Varela’s teacher in the Seminar of Saint Carlos in Havana was José Agustín Caballero. As was customary of this institution, Caballero composed Elective Philosophy to serve as the main text of instruction for his pupils. Elective philosophy is characterized by its preference for logic over metaphysics and a rejection of scholastic philosophy, that is, the acceptance of truth statements simply because they have been handed down by authoritative figures in the field. Following Caballero’s example, once he replaced him as head of the Seminar, Varela created a set of annotations for his students that later became one of his most important works of philosophy, his Lessons in Philosophy.
Largely influenced by Locke, Varela’s text was attractive to the Cuban youth who saw it as modern and applicable to their reality. In this school of thought, knowledge is valuable as far as it can improve society and serve everyone’s duty to one’s homeland, a patriotism previously expressed by classical greek philosophers.
The first part is based on “Essay on the Origin of Human Knowledge” by the catholic priest, Condillac (1746). Varela, affirms Juan Bosco Amores Carredano in Tradition and Modernity, and defined analysis as “the process of deconstructing and reconstructing all the perceived sensations that, after being abstracted and judged–are nothing more than the understanding of the relationship between perception and object–this being the only way to know reality.” (191)
The second part, “El Tratado del Hombre”, addresses the human being in its physical, spiritual/rational, and moral dimensions. It outlines man’s duty to himself, society, and God. In the last section, Física del Universo, Varela breaks with what he considers an outdated Aristotelian physics, which was still taught at the University of Havana until 1825.