...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

I could go on and on and on...

If my brain absorbs like a sponge, then that also explains why I forget just as fast as I take up.

In one of the earlier Sherlock Holmes adventures, the new flatmate Dr. Watson, was shocked to discover that Holmes, who could tell where a man had been in London by looking at the mud stains on one's shoes, was totally ignorant of the fact that the earth revolved around the sun. In defense, Holmes replied that the brain was like an attic: it had limited space and its walls weren't elastic. In order to have space for information of interest to him, he said, the useless data – including the fact that the earth revolved around the sun – simply had to go.

Though not exactly compatible to the new brain theories (which say that stimulated brains make new neuron connections throughout life), I sometimes use this story to my own defense when someone asks me a philosophy question whose answer I vaguely remember learning but apparently don't really know. No, I'm not dumb; I'm just over-stimulated!

Take today. Marcus, who is studying to become a philosophy- and environmental science teacher at gymnasiet, is correcting a bunch of papers on Plato and Aristotle. Looking to me for a rewarding discussion on this topic (more specifically the theories of knowledge put forth by the two said Greeks), I find myself with nothing to say. Really, do any of you (i.e. Philosophy major friends) remember what Plato's three conditions for knowledge were? Can you name three differences between the Platonic and Aristotelian theories of knowledge? Did we study this at all? Did I really graduate with a degree in Philosophy or did I just dream that? Or maybe I just plain forgot.


Anyway, after browsing through my Metaphysics and Ethics notes – I kept them on a back-up CD which I brought with me here – I realized that my ignorance on these topics may not even be my fault. It occurred to me how little I actually know of the Greeks for real. For example, I found out that all we ever learned in metaphysics were actually just Fr. Clark's own Christian interpretations of Plato and Aristotle, geared towards convincing us juniors of God's existence (and furthermore, goodness). Then, in discussing Plato and Aristotle in Ethics class, the teacher presented them in such a way that they seemed to be mere precursors to St. Thomas Aquinas' own godly morality. Their thoughts in turn were reduced to Christian terms, similar to how Catholic bishops would have interpreted them in the medieval-age councils. So in the end, I can't say that I know anything Plato's or Aristotle's philosophy at all except those things (mere useful details, actually) that were seen compatible to the university's Catholic propaganda! Outrageous!

Where's the objectivity in this? Do universities nowadays still have problems teaching "pagan" philosophy, unless they're made palatable to the Christian taste? No wonder we were never taught any real problems regarding moral relativism (of the kind they livelily discuss in European countries, for example when they face clashes between their laws and the traditions of immigrant cultures). Discussions on relativism, in the homogeneous Christian Philippines, were simply reduced to: "values are the same behind different practices, therefore there is a god". I might as well have had a degree in being a Christian apologist.

Okay, I digress. But then, the more I think of it, the more I doubt if I can ever go back working in a Catholic university. I don't understand how today we can still consider our philosophical task to be "aiding theology" (as Aquinas was said to have pointed out) when in fact, the lack of critical thinking in the Philippines – of politicians who battle to win the favor of religious groups so that they can win the vote, of people who have double morals about controversial issues, of senators who determine weather bills are to be passed or not based on their potential to displeasure the bishops – is in part because of our own brand of Christian fundamentalism.

I'm not saying that Sweden, though secular, lack politicians who also try to push their own moral stance on others (famous is one sports minister who banned professional boxing because of its immoral character). In comparison though, I sometimes think that the religiosity in the Philippines is bordering on the medieval.

Oh yeah, I'm now reading about Plato and Aristotle's theories of knowledge, and no, we didn't study them after all. I feel cheated.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Plato learns from above (Doctrine of Ideas) and Aristotle learns from below.

Can't really blame Ateneo because it is, after all, a Catholic University, which is an oxymoron, don't you think? But I don't think all our Philo classes were geared towards the idea of Philo being the handmaid of Theo. Philos of Language and Science weren't. So was Epis, though I really wished we had more time for Epis. Most of our teachers maybe. Hehe.

Funny but I also forget some of our lessons. What stuck with me though were the insights and the pangarals, especially the ones from Padre. And I also read books of philosophers that weren't taken up by some classes I took. And I find it interesting that various philosophers I read all teach us one thing. No, not that there's a God. Hehe. They all point to the idea that each one of us should live to our fullest, to our potential.

10:38 PM

Blogger aka Cheryl said...

adding wood to the fire... i only had one philo class in college (introduction to philosophy) and i don't remember anything from it except that there were no attempts to connect philosophy to christianity. the same could be said about my social science class where we had more in-depth discussions on different philosophical thoughts throughout the ages. i guess what i'm saying is like the comment above said, the religious slant comes with the territory, the same way that most teachers in UP try to keep discussions secular. :)

7:06 PM

Blogger Lawrence Santiago said...

joy! im back to blogworld. link me ok?

ill do some more tsismis in my blog soon!

link me:


5:22 AM

Blogger Lawrence Santiago said...

hey joy! im blagging...medyo seryoso now, pero ill be in tsismis mood soon.


5:23 AM

Blogger hoy nene! said...

The points you've been making are similar to the constant complaints of Fr David about our diminished concentration on Greek philosophy. Personally I don't see any inherent conflict between teaching philosophy in a Catholic university; it just so happens that we're talking about this particular university. :) While it IS true that there are a number of (shamefully large) gaps in our philosophy education, it doesn't seem to me like an act of propaganda/brainwashing that the department focused especially on theological philosophy -- and on continental philosophy too (Why was there no stress on political philosophy? Why are there only two undergraduate courses on "Asian" philosophy, itself a Western categorization?). To my mind, the emphasis on Aquinas, medieval philo, etc. is the same as football's emphasis on kicking (as opposed to basketball's emphasis on dribbling. In other words, teaching philosophy and theology side by side is concurrent with the "game" of the Philo dept, as is the game of the entire school. Labo ba? Hehe.

Another factor to consider in critiquing the theological bent of many Philo undergrad courses (the grad courses, as you know, are a little more varied) is the whole question of CANON to begin with -- who should and shouldn't be studied. Sure, Plato and Aristotle are necessary. But again, philosophy itself is not a purely "objective" realm, being dominated by white, male, Western figures. In the case of the Philo dept, it's a field of study dedicated to continental, Christian existentialist philo -- Heidegger, Levinas, etc.

I see no real hindrance to expanding the department's approaches to "pagan" philosophy (and feminism, and postmodernism, and other disciplines and branches that are far from theological AND traditionally "philo" in nature). We just need PEOPLE to stand for and teach it! So my dear, your indignance would actually make you a vital addition to a Catholic university. :)

4:47 AM

Blogger Carlo said...

For one whole semester I sat in Fr. David's Ancient Philo class. I forced myself to read the whole of The Republic (required reading even for "guests" like me) and, at the time, was so glad I did. I never touched my photocopied Nicomachean Ethics because I got lazy (Katamaran 1, 2 and 3, anyone?) but I took a lot of notes during those 2-hour discussions/monologues. I don't remember a single thing from The Republic but I will never forget how Fr. David would say things like "Your role as young philosophers is to DEMOLISH the thesis that we're all soft and cuddly inside!" and "Bathsheba is a vixen!"

Obviously, I was a really lousy, phony student, hahahaha!

3:26 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Hi everyone! Wow, so many comments when I rant about Philosophy! Hahah :-)

I agree with you. I guess it partly depends on the fact that Ateneo is a Catholic university (it's their "game"), and partly depends on which teachers I chose (who stand for certain ideas). I actually did choose to study Philosophy at Ateneo (because I was too afraid, for some reason I don't know, to study Philosophy in U.P.), and I did choose Fr. Que over David (because I was afraid of him too, for some reason)... In the end, I only do get what I choose. Tsk. Not that it was entirely bad though.

3:36 PM


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