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Milton Vargas

Milton Vargas (1914–2011) was an engineer, an internationally known theorist, a pioneer of soil mechanics in Brazil, a writer on the philosophy of science, a literary critic, and the author of eight books, including Verdade e Ciência [Truth and Science] (1981), Poesia e Verdade [Poetry and Truth] (1991), and Para uma Filosofia da Tecnologia [For a Philosophy of Technology] (1994). He became an emeritus professor of the University of São Paulo in 1988. In 1963 he introduced the Philosophy and Evolution of Science program at the Polytechnic School; he was one of the few people connecting technology and humanism. That subject brought Vargas closer to Vilém Flusser, resulting in a fruitful friendship that ended only with Flusser’s death in 1991.

Characterized by their radical honesty in cultivating the “great conversation,” both men embodied the living concept of “balancing opposites”: Vargas, the university professor; Flusser, the antiacademic par excellence – at least in terms of institutional associations – but at the same time the strict teacher. “The intention [of teaching philosophy of science] was to force future technocrats and functionaries to acquire a broad perspective on the world and their place within it. When the intention is expressed in this way, the almost absurd contradiction in it becomes obvious. They wanted to manipulate future technologies in the direction of humanism by using technology and the methods of technology.” (Bodenlos, 1992, p. 231; translated from the German) ForVargas, scientific progress was merely “collecting more and more true propositions.” “But science is a historically conditioned human activity,” that consists of “structural revolutions after which previously ‘true’ propositions lose their meaning.” (ibid., p. 237; translated from the German) “One senses oneself the attraction of unreason, […] for example, in the form of […] Surrealism […].Vargas felt the attraction of reason, […] for example, in modern physics […].” (ibid., p. 111; translated from the German).

Flusser had a habit of dedicating epistolary lectures to his friend, for example, the “Heroic Correspondence,” in which Jó, the proto-Jew (Flusser), talks with Prometheus, the proto-Greek (Vargas): “Writing to you is one of the few pleasures that are left to me. When I write to you, I even forget my leprosy. I hope with my whole heart that this letter will enable you to bear the liver pains that are tormenting you. […] Warm embraces.” (Ficções Filosóficas, 1998, p. 204; translated from the Portuguese)

Original article by Maria Lília Leão

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