Reading Notes For
Susana Nuccetelli’s Latin American Thought
Part One: Questions
1. Why would Nuccetelli imply that Europe’s Latin American colonies were more susceptible than its North American colonies to monolithic rule, as Nuccetelli characterizes Iberian Scholasticism?
2. Nuccetelli uses Thomas Kuhn’s notion of paradigm shifts to describe the mainstream Iberian Scholastic paradigm and the challenges that originated from within that paradigm once it had been transplanted to the New World.
Although Nuccetelli discusses indigenous challenges to the dominant Iberian paradigm, why would she mention Kuhnian paradigm shifts in this chapter and yet not take the opportunity to discuss challenges both from within and from without?
3. Nuccetelli refers to liberal democracy as if what goes by that name in the 21st century is the same as what would have passed for liberal democracy in the early 19th century – the endpoint of the chapter entitled “Iberian Scholasticism and Its Critics: From Colonial Rule to Independence.” How much does her argument suffer when considering that actually existing liberal democracy in the early 19th century U.S. – with slavery, no women’s right to vote, no 14th Amendment on due process – was a very different standard?
4. Nuccetelli is critical of Iberia’s colonial domination, so why would she consider only the Euro-centric perspective and the dialectical development of Iberian science and philosophy upon its being transplanted to Latin America? Why would she have excluded indigenous science, magic, religion, and art from this chapter?
5. Do societies experience paradigm shifts the way that Nuccetelli suggests, or are the changes much more subtle and evolutionary, and what difference does it make whether we believe that there really are sudden breaks (revolutions) or only gradual breaks (evolutions)? Would a Quechua Indian in Peru see the Bolivarian independence struggles as revolutions or evolutions?
Part Two: Outline
1. Spain and Portugal, the two European powers on the Iberian Peninsula, controlled Latin America from roughly 1492 until 1810, and during that time Iberian science and philosophy were transplanted to the colonies where they became dominant.
2. Scholasticism, the medieval Christian philosophical approach abandoned by much of Europe during the early modern era of Galileo, Newton, Descartes, and Locke and the new empirical and rational science, continued to be the mainstream paradigm in Spain and Portugal and subsequently in their Latin American colonies.
3. The Catholic Church, in concert with government and the universities, conspired to maintain the dominance of the Scholastic paradigm in Iberia and in Latin America even while the rest of Europe was undergoing an intellectual revolution in science and philosophy.
4. José de Acosta, a 16th century Jesuit missionary in Peru, challenged the verity of Scholastic teaching regarding the natural world, most notably through the use of empirical evidence. For example, the Spanish circumnavigation of the world provided evidence that the world is round, and the discovery of the Americas demonstrated that they are neither the Antipodes nor part of the Asia continent.
5. Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz, a 17th century Carmelite nun in Mexico, challenged Scholasticism’s artificial barrier that blocked women from the intellectual pursuit of knowledge in classical literature and in natural science.
6. Simón Bolivar, general, statesman and legendary liberator of northern South America from Spanish rule, was a catalyst for the introduction of contemporary European rationalism, empiricism, and liberalism as alternatives to the conservative Scholasticism of the Spanish Empire.
7. Bolivar’s legacy to Latin America lies in the notion that “there is no universally valid form of political and social organization, for each group of people should be able to choose an arrangement that best fits its own cultural traditions and social conventions as well as the physical contingencies of its environment” (Nuccetelli 162).
8. Determinism is implied by the notion that the types of political organization that are suitable for a particular society depends on its history, culture, ethnicity, and geography.
9. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, a 19th century Argentine intellectual and politician, embraced determinism and used it to define the elitist distinction between civilization and barbarism, or roughly between Buenos Ares and the people of the pampas to the north.
Part Three: Discussion
Nearly two hundred years after his liberation of what is now Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Panama, Simón Bolivar’s legacy of the non-universality of Anglo-American liberal democracy remains alive in the person and rule of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Bolivian President Evo Morales, both of whom have successfully used a combination of populist appeal and direct democracy to challenge their countries’ conservative establishment of political, business, and foreign interests. When North American critics point to the hypocrisy of these two regimes, they neglect the Founding Father status of Bolivar who argued that “regardless of the effectiveness of this form of government with respect to North America, … it has never for a moment entered my mind to compare the position and character of two states as dissimilar as the English-American and the Spanish-American” ” (Nuccetelli 164). The debate about what is democratic in another country becomes complicated when self-determination, which is essentially what Bolivar is talking about, is added into the mix. From the perspective of those who lead their countries to independence, self-determination sometimes even trumps democratic formalities.
Nuccetelli, Susana. Latin American Thought: Philosophical Problems and Arguments. Boulder: Westview Press, 2002.