The Search for Truth: Philosophy and Science in Carlos Vaz Ferreira

Author: Paloma Pérez-Ilzarbe. department of Philosophy, University of Navarre


  1. Tools for grasping reality: the instrumental nature of the sciences and the clarifying role of philosophy

  2. Philosophy and science as levels of knowledge: the knowledge human as a sea

  3. The continuity of science and philosophy: science as a floating iceberg

  4. The Search for Truth: Science and Philosophy as Aspects of Human Knowledge


Teaching to ignore, if this is taken without paradox, is as important as teaching to know. (Carlos Vaz Ferreira).

Carlos Vaz Ferreira was a respected Uruguayan philosopher and educator (Montevideo, 1872-1958). As a philosopher, thinking, and as an educator, teaching to think, were two of his passions. Vazferrer's answer to the question of the relationship between science and philosophy is part of his answer to the question of how to think correctly (1*). In the following pages I will try to clarify the place that Vaz Ferreira assigns to science and philosophy as moments of thought and, with a broader view, the place of both and of thought in general within the psychic life of the human being in his contact with reality. Of Vazferrer's very rich production, I will base my study only on the following works: Lógica viva (1910), "Sobre enseñanza de la filosofía" in Lecciones de pedagogía y cuestiones de enseñanza (1918), Fermentario (1938), Trascendentalizaciones matemáticas ilegítimas (1940) and Los problemas de la libertad y los del determinismo (1957). I will also refer to some passages from knowledge and action (1908), Three Philosophers of Life (1965) and a lecture on "Teaching the Experimental Sciences" published posthumously.

1. Tools for grasping reality: the instrumental nature of the sciences and the clarifying role of philosophy

Vazferrer's starting point is the recognition of a reality that is beyond us, but with which we can enter contact in different ways. We have two great tools at our disposal to access this reality: logic (to organise it and thus make it manageable) and language (to make it solid and thus share it). Thanks to them (although not only with them) we construct scientific theories and philosophical systems, we discuss, argue, give lectures, write books... In other words, we construct new tools that we use to try to domesticate reality. The justification for this artifice is, for Vaz Ferreira, practical: we need to manage reality in order to be able to operate on it, even if by manipulating it we disfigure it to some extent.

Taking into account this radical difference between a continuous, complex and vast reality, and tools that chop it up, simplify it and reduce it to a manageable size, Vaz Ferreira speaks on numerous occasions of the inadequacy of language and discursive thought to express reality, and, in general, of the inadequacy of systems to think about the world around us. Systematisation, on the one hand, is a natural tendency of the human spirit (which "completes everything, symmetrises everything") (2*) and, on the other hand, it is a tendency that pays off on many occasions (systematisation brings simplicity and, consequently, ease of use and foresight). But we would be dogmatic if we believed that such a useful tool can replace the real thing, or that it can be applied with equal success to any reality. In other words, the limitations of systems are twofold: first, since systems simplify, there is always something of reality that outline does not capture; second, since every concrete situation is different, wanting to apply a ready-made system rather than set about the task of thinking simply amounts to refusing to look at the reality in front of you.

In what sense do we disfigure it? Commenting on a Nietzschean aphorism on the origin of logic, Vaz Ferreira establishes the essential distinction between reality and our ways of apprehending it:

[...] indeed, for logic to be formed as we use it or conceive it today, it was necessary for man to be illogical, in the sense that, not being able to directly observe reality which is continuous and always different from itself, he had to humanise that reality and adapt it to himself, to his own Schools of perceiving it, of perceiving or conceiving the similar where there were dissimilarities in reality, and perceiving or conceiving the discontinuous where reality was continuous. (3*)

A concrete case of this mismatch between our tools and reality is revealed by observing the conventional nature of the boundaries of classifications. In the realms of our experience that he label as "questions of Degree", Vaz Ferreira recognises the vagueness of many of the concepts with which we slice up the world. Since reality is offered to us as a gradual continuum, our classifications divide it artificially and, consequently, in trying to apply them to zones of penumbra "one cannot say or think in an absolutely clear and precise way 'such an object is or is not within such a class'". (4*)

However, recognising this conventional nature of many classifications (and, as a consequence, the irreparable vagueness in their application) does not imply having to renounce their use, but rather, precisely this recognition leads to knowing how to use classifications without allowing oneself to be manipulated by them. Classifications are extremely useful tools: they are "schemes for thinking, for describing, for teaching and even for facilitating observation" (5*). But knowing how to use a classification requires being aware of this instrumental character, i.e. it requires:

[...] that I should take it as I ought to take it, that is, not by demanding of it that it should always be the equivalent expression of reality, but simply that it should be a guide; everything lies in not believing that reality should adapt itself to classifications; in not asking of classification more than it can give; not asking of it only that for which it has really been created. There is no objection to my speaking, in practice, of weak light, of light of medium intensity, of intense light, of very intense light, on condition that I know what is more or less conventional, gradual or vague in this. I, on the other hand, would be a victim of this classification if I believed that there was a precise limit at which light ceases to be intense and becomes very intense. (6*)

When this is understood, there is nothing to prevent us from using different classifications for the same things: each of them can contribute something useful to the description of the reality we want to know. And, what is more, the next step in learning to think about this complex reality will be to realise that all language can be understood as a great classifying system, and that the correct attitude is, once again, to make use of it without allowing oneself to be dominated by it. Vaz Ferreira understands predication as a classification: when we apply an attribute to a subject, what we are doing is looking for a place for it under a simplified outline in which the complexity of the real will never fully fit. (7*)

Consequently, in order to think well it is necessary to distinguish reality from its expression. And although this may seem banal committee , Vaz Ferreira sample how the mistake of confusing the two is very often made. Things are as they are, but when we try to explain how they are through language, the nature of this tool prevents us from doing so in a perfectly adjusted way: what we always obtain, regardless of whether we try to do so with greater or lesser generality, is a schematic representation, and therefore inadequate by nature. Hence the danger of what Vaz Ferreira calls "transcendentalisation", which consists in transferring to the ontological plane what belongs to the linguistic plane (attributing, for example, to reality the contradiction with which it is sometimes useful for us to think of it). (8*)

Forgetting the distinction between our classifications and reality became a particularly close danger in Vaz Ferreira's time. The 19th century had been the century of the overwhelming triumph of the sciences over any other attempt to explain reality. Positivism proclaimed the overcoming of metaphysics and established the scientific method as the sure way to access the world around us. But for Vaz Ferreira the sciences, with all their success and possibilities of practical application, are nothing more than sophisticated tools for dealing with reality. And here too it is fallacious to transcendentalise, to transfer to the real plane what only belongs to the realm of our systematisation. For example, with respect to mathematical science (the clearest case), Vaz Ferreira warns:

Mathematics is neither a representation nor a description of realities, but, we shall say, a means of making a prey to realities; a means, on the one hand, of making use of realities, and, on the other hand, of foreseeing and discovering them. They are not descriptions - in the true sense - of reality itself, but (it is very important to understand this) they are like an instrument applied to reality in order to master it. (9*)

Once again, thinking well requires recognising the instrumental character of the sciences, that is to say, it requires realising that what they offer us is not reality and is not all of reality. A recognition which, on the other hand, is not the same as denying the sciences the nature of authentic knowledge (even mathematics, he says, "bites into reality"(10*), and as for the experimental sciences, their method is that of observing reality in order to "adapt thought to it"(11*)). What Vaz Ferreira intends to underline is the fact that this knowledge will always be partial and aspectual, as it is mediated by a simplifying tool .

A first approach to the Vazferrerian conception of the sciences is thus established: the sciences are systems that human beings use to know the world. Their schematic character provides clear advantages over other modes of knowledge (accuracy, reduction to laws, predictability). But this very schematic character is the cause of an inadequacy that it is very important not to forget. And it is here that a first approach to the Vazferrerian conception of philosophy can also be presented: one of the advantages of philosophical thought over scientific thought is that, being less mediated by previous schemes (as will be seen below), it is capable of recognising the difference between systematisations and reality. Philosophy thus acquires, in addition, a clarifying role vis-à-vis the sciences. In his effort to think more directly about reality, the philosopher becomes aware of the instrumental character of any systematisation and is thus better able to put science in its place, recognising its value but also its limitations. But to better understand how science and philosophy approach reality, it is necessary to examine in more detail the Vazferrerian idea of the human knowledge .

2. Philosophy and science as levels of knowledge: the human knowledge as a sea

Vaz Ferreira understands the different ways of accessing reality as constituting a continuum: the differences between knowledge are not essential, but of Degree. For Vaz Ferreira, the human knowledge is the unfolding of a unique way of opening up to the world, but which advances by going deeper in successive levels of analysis. For example, a certain level of knowledge would be that of a scientist who studies movement using the notion of force; but it is possible to go to a deeper level, in which the scientist analyses this notion of force, although taking for granted (without analysing it) the data of perception; and it is possible, still, to pass to a third, deeper level, in which one begins to analyse these previously assumed data; in this way one passes, insensibly, to philosophy, and, according to Vaz Ferreira, a philosophical analysis at a certain level can progress with new analyses at increasingly deeper levels...

However, for Vaz Ferreira each new level means a different Degree of generality and abstraction, on the one hand, and of clarity and precision, on the other. Vaz Ferreira's image of the human knowledge as a sea, in which depth goes hand in hand with the loss of clarity, is famous:

We can represent the human knowledge as a sea, the surface of which is very easy to see and describe. Beneath that surface, the vision naturally becomes less and less clear; until, in a deep region, it is no longer seen: it is only glimpsed (and, in another, deeper region, it will cease to be seen at all). (12*)

As one goes deeper into knowledge, one moves from the concrete to the abstract, from the less general to the more general, and thus from the diaphanous to the opaque. All these levels of depth are knowledge, but not on all these levels does the knowledge allow itself to be captured in the same way or, to use another Vazferrerian image, it is not equally solid on all levels.

The greatest Degree of solidity corresponds to the sciences: we have created tools with which we enclose (or try to enclose) reality in precise moulds, and so "it is very easy to see and describe", i.e. it is easy to think reality linguistically and to communicate it to others. Imprisoned by a language with precise meanings, the knowledge is solidified, we can grasp it with our hands and lean on it. Systematisation, the rigid outlines of the sciences, are like a skeleton that holds it up. The drawback, as we have seen, is that for Vaz Ferreira reality is much more than this skeleton, our systematisations always fall short compared to the richness of what we want to know.

Now, for Vaz Ferreira, knowledge does not end with the scientific knowledge : it is possible (and inevitable) to go to deeper levels. But as we go deeper, that is, as we think philosophically, we leave behind those precise tools and try to enter contact with reality in a more direct way, or in other words, less delimited by fixed schemes. Without the skeleton of rigid systems, the knowledge then becomes fluid: words no longer have such a defined outline and, consequently, it is more difficult to communicate and to agree on agreement. Not letting oneself be grasped is the price paid for a plastic knowledge , which adapts better to the chiaroscuro of reality.

This balance between what is gained and what is lost by delving deeper into knowledge is vividly drawn in another Vazferrerian metaphor: the one that compares deep analysis to what happens when we move from looking at the sky with the naked eye to observing it with increasingly powerful instruments. Without instruments, we are able to see only a few stars, but we know well where each one is and can even describe what we see, shape constellations and identify them with familiar names(13*). With instruments, we see more and more points of light until "at last, everything is a kind of luminous confusion". In other words, as we go deeper, we leave behind a very precise knowledge of a small piece of reality, and move on to more and more confused knowledge of wider and wider areas of reality. At the level of the sciences, schematized reality is easy to describe, and the language of fixed meaning puts everything in its place, even if what we see in this way is only a very poor picture of what we had in front of us. With deep analysis, the scope of known reality widens, but in confusion: "the more light the more confusion", that is to say, the more we soak ourselves in reality, the less systematisable it is. And we realise, then, the artificial character of those tools, which play no role at the deep levels: "systems have long since lost their meaning, which, like hydras, dragons and other myths of the sky, were no more than fictitious imaginative constructions passing through the most visible points". (14*)

The good attitude towards tools is to take them for what they are and use them for what they are designed for. The sciences give us a knowledge of reality that has the advantage of clarity and precision: with sharp tools it is much easier to handle reality (to convert it into comprehensible data, to make predictions, to discover new data...) But it would be as absurd to believe that with that we know everything, as to claim for philosophy the same precision of the sciences. In contrast to the solidity of the sciences, the advantage of philosophy is that it deals, on a more general and abstract level, with vital problems (such as freedom, God, immortality), even if it has to pay the price of being content with less solid knowledge.

What remains to be seen is the true nature of this apparent solidity of the sciences. Against a sharp solid/fluid division (outline!) and the consequent opposition between science and philosophy, Vaz Ferreira proposes, as might be expected, a twinning between the two, and a gradual and insensitive passage from one to the other levels of analysis.

3. The continuity of science and philosophy: science as a floating ice floe

The opposition between science and philosophy, ever since the progress of science began to dazzle humanity, has often been understood as a contrast between the real knowledge and illusion. According to the famous Kantian image, the scientific knowledge is presented to us as an island of well-measured terrain with everything in its place, as opposed to the wide and stormy ocean of metaphysics, which tempts us with its mirages. (15*)

For Vaz Ferreira, science is also a territory on which we can set foot, but instead of understanding this terrain as a more or less large piece of solid ground, he sees it as "a floating iceberg" in the middle of the ocean. (16*) On the one hand, yes, it is solid, "and it asserts itself and grows wider every day". Faced with "an ocean for which there is neither boat nor sails"(17*), the sciences are the territory of security and progress. But even if it gives the illusion of such a space, it is not solid ground.

From entrance, it is not firm: that surface on which we are confidently seated is floating on water. For this reason, "on all its sides there is water; and if you delve deep enough anywhere, you will find water". Vaz Ferreira speaks here of the continuity between science and philosophy, in two senses: in the absence of opposition and in the absence of a solution of continuity. On the one hand, science is surrounded by philosophy: the two "work in continuity, not opposed but united"(18*). On the other hand, any science leads insensibly to philosophical analysis ("if one delves well"), without there being a dividing line, as will be seen below.

But, what is more, the apparent dry land is not even land: "if any piece of the ice floe itself is analysed, it is made of the same water of the ocean for which there are no boats or sails. Science is solidified metaphysics". This means that this petrification of thought is something artificial, that the natural state of the human knowledge is that of "luminous confusion", because it is that of seeking direct contact with reality, and that apparently solid knowledge is only the result of the decision to sacrifice the craving for reality for the security of precise limits.

The sciences have the appearance of solid ground because they are built on a point of support. This support is provided, on the one hand, by a fixed meaning of terms and, on the other hand, by a given plane of abstraction. Philosophy lacks this firmness because, in its constant analysis, it constantly moves from one plane of abstraction to another, and so the words do not have a definite meaning once and for all, but change as they move from one plane to another. (19*) But this opposition between science and philosophy is again more apparent than real. On the one hand, philosophy too can (and must) specify the meaning of the terms it uses, and specify the mental plane on which it works. On the other hand, the fulcrum of the sciences is not absolute, but decided: conventionally, the meaning of words has been fixed and the analysis has been stopped on a plane, which is taken as the starting "data" (20*). The metaphor of the floating iceberg thus recalls another simile, more topical than those of Kant and Littré: the Popperian metaphor of the building erected on stilts on marshy ground. (21*) Popper, like Vaz Ferreira, points to the conventional nature of the supposedly firm basis of the sciences and thereby denounces the claim of the sciences to constitute a definitive knowledge. 

However, despite the air of family, Vaz Ferreira's metaphor is not intended as a defence of fallibilism, but rather as an invitation to continue, by deepening, the thought initiated on the scientific plane. As has been said, in Vaz Ferreira, science leads us insensibly and inevitably to philosophy. As soon as one begins to think, it is impossible not to go deeper: "science emits philosophy". (22*) Whoever thinks cannot stop at the frontier between science and philosophy, because there is no such frontier: "the limits of science and philosophy are not precise". (23*) It is possible, yes, to stop the natural movement of thought for practical reasons, not to analyse and simply to use scientific tools. (24*) But to continue thinking is to gradually move on to philosophical problems. That is why, according to Vaz Ferreira, scientists who apparently disavow philosophy are at best reinventing it and at worst constructing a bad one.(25*)

Instead of a frontier between science and philosophy, what exists is an intermediate region of knowledge clarifying. (26*) According to Vaz Ferreira, between "pure science" and "pure philosophy" there are intermediate planes of knowledge of reality. Rather, they are intermediate planes, like a "staging area" for the fruitful exchange between science and philosophy. Scientists who dare to take their analysis beyond pure science (the mathematician, the physicist, the biologist, the astronomer... who want to clarify the notions they handle) pass through them: Materials infinity, force, life, limitation of the universe...); ( 27*) philosophers also pass through these intermediary planes, who come to search in science for new food for thought (the philosopher is interested in those problems that are beginning to emerge, such as that of time in the theory of relativity, or that of indeterminism in quantum mechanics, and which are worth thinking about in greater depth). (28*)

Vaz Ferreira criticises the "naïve positivists of the early days" who pretended to do only science. He understands that this pretension is similar to that of trying to match a frayed cloth by cutting it at the edge: the only thing that is achieved is that it becomes frayed again. (29*)It is not possible to choose science over philosophy, because it is reality itself that finally resists being enclosed in precise moulds, that forces us to think about it in ever more plastic ways. And in this process there is no limit, although there is a goal never completely reached: truth.

4. The Quest for Truth: Science and Philosophy as Aspects of Human Knowledge

Each of our attempts to understand reality (whether scientific, philosophical, or any other subject) gives us only one aspect of this very rich reality. They are like "several photographs of a place, taken from different points, at different times and by different operators" (30*): the whole gives us a more complete, non-contradictory image of that landscape. Vaz Ferreira wants to understand the human knowledge in all its richness, without falling into the reductionist trap of such common disjunctions as the following: "either science or philosophy", "either reason or feeling", "either certainty or ignorance". To finish clarifying the Vazferrerian image of the human knowledge , it will be useful for me to present how he himself defines his position with respect to some "isms" with which he agrees in part, but which he overcomes with a less reductive vision of knowledge: positivism, scepticism and pragmatism. For all three, he distinguishes between a "good" and a "bad" way of understanding and living them. The good way is the one that allows him to recognise the contribution and scope of science and philosophy in the search for truth.

In the first place, as opposed to the scientistic attitude proclaimed by "bad positivism" ("the systematic limitation of the human knowledge to science alone" (31*)), Vaz Ferreira proposes what he calls a "good positivism" ("to feel admiration and love for pure science, without making, in its name, exclusions" (32*) ). Both science and philosophy contribute to the knowledge of reality. It would be as senseless to reject science in the name of philosophy as it would be to reject philosophy in the name of science. On the one hand, science brings, as we have seen, a solidity that is very useful from a practical point of view: the floating ice floe is a "habitable and pleasant" place, on which one can build, sow, harvest... But, on the other hand, "this dwelling would lose its dignity if those who inhabit it did not sometimes stop to contemplate the unapproachable horizon". (33*) Philosophy makes us abandon security, but opens us up to the immensity of the real.

For Vaz Ferreira, "metaphysics is legitimate; more than legitimate: it constitutes and will always constitute the highest form of the activity of human thought, as long as it does not pretend to have the aspect of clarity and precision of science". (34*) Philosophical analysis completes the knowledge, not in spite of, but precisely because of its lack of precision. One begins to think with a preliminary outline , and then continues to analyse in order to nuance it, "establishing the relations, the transitions, the shadows and even the confusions, because to think well one must be like the draughtsman who first traces the outline, and then, with the chiaroscuro, completes, and attenuates the falsely precise rigidity of the initial outline ". (35*) Vaz Ferreira contrasts the precision of outline with the depth of analysis, and reservation the first tool for science and the second for philosophy: both contribute in their own way to the knowledge of reality.

Now, if philosophy takes us beyond science, there is also a beyond philosophical analysis. Or, to put it another way, if it is true that science and philosophy contribute to the knowledge of reality, it is also true that the knowledge they both provide is partial, extremely limited in comparison with the ignorance they leave uncovered. The last lines of the metaphor of the floating iceberg may give the impression of a certain pessimism, close to scepticism:

But this abode would lose its dignity if those who inhabit it did not sometimes pause to contemplate the unapproachable horizon, dreaming of a land final; and even if continually some of them, a select group , like all that is destined for sacrifice, did not throw themselves into the sea, although it is known beforehand that so far none has reached the firm truth, and that they all drowned unfailingly in the ocean for which there is neither boat nor sails. (36*)

But, if it is properly understood, what we find in this passage is an optimistic realism. No one has reached the firm truth, but this does not mean that truth is pure dream, pure illusion: what happens is that truth does not have to be firm. Vaz Ferreira encourages us to swim, without boat or sails, that is to say, without systems, in search of truth: "truth must be sought directly". (37*)

Vaz Ferreira thus defends a "good scepticism", which contains, along with a Socratic recognition of one's own ignorance, a distrust of language and, in general, of all systematisation. (38*)Reality is always much more than what our poor schemes manage to capture. That is why, even beyond philosophical thought, Vaz Ferreira recognises the value of the asystematic "psyche": "that 'fluid' mental reality, of which neither logical thought, outline, nor language, outline of outline is an adequate expression. That which is not a thought, or rather is a thought without words and therefore a real thought(40*), or which does not have a definite form and is therefore difficult to express in writing, also makes its contribution to the search for truth. An open attitude on the part of science and philosophy would enable them to profit from the alliance with this thinking that is not locked up in systems.

On the other hand, in this search, in which all efforts add up, all Degrees of certainty are also welcome. For Vaz Ferreira, what is doubted, and even what is ignored, can play an important role in the knowledge of the world. Against rationalism, which seeks certainties at all costs, but also against "bad" pragmatism, which proposes to force belief by will, Vaz Ferreira defends a "good" pragmatism, which graduates belief and recognises its ignorance:

To know what we know, and on what plane of abstraction we know it; to believe when we ought to believe, in the Degree in which we ought to believe; to doubt when we ought to doubt, and to graduate our assent as justly as we can; as to our ignorance, to seek neither to veil it, nor ever to forget it; And, in this state of mind, to act in the sense that we believe to be good, by assurances or by probabilities, as the case may be, without doing violence to the intelligence, so as not to deteriorate by our fault this already so imperfect and fragile instrument, - and without forcing the belief.(41*)

The knowledge of reality unfolds with all this wealth of nuances: knowing, on different planes of abstraction; believing, on different Degrees; doubting at times and agreeing at others, and not always with the same conviction; recognising one's own ignorance and its scope. That is why Vaz Ferreira insists that teaching to ignore is as important as teaching to know (42*), and that is why he proposes that charming "future book" in which the fluid life of thought would be reflected: together with the certainties (which there are, even in philosophy), also the doubts; and the rectifications, the clarifications, the chaotic annotations; and the opinions that are not shared, and the criticism received; and also the misunderstandings, and the dead ends, and the ignorance. (43*) With his proposal, Vaz Ferreira wants to recognise the value, not only of the small partial truths conquered by systematic thought (whether scientific or philosophical), but also of all that "intellectual ferment" which, precisely because it is a non-crystallised thought, does not run the risk of being taken as "the truth", closed and final, and therefore paralysing.

In summary, faced with the false dilemma "either scientism or the enemy of science", Vaz Ferreira places the contributions of science and philosophy to the knowledge of the world in their proper place: science provides solidity and control; philosophy provides breadth and depth. In both cases, the contribution is valuable but partial (as it corresponds to a certain level of abstraction): that is why science and philosophy should not work as enemies, but in cooperation, to add their small truths on the road to the inexhaustible truth. Secondly, faced with the false dilemma "either sceptic or dogmatic", Vaz Ferreira considers that truth will always be something that is sought, not something in which one settles: therefore, just as the small achievements of science and philosophy should not be absolutised, neither should their failures or limitations be seen as an insurmountable frontier for the human knowledge . Finally, faced with the false dilemma "either pragmatist or rationalist", Vaz Ferreira suggests that the image of the world that we must necessarily form in order to be able to act is not only composed of certain knowledge: ( 44*), and therefore he considers it legitimate for scientists to work with tentative hypotheses (even contradictory ones),(45*) for philosophers to discuss problems with many ideas in mind at the same time(46*), and for both to know how to profit from mistakes. (47*) In final, the cooperation of science and philosophy proposed by Vaz Ferreira will only be effective if both recognise their respective scope and limits, and if they do so with a non-arrogant attitude towards truth: truth for Vaz Ferreira is neither a firm ground to build on, nor a cima to conquer, but a horizon that invites us to move forward.


Ardao, A., "Ciencia y metafísica en Vaz Ferreira", Revista de la Universidad de México, XXVII/4 (1972).

Kant, I., Critique of Pure Reason. Madrid: Alfaguara, 1978.

Popper, K., La lógica de la investigación científica. Madrid: Tecnos, 1977.

Romero Baró, J. M., Filosofía y ciencia en Carlos Vaz Ferreira. Barcelona: PPU, 1993.

Vaz Ferreira, C., Los problemas de la libertad y los del determinismo), (Obras vol. II). Montevideo : Cámara de Representantes de la República Oriental del Uruguay, 1963.

Vaz Ferreira, C., Lógica viva, (Obras vol. IV). Montevideo : CRROU, 1963.

Vaz Ferreira, C., knowledge y acción, (Obras vol. VIII). Montevideo : CRROU, 1963.

Vaz Ferreira, C., Fermentario, (Obras vol. X). Montevideo : CRROU, 1963.

Vaz Ferreira, C., "Trascendentalizaciones matemáticas ilegítimas y falacias correlacionadas", Conferencias sobre temas científicos, artísticos y sociales 1ª Serie, (Obras vol. XI). Montevideo : CRROU, 1963.

Vaz Ferreira, C., "Sobre enseñanza de la filosofía", Lecciones de pedagogía y cuestiones de enseñanza Vol. 2, (Obras vol. XV). Montevideo : CRROU, 1963.

Vaz Ferreira, C., "Enseñanza de las ciencias experimentales", Inéditos, Suplemento, (Obras vol. XXI). Montevideo : CRROU, 1963.

Vaz Ferreira, C., Tres filósofos de la vida. Buenos Aires: Losada, 1965.


  1. The relationship between science and philosophy in Vaz Ferreira has already been studied, especially in Arturo Ardao's article "Ciencia y metafísica en Vaz Ferreira" and José Mª Romero Baró's book Filosofía y ciencia en Carlos Vaz Ferreira.

  2. Living Logic, 169 (Works, IV).

  3. Three philosophers of life, 53.

  4. Living Logic, 233.

  5. Living Logic, 234.

  6. Living Logic, 234.

  7. Living Logic, 237-240.

  8. Vaz Ferreira offers a detailed analysis of this inadequacy of linguistic schemes to express reality (and teaches us to be wary of their deceptions) in "Un paralogismo de actualidad", Fermentario 144-172 (Obras, X).

  9. "Illegitimate mathematical transcendentalisations and correlated fallacies", 74 (Works, XI).

  10. "Illegitimate mathematical transcendentalisations and correlated fallacies" 90.

  11.  "Experimental Science Education", 368 (Works, XXI).

  12. Living Logic, 151.

  13. Living Logic, 134.

  14. Fermentario, 153.

  15. "We have not only traversed the territory of pure understanding and carefully examined every part of it, but we have also ascertained its extent and pointed out the position of every thing. This territory is an island which has been enclosed by nature itself within invariable limits. It is the territory of truth - an attractive name - and it is surrounded by a wide and stormy ocean, the true homeland of illusion, where some mists and some melting ice produce the appearance of new lands and deceive again and again with vain hopes the navigator anxious for discovery, leading him on adventures which he is never able to abandon, but which he can never conclude either. Before we venture out into that sea to explore it in detail and to make sure that we can hope for something, it will be well first to have a look at the map of the territory we wish to leave, and to inquire whether we could not perhaps be content with what it contains, or whether we shall not have to do so because we cannot find land on which to settle". (Critique of Pure Reason, 259: A235-236/B294-295)

  16. Fermentario, 137.

  17. Ardao explains in his article on science and metaphysics that Vaz Ferreira takes this image from the French positivist Emile Littré, who wanted to emphasise above all the inaccessibility of what lies beyond positive knowledge. Vaz Ferreira uses this metaphor to overcome it with a personal vision of the relationship between science and philosophy.

  18. Fermentario, 222.

  19. The Problems of Freedom and the Problems of Determinism, 19-20 (Works, II).

  20. The problems of freedom and those of determinism, 19-20.

  21. "The empirical basis of objective science, then, has nothing 'absolute' about it; science is not founded on rock: on the contrary, we might say that the bold structure of its theories rises out of a boggy ground, it is like a building erected on piles. These are driven from above into the bog, but by no means so far as to reach any natural or 'given' foundation. When we interrupt our attempts to drive them down to a deeper stratum, it is not because we have come upon firm ground: we stop simply because it is sufficient for us that they are firm enough to support the structure, at least for the time being". (The Logic of Scientific Inquiry, 106)

  22. "Illegitimate mathematical transcendentalisations and correlated fallacies", 69.

  23.  "On the Teaching of Philosophy", 73 (Works, XV).

  24. "On Teaching Philosophy", 90.

  25. "On teaching philosophy", 73-75.

  26. Although Vaz Ferreira also speaks of a "bad" intermediate region: a murky region created by scientists who do not know philosophy, a zone of "bad metaphysics" which is in reality nothing more than a set of confused generalisations that it is up to the philosopher to clarify (Fermentario, 135).

  27. "On teaching philosophy", 74, 89-90.

  28. One can see how Vaz Ferreira thinks of them in "Transcendentalizaciones matemáticas ilegítimas y falacias correlacionadas", 71-74 and 75-94.

  29. Fermentario, 136.

  30. Fermentario, 184.

  31. "On teaching philosophy", 73.

  32. "On teaching philosophy", 72.

  33. Fermentario, 137.

  34. According to Vaz Ferreira, when someone offers us a metaphysics that tries to imitate science in clarity and precision, "he gives us error, instead of the partial truth of which we are capable": Lógica viva, 168-169.

  35. The Problems of Freedom and the Problems of Determinism, 68.

  36. Fermentario, 137.

  37. Fermentary, 99; Living Logic, 272.

  38. Fermentario, 163-167.

  39. Fermenter, 200.

  40. See Fermentario, 186.

  41. knowledge and action, 23 (Works, VIII).

  42. "On Teaching Philosophy", 76.

  43. "Un libro futuro", Fermentario, 138-140. Also included in Lógica viva, 169-171, where Vaz Ferreira then explains what he meant to suggest.

  44. Fermentario, 35; knowledge and action, 138.

  45. "Illegitimate mathematical transcendentalisations and correlated fallacies", 100-101.

  46.  "Thinking by systems and thinking by ideas to keep in mind", Lógica viva, 154-185. "Value and Use of Reasoning", Living Logic, 243-270.

  47. knowledge and action, 87; Fermentario, 130.