Philosophy — base for human development

Philosophy provides the conceptual basis for principles and values on which world peace depends


Dr Syed Akhtar Ali Shah December 01, 2021
The writer is a practising lawyer. He holds PHD in Political Science and heads a think-tank ‘Good Governance Forum’. He can be reached at [email protected]

World Philosophy Day was observed on 21st November by Unesco to highlight the enduring value of philosophy and its impact on human development. The day was introduced in 2002 by Unesco. Its main objective was to renew the national, regional and international commitment to philosophy; to foster philosophical analysis and research, and study major contemporary issues; and to respond more effectively to the challenges that are confronting the humanity today. It also aims to raise public awareness of the importance of philosophy and its critical use in the choices arising for many societies from the effects of globalisation or entry into modernity; to appraise the state of philosophy teaching throughout the world, with special emphasis on unequal access; and to underline the importance of the universalisation of philosophy teaching for future generations.

Unfortunately, the day passed by without being noticed by many. Even universities and other higher seats of learning did not commemorate the day. Educational institutes should organise seminars on this important discipline, which is the fountain of learning, innovation and creativity.

Many may ask why this is important, expressing astonishment. As Unicef puts it, quoting thinkers, that “astonishment” is the root of philosophy. Indeed, philosophy stems from natural tendency of humans to be astonished by themselves and the world in which they live.

This sense of astonishment leads us to further questions, while this field assumes to itself “wisdom”, imparting teaching to reflect on reflection itself, with an ability to raise questions over well-established truths, to test hypotheses, and to give findings.

Ever since the creation of the universe, humans have wondered over mysteries not only of the earth but also of their birth. In every culture these inquiries, meant to understand hidden secrets of life, have given birth to philosophy, leading to concepts, ideas and analyses. Thus, this medium has provided the basis for critical, independent and creative thought.

Unesco also believes that philosophy provides the conceptual basis for principles and values on which world peace depends. Democracy, human rights, justice and equality help consolidate the foundations of peaceful coexistence. Given this perspective, philosophy is the foundation of human knowledge that reflects historical progress, human development and prevailing complexities.

Human life and associated psychology are complex and a mix of opposites — happiness and gloom; optimism and pessimism; and courage and fear. Life is a composite of multidimensional aspects that respond to multiple political, social and biological needs while philosophy tries to answer the very fundamental questions relating to life and connected problems.

In a book authored by Will Durant, Philosophy and the Social Problem, philosophy has been described as “a study of experience as a whole, or portion of experience in relation to the whole”. Thus, any problem can be a substance of philosophy, if analysed in totality in the background of experiences and human urges passed through the ages. As such philosophy is intertwined with all streams of knowledge.

Philosophy is a hypothetical interpretation of the unknown (as in metaphysics), or of the inexactly known (as in ethics or political philosophy); it is the front trench in the siege of truth as described by Durant. Philosophy seems to stand still, perplexed; but only because she leaves the fruits of victory to her daughters — the sciences — and herself moves on, divinely discontent, to the uncertain and unexplored.

Specifically, philosophy means and includes five fields of study and discourse: logic, aesthetics, ethics, politics and metaphysics.

In the early days of evaluation, life might have meant having food, shelter, clothes, and security for survival. The gates of philosophy opened new vistas of life, teaching us that life is more than that. It drove us to the concepts of the greatest happiness in the greatest number, liberty, freedom of expression, rule of law. Each according to his need and each according to his ability, and freedom of choices to enjoy fundamental rights. Based on those, welfare states were raised, crystalising philosophical thoughts.

The fact remains that many thinkers have impacted reform movements and revolutions. Rousseau’s writings are considered a precursor to the French Revolution. John Stuart Mill and Bentham’s writings paved the way for liberty and the welfare state in the UK. Voltaire proved a one-man demolition squad against the hegemony of the Church in European society. Montesquieu’s theory of separation of powers influenced the making of the US Constitution. The philosophy of Karl Marx, and of Friedrich Engels, and Lenin’s thoughts sparked the Communist Revolution of 1917 in Russia.

As compared to this, the Muslim world was being faced with the dilemma of questioning moribund ideas and remained under the spell of dogma. The questioning had been considered heresy, and those found with new ideas were persecuted and ultimately put to death, in the face of emerging Europe during the 1600 and onwards. The philosophic deliberations liberated the mind, with cataclysmic changes in intellectual, military organisations, and other facets of life, ushering in stability and prosperity. The forces released by the intellectual revolution in Western Europe led to discoveries, inventions and diffusion of knowledge as well as the domination of the West. With this a new superior order was born defeating the old, still dominating the world.

In this context, lessons learned are that we must open and develop an environment of free-thinking by using reason as a tool of understanding. Philosophy, therefore, has a pivotal role to play in formulating ideas to make a country prosperous, where no citizen should starve due to a shortage of food, where democracy flourishes and every citizen has an equal chance to live a peaceful, secure and progressive life.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2021.

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