The Month of Arts

Passengers of LRT 1 and LRT 2 were feted last January 20 with flash performances from various groups and individuals tapped by National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA) to usher in the festivities calendared for February, the month of arts.  Reports described the reaction of the crowd as one of surprise unaccustomed as they were to finding themselves treated with various artistic shows while queuing for tickets or wiggling their way to the LRT coaches.  The efforts of  NCCA, as well as various cultural agencies and art groups, deserve to be lauded for their sustained campaign for the continuing public arts education.  Much remains to be done no doubt but given the sad reality of the place of arts in the national budget and government priority, not to mention the less than meager resources of arts communities themselves, one can only sigh with amazement when such a feat is successfully pulled off. 

 

But taking the element of surprise aside, it makes us wonder whether the performances merited anything more than curious glances from the commuters. It’s hard to imagine they would really pause to take in the dances, songs, on-the-spot painting or performance poetry staged for them.  If they simply move along while the show was going on, such reaction would not have been unusual by Philippine standards.  Not that the public won’t pay attention but the kind of attention to come from them would probably be a lot keener had it been a movie shooting of Bea Alonzo and  John Lloyd Cruz  that welcomed them at the train station. 

 

The ambivalence of Filipinos concerning arts is probably best reflected by the popular confusion that surrounds the words arte and art. Through some historical and  cultural mix up, the word arte, a derivative of the Spanish word for art has come to mean for most Filipinos as a gesture or behavior that borders on the artificial and frivolous,   A person is described as maarte, not because he is artistic, but because of certain actuations that are perceived as contrived.  He fails to evoke sympathy or good will due to expressions which are seen as incapable of being taken seriously. 

 

A corollary of this ambivalence would be the confusion between the words artista and artist, its English counterpart.  Artista, in Filipino, refers to showbiz personalities, that is, entertainment celebrities whose looks and talent capture wide public liking.  In former times, looks and talent were necessary dual requirements to qualify as artista.  These days however, it seems the qualifications have been relaxed so that one can become an artista on mere face value or some bodily enhancements.   These misplaced aesthetic criteria (or more pointedly, the lack of them) explain why despite their being excellent artists, outstanding members of the film industry like directors Marilou Diaz Abaya, Mike de Leon, Ishmael Bernal and Lino Brocka are never considered artista by popular standards. The same is true for writers like Pete Lacaba, Ricky Lee, Butch Dalisay or musicians like Willy Cruz, Rey Valera and George Canseco.  They bring in artistry into the movies they are once a part of yet they never reach the same stellar acclaim enjoyed by a Daniel Padilla or a Sir Chief except probably within the limited circles of people in the know.

 

The confusion between art and arte and the overshadowing of artists by artista in our consciousness are actually a result of our miseducation on the arts that have long alienated us from our own culture and creative traditions.  Our tastes have been so desensitized that we become easy captives of films like My Little Bossings which demand nothing from us in terms of engagement and sensibility.  We think of movies the way we think of TV and songs on radio.  They are our constant sources of quick entertainment to distract us from the discontents of modern living.  In some less complicated past, there was no divide between life and art for, in its bare simplicity, life itself was one aesthetic experience.  That was when rice plains were home to the songs of the wind and birds took pleasure in tree tops and tall grasses in their dances.  There was ritual in the rising and setting of the sun and folks could recite in their verses their version of the poetry of the moon and stars. It might even be thought that Fabian de la Rosa and Fernando Amorsolo did not really create art; they merely captured art in the scenes they painted half certain we would lose sight of them had they not immortalized them in their canvas the way we no longer see them now in the age of reclamation areas, gated communities and gigantic malls.

 

It doesn’t help that in our schools, art is relegated to the mere ornamental, something to add color to the celebrations of Linggo ng Wika, UN Day, Teachers’ Day, Foundation Day, field demonstration and Christmas party. The result is a generation after generation of students who harbor the unfortunate idea that art is an excess baggage;  that time spent on NVM Gonzales or Franz Arcellana or F. Sionil Jose is time wasted; that learning the Filipino of Rolando Tinio, Rio Alma and Alejandro Abadilla is a lost cause; that Sinulog and Dinagyang are but mammoth street parties. There seems to be an unconscious, unspoken effort to subordinate art to hard sciences and professional courses so students can acquire unhampered, so they say, the necessary skills to qualify them for jobs abroad.  The recent Kto12 educational reform of the government seems to affirm this.  The reform is introduced because our students, it says,  need to be ready and equipped for the global world.  Through this program, education, officially, has been reduced to training and skills acquisition. Arts and humanities have taken the back set for the sake of human resource importation.  One wonders which type of poverty is worse: empty wallets or barren soul?   When they earn their degrees, our graduates would fly out of the country hoping they can make it better elsewhere.  It is a sad irony that we sacrifice education on arts and humanities so we can send our young professionals abroad to places where citizens have nothing but supreme appreciation for things cultural and artistic.

 

Meanwhile, in our homeland, casinos, hotels and shopping complexes continue to rise.  We have no more public museums to house our shared memories or public galleries to shelter the expressions of our national spirit.  Parks and public squares where people used to congregate to enjoy the morning sun or sing and dance under the moonlight have given way to commercial spaces.  Festivals no longer mark our life cycles and have become mere marketing events for tourism.  When art is disjointed from life itself, we turn to movies not for stories they would remind us of but for the things we hope they would keep forgotten.

 

The function of art is to enhance our imagination, to strengthen our capacity to hope and to animate our desire for the different and the possible.  If only for that we need more artists in the government to infuse optimism and dynamism in the way we look at ourselves and in the manner we do things for and among each other.  I say artists, and not some artista who cannot even render justice to the word entertainment.  

 

Arts help us remember, beside the beautiful and the sublime, who we are and who we can be. Rose Fostanes sang her way to the finale of the recent X Factor Israel knowing there was more to her than her ordinary caregiving chores.  She blends her voice with those of Brillante Mendoza, Kenneth Cobunpue, Miguel Syjuco, Marivi Soliven, Rodel Tapaya and a host many other artists who give us reason to see our being Filipino in a different light.  February, the month of arts, invites us to take it from them.

(This piece was published in the online magazine Rappler.com under the title “Artists and artistas.” See http://www.rappler.com/life-and-style/arts-and-culture/50047-artists-vs-artistas)

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Postscript on Quiapo: Private Piety, Common Faith

As in the past years, millions of devotees flocked to Quiapo last January 9 to celebrate the annual feast of the Black Nazarene.  Hordes of barefoot pilgrims once more flooded the selected thoroughfares, which, for that day, were cordoned off from traffic for what is considered in the Philippines as the mother of all processions.  Thanks to the local TV networks, what used to be a mere religious procession has now become one giant reality show that lends the plight of the contemporary Filipino a human face in a way even the best soap opera or the most edgy of indie films would never capture.  The TV outfits always have a special eye for anything that draws a huge crowd trusting that wherever people congregate, ratings won’t be far behind.  For the foreign tourists unfamiliar with a religious festivity of this magnitude, the feast of Quiapo was definitely a sight to behold. For the cynics however, it was but a one-of-a-kind enlarged flash mob. For the devotees among us, the scenes from the feast of the Black Nazarene were an unassailable testament of the enduring religiosity of Filipinos.

 

Of these, it is the latter, I suppose, that seriously calls for a closer reflection given Quiapo’s religious character.  I don’t really have anything against popular profession of piety.  After all, mass demonstration of faith is not something endemic to Catholicism alone; various religions like Islam, Judaism and other Christian churches also have their own versions of public display of pious affection.  The Quiapo procession however distinguishes itself from others for its almost Dionysian sense of abandon despite its conservative provenance as a Catholic devotion.  Observers note how the number of devotees that converges in Quiapo continues to swell year after year and with this increase also rises the toll of physical injuries, petty crimes and the heap of garbage left behind by a sea of penitents.  This has been the recurring story of the feast of Quiapo, a story which definitely detracts from what can actually be an inspiring narrative of a people’s testimony of faith.

 

As it is, there is really nothing harmful in the performance of piety in the public space.  What really invites rethinking is the romanticization of a religious outpouring in the name of a piety which has not grown larger than the devotees’ private intentions.  Religion, admittedly, is a personal experience and surely one that incorporates the desires, anxieties, conquests and aspirations that a person brings into the rendition of his religious engagement.  But then religion too is an ethical relation, something that requires transcendence of one’s self for the sake of the other, whether that other is a fellow pilgrim or his country or the very divinity that animates one’s religious devotion. 

 

Last January 9, something truly bothersome was caught by the TV cameras when the statue of the Black Nazarene was almost overcome by a multitude of devotees vying for a spot nearest to the image.  This took place even when the Mass officiated by Cardinal Tagle was still in progress and the procession was yet to commence.  Later on, while in transit, there were also those who literally defied all odds  to find their way up the Black Nazarene’s carriage and render what is thought to be the supreme gesture of homage and sacrifice – a touch, a kiss, a mere wipe with a towel or hankie which would seal the wish for a miracle. People would risk lives and limbs for that moment, throwing all sense of public order and public safety to the wind.  At one point, a group even attempted to remove the barricades at the MacArthur Bridge specifically put in place to reroute the procession and prevent the weight of almost three million pairs of feet from massing over an aging bridge at the brink of collapse. 

 

These incidents magnify what has been a regular fare in our day-to-day exchange.  Increasingly, yet unconsciously, our society is transforming itself into a mere aggregate of individuals, a pseudo-community where the personal is the primary determinant of choices and actions.  We have yet to identify with a self larger than our own and pursue a good that we can collectively aspire for and enjoy.  It is as if society is but a venue for our competing individual wills.  We are lulled by the illusion that we are one because we occupy the same space.  The veneer of unanimity effectively hides the deep-seated fragmentation that marks off one’s motivations from others’. We see each other as co-inhabitants and not yet as co-actors hence our potential as a people for a collective ethical action has yet to concretize itself in terms of an actual personal as well socio-political change.  We mistake our proximity with unity and our parallel interests as common goals and daily the corrosive effect of this state of affairs is palpably present in the crises which weigh on our families, our systems, our institutions even our religions.  The scenes at the Quiapo procession are a painful remainder of what can happen even to something as lofty as religion once overtaken by private piety and individual devotion under the guise of common faith. Apparently, even the divine dispensation is not spared from the cut-throat competition once spoken of by Thomas Hobbes as the state of nature. One wonders what happens to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth who as a servant thought of the other ahead of himself, away from the hysteria and pressure of the crowd.

On Democracy, Political Dynasty and Citizenship

Democracy is rigged and, despite the homage bestowed upon it, is actually a farce that derides the way politics should be. In fact, it has never been operative, not even, in the self-appointed bastion of democracy, the United States of America. What we often witness, dramatized in our cable TV, accented by news networks and chronicled in websites, magazines and dailies are the appearances of democracy. What is at work, what rules the world, since the supposed nascent of democracy is plain and simple aristocracy, that is,  the rule of the few, who, thanks to their effective machinations, are able to sustain their will to power under the mantle of an appearance of democracy.  Democracy is a masquerade that has duped us and we are the unwitting, unwilling victims of our sorry political naivete.

This, in a nutshell, is how I gather the remarks put forward by Prof. Peter Simpson, a visiting scholar from the City University of New York, in a recent forum held last March at the University of Santo Tomas and it came to mind in the aftermath of the country’s midterm elections.  There was a host of vital issues at stake last May 13 but nothing rubbed closer to the problem of democracy in the Philippines than the question of political dynasty.

Last April 21, the Philippine Daily Inquirer featured in its “Talk of the Town” segment a survey of all the senatorial bets’ position on political dynasty.  Expectedly, outsiders of political dynasty were critical about it; those who came from traditional political families were rather ambivalent in their stand while the newbies from the emergent power clans hid their outright endorsement of their pedigree’s power trip behind the oft repeated appeal to the popular will as the final arbiter of their political fate.

As they are, the candidates’ responses merely show why we can’t hope to see any resolution of the problem of political dynasty in the near future.  Those who are against it have too little power to even make a dent and those who are part of it do not even see it as a problem, much less, why it is so.

The success of the likes of Binay, Ejercito, Aquino, Angara and Villar was a clear testament to the political advantage of those with greater access to resources, social network, media, political machinery and more importantly a family name that catches the electorate’s pygmy memory.  In the future, we might indeed have a Senate with 24 seats occupied by senators whose main distinction would no longer be their last but their first names. Legislative districts will no longer be classified in number but identified according to the leaders’ lineage.  Provinces and towns might even be re-named according to the genealogies of their political lords and the Philippines’ 7,100 islands will be transformed into family enclaves, reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

This scenario will have rendered unnecessary the writing of critiques similar to Eric Gutierrez’ The Ties That Bind or Sheila Coronel et al’s The Rulemakers or Primitivo Mojares’ The Conjugal Dictatorship.  No one after all will find it tasteful to read on something that has become the normal state of things.

Prof. Kaelin’s insights on “The Problem of Family Politics” (PDI, April 22, 2013) were particularly instructive.  There really is a genuine need to re-think the already blurred relationship between the family and the state in the Philippines.  Appeal to popular will or the invocation of the family’s genetic love of public office, I mean, public service will hardly contribute to the quality of debate regarding political dynasty. It will probably take time for members of these political dynasties to realize that the issue is neither their political future nor the satisfaction of their insatiable heroic desire to serve but the survival of our democratic life.  More than leadership, democracy is about citizenship; more than government, it is about empowerment and it certainly depends for its flourishing on the possibility of equal opportunity, autonomy and the absence of hegemonic rule.

Prof. Simpson’s critical attitude towards democracy becomes understandable when seen in the light of something like Philippines’ political landscape.  Apparently, democracy earns its bad reputation because of its inherent vulnerability to abuse and manipulation.  At the end of the day, what we see in practice is not really democracy but democracy in its perverted form.

It is possible that the debate on political dynasty will yield positive results when the focus shifts from the question of how to downgrade the power clans’ will to power to how to upgrade the capability of citizens as the primordial sovereign.  We can mitigate this constant ancestral itch to rule when we expand the political, economic and cultural space necessary for the citizens’ self-determination.  In the long run, what will save democracy in this country from further decay is not computerized election but citizenship education.  

It is about time that Filipinos recognize ourselves not as constituents but as citizens.  It is only as such, following Aristotle, that politics becomes a meaningful and liberative practice.

Recalling Sartre

In the former times, when a kid is asked what he wants to be when he grows up, the answer one would usually get is that he wants to be an astronaut, a doctor, an engineer, a soldier, a priest.  These days however, when a kid is given the same question, the answer most likely one would hear is that he wants to work in America, in Australia, in Canada, in Singapore, in Dubai or anywhere but home. This observation resonates with a remark made by Prof. Randy David in one of his recent articles entitled “Migration As A Way of Life.’  Prof. David noted: “Migration studies report that more than 10 million Filipinos, roughly 10 percent of our population, today live and work in about 193 countries. These figures have prompted analysts to speak of a Filipino diaspora. The term is a derivative of the Greek word “sporas,” meaning “scattered like seeds.” We are a seafaring people and long-distance travel is not unknown to us. We have had waves of Filipino migration to Hawaii, Guam, and the rest of the United States, as a byproduct of our colonial ties with America. But, for a long time, the rest of the world was unmarked space for us. Indeed, throughout its colonial past, the Philippines had been more of a receiving than a sending country, attracting over the centuries migrants from China, Japan, India, and from as far as Lebanon…Our kind of organized migration is vastly different from that pursued by young people elsewhere, who might spend time traveling, studying, or living in other cultures in order to gain international experience. They do not stay abroad out of desperation or necessity.  They don’t leave young children behind. Most of them come back to start families and build their careers hand in hand with the development of their societies.”

More and more Filipinos are leaving their own county out of this growing consciousness of nothingness which has become a phenomenological fact of our daily lives.  Such nothingness manifests itself in different forms and levels of deficiency, from basic nutrition to public healthcare to quality education to public order to good governance to name a few. It is precisely this awareness of nothingness which impels one to create himself according to Sartre. But as we have seen, such self-creation is defined these days no longer in terms of a self-project.  With the advent of global economy, underwritten by liberalist ideology, self-creation has been equated with mere acquisition of skills considered marketable in well developed countries such as those mentioned above.  The current generation sees their becoming no longer as a meaningful pursuit but as an endeavor towards a more profitable future.  Certainly there is nothing wrong in aspiring to earn more; what makes the situation lamentable is the reduction of human potential to mere acquisition of profit.   This obsession with profit, either in individual or social scale, is the chief characteristic of the modern society and it infects the way individuals look at themselves and the manner with which they relate with one another and the world at large.  Sartre’s notion of freedom as the key to human creativity has no place in modern society.  There is no need to be free after all; our fates have been decided and our journeys has been charted by the gods in the Olympus of the global economy long before we could learn how to dream   Our needs have been subsumed by the needs of the market.  Our hopes are pinned on the worldwide financial forecasts.  Our angst hangs in the balance of the shifting behavior of the global trade.  The only freedom left in us is the freedom to choose which skill to acquire to match the demands of the labor market or the freedom is to stay home and starve ourselves to extinction.  Such is the famous Sartrean irony of freedom.  Whether to be the worlds’ laborer or to remain poor in one’s own country is a matter of a personal cboice.  Freedom is both our transcendence and condemnation.  There is really no exit out of it.  The Sartrean notion of freedom is a celebration of individual autonomy and at the same time, a phenomenology of the irony of the human condition.  Sartre’s existentialist philosophy is an exploration of the inherent promise and problem of becoming human which freedom itself underlies.  Sartre reminds us that:  “Man is all the time outside of himself: it is in projecting and losing himself beyond himself that he makes man to exist; and, on the other hand, it is by pursuing transcendent aims that he himself is able to exist. Since man is thus self-surpassing, and can grasp objects only in relation to his self-surpassing, he is himself the heart and center of his transcendence. There is no other universe except the human universe, the universe of human subjectivity. This relation of transcendence as constitutive of man (not in the sense that God is transcendent, but in the sense of self-surpassing) with subjectivity (in such a sense that man is not shut up in himself but forever present in a human universe) – it is this that we call existential humanism. This is humanism, because we remind man that there is no legislator but himself; that he himself, thus abandoned, must decide for himself; also because we show that it is not by turning back upon himself, but always by seeking, beyond himself, an aim which is one of liberation or of some particular realisation, that man can realize himself as truly human.”

There is therefore something definitely remiss then when the individual is disempowered of his ability to surpass himself and relegated merely as a cog in the machine of global wealth creation; when the individual as a being for-itself is reduced and restricted into a mindless being in-itself by the lords and masters of profit.  Sartrean philosophical anthropology, when read with critical caution, is a good reminder of the beauty of becoming human, which sadly, is gradually fading from the appreciation of the modern individual.  Or maybe it has not really faded but suppressed by a caricature of himself as free man inside the cage he himself gilded with gold and silver.

On Religion, Atheism and Ethical Responsibility

Filipino Catholics celebrate the feast of the Black Nazarene on the 9th of January every year.  Millions of devotees would flock to Quiapo to join the traslacion, or the commemoration  of the translation or enshrinement of the image of the suffering Christ in its present location. Observers have often described this massive display of Catholic devotion as a showcase of Filipino religiosity, one that is marked by filial loyalty, by a physical, almost visceral expression of faith, by tales of desiderata and narratives of answered prayers. The broadcast media see in this event a romantic dramatization of the plight of the common Filipino; others see in it an outpouring of a sublimated angst against the political and economic inadequacies which characterize Philippine society; still others prefer to look at it as a raw portrayal of simple faith, one that finds a glimpse of the divine with the feel of the paved road under one’s naked feet or with the faint scent of the holy lingering in the white hanky that brushed the face of the miraculous ebony.

An article published in Rappler.com however provides an alternative, better yet, a Levinasian perspective on what is traditionally perceived as a purely religious affair.  Rather than asking whether Quiapo reflects the true color of Catholic faith, it raises instead the same question tirelessly probed by Levinas: does it make the Pinoy a better neighbor?  The article was written by Paterno Esmaquel II, a multimedia reporter for Rappler and once an associate editor of the The Guidon, the campus paper of the Ateneo de Manila University.  In the said article, Esmaquel directs his attention to what he perceived as a glaring disparity between the devotees’ almost manic outpouring of religiosity and their utter oblivion of any sense of social responsibility.  This observation was inspired by an interview done by Esmaquel with Fernando Zialcita, an anthropology and sociology professor, also, at the Ateneo and editor of the notable book Quiapo: The Heart of Manila and author of the highly rated Authentic Though Not Exotic:Essays On Filipino Identity.  In the said interview,  published likewise by Rappler, Zialcita explained: “The devotion to the Nazarene should be seen in the context of utang na loob (debt of gratitude): ‘God gave me some tremendous gift – napagaling ang miyembro ng pamilya ko (a family member was healed) – so what will I offer in return?’ Something difficult like, sasali ako sa prusisyon taun-taon (I will join the procession every year), risking my life.” He described the Nazareno devotion as an “awesome” display of gratitude to God for graces bestowed upon devotees and their families. This devotion, consistent with Filipino loyalty, according to Zialcita, is often limited only to the family and to the “angkan” or clan. As such it fails to take into account “social responsibility to a group larger than their family.”

In the context of Levinasian discourse, therefore, the feast of Quiapo is but a celebration of identity garbed in the language and tradition of religiosity.  What we see in the annual affair is the public translation of an experience of want and fulfillment that begins with self and ends with self.  Even the divine itself is held hostage in this melee of private religiosities. One finds a very strong suggestion of totality in a religious festivity where everything, including God, is reduced to the imperatives of identity at the expense of the other. “It is interesting to note,for instance, that in 2012,” Esmaquel writes,  “the Nazarene procession left over 500 injured and also piles of garbage in its trail. The call then of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle – to clean up and show concern for the environment – went unheeded.” This year’s procession is no different.  As noted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial, entitled “Nothing sacred” and published January 12, 2013: “This year’s passage of the Black Nazarene took “only” 17 hours—the reported result of a redesigned carriage, new solid-rubber tires instead of inflatable ones, and better organization. Metro Manila Development Authority Chair Francis Tolentino described the event as “faster and more organized.” It is thus quite unfortunate that the annual pietistic display was crowned by a massive collection of rubbish. The estimates vary, but the devotees apparently left more than 120 tons of garbage. Public places like Plaza Miranda, Rizal Park and the streets leading to Quiapo Church were choked with assorted trash, plastic water bottles, empty food packs and rafts of other throwaway items…ndeed, how reconcile this terrible act of littering with the show of faith and devotion that the Feast of the Black Nazarene represents? How justify inflicting one’s garbage on others?  It’s obvious that those “faithful” who disposed of their trash without a thought for those who would have to clean up after them have much to atone for in terms of their inconsiderate and self-centered ways. It’s galling that as they were going through the motions of piety, they were actually causing the suffering of the street sweepers and the army of volunteers who would later pool efforts to clean up the avenues leading to the house of God.”

The feast of Nazareno, or any religious festivity, need  not degenerate into this level as long as we remember with Levinas that religion is not a mere private affair but a movement towards ethical responsibility. What is missing in the scenario cited both by Esmaquel and PDI editorial is a genuine experience of transcendence which frees one from the restrictions of subjectivity and flings him into infinity, which is the realm of the ethical. The devotees of Nazareno need to experience Quiapo as a religious event that allow them, beside experiencing answered prayers or spiritual satisfaction, the heightened desire for transcendence. In his essay, God and Philosophy, Levinas explains: “Affected by the Infinite, Desire cannot proceed to an end which it would be equal to; in Desire the approach distances, and enjoyment is but the increase of hunger. Transcendence or the disinterest­edness of Desire “passes” in this reversal of terms. How? And in the transcendence of the Infinite what dictates to us the word Good? For disinterestedness to be possible in the Desire for the Infinite, for the desire beyond being, or transcendence, not to bean absorption in immanence, which would thus make its return, it is necessary that the Desirable or God remain separated in the Desire; as desirable it is near but different: Holy. This can only be if the Desirable orders me to what is the nondesirable, the undesirable par excellence – the other (autrui). The reference to the other (autrui) is an awakening, an awakening to proximity, and this is a responsibility for the neighbor, to the point of substitut­ing for him.”

It is for this reason that, as explained by Dr. Leovino Garcia, even religion must leave a room for an experience of a-theism, that is, the space that allows one to look at God not as an object of need but as an object of desire, not in the sense of an objectified desire but in a sense of a constant activation of desiring.  This desire sees no end and does not settle for some proxy gratification.  Desire is a movement towards the infinite, inviting one to disengage from the self-affirmation of the same into the celebration of transcendence that constantly speaks to him within the context of his social relations. Such atheism, as Levinas explains  “conditions a veritable relationship with a true God Kad’abrd. But this relationship is as distinct from objectification as from participation. To hear the divine word does not amount to knowing an object; it is to be in relation with a substance overflowing its own idea in me, overflowing what Descartes calls its “objective existence.”… To posit the transcendent as stranger and poor one is to prohibit the metaphysical relation with God from being accomplished in the ignorance of men and things. The dimension of the divine opens forth from the human face. A relation with the Transcendent free from all captivation by the Transcendent is a social relation. It is here that the Transcendent, infinitely other, solicits us and appeals to us. The proximity of the Other, the proximity of the neighbor, is in being an ineluctable moment of the revelation of an absolute presence (that is, disengaged from every relation), which expresses itself. His very epiphany consists in soliciting us by his destitution in the face of the Stranger, the widow, and the orphan. The atheism of the metaphysician means, positively, that our relation with the Metaphysical is an ethical behavior and not theology, not a thematization, be it a knowledge by analogy, of the attributes of God. God rises to his supreme and ultimate presence as correlative to the justice rendered unto men.”

A Conference on Alasdair MacIntyre

Alasdair MacIntyre is an acclaimed philosopher in the US as well as in the UK and is a leading exponent of a contemporary reinterpretation of Aristotle. To date,  he is known, together with Charles Taylor  and Jean Luc Marion, as a leading living Catholic thinker after the likes of Karol Wojtyla, Gabriel Marcel, Max Scheler, Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain and Maurice Blondel among others.  While committed to Aristotelian scholarship, his brand of Aristotelianism though is unlike a dogged apologia for philosophical orthodoxy but a critical engagement with Aristotelian thought in the light of the ethical and political questions of the day.  We may even consider his work as a correction of Aristotle or an attempt to push the frontiers of Aristotelianism beyond Aristotle himself. To carry out such  project, MacIntyre has to tap a variety of intellectual resources from Ludwig Wittgenstein, Karl Marx and Thomas Aquinas among others.  In its core, MacIntyrean philosophy is committed to a promotion of an ethical life rooted on virtues that are borne out of moral discourse and practices participated in by the agents themselves.  His discourse is a rebuke of the ethics of modernity which either puts premium on the primacy of law (Kant) or utility ((Mill) or abandons the traditional notion of subject (Hume) or tradition (Nietzsche). The wide reach of his intellectual range puts MacIntyre right at the junction of a variety of philosophical debates. He agrees with Marx in his critique of the capitalist system but remains critical of  Marxism’s capitalist tendencies.  He is one of mind with Habermas on the importance of discourse but differs from him in his notion of ratonality. Together with fellow Aristotelian Hannah Arendt, he is committed to the promotion of pluralism but does not see eye to eye with her when it comes to the interpretation of the end of ethical life. In his critique of Enlightenment, he takes the side of Nietzsche but stands galaxies away from him with his defense of tradition-constituted rationality.  His advocacy of social and political change is matched only by his commitment to the critique of the sciences.  He has likewise remained sharply critical of  libertarian positions of John Rawls and Robert Nozick whose ideas find incarnation in the political and economic systems of the US, the country which has been MacIntyre’s sanctuary since his emigration from Scotland three decades ago.

I heard of MacIntyre in a seminar roughly four years ago but did not develop keen interest on him until two years ago, when I started mapping out a possible research project for my doctoral studies.  My interest on ethics and Marxist political philosophy coupled with my predilection towards Aristotle and Aquinas made MacIntyre a natural choice.  I was doing my preliminary collection of online materials about him when I chanced upon the website of ISME.  I merely wanted initially to simply get to know the group and hopefully seek membership  for possible research and scholarly exposure.  Hence, when Dr. Bolaños forwarded a call for papers from the said body, I lost no time in sending a paper proposal.  My surprise with their interest on my research project heightened likewise my enthusiasm to meet and learn from the people known across the globe for their scholarship on Alasdair MacIntyre.

The group behind the conference I attended is known as ISME or the International Society of MacIntyrean Enquiry.  The group’s website (http://www.macintyreanenquiry.org/index.html) provides us a clear idea about how ISME wants itself to be known : Inspired by Alasdair MacIntyre’s critique of contemporary ideas and institutions, the International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry is dedicated to the theoretical and practical pursuit of the human good. ISME seeks to bring together the different traditions that are informed by this Aristotelian principle. We therefore provide a forum within which contemporary Aristotelians, Thomists, Marxists,and others can explore the grounds for a common project. Scholars in fields ranging from philosophy to social sciences, and others interested theoretically and practically in human flourishing, work within ISME to try to identify and promote that common good. To this end, the Society convenes international conferences, supports publication of conference papers, collects a bibliography of MacIntyre’s work, publishes a quarterly newsletter, maintains a web presence, and supports emerging scholars working with MacIntyre’s ideas. We pursue these goals in a spirit of friendship and communal dialogue, whilst also engaging in dialogue with rival traditions. If you are interested in these pursuits or in MacIntyrean enquiry more generally, we invite you to join the Society.

ISME was founded six years ago by scholars from both US and UK who wished to commit themselves in the pursuit of the objective cited above. For the last six years then, ISME conferences have been held alternately in both US and UK.  For this year, ISME’s 6th conference, it was the turn of UK to host the event with the University of Nottingham as the venue. University of Nottingham has four campuses in Nottingham itself (Jubilllee, University Park, Sutton Bonington and Medical School) and two outside UK (China and Malaysia).  The ISME conference was held at the University Park campus.  To date, the University of Nottingham is ranked No. 10 in UK and 75th across the globe.

Serving as academic convenors for its UK leg are Dr. Tony Burns of University of Nottingham and Dr. Kelvin Knight of the London Metropolitan University and CASEP (Center for Contemporary in Ethics and Politics), the partner institution of ISME.  Dr. Tony Burns is the author of the book Aristotle and Natural Law released this year by Continuum. Dr. Kelvin Knight has also authored and edited books (Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Arsitotle to MacIntyre (2007); Revolutionary Arsitotelianism:  Ethics, Resitance and Utopia (2008); The MacIntyre Reader (1998);  and numerous articles on Alasdair MacIntyre.  Last year, Virtue and Politics: Alasdair MacIntyre’s Revolutionary Aristotelianism, the book he co-ediited with Paul Blackledge was published by University of Notre Dame Press.

The ISME also counts either as officers or members scholars on MacIntyre of significant note among them Peter McMylor (Alasdair MacIntyre: Critic of Modernity, 1993), Christopher Stephen Lutz (Tradition in the Ethics of MacIntyre: Relativism, Thomism and Philosophy, 2004; Reading Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, 2012), Jeffrey Nicholas (Reason, Tradition and the Good: MacIntyre’s Tradition-Constituted Reason and Frankfurt Critical Theory, 2012) etc. All of them were present during the conference and have likewise presented their own papers and participated generously during the discussions.

Although dominated by participants from the UK and the US, there was also ample representation from various parts of the world like Portugal, Turkey, South Africa, Lithuania, Israel, Italy,  Japan, Germany and Middle East. The Philippines and UST were represented at the ISME by yours truly, apparently, for the first time.

My paper presentation was slated on the first day of the conference.  I was on the third batch of concurrent presentors. With me on the same room was Geoff Moore of  Durham Business School, UK who presented his paper on “The Christian Church as a Practice-Institution Combination: An Empirical Exploration of MacIntyre’s Conceptual Framework” and on the other room were Dominic James Burbidge of Oxford University, UK with his paper, “Civic Friendship as the Mechanism for Cooperation in the Polis” and Phillip Devine of Providence College, USA who read his work entitled, “Politics After MacIntyre.”

I received a handful of comments on and suggestions for my paper which I greatly welcomed and appreciated. I took note of those comments and suggestions and intend to use them for the sequel of my paper which I plan to submit to ISME’s conference next year.

The highlights of the conference of course were the plenary sessions where we had a chance to listen to the big names in philosophy in UK such as Dr. Kevin Knight who read his paper on “MacIntyre and Maritain On History and Human Rights”; Mary Midgley (The Ethical Primate, 1994; Utopias, Dolphins and Computers, 1996; Evolution As Religion, 2002; Beast and Man, 2002; The Myths We Live By, 2003; Owl of Minerva; A Memoir, 2005 among others) with her “Ought Humans To Be Immortal” and Dr. Greg Currie (The Nature of Fiction, 1990; Image and Mind: Film, Philosophy and Cognitive Science, 1994; Recreative Minds: Imagination in Philosophy and Psychology, 2003; Arts and Minds, 2004; Narratives and Narrators: A Philosophy of Stories, 2010)  with his controversial discourse, “Is Narrative Good for You?”

The whole experience was definitely worth it, in terms of cultural and philosophical exposure, of establishing network, of representing the country and the UST, of meeting people who previously were mere printed names to me and more importanly, of knowing how much more work do I need to undertake to learn more about philosophy and the thoughts of Alasdair MacIntyre.

Disputatio

Back in the old days, long before basketball and cheerdance competition became university obsessions, there was only a single event which turned up the excitement of most students and professors of the medieval academia.  That event is called disputatio.  Disputatio was an intellectual fest. It was a gathering of professors and students alike and it featured free, uninhibited intellectual exchange on hot topics of the day.  A disputatio was always guided by a quaestio and steered by a master who acted as moderator and intellectual resource. On occasions, a disputatio would adopt a free-wheeling form and students were allowed a no holds barred interaction with their professor, who was usually a magistro, a master, in the university.  Given the enthusiasm, attendance and level of energy that accompanied such event, a disputatio can be said to be the medieval Woodstock of the minds.

Disputatio was one of those novel things which infused vitality into the university as a result of Aristotle’s entry into the academic world.  Aristotle’s emphasis on ratio as a tool towards a discursive approach to knowledge enabled the medieval academics to shift from the traditional commentary on sentences to a new epistemological strategy which allowed them space to trade and examine arguments in the hope of settling a given quaestio. Through the erudite handling of the masters, disputatio proved to be an effective exercise to expand the intellectual horizons of students and professors alike.

St. Thomas Aquinas, during his stint at the University of Paris, was a constant leading participant in such disputatio.  He came to Paris in the year 1251 to begin his preparations for a professorial career in Theology. That time, St. Thomas was being considered to succeed Elias Brunet of Bergerac, himself a successor of Albert the Great, in one of the professorial chairs of the said university. Despite earlier opposition from the seculars and due in no small measure to his exceptional intellectual prowess, St. Thomas was granted the license to teach in 1256 even if he had not reached yet the mandatory age of thirty-five.  As a magister, Aquinas was tasked to lecture on the Bible from 9:00 am to 12 noon and attend to the disputed questions in the afternoon, hence the term disputatio.  A disputatio had two formats, the regular type held once every two weeks and the impromptu session held twice a year, usually during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent, otherwise known as the disputatio de qoudlibet or qoudlibetal disputations. Between the two, it was the latter that drew larger crowd because it was open to the public and members of the audience were given free hand to raise their own questions, any question at all, from a very sublime topic of metaphysics to the tiniest detail of a mundane issue.  St. Thomas was known and revered as one of those who pioneered the use of latter type of disputatio and some of his known works like the treatises on truth, God’s power, the question of evil, soul, virtues and incarnation were actually transcripts of his public address.

St. Thomas was a serious student of Aristotle and a fierce vanguard of ratio as a tool for searching the truth. He in fact wrote no less than twelve commentaries on major works of Aristotle (like Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Physics, Politics, De Anima, De Ceolo)which  were considered by various commentators as works comparable in depth, integrity and scholarship as the Aristotelian sources themselves.  Aristotle stimulated excitement among intellectuals like St. Thomas because as explained by the Dominican author, Thomas O’Meara, “he brought a spirit of criticism over against piety, a realism in the structure of the human personality over against the reduction of faith or grace to signs or stories.” St. Thomas found in Aristotle freedom to explore new frontiers for Christian faith. “Within a freedom of inquiry,” O’Meara continued,  “Aquinas’ career unfolded around his constant and courageous assertion that Christian faith need not fear realistic world-views or sciences.”  Beside the Bible, St. Thomas used Aristotle as his constant reference notwithstanding the fact that he belonged to the Faculty of Theology and not to the Faculty of Arts which had the sole mandate to employ the corpus of the Stagirite in its curricula.

His Aristotelian devotion however was suspected by some colleagues as too avant-garde to fit the doctrinal canons of the Church.  Certain pronouncements of St. Thomas in fact, along with 219 others, were condemned by Bishop Stephen Tempier in 1277, a good three years after his death, all because of their affinity with Aristotelianism. While still alive, St. Thomas was already aware of this predicament but remained undeterred in seeking new expressions and formulating new resolutions for Christian faith with the help of Aristotle and his scheme for rational discourse. He was in constant engagement with those whose opinions were contrary to his –the neo-Platonists, the Averroists, the gentiles – exploring their arguments, clarifying them, detecting both their strong and weak points as he himself tried to fortify his own position in the context of their intellectual contrast. He wanted to spread the light (lumina pandit) not by throwing fireballs or hauling lightning from the sky but by letting it shine on its own through dialogue and reasoned argument.

He was at home with disputatio, had integrity of faith and genuine love for truth and he knew there was much to learn even from those whose judgments he didn’t share. He always believed we can discover truth only if we allow others to help us.

We must indeed guard truth against its greatest threat which after all is not falsehood but our arrogance and conceit which induce us to deprive others their space in what is actually a common enterprise. There is beauty in remembering that truth is a symphony and not a single booming sound that drowns out all other voices. The entire Summa Theologica shows us that.

Such is the legacy of St. Thomas Aquinas, which hopefully is kept in mind by us Thomasians.

Book Review: Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopedia, Genealogy and Tradition by Alasdair MacIntyre (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990), 241pp.

Since its inception in 1888, the Gifford Lectures have established its name as a champion of excellence in research and promoter of philosophical discourse.  The lectures are hosted by four Scottish universities – Aberdeen. Edinburgh, Glasgow and St. Andrews – following the will of Adam Lord Gifford, the originator of the lectures.  Many an illustrious name – William James, Hannah Arendt, Alfred North Whitehead, Jurgen Moltmann, Etienne Gilson and Henri Bergson to name a few – have taken part in this intellectual fest and a number of valuable publications have issued out of the scholarly discourses. Lord Gifford made an initial endowment of £80,000 as a seed fund for what would be carried on as a tradition of public lectures on  the appointed theme of natural theology. Gifford and his colleagues, staunch disciples of the legacy of Enlightenment, wanted to secure reason in its primacy in all the frontiers of human enquiry including what could be the highest object of man’s intellectual pursuit, God.  Natural theology is distinguished from  revealed theology which presupposes the existence of God based on the data provided by the divine revelation. Macintyre’s book, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, is the text of his own Gifford lecture delivered at the Edinburgh University in April and May 1988. It also represents the third part of the triptych which included two other earlier works, After Virtue (University of Notre Dame Press, 1981) and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (University of Notre Dame Press, 1988) where MacIntyre laid down his critique of the crisis that plagues contemporary moral enquiry and his argument for a remedy that he found in Thomistic Aristotelianism.  The term is not a romantic invocation to justify the revival of a bygone hybrid tradition. What MacIntyre did in his lecture was to problematize the tradition which the Gifford Lectures themselves represent and pointed out its inadequacies as a form of moral enquiry.  He called such tradition Encyclopedia, an intellectual movement which traced its origin to the birth of the first encyclopedia produced by Diderot and D’Alembert in the 18th century and whose influence extended up to the heyday of the 19th century, culminating in the publication of the pivotal Ninth Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica whose moral position Lord Adam Gifford and his confreres proudly endorsed. The encyclopedists were sons of the Enlightenment and were firm in their belief in a single, universal rationality that serves as a standard for all cultures and all moral questions. At the other end of the debate is yet another movement which MacIntyre called Genealogy, represented by Nietzsche and his disciples, Foucault and Deleuze. The primary text that contained the genealogists ethical position was no other than Nietzsche’s Zur Genealogie der Moral and their basic presupposition was the complete abandonment of everything the Encyclopedia movement held dear. Nietzsche did not only reject academic lecture and systematization of knowledge as a form of discourse; he outrightly threw out of the window any talk about of ethical standards, claims to truth and rationality.  The two movements, therefore, represented, two extreme positions of the modern moral debate: the Encyclopedia with its dogmatic patronage of a unitary and universal rational standard and the Genealogy with its warrant for freedom any rational or moral standard.  The two movements were saddled by what MacIntyre termed as the problems of incommensurability and untranslability. Moral theorists were divided between their competing claims but they were helpless in the absence of common standards that can be utilized to evaluate them. The positions they made and the problems they raised seemed to be perpetually open-ended.  This is where MacIntyre’s Thomistic Aristotelianism comes in.  Thomistic Aristotelianism speaks of a tradition which provides the absent context and the evaluative standards which can measure the claims of encyclopedists and genealogists.  MacIntyre called the third movement Tradition, which is an admixture of the philosophical theology of Aquinas, the ethics of Aristotle and inputs from the political theory of Marx.  It is Tradition, according to MacIntyre, which will bridge the impasse between the rival moral theories of Encyclopedia and Genealogy and what will make the conversation between them possible.  It is also for the same reason why MacIntyre believes that Thomistic Aristotelianism as a form of critique is not only necessary but also indispensable.

Versions of Philosophy

As it evolves from its Greek origin, philosophy assumes a variety of forms throughout history. These varieties of philosophy are what other textbooks call branches or kinds of philosophy.  For our purpose, we prefer to call them versions of philosophy.  There is only one love of wisdom but there could be different ways by which the same philosophy expresses itself in different  ages and cultures. Even authors vary in the way they present philosophy in its different forms. Sometimes it is labeled according to the nationality or geographical location of certain philosophers (German philosophy, French philosophy, British philosophy, Chinese philosophy, Indian philosophy, Continental philosophy) or according to an identification with a particular period of history (ancient philosophy, medieval philosophy, renaissance philosophy, modern philosophy) or according to affinity with a religious thought (Islamic philosophy, Jewish philosophy, Christian philosophy, Buddhist philosophy, Daoist philosophy).  Philosophy is also identified following the name of the philosopher which espoused a certain system of thought (Thomistic philosophy after Thomas Aquinas; Cartesian philosophy after Rene Descartes; Kantian philosophy after Immanuel Kant; Hegelian philosophy after George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel; Marxist philosophy after Karl Marx among others).  It is also common to name philosophy according to different schools of thought which embody the spirit of the times of different epochs (skepticism, scholasticism, idealism, rationalism, romanticism, materialism, existentialism, modernism, structuralism). Philosophy also sometimes adopts the name of the method or tool it uses as in the case of logic, hermeneutics or analytic philosophy. The most familiar of all philosophy’s names is taken after the subject matter it covers.  Among the popular ones, we have epistemology if it concerns the question of the validity of knowledge; ontology if it concerns the question of the basis of reality; ethics if it concerns the question concerning the basis of human action; aesthetics if it concerns the question concerning the criteria of beauty. When it comes to the question of divinity, philosophy resorts to theodicy or if we turn to politics, we have political philosophy; for issues that concern fundamental questions related to our humanity, we have the philosophy of the human person.  Lately, we one can also hear of philosophy of science and philosophy of mathematics. In other schools here and abroad, one may also find courses on applied philosophy like environmental ethics, business ethics and philosophy of technology.

As one can see, philosophy excludes nothing in its purview.  Philosophy practically embraces the entire landscape of reality. Those who think of philosophy as a stand-alone discipline is gravely mistaken for philosophy’s real worth lies precisely in its ability to embed in other the disciplines the spirit of self-critique and rigorous inquiry. We do not philosophize if we merely subscribe to a particular philosophical doctrine or make ourselves blind disciples of this or that philosopher or worse, if we think and write as though philosophy will cure the ills of the world. The point of discussing the different versions of philosophy is for us to see the range of philosophy’s critical enterprise.  Philosophy has this distinct capacity to push the boundaries of its scope as wide as possible not so much by providing answers to all possible questions but by posing questions which enable it to establish “bridges”, to use the expression of Deleuze, with other disciplines. When philosophy dips its finger into seemingly alien frontiers like economics, quantum physics or biotechnology, it is actually engaging them in a kind of a critical interface in order to bring to the attention of the experts our human concerns. What appears like an interference is actually a necessary engagement which philosophy undertakes as a critical discipline. Philosophy does not compete with other fields of inquiry but puts itself at their service.

This is also the same spirit that we imbibe from studying philosophy. Philosophy introduces us to an interpretive life and makes more intense our yearning for wisdom by inspiring  and teaching us first of all to ask questions. A student of philosophy is a pilgrim and the questions he makes help him identify the landmarks in his map. A question is the first step towards understanding.  It creates the space and sets the condition of possibility for the construction of new meanings. It likewise opens up our sight to the multiplicity of alternative perspectives.  To live therefore an examined or interpreted life which philosophy offers us is to live a meaningful life.  It is to find the world and know it as if we see it for the first time.  We no longer look around us and see a world surrounded by dull figures and bland tones but trees, flowers, sunlight, air, raindrops which speak to us and out of whose language we are able to create meanings that make our lives worth living.  With philosophy, we no longer live inside the cave described by Plato. We become men and women of light, freed from the cave walls where the only images we see are shadows.

 

Learning Western Philosophy at the University of Santo Tomas

As we know, philosophy is Greek by origin.  The word philosophy itself is of Greek pedigree.  The whole Western civilization was born and cradled in Greece and much of the things we now know and see are part of this Greek legacy which the Philippines received by virtue of the Western expansion into our shores in 1521.  We know from our basic world history that Spanish culture, like others in most parts of Europe, was a by-product of Latin culture which is itself a progeny of the Greek culture. Jose Rizal himself, our national hero, was a huge fan of Greek poetry and literature as shown in his winning play El Consejo de los Dioses written in 1879 and awarded grand prize in the 1880-1881 literary contest sponsored by the Liceo Artistico Literario de Manila to commemorate the death of Cervantes.  The said piece, we should remember, was written when Rizal was still student of Ateneo, a school’s name which was taken from the Greek term athenaion (or atheneum in Latin), a temple of Athena, where Greek poets used to gather and read their works in her honor. Other schools which identify themselves as academy or liceo (lyceum) are also using names of Greek vintage.  Academy is a school associated with the Greek philosopher Plato and lyceum takes from the learning hub put up by another Greek philosopher and Plato’s student, Aristotle.  Even the Catholic church to which the majority of Filipinos belong is a beneficiary of Greek thinking.  St. Thomas Aquinas, the scholarly patron of the university, nourished himself from the genius of the ancient Greek intellectual giants.

When we use the term philosophy therefore, we have in mind Western philosophy, the kind of philosophy we inherited from the Greeks.  We need to use the qualification “western” in order to distinguish it from another breed of philosophy called “eastern” philosophy which is a way of thinking that germinate not from the West but in places like Asia, India and the Middle East.  Unlike its counterpart in the West, Eastern philosophy developed through closer kinship to religion and ethical life. It does not rely on heavy intellectualization and is given more to poetry and cultivation of a life lived according to an enlightened way.  The Western tradition however banks strongly on abstraction and chasing after ideas, which invariably are also referred to as form, theory, concept, or first principle or universals. Whereas the West emphasizes “grasping” of an idea, the East underscores “surrender.”  While the West puts premium on the mind, the East pays more attention to the heart. The West takes pride in being logical; the East finds pleasure in being spiritual. It may even be said that while for the West philosophy is love of wisdom, for the East it is more like the wisdom of love.

This is not to say that philosophy can be dissected into regions or geographic locations. In a school setting, the distinction between East and West is suggested merely as guide for academic discussion.  One thing we must emphasize about philosophy is its being universal, that is, it is something that is common and shared by all.  The desire to know belongs to us all as human persons , says Aristotle. That is one thing that binds us as members of one human community.  To promote philosophy therefore is to enhance appreciation of this natural patrimony of our common humanity.  The line drawn between the East and the West is purely a pedagogical tool.  Deep down, whether the person is Eastern or Western, as long as there is genuine desire to know and dialogue, there is philosophy in action.

The decision to begin our study of philosophy from the Western tradition is not arbitrary.  It is not even a decision for us to make. As suggested earlier, by virtue of our conquest, we were annexed by the Western powers around 1521 and since then, became more kindred to their influence instead of our Oriental and Malayan roots. Western philosophy is part of our endowment as members of a University founded on humanistic aspirations.  The figures that stand on the precipice of the Main Building testify to this.  The goal of studying philosophy is not really to make us philosophers or philosophy majors much less clones of the leading figures of Western philosophy but to make us philosophical, that is, to make us active shareholders and able participants in the creation, protection and cultivation of the common heritage of values, attitudes and beliefs that affirm our common humanity.  Such common heritage is what we call wisdom.  At the end of the day, it does not really matter whether one begins from the East or from the West because genuine philosophy always leads one to a path that meets the other. We seek and name it in different ways but deep down, true wisdom is one.