Pakistanis are materialists but think they’re spiritual beings

Dr Shuja Ahmad argues for including Philosophy in curriculum to encourage tolerance

Pakistanis are materialists but think they’re spiritual beings
One way of seeing and understanding philosophy is to see it as a worldview. It makes sense of what is happening around us and how to respond to different things and situations. It guides our thinking, choices, expectations and actions.

In a society where people mostly live by the worldview of Materialism, matter is the ultimate reality. So, when it comes to social transactions, it is the money or matter, in any form, that governs and guarantees the success of the transaction.

Take our society: what do we care more about in marriages? What do our family disputes revolve around? What are the bases of enmity among people? What are the charges of corruption on against our leaders and those at the helm of affairs? One may disagree on the exact answers, but one thing in common to most of these questions is money, land and things that are related to matter.

Most people are normally not aware of the philosophy they live by. They cannot think and argue clearly since the philosophical foundations of their thinking is not clear to them. For example, most of us are materialists but we think of ourselves as very spiritual beings. Some others know their philosophy very well but think theirs is the only correct philosophy—they become intolerant to other worldviews. For example, if we listen to the interviews of failed suicide bombers, terrorists and extremists, we notice clarity in their thoughts. They know what they are doing, the purpose behind their actions, the perceived outcomes and rewards of their actions, and a strong belief that they are right and their opponents are wrong.

Unfortunately, the same is true for most of the so-called liberals and progressives. They do not buy into anyone else’s views other than their worldviews. We also see this on a political level. People in our country follow their leaders as if they are superhuman beings, as if they cannot do any wrong. Moreover, the leaders and opponents of other political parties are corrupt, evil and fools to them. We can clearly see this thinking behind our prevailing political narrative.
This tolerance does not mean that we start accepting other points of view without rational debate, but we start listening to others

Our narrative is actually imbedded in our worldview. Introducing and including philosophy in our curriculum can be helpful in creating a society where people tolerate and listen to others, where they live in peace without hating and threatening others for having different worldviews.

Teaching philosophy courses at school, college and university will serve many purposes. It would develop critical and analytical thinking. An introductory course in Logic and Critical Thinking at schools and an advanced course in colleges would equip students with tools and habits of critical and analytical thinking. It would help them understand how to make, defend and criticize arguments as the art of argumentation is something badly missing in our society. We see people around us, from all disciplines and walks of life, arguing with each other without knowing what they are arguing for, what their arguments are aimed at.

We experience the world and see different things and facts but cannot arrange them in a logical order. Scientifically speaking, we cannot make sense of the data that we experience; in turn, we cannot reach conclusions or infer irrelevant conclusions.

We cannot think clearly. While attacking someone’s argument, we mostly attack the arguer and we don’t even realize this. We defend our arguments as if they are right since we hold them. Other major problems are: arguments are wrongly interpreted, the burden of proof is shifted onto the critic, false generalizations are made and evidence is suppressed.

The other purpose of studying philosophy is to educate a person about different philosophies and worldviews. There are different metaphysical stances, ontologies, epistemologies and axiologies. We learn that there is a Moral Ideal we live by, but besides our moral ideal there are other ideals/standards too.

Similarly, there is more than one political philosophy, more than one aesthetic standard, cultures follow different set of norms and values that are more than one religion, more than one theory of truth and different ways of seeing reality and the world.

It leads to awareness of diversity, plurality and alternate point of views. This awareness not only helps us in our day-to-day life but also when we are seeking higher education. Scholars pursuing MPhils and PhDs will be in a better position if they already have an idea of different research and philosophical paradigms.

But most importantly, awareness leads to acceptance of diversity, plurality and tolerance for others with different worldviews, something we are not trained in. We see people arguing on TV shows, in public, in classrooms and on social media. Most of the arguments stay inconclusive, since, instead of knowing and defending the truth, we defend our own positions. We believe that our points of view are the correct ones and the only ones, as if no alternate exist. Once we understand diversity and plurality, we become tolerant. This tolerance does not mean that we start accepting other points of view without rational debate, but we start listening to others.“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it,” Aristotle once said.

The writer is a PhD, assistant professor at the department of Philosophy at the University of Peshawar