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Philosophy in Latin America

Conflict Between Efficiency and Sense of "Ludus"

Anna Maria Moog Rodrigues
Universidade Gama Filho

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ABSTRACT: Efficiency is a highly considered virtue, especially in our contemporary technological society. It appears to be opposed to the sense of ludus (playfulness) that is greatly valued in Brazilian culture. Is this conflict real? Is it a definite impediment to modernization? This paper deals with this apparent conflict of values, trying to find a way toward a harmonious integration of them. Efficiency is shown as the virtue of a culture turned toward modernity. It is therefore highly prized in contemporary business administration theories. It is also shown that the whole of modern society is oriented toward technological advance and it consequently tends to value efficiency above all other values. Considering other values found in different cultures, there needs to be a better knowledge of them. This study establishes ludus as a typical value of Brazilian culture. An analogy is drawn between the sense of playfulness described and praised by Brazilian authors, and the sense of detachment from technology proposed by Jacques Ellus as a condition for creating a real civilization with technological progress.

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Efficiency is a value highly considered, particularly in our contemporary technological society. It is apparently opposed to the sense of "ludus" that is greatly valued in Brazilian culture. "Ludus" comes from the Latin word meaning playfulness. Is the conflict between efficiency and sense of "ludus" a real conflict? Is it a definite impediment to technological development?

This paper intends to show that the conflict is in fact apparent, the values being contrary and not contradictory. There is a way of integrating them.

Efficiency is highly prized in a culture turned toward productivity. It is therefore cultivated in contemporary business administration theories. It also tends to be prized above all other values in modern society, as society is more and more oriented toward technological advancement.

On the other hand, Brazilian writers have time and again described and praised the value of a sense of "ludus", playfulness, therefore indicating that it is a value of their own culture. It might be said that a strong sense of playfulness, "ludus", would be an impediment towards fully entering modern society and assimilating modern values.

To solve the problem, an analogy is drawn between the sense of playfulness, "ludus", described and praised by Brazilian authors, and the sense of detachment proposed by Jacques Ellul as a condition for bringing about real civilization with technological progress.

Thus, a claim is made that a "ludical" sense, rather than being an impediment to modernization, is a way to overcome the dangers of uncritical technological development.


This paper is about the apparent conflict between the value of efficiency and the value of the sense of "ludus". " Ludus" comes from the Latin word meaning play, game, and is taken here as similar to playfulness.

Efficiency is also defined here as the most economic or the shortest or fastest or most simple way of realizing or achieving a goal with the least cost. It can, then, obviously be seen that a sense of "ludus" or playfulness might easily be construed as contrary to efficiency.

The fact that the referred sense of "ludus", as here described, is expounded by a number of Brazilian contemporary philosophers and writers might be misleading. It might suggest that this is a discussion of a conflict between the search for universal ethical principles and the preservation of the values of a particular culture. This is not the case. Rather, it concludes by claiming that the sense of "ludus", as it is here described, should be integrated in a . paideia" for the whole of humanity.

Within this context it will be shown: 1) that the uncritical application of the criteria of efficiency to all levels of human endeavor causes a certain uneasiness; 2) that the meaning of the sense of "ludus" frequently described in Brazilian literature is not contradictory to efficiency; 3) that the philosopher of technology, Jacques Ellul, suggests conditions for solving the basic problem of technology which include a detachment from it; finally, in conclusion, a claim is made that the sense of "ludus", is similar to Ellul. s detachment and should be an asset in a technological society rather than a hindrance to it.

1) The Question of Efficiency:

In theories of business administration, the standard of value for human action is relative to the ability of attaining the goal set up for it. This, then, is the standard of all technical activity: efficiency. Efficiency is the shortest, fastest and simplest way of achieving a planned objective with a minimum of cost.

As a means of evaluating human activity in business and practical activity in general, efficiency is, therefore, the standard. It is a standard of quality pertaining to the action, but it cannot be considered a moral virtue, since the quality of good or evil does not derive from the form in which an objective is achieved but from the goal or end that the action achieves. To give an extreme example, one could say that Hitler and his engineers were extremely efficient in achieving the goal of exterminating Jews. This is to say that one may very well be extremely efficient in obtaining goals that are evil just as one may be efficient in achieving good goals. It is therefore not the efficiency of achieving the goal that qualifies the action as being good or bad.

In this sense, it is important to point out the danger of an inherent tendency of technological society to put efficiency at the top of the hierarchy of values, along with moral values. In fact, as was pointed out, it is only an instrumental value. Nevertheless, as a standard, it tends to be applied, nowadays, beyond the realm where it might be adequately applied, that is, in the production, administration and economy of services and goods.

In justifying efficiency, on the other hand, one should say that in modern times, reason has to apply its own rational parameters to action in order to organize a society that has grown to massive proportions. Therefore, efficiency is a quality that derives from the rationalization of action. In mass society, institutions and policies have to be previously planned in order to achieve a desired objective, as, for instance, the running of government, hospitals, schools, universities, etc. Max Weber, for instance points out that it is the business of bureaucracy to be efficient; and John Dewey writes of social efficiency as that action that has the most beneficial results for all society.

A problem arises, however, when the criteria of efficiency, becomes the criteria applied above all others, in the evaluation of human action and output. As a matter of fact, though, the tendency of technology is to universalize its own standard, spreading it over and above all other standards. In the technological society, people start to forget that, as Descartes pointed out, only matter, "res extensa", is measurable and not the realm of the spirit.

Now, this uncontrollability of technological development has been pointed out and has been the theme of many philosophers of our time. Nitzche sent out the warning cry and existentialist philosophers, such as Heidegger, Jaspers and Marcel, as well as neo-marxists such as the members of the School of Frankfurt, and many others of different inclinations, were all sensitive to the perils of technology.

Judging by the literature that is overflowing from the shelves of libraries and bookstores, theirs voices called attention to an increasing feeling of uneasiness among men. This uneasiness occurs in spite of the wonders that technological progress represents for solving the problems of mankind and opening up new perspectives for its growth.

In truth, human beings are no longer unqualifiedly enthusiastic over technological progress. They are feeling more and more out of their own depth. And this feeling does not refer to the obvious menaces that technological progress represents for the survival of man on earth. It means specifically a 'malaise', a being ill at ease in a planet of machines, where everything is artificial, where more and more one acquires a feeling of becoming practically superfluous.

This is the sensation described by the Brazilian philosopher Vicente Ferreira da Silva. He writes of an anguish that is caused by the atmosphere that has taken hold of people's minds, unhappiness at present and insecurity in relation to the future. The ideal of indefinite industrial development, he writes, "has put off the sense of living fully". Ferreira da Silva attributes this feeling to the myth of continuous progress, a reason for which all human action is interpreted as "having exclusively in view a transitive action, either of an utilitarian or economic nature." In such a situation, he writes, man is no longer the owner of his own time:

"& he does not consider the instant anymore, nor the moment, nor the day, nor the year, as a term that is complete in itself, as an image of eternity." (1)

Ferreira da Silva argues that, according to Aristotelian ethics, the value of an act is contained in the very execution of that act and not in its result.

For him, thus is described the very essence of an action that is carried out with a "ludical" sense.

2) "Ludical" Sense, Sense of Playfulness:

Ferreira da Silva goes on to write that only those activities that are loved for themselves, for the pleasure derived from their execution itself, afford real serenity of spirit, real joy.He points out that the pure acts of joy which constitute happiness could only be found, according to Aristotle, in intellectual contemplation. But, after the introduction of Christian tradition in the West, Aristotle. s understanding of happiness was amplified in order to comprehend the acts of love and those of creative activity among the acts of joy that constitute happiness.

The Brazilian philosopher arrives at the conclusion that "ludical" sense, is the ground for happiness because it is the ground for acts of love and creativity, acts that are valuable in them selves. He writes that:

"This "ludical" sense of life that we accept as the superior form of ethical behavior, should not be mistaken for frivolity, for irresponsibility or for entertainment. The seriousness of life conciliates well with this joy, this enthusiasm, which is the very pulse of virtue and freedom and at the same time it indicates our relation to the infinite." (2)

The fact is that the "ludical" sense has been registered and described by many other writers and philosophers as well. One of them, Gustavo Corção, thus described it:

"The ludical sense, seed of eternal life, germ of hope, tells us of a persistent childhood....A poet is a child who ludically plays with words...The artist is a person whose work is inspired by ludical sense: art may be defined as work that is dilated by joy animated by 'ludus' .....The sense of the other....(is) a cross of objectivity and 'ludus' on the supreme reality that is the person of the other....Every real friend becomes a childhood friend." (3)

Further on, this same author continues to specify that "the content of humor, that is, of humor itself, comes from the ludical sense, as does poetry... "

However, the "ludical" sense does not mean immaturity or childishness. Corção never favored childishness in his characters. On the contrary, he considered that

an adult who functioned as a five year old was not showing any "ludical" sense, but rather imbecility; on the other hand, the man of reason, who did not have a minimum of "ludical" sense, should be thought "mad".

Recently, another poet-philosopher and writer, Gerardo Mello Mourão, celebrated the "lyrical and . ludical wisdom" of the "homo ludens", clarifying that by the term he meant the man who is essentially innocent, without guile or guilt, "whose playfulness does not hurt anyone". He quotes a paragraph written by Heidegger referring to a letter of Holderlin to his mother, were the poet mentions the 'unshuldig', meaning "the one without guilt". (4)

In truth, the "ludical" sense is more than simply to be guileless and guiltless. It is to be graceful. The Portuguese philosopher, Leonardo Coimbra, wrote that this gracefulness is the sensation of freedom, and this sensation is, "the smile of the whole Universe& it is the excess of all Creation" (5)

3) Jacques Ellul. s suggestion and "ludical" sense:

The philosopher of technology, Jacques Ellul, expounds in his books the understanding that we find ourselves today immersed in an environment that has stopped being natural and has become wholly artificial. Since technology has created this new environment, all social phenomena happen within it. It is therefore incorrect to say that the economy or politics or even culture is influenced by technology; rather, all of these are submerged in technology. This is a completely new situation in relation to all other previous historical situations. One then should not speak, for instance, of politics as influenced by technology. Politics are happening within a society that has become technological by its very own nature. Technology is the overall reality within which politics occur. The same is true of all aspects of modern culture.

Ellul does not disagree with the assertion that only technology can solve the problems created by it. Obviously, we can better survive nowadays with the solutions which technology may find. But this is not the issue. What he states as the real issue is brought on by this new historical situation and can be expressed by formulating two questions: a) Is there a way for man to reacquire control of the process of technological development? b) Is it possible to have a real culture that might encompass technology, considering that material development "per se" is not culture nor does it of itself produce culture? (6)

In relation to the first question, Ellul considers, with many other philosophers that, at least up until now, man has been unable to control this universe of means that he himself created. In relation to the second question, he says that he has no solution to it, but he can point out five indispensable conditions in finding a solution: 1) that men become conscious of the real problem of technology; 2) that the myth of unqualified and unlimited progress of mankind be definitely discredited; 3) that there be a real effort towards a philosophical reflection on the problem; 4) that humanists and technologists, be brought together for a closer dialogue, and finally, 5) that technology be seen with a certain detachment, a certain sense of humor.

When Ellul qualifies this sense of humor, as a "certain" sense of humor, as a certain sense that ensures a detachment in relation to technology, he is groping for something more than a sense of humor. He probably means the detachment given by owning one's time, by the total availability of the heart for the enjoyment of each moment itself. In other words, he is groping for what was here described as the "ludical" sense.


In conclusion, one sees that technological development leads towards a new reality in which men are totally immersed today and in which the value of efficiency tends to be prized above all others. If it has greatly increased the material quality of human life and revealed immense new possibilities for the realization of human creativity, it is also responsible for a growing uneasiness that springs from its very artificiality, a feeling of the dehumanization of the environment of humans.

The "ludical" sense might be seen as the instance through which men may acquire a sense of detachment in relation to the material order of things and may recover a critical balance, an equilibrium between the values of science and technological achievement and the spiritual and humanistic values. To cultivate a "ludical" sense might be the one way open to men to free themselves from the enslavement of the implacable dynamics of technological progress.

An ethical theory capable of humanizing technology, capable of returning to man the possession of his own time, of giving him a perspective for seeing material things with the detachment that may reestablish his control over technological development, might be grounded on the "ludical" sense. This theory would consider the "ludical" as that sense which enables one to put out acts that are valid in themselves and are not instrumental in the realization of ends other them themselves.

On the other hand, many people, Brazilian people among them, may thus be able to harmonize their desire for development with the values that are not directly related to utilitarian actions. In this sense, instead of seeing technological development and industrial progress as threatening to happiness and to the enjoyment of a good life, they may be able to find in this ethical theory the parameters for the development of their society and of each human individual.

Therefore, the claim of this paper is that the "ludical" sense, the sense of owning one. s own time is of paramount importance and its cultivation should be included in a "paideia. that aims to prepare humanity for a better future.

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(1) Ferreira da Silva, Vicente, Obras Completas, S. Paulo, Instituto Brasileiro de Filosofia, pp. 137a141.

(2) Ferreira da Silva, Vicente, idem, ibidem

(3) Corção, Gustavo, A Descoberta do Outro, 5th Ed., Rio de Janeiro, Livraria Agir, 1961, pp. 120-130.

(4) Mourão, Gerardo Mello, O Saber Lúdico de Afonso Botelho, Revista Brasileira de Filosofia, Vol. XLIV, Fac.188, p. 471.

(5) Coimbra, Leonardo, Obras de Leonardo Coimbra, I Volume, Porto, Lello&Irmão Ed. 1983, p.500.

(6) Ellul, Jacques, The Technological Order, in Philosophy and Technology, Readings in the Philosophical Problems of Technology, Edited by Carl Mitcham and Robert Mackey, N.York, Free Press, 1983, pp.86-105.

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