and European culture. Zea argues that the relationship of Latin Americans with European culture is contradictory and a huge problem for Latin American identity. Even though Latin Americans possess a “world view” that is similar to Europeans (they do not possess a pre-Columbian world view), they do not feel that European culture is their own. He traces such a dilemma to the fact that America has always been a product of European thought: “Europe needed America,” Zea explains, because when science eliminated the possibility of an ideal world in heaven, Europeans needed to find a new location for their idea of utopia. This has led Latin Americans to feel inferior because, assuming this European idea of America, they have not been able to fulfill its expectations. In order for Latin Americans to overcome their feelings of inadequacy, first, they must become “collaborators” in Western culture. The way they need to do this is to continue to work on the central abstract problems of Western philosophy (i.e. being, knowledge, God, etc.). Zea argues that issues such as these, which are considered “universal,” are also issues that have been considered from a Latin American context, reminding us that, even though presented as universal, European philosophy has always been based in specific cultural histories. It is the current imperative of Latin American philosophy to take on these issues with “the purpose of safekeeping the human essence: that which makes a man a man.” Ultimately, Zea states that Latin American philosophy must begin by pondering its own circumstances, but that it must expand its examination to broader abstract questions in order to be relevant within “universal culture.”


During the course of his faculty career at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), the Mexican philosopher, Leopoldo Zea (1912-2004), pondered at length how philosophy in Latin America emerged from a specific set of historical circumstances. Zea examined positivism in Mexico in a number of texts, including his book El positivismo en México (1943). This article, “The Actual Function of Philosophy in Latin America,” originally appeared in Spanish in the journal Cuadernos Americanos, in 1942. In this text, he outlines his vision for Latin American philosophy, explaining, among other things, why its development is so important for Western culture at the time. Zea argues, on the one hand, that the European cultural and political crisis has prompted Latin Americans to reflect on their own link with European culture. On the other, he states that the collapse of Europe presents Latin American philosophy with an opportunity to step in and work to preserve the humanist values of Western culture. Zea clearly sees the Latin American link to Europe as the main problem in their efforts to establish cultural and political identity. He views Nationalism as an ineffective response to Latin Americans’ inferiority complex with regard to Europe and the United States. In discussions concerning this issue, Zea cites Alfonso Reyes (1889-1959), a Mexican poet of the 1920s who spent most of his career working in Europe. He also disputes the idea that Latin America can claim indigenous cultures as its own.

Maria C. Gaztambide, ICAA; Harper Montgomery, collaborator
International Center for the Arts of the Americas, MFAH, Houston, USA
Courtesy of María Elena Rodríguez Ozan. Rights of the author as established under Mexican law.
From Latin American Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, ed. Jorge J.E. Gracia (Amherst NY: Prometheus Books, 1986), pp. 217-230 ©1986 by Jorge J.E. Gracia. Used with permission of the publisher; Link Text