Thursday, November 04, 2010

UNESCO- turns away from Indian, Chinese, and African philosophies to celebrates the World Philosophy Day 2010, with a hybrid philosophy of its own.

Philosophy is a subject apart from Education, Science and Culture which are within the purview of UNESCO. But Education being knowledge, philosophy could fall well within Education.

But philosophy is a diversity of knowledge, it is hence representative of different Cultures.
Therefore, probably as the religion, philosophy and culture of a nation are interrelated, in UNESCO Philosophy finds its place in the Sector of Social and Human Sciences.

Where ever it is placed, it is important that UNESCO has philosophy among its specialised programmes not only to popularise different philosophies among its member States, but also to exchange thoughts of philosophy among the member States to understand better each others religious and cultural philosophies to make that knowledge an instrument of international unity.

Many of the Nations among the 193 member States of UNESCO, had been colonised and their religion, culture, language, their way of life , and even their philosophies have been drastically affected by the introduction of the religions, cultures and languages of the colonial rulers.

Therefore, the time has come for these nations to re-discover there own uncontaminated cultures and philosophies, while learning to appreciate and enhance there own knowledge of the cultures, religions, and philosophies of other nations that share the world with them.

However, European philosophers prefer to acknowledge Greek philosophy as the foundation of their philosophies. The most ancient of philosophies for them is therefore, the pre- Socrates philosophy , and thereafter Socrates, and the Greek philosophers after him influenced the modern European philosophies.

Greek philosophy is based on nature, “The first of these were the naturalists. They were the first true Greek philosophers. The naturalists used logic and reasoning to attempt to answer all questions regarding nature. They had decided that most phenomena were not acts of the gods as previously believed. They believed that a logical and mathematical reason could be found for everything.” (

UNESCO seems to be satisfied taking as its source the European philosophers, who have roots in Greek philosophy. There is also another source from which the philosophers in UNESCO derive inspiration. It is the Islamic philosophers. Islamic philosophy is also influenced by the Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato whose philosophies were found translated in to Syriac language.

Therefore, there is a link between the Islamic and European philosophy both having roots in Greek Philosophy. This then is the root from which UNESCO draws inspiration for its philosophy.

But UNESCO says that it has been closely linked, not to speculative or normative, but to a different type of philosophy which is “..critical questioning which enables it to give meaning to life and action in the international context”. Does that mean, what UNESCO calls philosophy is a mutilated aspect of it, which is not linked to the speculative or normative-aspect of philosophy ?

Not being a student of philosophy it is rather difficult to gather the meaning of what exactly is the philosophy UNESCO is propounding . To an outsider to philosophy it seems that a philosophy cannot be changed, but one philosophy could be influence by another. With such admixtures will the modern philosophers of UNESCO discover a philosophy which is any where close to a universal philosophy ?

However, UNESCO explains its philosophy by stating that, “…UNESCO was born from a questioning process on the possibility of and necessary conditions for the establishment of long-term peace and security in the world. It is therefore an institutional response to a philosophical question, one that had already been asked by the AbbĂ© de Saint-Pierre and Emmanuel Kant.”

It goes further , “…. one could also declare that it is a philosophical institution, since it intends to contribute to maintaining peace and security by heightening collaboration between nations through education, science and culture in order to ensure the universal respect of justice, of the law, of human rights and fundamental liberties for all, regardless of race, gender, language or religion, that is recognized for all people in the Charter of the United Nations. This end goal involves the recognition and implementation of a certain philosophy of law, of human rights and of universal history through means that are also philosophical.”

To an amateur it sounds that philosophy in UNESCO has altogether a different connotation from the accepted meaning of philosophy, “….a rational investigation of questions about existence and knowledge and ethics.”

If you start gathering together all subjects, democracy, justice, law, human rights , fundamental liberties, perhaps terrorism as well and put it into one copper caldron, to make a hybrid philosophy, it becomes a sort of a witches’ brew of a herbal melange, with dried frog legs, blood of cats, dragon nails and what not.

This is what happens to most of the things not only philosophy, but also human rights or elimination of terrorists by non Western Nations, when they come to the United Nations System, where they take a different dimension not within the understanding of the ordinary folk.
A politician of a leading nation speaking at a press conference when she was asked what is terrorism, she said: “…..The bottom line is that you cannot lump all terrorists together. And I think we’ve got to do a much better job of clarifying what are the motivations, the raison d’etre of terrorists. I mean what the Tamil Tigers are fighting for in Sri Lanka or the Basque separatists in Spain or the insurgents in al Anbar province may only be connected by tactics……….I think one of our mistakes has been painting with such a broad brush which has not been particularly helpful in understanding what we are up against those who pursue terrorism for whichever ends they are seeking.”
In the context of the above declaration, it would not be surprising if UNESCO were to put into its mixture, a universal respect to a certain category of terrorism calling it a philosophy of terrorism.
As in the case of UN where its Secretary General has set up a panel to investigate whether a developing nation that eliminated terrorism did not in its process of eliminating terrorism, violate human rights. If the panel from a distance after a lapse of an year finds that there were violation of human rights, it plans to take the country which successfully eliminated terrorism before a Tribunal for war crimes. That absurdity may be “speculative philosophy”, which UNESCO says is outside its philosophy.
However, for an ordinary person with common sense, if for whichever end, a group of people were to take guns, bombs, trains people as suicide bombs, and terrorises a country and its people, that group of people comes under the “broad brush” of terrorists, along with those who fly planes loaded with passengers in to Twin Towers, massacring people for no apparent reason, other than to satisfy the whim of a God that they believe in.

Does this come under the philosophy UNESCO is proposing as being, “..critical questioning which enables it to give meaning to life and action in the international context” ?

In other words speaking frankly, philosophy is philosophy without having to add new subjects and take out others to make it suitable to an imagined objective of an International Organisation.

UNESCO has 193 member states, covering different regions of the world. It is therefore a very rich Institution in terms of the wealth of knowledge, cultures, languages, religious beliefs, spoken and written languages, and philosophies. But yet UNESCO has a very poor Section of Philosophy. That is not a conclusion that I have come to, but it is stated by the Philosophy Section of the UNESCO itself.

In this disarmingly frank introduction to the subject, “ There can be no UNESCO without philosophy”, it is modestly stated, “…….But it is better to say that UNESCO does not have a philosophy in the literal sense of the word since it wants to be a privileged place for exchange and dialogue on the pluralism of experiences of thought and of world cultures.”

And it creeps out of this contradictory statement by saying, “… One could then state instead that UNESCO is a philosophy…..” If that is what UNESCO is trying to ladle out as philosophy it is not very encouraging.

It does not fall within the classical definition of philosophy, if it has some things added, and other things removed from the accepted norms. Then what is the philosophy UNESCO has in place of the “ literal sense of the word Philosophy”.
The introduction, “ There can be no Unesco without philosophy” states:
“Patrice Vermeren gives one of the possible interpretations of this tradition through his description of the philosophy used by UNESCO in his book La philosophie saisie par l’UNESCO.
It deserves credit for strengthening our commitment to revitalizing this tradition and to contributing, by all possible means, to popularize an international philosophical culture.
On this path, the “philosophical detour” – expression borrowed from Jeanne Hersch in her famous study on human rights from a philosophical point of view, undertaken at the request of UNESCO – is called for every day, and today more than ever.”
Hence it is seen from the above quote, that the Philosophical Section of the UNESCO’s contribution to the modern world is to popularize an international philosophical culture based on a “philosophical deviation” proposed by philosopher Jeanne Hersch on her “famous”,study on human rights from a philosophical point of view, and a modern philosopher Patrice Vermeren who wrote the book “ La philosophie saisie par l’UNESCO”.

We can make philosophies of many things, not only of Human rights, but also terrorism, as pointed out earlier, all that may be possible, but what is wanted today is a philosophy to bind, together, the different philosophies along with the people connected to those philosophies.

For that, one should learn to respect the philosophies and the cultures of different Nations from different regions of the world, not confining knowledge and respect to just European philosophy or concoct a new hybrid philosophy that will be a means to dilute all philosophies into one, in a sort of globalisation of philosophy.

To respect those philosophies of “others” one has to know what they are. It is the same with the different religious philosophies of the world, there should be an effort to understand the religions in the context of the modern world, not taking them “lock, stock and barrel” from ancient books, in the context of the Nations getting closer to each other through a highly developed technology.

There should not be any faith in the world which could claim to be the only true faith. We cannot allow representatives of any one religion kill or massacre people of other faiths in the name of the God they believe. It is the same with ethnic purity, people should not be allowed to break away territories or separate people to set up ethnically pure States.

Making use of human rights as a philosophy to make the UN or International Community to demand member states to recognise ethnic groups as separate entities, and give them political rights to set up separate States or Regional governments, would be a dangerous corruption of human philosophies.

Such a dangerous situation could be avoided not by introducing new philosophies but in bringing the old philosophies within reach of the ordinary peoples of the world in keeping with the evolutionary process of the civilisations. This popularization of philosophy is some thing that could be undertaken by the UNESCO, by organising workshops and preparing pictorial publications to be distributed in schools or to associations of elders.

It is like a multi-ethnic country, where each others cultural and religious differences could be made a means to unite the different communities, through an understanding, tolerance and respect to each others cultural and religious difference, not making them a means to divide and separate communities. The same principle should be applied to the whole world.

In order to organize such a universal unification, what better place is there other than the UNESCO. The British Minister of Education Ellen Wilkinson President of the UNESCO Conference held in UK in 1945, said:

“It is for us to clear the channels through which may flow from nation to nation, the streams of knowledge and thought, of truth and beauty, which are the foundations of true civilization”.

But these great words of wisdom of the past, are mutilated to day in the UN System. There is in recent times a move to use human rights as a weapon to keep the developing countries from rising above their state of under development. Terrorism which is despised by every correct thinking person had been used by certain countries along with the UNO, to punish a country for eliminating terrorism. These new philosophies based on human rights are therefore not being used for the benefit of the developing countries, but to keep them poor and dependent.

Hence UNESCO’s effort should not be to lie comfortably on a cushioned sofa of European philosophies, and invent deviation from them, to make UNESCO a privileged place for exchange and dialogue on the pluralism of experiences of thought and of world cultures, but to embrace all philosophies without distinction of their being European or non –European philosophies, and popularise world philosophies through its programmes of Education, Science and Culture, to make philosophy a rallying point for all Nations.

Very noticeable absences in UNESCO’s Philosophy programme are the Indian Vedic philosophies , Confucianism, Tao and other Chinese philosophies, Japanese Zen philosophy, Buddhist philosophy, and even the philosophies of Africa the cradle of humanity.

India has a long history of different schools of philosophies, but UNESCO’s failure to recognise it in the international context seems a part of a concerted effort to minimise the importance of Indian, Chinese and allied Asian philosophies, to give dominance to European philosophies and popularise it in the world.

When the Buddha was born in India 2600 years ago it is said there were 62 different schools of philosophies. They were mostly based on human life, and the suffering of the people. Suffering is universal . One should not come to the conclusion that suffering exists only in poor undeveloped countries.

Suffering is every where among the rich and the poor without distinction. And most of the ills of the world come from attachment, aversion and delusion. And all the conflicts in the world are rooted in one or the other, or all three of these causes.

Now with regard to the Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO, there is the most unforgettable phrase "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed."

It was included into the preamble by the American poet and the representative of USA at the creation of the UNESCO- Archibald McLeish. He was not a Buddhist but as a poet and the Librarian of the Congress. He was certainly not a stranger to Buddhist philosophy.

Because, it was the Buddha who spoke of the importance of the mind in man. The first verse of the Dhammapada which contains the sayings of the Buddha reads:

“Mind is the forerunner of all states. Mind is chief; mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with wicked mind, because of that, suffering follows one, even as the wheel follows the hoof of the draught-ox.”

The draft of the Preamble to the UNESCO Constitution was made by the British Prime Minister Clement Atlee quoting from “The General Epistle of James, Chapter 4”. It was refined by Archibald McLeish, to include his now famous words-“"Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed" ,
in place of “The General Epistle of James, Chapter 4”

That is the history, but today in the UNESCO’s programme of the Celebration of the World Philosophy Day 2010, none of the Countries in Asia-India, Japan, China, or Africa is represented.

Perhaps they may have been relegated to the “concert”, which is rather the cultural, than the philosophic aspect of the celebration of the Philosophy Day.

Could there be a Philosophy Day without respect to all philosophies of the World ?

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