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We shouldn’t let philosophy die in Uganda

One of the oldest disciplines in formal education is philosophy. Most other disciplines are known to have been birthed by philosophy.

It is partly in recognition/acknowledgement of the fact that philosophy constitutes the zenith of knowledge that the highest degree in any field is a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD - Philosophiae Doctor) as an attestation to the most basic definition of philosophy - ‘love of wisdom’.

Most universities now actually require that, at PhD level, students from all disciplines take courses on philosophy of science in order to ground themselves in some of the most fundamental principles of being/reality, knowing, and method.

Early Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle are known to have delved into subjects that literally traverse most disciplines. Aristotle, for instance, wrote on logic, politics, physics, botany, ethics, psychology, etc.

The same is seen in Plato’s works. Thus, the twentieth century philosopher Alfred North Whitehead was sent into concluding that the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.

Of course this has raised doubts from scholars such as John Henrik Clarke, Yozef Ben-Jochannan, and especially George James of the famous ‘Stolen Legacy’ who argues that most of what is attributed to Greek philosophers was in fact stolen from Egypt. I will reserve that passionate subject for another day.

For most disciplines emergent from philosophy, the umbilical cord has not yet been cut. That is why we still have subjects such as philosophy of religion, philosophy of economics, philosophy of development, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of law, and so on.

Mainstream philosophy has been left with sub-disciplines such as ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, logic, cosmology, philosophical anthropology, axiology, continental philosophies, theodicy, political philosophy, and epoch histories.

Whereas it doesn’t necessarily follow, all these are crucial in cultivating critical thinking skills and enhancing imaginative capabilities that are very important in facing everyday questions and dilemmas.

Among the first things we were taught in philosophy is to never take anything for granted and to constantly ask ‘why’ – to search for ultimate explanations of things.

This exercise is a sine qua non for both personal and societal development. For, as Socrates puts it, ‘an unexamined life is not worth living’.

Whereas practical skills are very important, I think that the most critical element of education is to teach one to think independently and to be able to question things. Education should not be exclusively aimed at making a living; it should also be about opening our minds to be able to face life questions.

Imparting skills that are specifically meant to do a particular job, as is the major preoccupation of our education system, could be counterproductive in the long run. What happens when the jobs we are trained for change, which is an increasingly real phenomenon in our fast-changing world?

We have privileged natural sciences while underrating humanities, and by so doing, we create imbalances in disposition among the products of our education system.

It is rather absurd that one of the consequences of our particularistic job-oriented education has been the killing of disciplines such as philosophy. The question is always: what will you do with a degree in philosophy?

It has been said that ‘philosophy bakes no bread’. But, as Professor Olu-Owolabi Kalawole has said in ‘My people perish for lack of philosophy’, “behind the processes of bread baking… is the mind of a thinker who conceived the very act of bread production …, though the connection between the two may be so remote as not to be easily discernible”.

There is a pervasive misconception by which philosophy is understood to be an exercise of abstraction and hair splitting not concerned about real-life issues. Thus people like William James have said “there is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers”.

Whereas this can be said of some philosophers’ works, it’s blatantly false as a generalisation. Works of many philosophers have informed ideology, socio-political trends, and policy in so many ways.

Consider works of Karl Marx, Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, John Dewey, John Stuart Mill, Kwame Nkrumah, Leopold Senghor, Julius Nyerere, and many others.

It is, therefore, painful to watch philosophy as a discipline die in Uganda because it is judged with a capitalistic mindset and misunderstood.

Apart from major seminaries, Makerere is the only university that teaches philosophy in Uganda. Yet even here it’s only a track in the arts, not an independent discipline! And whereas it is only taught there, the numbers of students taking it always tend to be the smallest – worse at master’s level!

Partly, as a means of survival in a hostile environment, the philosophy department has resorted to coming up with interdisciplinary courses that blend philosophical disciplines with other practice-oriented fields.

But these usually die in their infancy, often hit by the axe of reform in opportunistic response to government’s hostility towards the arts and humanities.

As some have argued, Uganda’s philosophers certainly have a duty to demonstrate the relevance of philosophy through their own outputs and public engagement.

When debates like that on homosexuality are raging in the country, the voice of Uganda’s moral philosophers should be heard in critical distinction from the emotive sentiments that often fly around.

It is this way that philosophers such as Noam Chomsky, Achille Mbembe, Odera Oruka, Martha Nussbaum, Peter Singer, Michel Foucault, Michael Sandel, Jurgen Habermas, and others, have marketed the discipline. On some occasions, this has happened even in Uganda, but considerably less than it should be.

I am not suggesting that everyone studies philosophy, but that the discipline deserves more attention and promotion. It would also be a good idea that subjects such as critical thinking and ethics cut across all disciplines.  

The author heads the Center for African Studies at Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi.


0 #31 Hoi 2017-11-08 16:32
Julius O- A columnist is, by definition, a journalist. Therefore conducting interviews, of human sources, is a crucial aspect of what they ought to do.

To avoid using human sources is to fall into the danger of fabrication and irrelevance.

Journalism is not about telling readers how you feel or wish the world to be. That, as I said, is for bloggers, or for teenage beauty magazine writers. 'How to tell if he is into you', etc.

Journalism is the skill of telling readers about how the world is, today, based on credible sources of information that have been carefully analyzed, verified, that are well assembled into digestible components, and that are well presented. I hope that is a good 'crush' course for you.

As you can conclude from the above, you could never be a journalist, because you habitually invent your own reality, and you can't spell.
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0 #32 Julius O 2017-11-08 17:20
Hoi, this cherry picking is not going to help you understand Philosophy and what it does.

Randomly googling philosophical tenets to irrelevantly throw around is shaming you the more.

It is clearly written on the wall that you have no clue what philosophy is about.

Dr Spire you are deludedly trying to advise on the subject is a Doctor of Philosophy. He must be somewhere laughing as you expose your terrible ignorance of the discipline. Help yourself boy, you need education
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0 #33 Hoi 2017-11-09 19:20
Julius O - You speak about yourself when it comes to randomly googling.

It is one of the mysteries about men that often they accuse others of the very crimes they have committed. It is called 'projecting'.

My quote comes from a book I bought and read two years ago and which sits on my book shelf.

The difference being that I buy and read, whilst you pretend to understand things you never invested in. Typical of the so called 'middle class'.

The reason I lambast Spire, often, is because he panders to hypocrites like you, people who think philosophy 'does' something. Could you be any more coarse?
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0 #34 Hoi 2017-11-09 19:42
When writers like Spire finally understand that the future of Uganda is about the young and the poor, who are the majority, only then will they will stand a chance at becoming great journalists.

But to waste an entire article seeking out philosophers among the damned is symptomatic of an intelligentsia that is out of touch with reality.

The likes of Julius O are the vocal remnants, the waste by-products, of a failed state, philosophically speaking!
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0 #35 Opolot 2017-11-10 16:09
HOI, it is written all over that you have no clue what Philosophy is. If you can't tell that Philosophy has been used to liberate the poor and to speak to youths!

Why did Fanon philosophise? Did Museveni use Fanon's ideas? Why did Marx philosophise?

Did Lenin and other communists use his ideas to liberate workers? Why did Nyerere philosophise about Ujamaa? You are simply exposing your academic mediocrity.

You attack all that point out the weaknesses of this Govt, not only Spire. You are all over showcasing your sycophancy
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