Home > Dimas Castellanos, Translator: David Fernandez > José Agustín Caballero: Cultural Reform

José Agustín Caballero: Cultural Reform


Parallel to the work of Arango y Parreño, the Priest Jose Agustin Caballero y de la Barrera (1762-1835) engaged in the reform of  thought as a premise for the advancements of science and culture. Caballero, Philosopher and Theologian, headed the See of Philosophy at the Seminary and after, to the end of his life, the See of Holy Scripture and Moral Ethics. Endowed with encyclopedic knowledge, acute sensibility, ethical behavior and illustrious ideas, he confronted from the viewpoint of Catholicism, the scholastic prejudices that impeded the advancement of the Colony.

With the support of the Governor, Caballero pointed out that the main reason for the cultural stagnation in the Colony was the result of obsolete forms of thoughts. To achieve his objective, he re-directed his theoretical-practical activity exposing an innovative philosophical thought which led to the initiation of the reform of the old medieval philosophy. It was for that reason and for that purpose that, from the stand of Metaphysics, Physics and Ethics, he re-structured his Elective Philosophy (1797), being this the first intent in accommodating it to modern thoughts, and one of the first efforts to systematize the philosophical knowledge in the Island. The elected surname for his philosophy suggested the non-adaptation of absolute truths or the submission to the authorities in philosophic or scientific matters. He compared this method with the one through which a person, thinking for himself, remounts to the general principles, examining them, and then discussing and extracting his own conclusions, a method in which Scholastics was rendered useless.

On one opportunity, referring to those contributions, his maternal nephew Jose de la Luz y Caballero wrote: “…he was the first who echoed the doctrines of Locke and of Condillac, of Verulamio and Newton in our classrooms. He was the first to tell his students of experiments and experimental physics.”

According to Torres Cuevas, his solution to problems did not provoke rupture, but rather conciliation, between the old system of ideas and the new. “His pretension,” said Cuevas, “was to develop the criticism of Scholasticism, eliminating everything that was an obstacle to science, but without breaking the fundamental pillars of the system”. On the other hand, Temerovoi, in his La Filosofia en Cuba (Philosophy in Cuba) 1790-1878, established that “in logic as in all his philosophy, Caballero was consistent to the end, evading turbulent problems and coming closer to materialism and atheism.”

In reference to these criteria, I consider that when evaluating the conduct of any historic figure, one must take into consideration his time, space, interests and own formation. Caballero was a man of the Church, a Theologian, member of a social class in formation, and so, anyone who becomes a protagonist in a time of transition, assumes rupture or evolution, in other words, revolution or reform. Caballero opted for the second one. Formed as a Scholastic, he initiated his disavowal from it through reform. Temevoi judged Caballero from the viewpoint of Marxist philosophy as a person beyond his time, as if the lustrous Cuban was a simple Marxist professor, ignoring that his grandeur consisted in what he did with scholasticism and from the Seminary classrooms, long before the emergence of Marxism. His purpose, which he completely accomplished, was to create a method of knowledge in order to promote the scientific and social development. It was through his reformatory action that he became the last Cuban scholastic of the XVIII Century, and the first philosopher of the XIX, founder of philosophy and co-founder of science in Cuba. That is an indisputable merit, reason for which not only ought we to remember him and be thankful to him, but also to face, as he did, the challenges of our time.

In the matter of education, he was the first one to pronounce himself for the abolition of Latin, the implementation of Spanish in the schools, the generalization of the free primary education, and making education available to women, elements that constitute part of his work in the educational reform. He was also the first one to speak about physics experimentation in Cuba, a subject to which he dedicated various works and discourses, among them: “Discurso sobre la Fisica: (Discourse on Physics) 1791; “Educacion de los Hijos” (Children’s Education” (1791); Pensamientos sobre los Medios Violentos de que se valen los Maestros para Educar” (Thoughts about Violent ways used by Teachers to Educate” (1792); “Reflecciones sobre el Verdadero Filosofo” (“Reflexions about the True Philosopher”) (1792); “Ordenanzas para las Escuelas Gratuitas de La Habana” (“Statutes for Free Schools in Havana”) (1794); “Discurso sobre la Reforma de Estudios Universitarios” (“Discourse onReform of University Studies” (1795); and “Discurso sobre la Educacion de las Mujeres” (Discurse Concerning Women’s Education” (1802). His cultural activity extended to the rest of the institutions of his time, among them the Patriotic Society, called by Marti “the highest mentored of the Cuban societies”. He also realized innumerable contributions, ideas and projects produced by his pen which were disseminated through the society in Havana, through the pages of the Papel Periodico de La Habana (Paper Newspaper of Havana).

At the beginning of the XIX Century, Caballero conceived and prepared the first autonomous government project for Cuba, a legislation inspired by the English Public Right, the only document in which he shows his interpretation of the political doctrines. This was also a project of reforms by which he proposed to continue the modification of the Colonial system in correspondence with the interests of the creole oligarchy. In 1813 he took charge of his nephew’s education, Jose de la Luz y Caballero, which represented a new and valuable contribution. Had his work been limited to this last effort, it would have nevertheless taken a relevant place in our history.

Nevertheless, his main contribution consisted in understanding that the transformations of the XIX Century were not possible with the existing teaching methods and in acting accordingly. It is in this that the imperishable of his works consisted, for even if there are two centuries that separate us from his death, in today’s Cuba, as the one of yesterday, the education reforms in culture and in the society in general, constitute an imperious necessity. Jose Agustin Caballero constitute, by his legacy, one of the main functional cornerstone of our nationality.

Translated by David Fernandez

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