Monday, 19 March 2012 02:03

Is Western Philosophy Useful For Africans?

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Recently, I revisited Western philosophy. I said revisited for as a school boy I was interested in it and studied it but as an adult have had little to do with it. I revisited it and read some of it to see if it would make sense to me. What I found is that though I could allow myself to get lost reading Western philosophical categories when I put a little distance between what I read and think about it I see no use for it.

Honestly, I do not see the utility of much of Western philosophy. To me, it seems like so much waste of time, time that one cannot afford to waste. Read Kant or Hegel. Now, close their books and ask: what are they for?  Do they help folk make a living in this world? Do they help folk put food on the table?  Of course not. They are mere flight into the world of the abstract; as it were, they are an escape from the real world.

Is Western philosophy useful for anything? How is the West putting them to some kind of use? I do not see where they have been put to some kind of use by Westerners.

The philosophers of science, such as Francis Bacon, Auguste Comte, and David Hume etc were somewhat useful in insisting that folk embrace the scientific methodological approach to phenomena. It is useful that folk be reminded that whereas it is sentimental to talk about God and his heaven that in the here and now world they must understand their world and do what enables them to adapt to it.

Science enables us to understand how the material universe works, and applied science, technology, enables us to use what we have learned from how the world works to devise instruments that enable us adapt effectively to our world.  This is good.

I appreciate the philosophers of science. But they are secondary. They are not scientists themselves. No philosophizing on science equals doing science. Real scientists like Isaac Newton, Max Plank, Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr etc are the ones who actually teach us how the world works, and real technologists, such as Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are the ones who actually put the findings of science to practical use hence benefit the masses of the people.

Philosophers of science do not put bread on any ones table, though they indirectly do so by emphasizing the need to study science.

We live in an age where Nietzsche said that God is dead (which presumes that he once lived).  The god hypothesis is untenable, certainly not to any one with education in the sciences (physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics). It is difficult to accept the idea of god, certainly not as espoused by traditional religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Yet science cannot tell us whether there is anything before the Big Bang and whether there is anything after the Big Chill or is it Big Collapse; science cannot tell us what happens after the world ends.

Is the end of physical phenomena the end of being? Are we finished when we die and exit this world? Science does not have the answer for us. But human beings want to know whether there is life after death. Therefore, there must be some kind of answers for people. It is here that I find the writings of such existentialists’ philosophers as Karl Jaspers useful.

Jaspers accepted the scientific method and empiricism in general. However, he understood that atheism, which would seem a logical response to science, is not enough. Yes, all that we seem able to know for certain is about matter; we do not seem able to understand anything outside matter. Be that as it may, human beings seem to desire something more than matter in their lives.

People desire a life that transcends matter. But since they cannot come up with rational explanations of what transcends matter, they have to do what Kierkegaard suggested: make a leap of faith and accept that there is God or whatever it is called that exists outside matter.

Pure reason, as Kant correctly pointed out, cannot explicate God and there is no use even trying; folk just have to accept that there is God or satisfy themselves with atheism (which is really a religion, a faith since it assumes that the person knows what he does not know, what comes after we die).

Western philosophy, in general, cannot give folk meaning and purpose for living. I therefore do not see how it can be of much help to Africans.

Africans are currently engrossed in the struggle for physical survival, in a struggle to irk out a miserable living and do not have the time to waste on abstract philosophizing that does not enable them to survive.

What Africans need is science and technology. Africans need to study physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics and their applied forms. Those are what would enable them to cope with the exigencies of their world. They do not have the luxury to sit around and contemplate their navels, as Western philosophers often do.

Yet Africans have a need to believe in a force that transcends their immediate world. Since their traditional religions and religion in general cannot help them understand that transcendent force, it would seem that philosophy would be a place they should look to for answers.

But as I have pointed out, Western philosophy is not the right place to look to for existential and phenomenological answers.

Actually, Africans could look to the East, to Hinduism and Buddhism for help, for those two religions contains amazingly useful insights into the human condition and the possibility of life after death.

However, as an African I know that I cannot dislodge from one foreign religion (in my own case, Catholicism) and embrace another (such as Hinduism).

Africans do not have to accept other people’s religions. What they need to do is look at their own religions and other peoples religions and synthesize what is good in both of them into a new religion, one that serves their needs in what William James would call pragmatic manner.

I have done something of that sort. In various writings I posited what amounts to religious syncretism, a synthesis of many religions and philosophies into a new religion to serve me. That writing took thousands of pages to cover. Let me try to summarize it in less than three pages.

A STORY OF CREATION AND METAPHYSICS

I believe that in the beginning all selves were unified as one self. There was only one self. That self is one and simultaneously infinite in numbers.

If you choose to call that one self a name, though it is nameless, for to name something is to limit it, that one self is limitless, then call it God. I choose to call it Unified Spirit Self. Unified spirit is one and infinite in numbers.

One self extended itself into many selves and all of them remain one shared self. That one self is its many selves and its many selves are it.

If you like to anthropomorphize this reality, you can say that God is in his children and his children are in him. Where God ends and his children begin is nowhere. There’s no space and gap between God and his children and between one child of God and another. All selves in the world of God share one unified self.

In this state of union there is no subject and object, no I and you, no I and other selves this is the state of eternity aka heaven.

Heaven is unified state. Unified state must by logical necessity be eternal, immortal, permanent, changeless and all knowing. God and his children, in their formless, unified state, are eternal and all knowing; they are the opposite of our separated, multiplicity oriented world.

At some point, a point that has not occurred, the parts of God, who are God, decided to separate from him. As it were, God decided not to be God.

It is impossible for the children of God to separate from him. Separation is impossible. If it were possible for the parts to separate from the whole, for the children of God to separate from him all of them would stop existing.

For God, as a father, a creator, to exist he must have children; for the children of God to exist they must have a father. Fatherhood makes God, God; Son-ship makes the children of God the children of God.

A father cannot exist without having children and children cannot exist without having a father.

The children of God could not separate from him. What cannot be accomplished in reality, however, can be dreamed of. Thus, the children of God dreamed that they are separated from each other and from their father.

Another way of putting it is that God dreamed that he is not God. (In Hinduism it is said that Brahman went to sleep and dreamed that he is separated from his parts, Atmans; Brahman’s dream is this world.)

The children of God dream that they are separated from God and from each other. They dream the opposite of God, the opposite of heavenly reality.

Their dream of the opposite of heaven is this world. This world is the opposite of heaven, the opposite of God and his unified children.

This world is a place of separation and differences; heaven is a place of union, sameness and equality.

This world is a place folk come to live for a while and then die. Heaven is a place of immortality.

Heaven is love; this world is a place of hate.

People came to this world to live in bodies for bodies give them a feeling of separation from God.

Matter, that is body, space and time are means of making separation seem real.  People came here to seem special, to seem superior to each other and to seem to have created themselves, created each other and created their creator God.

As it were, the sons of God wanted to kill their father and usurp his creatorship throne and create him and create each other.

It is impossible for the son to create his father though he can and does create his own children. He creates with the power of his father, God in him but by himself he cannot create, cannot do anything.

The world is a dream, an illusion. In it the dreamers believe that it is real. But when they wake up from it they realize that the world is not real. While dreaming they remain in heaven, as God created them, unified self, formless self.

(Needless to say that the above story of creation is a myth; it is a metaphorical representation of what probably happened to bring this world into being. Metaphors are not what they represent. I do not pretend to have told the truth. What is the truth? Do you know?)

THE GOAL OF MEDITATION

How can we know that this world is a dream? The children of God can try meditation?

In meditation, as Hinduism and Buddhism suggested, they attempt negating the categories of this world. They deny any concepts that they formulated in this world.

Neti, Neti, not this, not this, nothing they can say in this world is reality as God created it. Whatever we know in this world is dream knowing, not true knowledge. We must therefore tune out this world to be able to glean insight into the real world.

The meditating person rejects his thought and all ideas that enter his ego, separated conscious mind. He tries to remain quiet.

It is difficult to attain inner peace, for the ego and its categories always intrude into our minds. But one must try and negate the ego itself.

One must tell ones self that one is not an ego, separated self, that one is not ones body, that one does not know who one is and does not know who other people are and does not know what anything is or means.

One tries to remain silently. In Buddhism this is called emptying the mind of all ideas of the ego self and its thinking. One tries to be a void. One sweeps ones mind clean of all ego categories.

If one succeeds and attains inner peace one suddenly feels like one is dying. One may panic, for one does not want to die.

One must resist this terror from ego death and persist and die to the ego. It is when we die to the ego, separated self that we regain awareness of our true self, the unified spirit self, a formless self, a self that is all selves.

Unified spirit self is, as William James noted in his book, Varieties of Religious Experience, and Evelyn Underhill observed in her book, Mysticism, ineffable and cannot be explained in our human ego based language.

Language was evolved to adapt to the world of separated selves. There is no need for language in the world of union. In heaven there is no separation hence no perception of self and no self; there is only knowledge.

In heaven what is known is that all selves share one self, all selves are part of God self. God is everything and everything is God and we are part of that unified self.   Religionists call that unified self God.

I cannot explain God any more than I have done. All I want to say is that there is another reality other than matter, space and time.

This doesn’t mean that we should not pay attention to the needs of matter. As long as we live in bodies, in separated ego states, we must study matter, space and time, that is, we must study science.  We must understand the world on its own terms and design technologies to adapt to it.

However, while doing so, we must remember that we are aliens in this world; we came from a non-material world. We are spirit having physical experience.

There is no reason why we should not have the earthly experience; in fact, we ought to have it. God permits his children to sleep and dream that they are separated from him. There is no harm in sleeping and dreaming; dreams do not alter reality. But we ought to have happily dreams.

Helen Schucman, in her book, A course in miracles, says, and I agree with her, that happy dreams lie in recognizing that we are all the children of one family; we are the children of one father, God, and, as such, ought to love, care and help one another.

A course in miracles explicates the nature of forgiveness; it sees forgiveness as overlooking the separated self, the ego and its world of separation, so as to return to the world of union. It talked about forgiveness been defenselessness. We are not the bodies we identify with, therefore, when our bodies are attacked we should not defend it, as Jesus did not do, so as to die to the awareness of ego and body and return to the awareness of unified spirit self.

It is probably correct that if we do not defend the ego, its body and its world, if we forgive those who attack us, we die to the ego and body and resurrect in spirit.

Jesus did that and resurrected in spirit. However, most of us do not want to die to the ego and its house, the human body, not yet, anyway. Therefore, it is not possible to practice the radical forgiveness that a course in miracles teaches.

If you forgive the evil doer all you have done is allow him to go ahead and commit more evil. Your forgiveness does not prevent him from committing more acts of evil. If you forgive a pedophile and let him walk the streets all you have done is give him permission to rape other children, in which case you are now a party in child abuse. Therefore, blanket forgiveness is not practicable in this world; evil persons ought to be arrested and punished.

What those who live in this world can do is consciously work for our mutual interests. As Alfred Adler pointed out in his Individual psychology, we ought to serve our mutual social interests.

The reality of this world requires punishing those who attack us, evil persons (even if it is true that no one can attack us without our wishing to experience attack; may be the child asked the pedophile to do what he did, rape him or her, but the pedophile could have resisted doing so; because he did so he exercised judgment, freewill and therefore ought to be punished for inflicting pain on the child).

It is true that forgiveness takes us out of this world but in as much we want to live in this world we cannot practice the radical forgiveness that Helen Schucman teaches in her a course in miracles.

Our world is as Thomas Hobbes described it in his Leviathan: a place where self interested persons pursue their goals and in the process harm other people. We must have governments to make sure that individuals in pursuing what is good for them do not harm other people. Organized society requires having laws that punish the antisocial person.

In conclusion, I do not see the utility of much of Western philosophy (though the philosophy of science is certainly worth reading).

I would not encourage an African to waste his time studying Western philosophy. I would rather Africans studied pure and applied science. Science has a philosophy hence it seems useful to study those aspects of philosophy that justify the scientific methodological approach to phenomena.

Africans need religion. That religion must be pragmatic, that is, must be demonstrably useful to them. Africans need science and technology. That science and technology must enable them make the most of their world, that is, must be useful.

If Philosophy figures out a way to make itself useful, to enable folk to adapt to the exigencies of their world, I say study it, but if it is mere abstraction, escape from harsh reality, I say ignore it.

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: ozodiosuji@gmail.com (907) 310-8176