Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Philosophy; do we need it?

First time I heard about three big names of Philosophy “Socrates, Plato and Aristotle” was at an English class in college. I got very fascinated hearing that, Plato was pupil of Socrates and Aristotle was the pupil of Plato and just in three generations these three Philosophers contributed so much to Philosophy that some think that Philosophy afterwards are just footnotes Plato’s works. Knowing this, I immediately set to learn about these three great men. My fascination was not because of immense contributions of those three men but because I could see a human face of Philosophy in them. For long I have heard that a tall tree with thick shades prevent nascent trees from growing tall and large and here I got an example where three great men learning and studying together and yet each one are so tall that we see the whole ancient Greek civilization through them. Let me recap,

It starts by Socrates going to streets, marketplaces and temples to question people about their belief through his famous cross-questioning method. The main message is “know thyself”. But why? That is important. Well, because Athens was on decline and as it was a democratic state city so he knew that power resides in people. If people reclaim the right beliefs, Athens could rise again…. You know the rest of story that he was poisoned on charges corrupting youths, and then comes his pupil, Plato. Plato did not follow his teacher method but rather he established a school “Academy” and wrote Republic to sell the idea of “Philosopher King”. He unlike his teacher had lost hope in bringing change through people and wanted to save Athens by “Philosopher King”. Aristotle on other hand takes a very different course. Plato believed that states’ government rotates in three cycles of Democracy, Aristocracy and Monarchy and their three degenerative forms however Aristotle contests this view and thinks that democracy is a degenerative form of government by many. Aristotle takes more realist position and focus on logic and “Sciences”.

It is a very broken and incomplete description of these three men but it serves the main purpose and that is to show the great shifts in thoughts and thinking methodologies of three very close Philosophers in a very short time just to respond to needs of their time.

Philosophy was always in the service of those who wanted to use it for a purpose. Augustine of Hippo used it to rationalize Christianity; Machiavelli just like Plato used it to bring the glory of Italy and wrote his famous book, “The Prince”. Karl Marx used it for economical equality. I believe that Sartre used Philosophy to introduce an unconquerable freedom (A freedom that no other Hitler could snatch). In our time, USA stands as a Republic based on Philosophy. The forefathers of USA used Philosophy to create a great Republic and they succeeded. Margret thatcher says, “United Kingdom is based on history and United States is based on Philosophy”….

I was fascinated by these three men not because they were three great names but because of great shifts in their thoughts. To me, Art is appealing because it has the ability to make us wonder, smile and break our hearts and with same coin, Philosophy is appealing because it makes shifts in thoughts a natural process. Humans grow and go through great shifts but cultures have instilled fear in them through judgments via wrong and right. Unlike culture, Philosophy does not allow to get reduced by changes in thoughts. That is very humane and attracted me.

I never tried to be a logician because to me it looks like something hollow but instead tried to be logical. Logicians need to create non-human language of symbols but for a logical person a few sentences in the language of ordinary people may suffice to declare themselves… Just read following quotes of two men and a woman (Though I may not agree with all Philosophy of Ayn Rand but I provided some key quotations of her to counterbalance the dominance of male thinkers).

I have gained this from philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law….Aristotle

I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong…Abraham Lincoln

Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities… Ayn Rand

The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities….Ayn Rand

A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others….Ayn Rand

Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men's stupidity, but your talent to their reason…. Ayn Rand
The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me………Ayn Rand
Upper classes are a nation's past; the middle class is its future….Ayn Rand

I think, above quotes suffice to say, though there are no such use of logic but they are pretty logical. You may agree with them or not and it is quite normal but they beautifully depict the stands of those thinkers. That is what I call a human face. OK, now back to title, Do we need to cook Philosophy? ….

I have mentioned in the beginning that Philosophy has a human face and do not work in isolation from their time. In order to answer the question in title, we need to understand the biggest questions of our time. I think two biggest phenomenon of our time is globalization and so called ‘clash of civilizations” and I think that both of them stem from a single root and that is the concept of “nation states”. Nation States are modern phenomenon that have “created people” and have bounded them in nation states. There is no problem with it as such however, when people are made to hate each other, discriminate, kill and die for it then it is problem. Globalization is taken as a decline and loosening of control of nation states due to progress in communication and trade. Though communication is the biggest factor in it but I am interested in outcome of the current globalization. The declines of nation states have resulted in rise of corporations and multinational companies. If the nation states make people hate, discriminate, kill and die for them, corporation exploit people economically using flaws in governments. If you read again the quotes I have selected, you understand that they are the positions of “past” thinkers against misuse of nation states. I think, we need Philosophy not just to write footnotes to big names in Philosophy but to not let ourselves be wasted or reduced by “created structures” of our times. Take for example the concept of “Clash of Civilizations”. If I speak from the position of a Hazara (that is a very small historical nation among other historical nations of world), Hazaras are populated both in East and West, in Central Asia, South Asia and Middle East. How Hazaras can reconcile between clashes of East and West and nation states? Of course, larger historical nations are even more widespread and facing the same problem. For me, it is the demand of our time to go for “Universal Values” rather than sticking to “cultural values” and waste ourselves by created hatred and confrontations. I am by no means are saying that we should compromise our identity or culture. No question about that… but while having our identities we have to move towards universal values. Again by Universal Values I do not mean something new but something common to humanity. In simple words, it is just thinking bigger, bigger than nation states, races and cultural identities when values conflict and demands for judgments. Until now we are hearing about tolerance. That is good but that is very fragile. Unless we do not think big, bigger than our identities, tolerance can anytime change into outrage. It is only thinking bigger than boundaries that will allow to understand and for that we need to keep cooking Philosophy……………………………………………………………….

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