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     Volume 2 Issue 55 | February 10 , 2008|


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Philosophy of Life, Philosophy for Life

When the first cave-man in prehistoric gloom looked at the vast sky in utter surprise and wondered aloud, “What is my position in the vastness,” philosophy forthwith bloomed into existence. His surprise was supplemented by other questions like “What is this vastness that I see around? Where have I come from and where shall I go to? Why am I in the place where I am now?” All these questions made him meditate, turning him into a philosopher. Philosophy is basically asking questions about life and seeking answer to those questions. It is the result of human quest for the meaning of life. It primarily springs from the curiosity of mind and leads to the acquisition of knowledge. The progress of human society through the creation of newer and higher civilisations largely hinges upon the intellectual pursuit pertaining to the fundamental questions of life. Philosophy encompasses all aspects of life, making it possible for the Homo sapiens to move to the way of enlightenment, spiritually or materially.

All individuals have their own philosophy of life, though they may not be conscious of it. Philosophy constitutes the vision of the individuals by means of which they look around the world, and on the basis of which they conduct their life. All their actions reflect their philosophy. People may be progressive-minded or conservative, modern or old-fashioned, benevolent or malevolent. These characteristics come from their philosophy of life. In what way people will get along is dependent on how they view the world. The world-view grows in an individual naturally and spontaneously in interaction with the environment. Moral philosophy in particular gives an individual the sense of good and evil.

It makes him/her the hater or lover of something, the killer or saver of somebody. Weakness in moral philosophy may lead one to be a destructive force in society. On the other hand, sound moral philosophy makes one the agent of welfare.

Every subject as taught in institutions and exercised in social life has a philosophy. There is philosophy of science, arts and commerce. There is philosophy of politics, history and education. There is philosophy of ethics and aesthetics. Nothing in life and society runs without philosophy. Philosophy is the theoretical vigour with which a subject works. It builds and bolsters the very foundation of a subject. It is in this sense that a successful researcher in any subject is given a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) or MPhil (Master of Philosophy) degree. The more deeply a subject is studied, the better philosophy is met. In the process philosophy has contributed mightily to the advances of knowledge on all fronts towards greater understanding of the world, visible or invisible, tangible or intangible.

The first attempt of the primitive men to explain life resulted in spiritualism. As they felt they could bring about change with their efforts in the environment they lived in, they tried to figure out the root cause of all changes in the world. They imagined the role of some hidden power who might work behind the screen. It was realised as spirit. They discovered such spirit behind every natural phenomenon. They found spirits behind rain, storm, sea, river, mountain, tree, sun and moon. They tried to appease them with offerings, even in sacrifice. After many years of recurrence, the practices took the form of culture. In developed cultures, people could think of one super spirit instead of multitude of them, for the first time feeling the existence of God-like entity. Some people even felt the existence of spirit inside themselves, which they called souls. Souls were either thought to be part of the superpower or somehow created by it. As these thoughts were institutionalised, they gave rise to religion. Therefore for their emergence and development, all the religions of the world are indebted entirely to philosophy -- pondering of the wondering minds.

The philosophy in the spiritualistic line developed from totemism through animism to polytheism and monotheism. The theistic philosophy has other brands like pantheism (the idea that God is identical with the material universe) and panentheism (belief that God exists within everything). An offshoot of spiritualistic philosophy is mysticism, which stresses the need of uniting the human soul with God. Throughout history spiritualism dominated enormously with the active support of religious and political institutions. Human frailty has also sought to take shelter in the omnipotence of omnipresent spiritual entity. This trend always contradicted the scientific inclination. On the one side it has given comfort in human sorrow, but on the other it has pulled the progressing minds backwards.

Philosophy has inspired men to explain the world mechanically, engaging them in scientific investigation and technological innovation. So our science and technology has come as a consequence of human endeavour to take the world in their own hand. The wise men strode forward with courage and determination to create biology, physics, chemistry and other basic sciences, violating scriptures.

Biology has got ramifications through botany, zoology, genetics and other specific sciences. Physics has developed through computer science, telecommunication, architecture, aeronautics, robotics, nuclear technology etc. Chemistry has helped develop chemical and medical sciences and related industries, immensely contributing to the longevity and grooming of population on earth. Man is now peeping into the deepest sea and ascending to the highest peak. They are now exploring, beyond the earth sky, the planets in the solar systems with space shuttles and far-off galaxies with the aid of telescopes. The development of astronomy is pushing man towards the outer space, to be alien in a sense. This may one day lead to the human conquest of the whole universe.

It is all philosophy which has worked through the minds of great scientists. Sciences (in particular, natural sciences) are founded on what is called empiricism, which accepts observation and experimentation as methods to arrive at conclusive decisions. Throwing a challenge to spiritualism, it has diverted attention from the invisible to the visible, from the inward to the outward, from the heaven to the earth. There were hurdles, and still there are, yet men have been successful to a great measure in their mission to face reality with their own strength. However, the great apparition still haunts the castle of science. Mechanism is trampled by teleology, as at times it becomes evident in cosmological theorisation. Some scientists find a purpose of life and functioning of the universe. They find the imprint of some intelligent design in the cosmos, which is close to religious creationism. Such attempts however often results in pseudo-science instead of pure science. In their hands, physics is transformed into metaphysics and astronomy into astrology.

Social sciences have also been influenced by empiricism. The introspective and subjective methods were shunned in favour of more rigorous scientifically oriented analyses. The upshot was logical positivism, which totally changed the character of psychological and social studies, of course, enhancing their prestige as academic disciplines. Psychology looked into the structure and function of brain, holding affinity with neurology and brain science. Laboratory experiments got importance and objective judgements were used for understanding mental phenomena. The so-called mind was dazzled and soul fled from the dark house as the neurons flashed their electronic sword inside the brain. In sociology survey and statistics were given respectable place.

In linguistics, the change surfaced with the adoption of behaviourism as its philosophical foundation. Pavlovian theory of conditioning gave the linguists an apparatus to explain language as verbal behaviour. Stimulus-response mechanism provided an explanatory stimulation with the concept of reinforcement for habit formation. Language became more human than divine, finding a solid logical footing. Recent linguistics, however, has come up to embrace other tendencies. Rationalism has been in vogue to explain children's amazing language learning capacity. The social aspect of language has also been emphasised with the theories of discourse analysis, speech act, presupposition and implicature.

East and west demonstrate a stark contrast in philosophical trends. Eastern philosophy is branded as spiritual and mystic and Western as materialist. Though it is not entirely true, it has been believed by many. The misconception grew out of superficial study of Eastern thoughts. Indian philosophy under the shadow of Aryan and Dravidian religions showed an orientation towards spiritualism, as evident in Nyaya, Vaisesika, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva-mimamsa, and Vedanta schools of philosophy. Sankaracharja and Ramanuja were great Indian philosophers who provided spiritual explanations of the world. Other philosophers like Guru Nanak, Mahavira and Goutam Buddha were spiritual leaders who preached their own religions. Buddhism negates the existence of any god-like entity, coming very close to materialism. But it is still introspective and meditative in its emphasis. But there was a genuine materialist school in India -- i.e. Charvaka philosophy. The Charvakas did not believe in any god and used to explain the world with natural forces. They even emphasised the material gains in worldly life, albeit it entailed immorality. Charvakism could not survive in the wake of spiritualism which was actively supported by the ruling communities.

Because of this spiritual bias, Eastern philosophy could not develop science and technology. Empirical study was grossly neglected, giving blind support to whatever consistent with their religious ideology.

Some might argue that the Indians attained excellence in mathematics and cosmology, but those were driven by sheer mysticism. Mathematics was akin to symbolism and cosmology to astrology. The discovery of 'shunya' (zero) by the Indians, whose transportation to the West in later period gave an impetus to science, was the result of spiritual explanation of the world. They believed that the world came out of nothingness and again will turn into nothingness, which is comparable to 'zero'. Similarly, their counting and marking stars in the sky was grossly dedicated to establishing link between the course of the heavenly bodies and the fate of living men.

Philosophy in other parts of Asia -- China, Iran and Egypt, for example -- was also more or less spiritual. Taoism in China, Zoroastrianism in Persia and Pharaohism in Egypt all suggest distinctive cultural practices which are based on spiritual thoughts. Taoists believed in many gods and goddesses (still they do like the Indian Hindus), the Zoroastrians worshipped fire and the Pharaohs used to mummify their bodies and preserve them in pyramids with the purpose of reincarnation. Materialist philosophy could spark nowhere in the East in a fashion we notice in the West -- in old Greece and everywhere in modern Europe.

It was Democritus who first claimed that the world is composed of tiny particles which we now call atoms. He is given the credit of being the first proponent of atomic theory. Aristotle first proposed a mechanical theory of the cosmos. Later his theory was corrected by Galileo, Newton, Einstein and other scientists. The philosophy of science took birth in Greece, was revived through renaissance and boosted up by industrial revolution. Science and technology in its current shape have literally been produced by the West, which got a suitable philosophy for it. Any scientist is essentially a philosopher, typically materialist, mechanist and empiricist. A scientist dedicates his life to the discovery of natural laws when he keeps faith in the existence and mechanical working of worldly phenomena. With a philosophy which declares everything as 'illusion', a scientist cannot be successful in his scientific inquiry.

Philosophy brings the existential question into relevance. The sense of meaninglessness frowns at life with empty grimace. Though it was latent in all philosophical quests, it was explicitly expressed in the theorisations of a handful of nineteenth and twentieth century philosophers including Kierkegard, Heidegger, and Sartre. Existentialism greatly influenced contemporary literature, which sustained other influences like structuralism, modernism and post-modernism. The theoretical underpinnings have given literature power to portray life more reliably and vividly, keeping the issue of existence at the pivotal point.

In Bangladesh philosophy has always remained neglected as an academic discipline as well as a subject of scholastic exercise in practical life. Hence we have no philosophical tradition, which only exposes our intellectual poverty. We have no Thales, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, nor have we Descartes, Hegel, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, Derrida and Lacan. We get great literary figures like Ishwarchandra, Saratchandra, Bibhutibhushan, Bankim, Rabindranath, Nazrul and Jibananda, but they did not contribute to the subject called philosophy. They had their strong personal philosophy, no doubt, but none of them have written any book on philosophy like Husserl's “Phenomenology”, Locke's “Essay Concerning Human Understanding”, Berkeley's “Principles of Human Knowledge”, Wittgenstein's “Philosophical Investigations” or Russell's “History of Western Philosophy”. We get here Araj Ali Matubbar, one or two, but their philosophy is of primitive kind and deemed unsuitable for academic discussion.

Philosophy is essentially integrated with life. It is all of life and all for life. It promises to settles any intellectual problem concerning life. It creates scope for deeper realisation of the meaning of life (or meaninglessness of life). Without philosophy, human life is just that of other animals driven by mere instinct. Philosophy elevates life to the greatness of beauty and truth. The more philosophy is exercised in individual and national life, the more the surety of enlightenment.

The writer is Assistant Professor, Dept of English, Daffodil International University. Email: binoy_barman@yahoo.com
All photos have been collected from the Internet

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