By Okey Ikechukwu
This year’s UNESCO World Philosophy Day presented a good occasion to talk about knowledge and learning, especially with regards to those species of intellectual shadowboxing and fraudulent pretensions to learning that have been usurping the name of serious scholarship for decades now. It is not new, though. But it has become the norm in many places. More than we all realize, and more than we car to admit, our collective future depends more on the people we choose to believe to be purveyors of wisdom and knowledge today on anything else. Our very identity and future possibilities as humans rest on certain non-negotiable epistemic paradigms.
But, wait a moment, what really is our future as human beings in today’s world? Are we still real human beings, not walking shadows who are held together and held in place by hollow titles, feigned identities and much worse? Are we fast becoming visitors, tourists and migrants in a world where technology and its offerings are the indigenes? The future of humanity and the humanity of the future cannot be discussed without recourse to such fundamental questions as (1) What is man? (2) What is the purpose of human existence? (3) What really happens after physical death? Etc.
The curious thing here, really, is that the creature asking the question is the very one that the question is about. Strange is it not? What you are is different from what you have (Property and Belongings). What you are is very likely different from what you think of yourself (Self-Assessment). What you are is also very likely different from what people say about you (Public Opinion); and different from all of the above put together. So, here is the question: Do you know yourself? Do you now see why Socrates went all over Greece saying: MAN KNOW THYSELF?
Can any field of study answer the question: What is Man? How about Biology? How about psychology? How about genetics and biochemistry? Any help from nuclear physics and Artificial Intelligence? Certainly not. Can all the disciplines and branches of knowledge, put together, take anyone nearer to an answer to the question? I suppose not. And that is another paradox. We claim to know so much, and to have conquered everything through science and technology. Yet Friedrich Nietzsche’s statement about the general aspect of our collective humanity rings true: Of themselves, they are not knowers.
Fact: man cannot be captured and exhaustively defined by the things we can learn about him through observations and intellectual scribbling. He is a creature, or a product. The seeker is looking for his makers manufacturer’s manual.
But let us proceed to our subject matter, as captured in the title of this article, and thence to what transpired on the occasion of the 2023 UNESCO World Philosophy Day. First, check out the following two scenarios, which have something to do with some aspects of incestuous scholarship.
A student graduates from a university, performs National Youth Service in his department, or elsewhere, but returns to his parent department for a Masters Degree. Years later, he obtains a Doctorate Degree from the same department. His general exposure and sphere of learning in his academic growth is limited to his encounters with basically the same persons, the same syllabus or learning materials, as well as the same physical and human environment. He lacks the type of academic and socio-psychological exposure that would make it safe for us to let him loose to stand before people’s children as their teacher. And let us check out a second scenario.
A university teacher, ordinarily of questionable academic standing, became a lecturer with a weak first and second degrees. He obtains a Ph. D, after plodding on, and plodding about, in sundry and recondite corners in the name of research and scholarship. As a lecturer eager to climb the academic ladder, he writes several articles in his departmental, or faculty, journal. These are often vetted by inhouse teams of persons who know and aid each other. He can also have a few papers thrown in from such external quarters as sister universities, to show that it was not all an incestuous engagement. Promotions and assessments are then procured based on these. Everyone so circumstanced goes prancing around as a seasoned scholar. Afterall, they new titles to show for it.
For the record, there are many lecturers with this sort of background who are sound academics and scholars by any stretch of the imagination. So, the submission here does not amount to a blanket, statement one way or another. But I believe the essence an import of incestuous scholarship and the anger it has become to out universities, learning and knowledge are easy to see. the
Concerning the 2023 UNESCO World Philosophy Day which occasioned this piece, the Philosophy Department of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Akwa, chose “The Human of the Future and the Future of the Human” as its theme for the Occasion. As the Guest Speaker, I chose “Anatomy of Incestuous Scholarship: A Treatise on Man, Knowledge and the Future of Mankind” as my topic.
It was a full university auditorium of students, special guests and principal officers of the institution. It kicked off with a telling Keynote Address by the Labour Party presidential candidate in the last Presidential Elections, Mr. Peter Obi. But that is a matter for another day.
The Department of Philosophy did a good job or organizing the event, complete with online streaming. The Vice Chancellor was not content to just attend an opening ceremony and leave, as has become the norm in almost all our universities. He sat through the entire programme, engrossed in the issues that were thrown up in the unfurling discourse. From reactions during and after my presentation, it was quite possible that some people had no idea what they were asking for when they invited me to play such a role on the UNESCO World Philosophy Day.
For the record, UNESCO World Philosophy Day is a day set aside to remind us that: (1) Philosophy is the mother of all academic disciplines, the queen of the sciences and, perhaps, the last custodian of that innate disposition to seek knowledge that is captured somewhat nebulously as the love of wisdom; (2) Philosophy still has some value as the best foundation for learning and self-development; (3) Philosophy and its impact on the development of the political orientation of all peoples can only be overlooked to our peril; (4) Philosophy, more than any other academic discipline, tends to incline the average person more towards reflection, greater rationality and what makes him more human and (5) Philosophy remains relevant in determining the future of mankind.
Several convoluted issues were thrown up by the very theme of the event. In speaking of “The Human of the Future and the Future of the Human”, we are presuming to still have a clear idea about what makes us truly human beings. But do we? With the global gender crisis, can we go on to discuss the universal when the particular is open to question?
So, can philosophy help us out? Perhaps not. Remember the words of Will Durant in his book, The Story of Philosophy, where he said that philosophy somehow found itself overwhelmed by its self-assigned task of trying to make sense of everything and ran off “…to hide in narrow lanes, timidly secure from the issues and responsibilities of life”?
While it is true that a philosopher seeks knowledge of first principles, as foundation; while it is true that he wants “justification” for holding a particular belief, or taking a particular action, it is also true that he is essentially a seeker. Socrates captured it thus: “The unexamined life is not worth living”. This means that the rational thing to do at all times is to do nothing at all, or be sure that what you are doing is the right thing to do. In sum, if a man cannot find rational reasons for a line of action, he should not embark on it.
It therefore follows, from the foregoing that philosophy, or the love of wisdom, is not wisdom itself. It is only the love of it, boiling down to a pursuit of something, perhaps a little undefined, but which never stops tugging at the soul. Aristotle’s observation in his work, The Metaphysics, and other works, that man “by nature” feels the urge to know says it all. A lover of wisdom, being a seeker, is circumspect about what beliefs to accept or live by. He may write down and share the results of his own thoughts, reflections, conjectures and speculations.
But never forget this: a philosopher’s written works, no matter how insightful, brilliant and novel, contain largely his personal insights, opinions and conclusions. You may or may not agree with some, or all, of his conclusions, observations an” claims. This submission calls to question the fanatical loyalty of some scholars who swear by one ISM or the other; and who forget that no philosophy, or philosophical work, is the Word of God.
It is perhaps against the background of the foregoing that the study of philosophy in the university does not, automatically, make anyone a philosopher. Neither does the teaching of academic philosophy by one who has studied the thoughts of philosophers and can reproduce them in every detail. See what Karl Popper, the German physician-turned-philosopher, ha to say about philosophy: “As the realization overcame me that there was no true philosophy to be found in the universities, I felt that even he who was too weak to create his own philosophy had the right to hold forth about philosophy: to declare what it once was and what it could be”. So, what could it be?
To save us from incestuous scholarship, et all, we must refocus our society and the academia to understand how the following factors affect our humanity and the overall quality of a nation`s human capital factory: (1) The condition of the “factory” (The home, school, societal norms, socialization and role models); (2) The competence of the “factory workers” (Parents, teachers and leaders); (3) The “factory tools” (Information, knowledge, skills and character); and (4) The “Quality of processing” (Teaching methods, learning outcomes and grooming through mentorship.