UNESCO observes World Philosophy Day on 17 November this year, upholding the significance of promoting tolerance and the need for practising dialogue in this regard. How does philosophy teach us to be more tolerant of different standpoints or, in the broader sense, to diversity? What are the tools philosophy applies to deducing fairly acceptable conclusions through dialogues? How does philosophy teach us to see the beauty of being tolerant?
A lot of whys pop up in the curious eyes of first year philosophy students. They seem very keen to know how studying philosophy will be beneficial to them. They look at the syllabus and find that they are required to study the problems of philosophy, a major portion of which deals with metaphysical questions. They search for more in the syllabus and find that they will have to go through a number of ancient philosophers, namely, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, et cetera. Initially, they get perplexed because they do not find any connection between such ancient readings and its practical implications. They are inclined to ask how studying those super old concepts by the ancient philosophers will be beneficial to them in the world of these present times.
It has been observed that most of us take up this discipline as only a way of demonstrating passive thinking about the nature of the world and indeed the universe. In this connection, many define philosophy as grasping only some age-old philosophical theories as propounded by prominent philosophers. Such definitions of philosophy sometimes compel us to take philosophy from the standpoint of grossly armchair thinking. This is not certainly what philosophy is about.
Philosophy, nowadays, has been defined as an ‘activity’, an activity through what we think about things using some basic philosophical tools, for instance, argument, logic, reasoning, relevant examples, counter arguments and such. It is interesting to note how David Ward, an Edinburgh philosopher, defines philosophy. He defines philosophy as an activity that leads one to thinking about different problems and arriving at solutions. This activity requires certain sorts of logical analysis. When we use such philosophical tools in our everyday life to make rational decisions, to argue for our own positions, then we undoubtedly acquire a crucial life skill, that is to say, the faculty of critical thinking.
This is what I call a very pragmatic way of defining philosophy for our times. This definition allows us to engage in arguments, dialogues, etc., to sort out the right way of thinking about any of the spheres of structural disciplines, life and the universe. How is it so? How is philosophy of benefit to us in finding solutions to our practical dilemmas?
Philosophy has an enormous capacity to solve the problems of the present time. We have experienced violence in many different forms. Say, for example, intolerance is one of the most discussed issues right now in Bangladesh and even around the world. Fundamentalists or extremists have not even been slightly tolerant of ‘free thinkers’. Thousands of people all around the world have been killed through religious fanaticism.
Hindu temples and homes have been attacked in many areas in Bangladesh. For instance, we may mention the recent occurrence which took place in Nasirnagar. Likewise, Muslims have been tortured in some parts in India for eating or selling beef and also on other issues. The issue of the Rohingya refugees is regularly noticed in the newspapers. The US President-elect, Donald Trump, has vowed to make stricter immigration laws and other policies especially related to Muslims, which is nothing but an image of intolerance and a message of animosity.
In this situation, we, in fact, need to exchange dialogues through arguments, logical analysis and every tool of philosophy to get rid of such kinds of intolerance. Philosophy obliges us to ask our conscience about the justification of such killings as well as the moral questions related to such violence.
Philosophy does preach to us the lessons of being tolerant in terms of non-violence. We need to tolerate even that person who possesses an entirely opposite or even contradictory view, no matter which religion he belongs to, what cult he belongs to or what colour of skin he has. It is certainly not acceptable that a fanatic should pick up a machete and kill a person simply for holding a different view.
We need to be more tolerant toward others, toward diversity. We must in dialogue to deduce a conclusion in order to solve our problems. We need to use philosophical tools to do that. We need to engage in philosophical activity. Definitely.
Asmat Ara Islam is Assistant Professor, Dept. of Philosophy, Jagannath University and Adjunct Faculty, Dept. of History & Philosophy, North South University