The revival of Philosophy

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

We must first learn to be.

I’ve very recently learned with great satisfaction that  all parliamentary groups have, at last, submitted a request to the Spanish Government in order for Philosophy to be given again the status it deserves within the educational curriculum.

More than a century ago Francisco Giner de los Rios brilliantly defined “education” as the ability to “master one’s own life”, as the ability to behave according to one’s own personal reflections rather than according to the dictates of somebody else. The capacity of thinking and creating. If people are “educated” to this end, the world will enter a new era. Individuals will be trained to be and to revolt. If we continue to favour “competitiveness and gregarisation”, current imbalances, sympathies and phobias, mass emotions, blind obstinacy and fanaticism will become even greater, because individuals will be trained to have and to be submissive. 

This splendid definition makes me think of Julian Marias who, in his work entitled “Reflection on a book of my own”, and 24 years after having completed it, explained the personal reasons that led him to go more deeply into philosophy, and for that purpose he quoted some verses by Goethe that Ortega y Gasset liked to repeat very often: “I must confess that I am of the lineage of those/ who seek to move from darkness to light”. In the epilogue of this book, Ortega y Gasset argued that the everlasting aim of philosophy should be to “find out”. There is indeed no better way to define the essence of philosophy than with the permanent desire to find out -which according to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language means the following: “Searching for truth until we find it”.

In Article 1 of UNESCO’s Constitution the aim of the educational process is defined with great accuracy as follows: helping to train “free and responsible” individuals. Free individuals because, once released from all bonds and burdens, they will be able to move in the endless space of spirit. They will be free and, therefore, able to take action based on their own reflections, without any dogmatic bond. And they will be responsible because they shall not only take into account their own rights but also their duties towards “others”, whether they are close or distant people, peers or members of future generations... 

Education goes beyond training, beyond the acquisition of professional skills; it goes beyond knowledge and information (especially beyond news released by the media, because news is by its own nature focused on unusual, uncommon, extraordinary facts). 

Therefore, philosophy and arts are essential parts of this “core” education, beyond the mere transfer of techniques and methods that should always be taught “in addition to” and not “instead of”. José Saramago already warned us when he wrote: “Will we end having 100 technology and 0 thought?”

I remember that Juan Rof used to say -I heard him speak many times in the Human Sciences Institute- that “individual autonomy” is a prerequisite if you want to be “fully and unconditionally free”, without any constraint that may hinder our human endeavour, by virtue of the magistral formula of reflection and introspection... Individual autonomy can be obtained thanks to Philosophy which, according to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language, “is the body of knowledge that seeks to establish -in a rational way- the general principles governing both our knowledge of reality and the meaning of human behaviour”.

There is no doubt: the transition from mere subjects to full citizens requires more Philosophy and more arts. Philosophy is a must if we want to be “free and responsible”, to fully exercise the unique capacities of human beings: thinking, imagining, foreseeing, innovating, creating! As recently stated by UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, Philosophy is the only discipline that will allow us “to transform human societies”, to implement all the radical changes that the current worldwide situation urgently needs. Today it is essential and most urgent to promote Philosophy in all levels of education.  “Philosophy creates the intellectual conditions required by change, sustainable development and peace”, as highlighted by the Director-General who called upon all Member States “to take up this message, which resounds in the heart of UNESCO’s mandate”.

The unique capacity of human beings is creativity, the biological excess represented by the capacity to invent, to create. To enable freedom of action -which is the supreme gift of humanity- it is essential to awaken and develop in children this enormous potential which is exclusively found in human beings.

Apart from the freedom of expression, we need to have the capacity to express ourselves, to find the right words to accurately convey our own reflections. Words only exist if they are pronounced.  This is an essential task of any education which seeks to liberate human beings:  teach us how to think and how to duly express ourselves. This is a corner stone, an unparalleled lesson that will be useful during our whole life.

Finally, a consensus concerning the unquestionable prominence of Philosophy has been reached. This can be an excellent point of departure to further improve the educational process as a whole -which needs today to get much better.


Thursday, October 18, 2018

Adopting a Universal Declaration on Democracy to enter into a new era in the proper way

In San Francisco in 1945, at the end of the Second World War, United Nations was founded under the American leadership of President Roosevelt, with a Chart beginning with the following words: “We the peoples are determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war". Today more than ever it is important to bear in mind that it is humanity as a whole that should be taken into account... Governments should come in second place, after the people... 

Universal principles and values are often not complied with in the daily life of our “Global Village”. The perverse actions of leaders who consistently infringe the basic rules of human coexistence are tolerated without United Nations having the possibility to take immediate action; government responsibilities are left to the vagaries of the market; capital, weapons, drugs and people trafficking is allowed without any sanction being imposed because we are lacking the regulatory and punitive mechanisms which are typical of the only legal and ethical framework that exists: United Nations, consisting in “us”, that is, in all peoples of the world.

All united, unequivocally. All together to defend the values that will prevent social disruptions, marginalization and exclusion. All together to provide the necessary vigour to all measures taken to quickly mitigate the “physical vulnerability” we are suffering from. We must also, all together, take corrective actions to address the “moral vulnerability” of our time, as I already asked for in a paper having this same title and published 17 years ago. We must all be in favour of life. And be able to anticipate.

Life can be threatened in many ways… When acts of terrorism are perpetrated, when human trafficking is tolerated and, above all, when we show no solidarity to the hundreds of emigrants who reach our European beaches (if they finally make it...) searching for a “better future” and not being welcomed as they expected... An attempt on someone’s life is an unjustified crime. An attempt on the life of thousands of helpless citizens is an atrocious action that causes consternation and indignation, and impels us to strive more resolutely than ever to strengthen solidarity between all inhabitants of the Earth.

We must keep aware and vigilant. In times of great human tension, we can only find the right path if we think big, if we think of everyone.  If we think small, if we only bear in mind a few of us, we will fail. Moral legitimacy requires liberty, equality and justice to be implemented at a global scale.

It is very difficult to appeal to moral values when you are fighting against those who dwell in darkness. It is indispensable to reinforce without delay the United Nations system providing it with all personnel, financial, technical and defence resources it requires to take immediate action, anticipate and prevent as it has always done. At the end of the Second World War -a war where the most abominable practices of genocide and holocaust were implemented- peoples around the world had no possibility to take action because most of them were born, lived and died in a few square kilometres, they knew nothing about what was going on beyond their immediate environment, they submitted to absolute power invariably exercised by men, and they remained silent and fearful. In the last three decades -owing largely to digital technology- human beings have gradually become aware of what is happening all over the world, they can now freely express themselves and, above all, there are now men and women. All equal in dignity. All with the unique capacity of creating! They should all be united to try to straighten up many of the current trends, and join hands against all those who are putting at risk peace and coexistence with their mean and short-sighted behaviour.

We need United Nations to be strong enough, with the support of each and every country of the Earth and, above all, of the most powerful, in order to “save succeeding generations from the scourge...” United Nations should have full authority to implement the 2030 Agenda aimed at “Transforming our world”, by ensuring an integral, endogenous, sustainable and human development, and doing whatever is needed so that resources of all kind -and, in the first place, knowledge- are adequately allocated, while preserving the infinite diversity of mankind -which is our most valuable asset- thanks to the power conferred on UN by a set of core values accepted by people of all faiths and ideals.

United Nations must become again the organization that allowed the world to rise from the ashes of the Second World War; that approved in 10 December 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is a far-reaching guideline that has become today more urgent than ever and should be the rule for global governance. Seventy years have elapsed since this planetary moral compass was created, and it is now up to “We, the peoples” to request the adoption of a Declaration on Democracy, which is the only framework that can guarantee the full exercise of human rights and the assumption of inter generational responsibilities.

We now have a voice; it’s time to raise it. We cannot keep quiet any longer and accept that natural resources belonging to less developed countries continue to be exploited by countries that should have rather helped them with their endogenous development; neither can we accept the exodus of the most talented individuals nor the ever-increasing abyss between the standards of living of the rich and the poor. The great number of excluded and hungry people -every day thousands of human beings die from hunger- compel us to amend without delay our current patterns of development, because what is at stake is not only our present instability but also the standards of living of futures generations on the planet Earth.

The role played by United Nations in peace building, which has been an essential part of its mission, has been gradually replaced by its peace keeping and humanitarian assistance role, while in the global scenario the “peoples” have been swept aside by private and public conglomerates operating without a “code of practice”, something that only United Nations could establish at a supranational level.

It has now become clear that global governance cannot be the task of just a few -let alone of the “markets”- but should rather be based on generally accepted principles. The responsibility for peace and justice does not rest solely on the ruling class. Peace and justice depend on all of us, and they should both be constructed inside our minds and homes to prevent violence from occurring within our social environment or against it.

When we see the radical difference between investments devoted to potential conflicts and resources available to face recurrent natural disasters (fire, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis...), we are horrified to realize that the notion of “security” that is still favoured by major arms manufacturers is not only obsolete but also highly prejudicial for humanity as a whole. Therefore, it is of the utmost urgency to establish a new notion of security under the vigilant supervision and the direct participation of United Nations.  A new strategy is now urgently required to prevent any violation of the fundamental right to life from going unpunished. If we want to minimize the number of extremist and dehumanized terrorists we should bear in mind what security means currently, at the dawn of a new century and a new millennium...

Today big powers still think that military strength is the sole expression and reference for “security”. It is a big and costly mistake to deal only with war issues and totally neglect many other aspects related with “human” security, the latter being -in any case- the only thing that should really interest us. 

When we see that arsenals are crammed with rockets, bombs, planes and warships, submarines... and we turn our heads and see thousands of human beings who are dying from starvation everyday or who live in extreme poverty conditions without having access to adequate health services... we have no other choice but to recognize and condemn the gradual deterioration of the Earth’s habitability, being aware of the fact that action must be taken without delay to avoid us from reaching points of no return in essential issues related with our legacy for future generations. 

Food security, access to drinkable water and health services, quick, coordinated and effective action to face emergencies: this is the only security that “We the peoples...” deserve and dream about.

I must insist that the solution is democracy at a local and global scale: the voice of the peoples, of all peoples. Only this will allow us to reach the “intellectual and moral solidarity” proclaimed by the UNESCO Constitution, one of the most enlightening documents of the 19th century which begins as follows: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”. Building peace through education provided to all during our entire life.  

We’ve always lived within the context of the law of the strongest. ”If you want peace get ready for war” said an old and especially perverse proverb. We now have to make the transition from a culture of conflict to a culture of relationships “in a brotherhood spirit”, as stated in article one of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

I like to emphasize that the past has already been written. The only thing we can do is to describe it and we must do it as accurately as possible. It is important to remember in order not to repeat our mistakes but rather learn from them. The only thing we can do with the future is to write about it because it is yet to be done.  But we must write the future all together, seeking inspiration in the great universal values, pleading for the dignity of all human beings and bearing always in mind that we are all different from one another and we only exist as long as others exist, and we cannot be without the others...

We, different from one another, but bound together by a set of universal values that guide the destiny we inevitably share.  Like in Leonardo’s boat, when the storm rages and the sea ripples, then suddenly there are no men and women, no poor and rich, no black and white, no children and adults abroad... but only passengers who must restlessly strive to keep the ship afloat... Let’s have meetings and discussions to submit our own proposals and get to know the proposals made by others.  In order to invent together a new future with a human face... 

Is there any better opportunity than the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to adopt a Declaration on Democracy in the headquarters of United Nations? And we already have a rather elaborate draft on the ethical, social, political, financial, cultural and international dimensions of democracy ( ). What is needed now is knowledge and political willingness. “We, the peoples” -who are no longer impassive spectators but committed actors- undertake to call for the adoption of this declaration. Genuine democracy at all levels is the only way to correct current gloomy trends.

Published in Público, October 9th

Profesor Vicent Martínez Guzmán

Friday, August 24, 2018

El Profesor Vicent Martínez Guzmán, sembrador de paz, de paces, ha culminado la fase visible de su excepcional trayectoria humana y educativa. Se ha ausentado pero son tantas las semillas que sembró y la luz que emanó sobre la convivencia pacífica, la justicia y la libertad que seguirá estando presente, como referente primordial, en el comportamiento cotidiano de tantísimas personas que le mantendrán en sus brújulas y de muchísimas más que lo incorporarán. 

Sentía por él una admiración y una amistad extraordinarias. Seguirá donde estuvo, donde está: en la vanguardia de la cultura de paz y de la no violencia que prevalecerán en la nueva era que se avecina. Seguirá siendo “un crit de la consciencia”. 

A todos sus familiares, discípulos y amigos mi más profunda condolencia.