Thursday, December 29, 2011

The very idea of Filipino philosophy

[I wrote a paper many years ago on the topic of "Filipino philosophy."In the Philippines, Manila at least, there is still some talk about whether there is a "Filipino philosophy." Here are some parts of my paper that discusses one of the pioneers of such discussions. I added some pictures to boot!]

[2nd Draft]
When one says “British philosophy” one may refer to David Hume or Bertrand Russell. When another says “French philosophy” one may refer to Rene Descartes or Jean-Paul Sartre. For both there are a number of commentators who have written on them. Also, one can distinguish between the philosophers and the commentators on the philosophers. One may even add that there are Humeans, Russellians, Cartesians and Sartreans; people who subscribe to their ideas but may or may not be commentators themselves.
It is relatively easy, though sometimes facile, to do some categorizing like the previous examples. These ignore some important issues. There are the interrelated and interpenetrating issues of methods or approaches. For instance, the term “continental philosophy” is problematic if one talks only of geography1. This is because the Vienna Circle is geographically in the Continent. Wittgenstein is Austrian and Carnap is German but both are hardly considered “continental philosophers.” What may be characterized by “Continental” is the method and sometimes the accompanying theoretical assumptions. Yet by this time some personalities in philosophy, both Western and Eastern, can easily be identified. 
But what about “Filipino philosophy”? Who are the personalities that one may cite? I am not yet even talking of methods or approaches like in the previous examples.  If one were to look at the literature of “Filipino philosophy” then one of the personalities is Leonardo Mercado. That Mercado is the pioneer in what has been called “Filipino philosophy” is acknowledged by Mercado (1985: 61) himself with his “A philosophy of Filipino time” published in 1972. The contention of this paper is that while I may be able to acknowledge that Leonardo Mercado has made a significant contribution to Filipino philosophy, and in that sense he may be regarded as a Filipino philosopher, Mercado himself cannot. If anything, this is detrimental to the progress of “Filipino philosophy”, whether as to its status as philosophy or the debates within it.

But what is “Filipino philosophy”? Or if Mercado is the pioneer in “Filipino philosophy”, what is his conception of Filipino philosophy? For Mercado (1985: 61) the answer to such a question is:
…Filipino thought is understood as his world view or philosophy. It is not the philosophy of any individual philosopher as it is in the Western tradition but rather the philosophy of the people, its diwa or Volkgeist.

The sense Mercado ascribes to Filipino philosophy makes it very unique. When he speaks of the “Western tradition”, my previous examples of Hume, Russell, Descartes and Sartre fall under this and are quite different from Mercado’s conception. By implication, Indian, Chinese and Japanese philosophy, insofar as there many individual philosophers in each (For example Aurobindo, Confucius and Nishitani respectively), would not even be like Filipino philosophy.  I find it puzzling that Mercado would not find this problematic because in his conception there can be no individual Filipino philosopher2. After all, Filipino philosophy is the worldview of the people (Filipinos), what is called diwa.
 Some may quibble that Mercado is actually referring to “Filipino thought” and not “Filipino philosophy.” However, Mercado (1985: 61) continues by writing that “Filipino philosophy or the people’s diwa is what is, not what should be.” Mercado writes this to start the idea that Filipino philosophy has strengths and weaknesses and that it can be the “basis for the Filipino’s development, since it is his own model.” By “what is” Mercado, in my view, is pointing to the idea that the diwa can be better. Mercado also thinks importing Western models in understanding Filipinos is mistaken. Mercado significantly says that, “The result--as seen in various development attempts--has mostly been disastrous.”
I am ignorant of the “various development attempts” that Mercado talks about. Worse, he does not cite these attempts. More significantly is his mysterious claim stating that such attempts have “mostly been disastrous.”  If one follows Mercado’s train of thought, regarding the role of Filipino philosophy for the Filipinos’ possible progress, then can one have the possible negative inference? Was the adopting of “Western models” to understand Filipinos been detrimental to the Filipinos’ progress?  Perhaps, one may reduce this question to: “What does Mercado mean by ‘disastrous’ relative to those purported “development attempts”?
            The other problem I find in Mercado’s conception of Filipino philosophy is the difficulty of determining the meaning of “philosophy of the people”, the diwa.  What does Mercado mean by “philosophy of the people”? If it is the philosophy of the Filipino people (and by extension there are no individual Filipino philosophers) then are all Filipinos philosophers? There is a pronounced difference between the claims (a) Anyone can be a philosopher and (b) Everyone is a philosopher. 

In the case of (a), one may be referring to the history of philosophy wherein individuals, who seemingly are from a different field, are more remembered for their work in philosophy and as philosophers. An example would be William James who earned a degree in medicine and was a professor of physiology, and then later of psychology, before becoming a professor in philosophy. However, James was acknowledged as a philosopher long before he became a professor in philosophy. In this qualified sense, to claim (a) is to point also to the idea that anyone has the potential to be a philosopher even if one is from a different field.
There are many assumptions involved in (a) but I will leave it at that3. The point here is that it is significantly different from (b).  Also, (a) can be qualified further by citing examples in the history of philosophy. So, by saying that Filipino philosophy is the “philosophy of the people”, the diwa of the Filipinos, how can Mercado differentiate (a) from (b)?  Are there not countries with inhabitants that are probably older than even the Filipinos? So why does Mercado not claim the same for these countries? That is to say, why do they not have their own “philosophy of the people”?  For some examples, why not Germany having German philosophy in this sense?  How about China having Chinese philosophy in this sense?  The Germans and Chinese as examples are not included since there have individual philosophers only. But the Germans and Chinese do not have, respectively a “philosophy of the people.”