Nation-Building through Education: Positivism and its Transformations in Mexico

In Jr Sanchez (ed.), Latin American and Latinx Philosophy: A Collaborative Introduction. Routledge (2019)
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In the second half of the nineteenth century, many Latin American intellectuals adapted the philosophy of positivism to address the pressing problems of nation-building and respond to the demands of their own social and political contexts, making positivism the second most influential tradition in the history of Latin American philosophy, after scholasticism. Since a comprehensive survey of positivism’s role across Latin American and Latinx philosophy would require multiple books, this chapter presents the history of positivism and its transformations in Mexican and Chicanx philosophies, proceeding chronologically and focusing on these representative thinkers: Auguste Comte (1798-1857), Gabino Barreda (1818-1881), Justo Sierra (1848-1912), José Vasconcelos (1882-1959), Antonio Caso (1883-1946), and Gloria Anzaldúa (1942-2004). We pay special attention to how positivism was used to build the Mexican nation and reconstruct Mexican identity through education, creating philosophical debates about the relationships among science, religion, morality, education, race, economic progress, and national development. These debates continue to resonate as we think critically about the respective roles of scientific education—then called “positive” education, now “STEM” education—and moral education in the curricula used to educate a country’s youth while reconstructing their ethnoracial and national identities.
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