I never knew how difficult philosophy was until I became a parent. I studied philosophy at MacMaster University and the University of Toronto, found the subject extremely difficult to read and master, but was absolutely smitten by its content. The trouble with philosophy begins not in the classroom but after you leave it.
The most complex problem in philosophy is the moral value argument. It is an extremely difficult area of human knowledge to study. What are moral values? What is right and what is wrong and how to judge people and things using moral criteria?
I will avoid any quotations from those great philosophers like Immanuel Kant and David Hume who dealt brilliantly with the subject because they will take up valuable space. Suffice it to say that I consider Kant to be one of civilization’s most brilliant minds and his expatiation on the subject is one that I come closest to accepting. The complicated dimension in moral philosophy revolves around relative values and absolute principles. Again, we are getting into murky waters. I believe most of the great philosophers were unhappy with the concept of absolute values.
Religion has the simplest answer for the division between the absolute/relative divide. It was the late Pope John Paul, who, because of his international fame and influence, popularized for ordinary society (that is, outside of the academic forums) the meaning of absolute values.
According to the late Pope, civilization has a core set of moral guidelines (I am not referring to the normal, mundane values like the right to life, freedom etc) that are absolute and unchanging, not subject to context or situational demands or succeeding zeitgeists. In all my studies of philosophy, this is the one problematic area that really taxes the mind. I have opened up myself to be persuaded that religion and the late Pope were right.
When you become a parent, one inevitable nightmare that faces you is that question – what is ethically unacceptable and what is morally right in life? How do you teach your child this subject if the child is interested? What do you say to him or her about concepts like “respect,” “obligation,” etc., and when specific issues and specific individuals come up, what will be your interpretations.
Some difficult areas I have had with my child involved questions like how do you deal with people who are good and honest beings but speak loudly and are aggressive as against nice, quiet human beings but who have no enduring moral principles. How do you deal with people who are decent, but support the brutal mistreatment of others by a bad government?
Are those persons really decent at all? Do you have a moral obligation to shun their friendship? Is it morally right to embrace a friendship with someone who is racist or gender-biased? Should you respect a national figure of eminence even though that person shamelessly endorses an organization or group or government that violates the rights of other human beings?
Some interesting episodes arose during the Day of Appreciation that was held (by God knows whom) for President Jagdeo recently. Some surprises were not surprises at all. I don’t think anyone will be jolted if and when he reads a document of praise for Mr. Jagdeo by Guyanese journalist in Barbados Rickey Singh.
Our eyes were raised when Sir Shridath Ramphal did that. The former, Guyanese journalist, Emile Mervin in a missive in the Thursday’s edition of the Stabroek News commented; “I really couldn’t help feeling deeply insulted and disappointed on reading Sir Shridath’s tribute.”
A UWI professor, originally from Guyana, Dr. Sankat, who left Guyana many, many moons ago, travelled from Trinidad, his home, to attend the Day of Appreciation and delivered a mountain of praise for Mr. Jagdeo. What does he know about Guyana that he left so long ago? One is just forced to ask the question why so many of these Guyanese have not returned home, seeing that for twelve years Mr. Jagdeo has been President and has put Guyana on the top of the list of Caribbean economies?
How do the young generations of this country feel, when the UN, a body they and their global counterparts, rest their hopes on for making the world a better place, declares Mr. Jagdeo Champion of the Earth and Mr. Jagdeo presides over the world’s dirtiest capital city – Georgetown?
No wonder the world’s young are alienated, hate the symbols of power and deeply resent the values of the older generation. And whenever they get a chance to violently vent their anger they do. I end with some moral advice to my only child – don’t show respect to any older, eminent citizen if he/she doesn’t deserve it.
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