Saturday, November 27, 2010

WPD - First Day, First Panel

The Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo had just flown in from Brazil - and flew out almost immediately not spending a day there. I missed much of his talk but what I did catch struck me as being standard for him - a denial of God but affirmation of belief and religion, a denial of objective truth and indeed of the problem within philosophy to seek universals while insisting upon a concept of truth as intersubjective negotiation. This latter makes little sense to me and I cannot quite locate it. While there are plenty of theories of truth out there (wonderfully summed up in Wolfgang Kunne's book) as well as a wide ranging epistemological belief in relative truth, I do not see how truth as inter-subjective negotiation works. I much prefer (as I mentioned before) traditionalist accounts of truth or even tradition-based ones such as MacIntyre's.

Interestingly, the celebrity Ghulam-Hossein Ibrahimi Dinani who has a regular philosophy programme and is at Tehran University took a different view - philosophy as open inquiry and questioning but which assumes a singular truth with 'many faces'. His basic position that humanity is present and alienated in language (using a verse of the poet Bedil) was well taken - and generally his performance reminded me of his excellent recent book on Nasir al-Din Tusi as 'filsuf-e guftagu' (philosophy of dialogue). Philosophy concerns dialoging and practices of discourse that are universal and global and should not be excessively parochialised as Greek, Islamic, Iranian and so forth. This commensurability is precisely what makes philosophy possible and why dialogue at its heart is most effective when it is conducted by philosophers (a probably self-serving suggestion which many in the audience enthusiastically received). To the objection that this seems unrelated to Islamic concerns, he was careful to note that philosophy is tafakkur, tadabbur and ta'aqqul and these are basic epistemological and moral imperatives in the Quran. He remains a eudaimonist at heart - since flourishing happiness arrived through understanding reality and harmonising inter-subjective relations is critical to philosophy, inquiry should keep this in mind. Change is not just about exegesis but fundamental transformation. As such this was a paper clearly geared to a strong ethical role for philosophy in contemporary societies and in Iran critical, citing along the way that change was central to philosophising, quoting Imam 'Ali on the basic point that if any two days of one are the same then one is dead - stable and still and not moving. A wonderful potential call for political change?

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