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Old Wednesday, July 27, 2005
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It should be obvious from the above that thinking need not be wedded to any particular school of philosophy. Gone are the days when philosophers belonged to one "ism" or the other; why should there be an `either-or' attituded in philosophy. Just as a gardener prepares a bouquet of several flowers, all different from one another in hue, smell and beauty, why cannot a philosopher also prepare a bouquet out of the truths contained in the various systems of philosophy? There is much truth in Hegel and Karl Marx that thesis and anti-thesis are not all wrong, and that some amount of truth lies in the thesis and some amount of truth in the anti-thesis and the task of the philosopher is to extract the truth of both and to deposit it in a new proposition which they call the synthesis. This process of extracting truth goes on till one reaches the final stage which contains all truth and nothing but truth. Though it is never possible to reach complete truth, there is no denying the fact that if the truth contained in different schools somehow be gathered together it would lead to a philosophy which, instead of cancelling all others except itself, would authenticate all others including itself and vouchsafe a better vision of life and the universe.

This position leads toward a world philosophy. In the past only European philosophy officially occupied the throne of philosophy, while all others like Indian, Muslim and Chinese philosophies were dubbed poetic, mystical or emotive outbursts of untutored minds. But by the end of the 20th century due to quick, easy and cheap means of communication and transport, cultural isolation came to an end and people came to know one another more intimately. It was realised that just as no nation has been without religion and a prophet, so no nation had been without philosophy of some sort and philosophers of some worth. Indeed in some cases the philosophies of other regions are as rich as is European philosophy itself and even surpass it in depth and vision.

Hence, a need has arisen to synthesise the flashes of insight exhibited by the inhabitants of the various parts of the globe. This attempt is yet in the initial stage, but it is hoped that it will be successful one day. The need of such a philosophy is very great, for the different philosophies of the world have created as much a barrier between nations of the world as their religions. Just as the adherents of one religion fail to understand the thoughts and language of the adherents of other religions, likewise the followers of one school of philosophy fail to appreciate the truth propounded by other schools of philosophy. The world, at present, is divided into three philosophical empires, namely Anglo-American following the philosophy of language, Continental Europe following existentialism and the philosophy of dialectical materialism. The rest of the world follows one of these three philosophies according as they are politically influenced by this or that nation. The devotees of these philosophies are as much prejudiced in favour of their own philosophic creed or ideology as are religionists with regard to their own religion. There is the same heat, the same nervousness and the same 'believe or perish' attitude. Several of my essays such as "Philosophy for World Understanding" and "Contemporary Philosophy," have emphasised the need for world philosophy for the peace of the world. Political peace cannot be achieved if nations lack the framework of common understanding provided by a common universal philosophy.

There are stupendous difficulties in the way of such a project. But if the world was not dismayed by the political difficulties posed by different ideologies and different ways of looking at the world, why should it be dismayed by different philosophies? The problem of how to make a bouquet out of different philosophies is a challenge which the philosophers have to take up. The computer with a far greater range of intelligence, quicker grasp and a miraculous power of manipulating and organising data may help in the not too distant a future. Already, it has tremendous influence on some of the cherished concepts and notions of philosophers and has compelled them to think afresh. The computer might weld together the thinking of different nations and prepare a synthesis acceptable to the majority of right thinking people. Philosophers can ignore the domain of computer science and parapsychology only at their own peril. If these two sciences can help in bringing mankind together by giving them a common way of thinking, it will usher in an era of peace and common understanding through a common Universal Philosophy.

The idea of 'World Philosophy' is not foreign to the Muslim mind. When the brilliance of the Arab mind was at its apex, besides the inspirations coming principally from the Islamic traditions, there were powerful influences coming from Greek, Christian, Jewish and Indian thought which were not only welcomed but assimilated and developed by the great system builders of Islam -- Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Miskawaih, Ibn Rushd -- to name but a few. Even those who resisted the invasion of Greek thought, as for instance Al-Ghazali and Ibn Taimiyya, could not escape the charms of foreign thought. The result was a happy amalgam and a fruitful synthesis of East and West in a common endeavour to reach the ultimate truth. Only when foreign influences were completely boycotted and the spirit of independent enquiry languished in the Islamic world did the decline of Arab civilisation set in.

In the undivided India, with the advent of the West, particularly the British, a new chapter opened in the history of the Muslims' assimilation and adjustment to new ideas. They were already living among Hindus who had a strong and a powerful tradition in philosophic and religious thought. The Muslims were trying to hold their own against Hindu thought, but there is strong evidence that Hindu ideas about God and human destiny filtered down imperceptibly into Muslim beliefs and practices. Our Sufis borrowed ideas from Vedantism, Buddhism, Jainism and from other Hindu sources, though they also influenced Hindu thought in many important ways. Because of the confluence of Muslim, Hindu and Western thought, a new type of thinking arose. The Muslims on their part tried to come to terms with Western thought. Syed Ahmad Khan made this attempt and so did Allama Muhammad Iqbal in his great treatise Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. Indians, too, have tried to imbibe as much as they could from Western sources. The Hindu movements of Raja Ram Mohan Rai, Swami Dayanand, Swami Vivekananda and the philosophies of Sri Aurobindo Ghosh and Mahatama Gandhi are the products of Western and Islamic influences.

Dr. Radhakrishnan of India, in his books East and West in Religion, Eastern Religions and Western Thought, and The History of Philosophy: Eastern and Western, has attempted to present a philosophical perspective which should be shared by both worlds. M. M. Sharif, in his History of Muslim Philosophy, has prefaced the Muslim thought by Indian, Chinese, Iranian, Greek and Alexandarian-Syriac thoughts. Though pre-Islamic thought has characteristics of its own, yet it shares with Islamic thought some very important insights and ideas. Similar attempts have been made in China and Japan to weld together Eastern and Western thought.

In the West, however, the idea of a common philosophy is quite foreign. There have been isolated instances of philosophers influenced by Indian, Chinese or Muslim thought but, by and large, the West has been characterised by its insularity and arrogance, considering that Europe alone had a philosophy worth the name, while the so-called philosophies of other nations were nothing but cock-and-bull stories. Their histories of philosophy accordingly contained only the names of the philosophers of the European countries with, if at all, very casual reference to Indian or Muslim thought.

This was highly deplorable, for God did not bestow intellect upon the West alone. It is now realised by a good many thinkers of the West, particularly those of the younger generation, that real philosophy was spoken and written in the East and that what is termed philosophy in the West is altogether barren, lifeless and unrealistic. This indictment may be a bit exaggerated, but there is no doubt that a large number of the younger generation, both male and female, of the U. K., and the U. S. shows interest in Sadhus, Sanyasis, Mystics, meditationers, testifying to the fact that they are in search of something not available in their own thought of system. This is a good augury which will force the European mind to think towards assimilation and common understanding thereby paving the way for a world philosophy.

I am not oblivious to the difficulties which lie in the way of this effort. Each nation writes in its own diction, which is not easily translatable. Further, each philosophy is written against a cultural background, a socio-political complex, which varies from nation to nation. In addition, as each philosopher writes with his own life blood and expresses his own fears and longings in his own peculiar manner, which may not be possible to harmonise and there may be many more difficulties. But as different nations were forced by the logic of circumstances to come together and to the U. N. thereby surrendering a part of their own autonomy, so the different philosophies of the world should be willing to sacrifice a part of their autonomy in the interest of common good. In the U. N. all nations retain their sovereignty though they agree to submit to the wishes of the U. N. in some specified respects. Likewise the different philosophies of the East and West would retain their own territories, but engage an overall philosophical standpoint which expresses the common thinking of humanity. The task is formidable but not impossible; it requires a broad outlook and a tolerant spirit.

It may be asked what is the content or subject matter of a world philosophy. A simple reply to this question would be that it is no other than the problems that the philosophers have been discussing throughout the ages, namely, (1) God, or the Creator of the universe, the why and how of creation, the attributes of God and the relation of God with His creation; (2) the nature of the human soul, the ultimate destiny of human beings, life in the hereafter, reward and punishment and hell and paradise; and (3) the nature of the world we inhabit -- spiritual or material, real or unreal, favourable or unfavourable to human wishes and aspirations, monistic, dualistic or pluralistic, dreamlike or substantial.

Besides these ontological problems like all philosophies it will discuss the nature of human knowledge, its limits and possibilities, sources and kinds of knowledge, and their validity, as well as the nature and validity of scientific knowledge.

As regards the methodology of a world philosophy, in the first place attempts will be made to accommodate all types of philosophies, Indian, Chinese, Muslim, Japanese, Russian, African and others in the history of philosophy, so that instead of being the history of philosophy of the white races -- the European and the Americans -- it may become the history of the thinking of all humankind, including as well the philosophies of the black and brown races. Philosophy is not the privilege of any colour; it is universal in spirit and grows and develops wherever the soil is fertile for original, innovative thinking. A universal or a worldwide history of philosophy, instead of beginning with Thales, the earliest Greek philosopher, should begin with the first philosopher of India or whichever are chronologically the earliest. In the past it was not easy to ferret out which person or which civilisation gave the first indications of philosophic thinking, but now as archaeology and anthropology push their enquiries to the remote past, it should not be difficult to arrange human thought in chronological sequence. Hence the first task before the exponents of world philosophy would be to assign due place to all the philosophies of the world in the grand account of the world philosophy, without discrimination with respect to colour, creed or race.

Another method for bringing about a worldwide awareness would be to institute courses of comparative philosophy in all universities, so that the similarities and dissimilarities of different systems become obvious. If, for instance, Muslim philosophy be studied along with European philosophy, many things attributed to British or European thinkers may have to be ascribed to the Muslim thinkers. Descartes' method of doubt was present in al-Ghazali many centuries before. Likewise, parallels can be found between Chinese and Indian thought or between the six systems of Indian philosophy and many philosophic systems of the West. The more different philosophies are studied side by side, the more similarities in thought and thought structure will become apparent in human thinking. Just as a study of comparative religion leads to a wider outlook and a transcendental vision, so will the study of comparative philosophy will lead to a breadth of vision and a softening of angularities. Al-Ghazali has said the higher we go the better we see; this certainly is true of philosophy. As we transcend the narrow barriers created by geographical, socio-political and cultural conditions, the better we see the criss-cross of human thought, the interdependence and interrelatedness of ideas as they flourished in different ages and climes and in the various regions of the world. As there has been no territory of the world without a prophet, so there has been no area of the world without a thinker.

Still another way in which world philosophy can be studied is to adopt the method of interfaith dialogue. In this dialogue, adherents of different religions expound their own points of view regarding one and the same problem. As the purpose is to understand with sympathy and love the point of view of the other, the exponents are struck by the spiritual similarities and agreement in the broad principles of life. Likewise, if different philosophers are studied with understanding and sympathy, a common core of thinking surely will emerge. A one-to-one correspondence is not needed for world philosophy, some areas of correspondence will suffice as a meeting ground. When a person seeks friendship, he does not look for complete identity in thought and feelings, but only for an area where both may agree and which may be cultivated and developed in order that it be sufficiently comprehensive. In like manner when areas of friendship are discovered in the philosophies of the world, these areas can be developed and strengthened.

Still another thing which can help in this connection is to hold conferences, dialogues, seminars in which philosophers of all orientations participate. Such conferences held at the international level will provide a sort of clearinghouse for ideas and surely some-thing tangible and concrete will emerge. In this connection, computers can be pressed into service. With its powerful brain, its far-reaching grasp and its unparalleled manipulative power the computer may succeed in welding together the different strands of thought in some kind of homogenous unity. This may not be possible now, but in the distant future it may accomplish what looks like a dream today.
There is no denying that there are serious and in some cases fundamental differences in the points of view presented by the protagonists of different philosophies. We have spoken of the three philosophic empires dominating the scene at the moment, each one speaking in a language of its own, sometimes hardly intelligible to the other. But the rift is not hopelessly permanent. The three were unheard of in the 19th century when only two types of philosophies, idealistic and materialistic, dominated the scene. Hence what is true of the philosophic world today may change tomorrow and yield place to something quite different and perhaps more accommodating in spirit. Already, logical positivism which entered the arena of philosophy with bravado has become a thing of the past. Liguistic philosophy is nearing its end and the mathematical branch of logical positivism under the leadership of Carnap seems to have exhausted itself and to face a revolt due to losing contact with the realities of life. Philosophy seems to be at the crossroads, trying to find a new way. In my opinion life has become so complex that no single doctrine or point of view, however comprehensive, can cover all the facets of life. What is needed is a synthesis of all the points of view which ultimately will lead to a universal transcendental philosophy. Some philosophers like Professor H.D. Lewis sees a return to metaphysics, for the philosophy of language and of symbolic logic can hardly meet the requirements of life.

Signs of give-and-take are visible in different systems of philosophy. J. P. Sartre, a great existentialist thinker who turned Marxist for sometime, tried to bring Marxism and existentialism together. Though he did not succeed there exists an affinity between these two systems of thought. Again Marxism and existentialism are both humanistic, as are pragmatism and personalism. Moreover, there is negative agreement in that all three principal movements are anti-metaphysicsal. Marxism rejects supersensible reality and has subsumed philosophy under the Sciences. Logical positivism arose as a protest against metaphysics and wanted to eliminate it. Existentialism is concerned specifically with the being of man and his predicament and has nothing to do with supra-mundane realities. Hence all three movements agree in outlawing metaphysics from the domain of philosophy.

But are not all philosophers in Platonic diction seekers of truth, and so in a way fellow travellers? No matter what their route or what their destination, so long as they seek truth they are comrades in arms and have affinities so far as their aim and ambition are concerned. In the Contemporary Indian Philosophy Mahatma Gandhi says that his religion is truth, and so long as a person seeks truth, no matter in what way and with what results, he is a brethren in religion. The same is true of philosophy. So long as a person seeks truth, no matter in what form and with what methodology, he is a co-worker. Considered in this light all differences pale into insignificance and what remains is the quest; this is what matters, not the result or the techniques. Truth is one but its forms are many, just as dream may be one but its interpretations are many.

World philosophy arose from the need to ensure a totality of outlook and peace for the world by piecing knowledge together and by removing thought barriers, aiming thereby at a totalisation of knowledge and desires to constitute a world view. This desire is shared by physicists who work with three or four fundamental energies, namely gravitational, electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear energy. What Professor Abdul Salam, the Nobel prize winner, has done is to amalgamate two of them, the electromagnetic and the weak nuclear energy. He hopes to do the same with respect to the other two types and ultimately to arrive at one fundamental energy. People who dream of a world philosophy think in the same lines.

World philosophy will not be built on one pattern. It is quite conceivable that different writers working on world philosophy may present it differently. One may construct it on the Marxian model, making class struggle or dialectics the fundamental basis and norm for accommodating different philosophies in different perspectives. Another may construct it on the Hegelian model and may consider the absolute unfolding itself at successive stages of human history. All philosophies will find their place in the absolute according as they are more or less consistent and more or less comprehensive. There can be other criteria. It should be understood that these criteria may change; the contents of world philosophy may also change because world philosophy is a growing, developing system of thought and not a static one.

For the common people what is important in world philosophy is that, if it is realised, it will become a mighty force for world peace, by removing ideological barriers and harmonising the claims of conflicting theories.
But what of the two questions, 'Does God exist' and 'Who am I', which set one on the path of philosophy?

To the first question, 'Does God exist?' everyone knows this to be among the great insolubles of philosophy. No philosophical argument has so far been given for the existence of God. The traditional proofs of God, namely, the ontological, cosmological, and teleological fail miserably, as do the existential and the ethical. Theologians and philosophers have tried to find proof for the existence of God in religious experience, but that, too, has proven shaky.

One big reason for this failure is that according to the Holy Qur'an, nobody has ever seen God or the like of Him; further, nobody can ever imagine what He would be. If God is incomprehensible and unimaginable by nature, how can the finite and weak human intellect ever know what He is. Moreover, none knows what the term existence' would mean in connection with a Being who is above imagination and above human comprehension. Does He exist like human beings, like concepts, like dream ideas, or in some other mysterious manner? One cannot say whether the word existence' can be meaningfully employed in the case of a Being whose nature is a hidden mystery.

Therefore, the question should be changed to `What does God mean to me?' In this new form the question becomes one of testimony, rather than of objective verification. From objective validity one passes to subjective validity. In the Holy Qur'an, God has chosen to reveal Himself through His 99 names, which by no means exhaust infinite, unfathomable and incomprehensible nature. Out of these names one can select as many as one likes depending upon one's requirements, capabilities, aspirations and material modes of existence. To the question ` What does God mean to me?' rather than 'Does God exist?', I have selected out of the 99 names of God the name Rahim (mercy, kindness), as it or its derivatives is found among the names of Hazrat Muhammad (may the peace of God be upon him), Lord Buddha and Jesus Christ. Our Holy Prophet is called "rahmat" for all the universes, Lord Buddha is the prince of light and compassion, while Jesus Christ stands for love. Human society needs to be remodelled on the foundations of rahmat, for therein lies the hope for human survival in this wartorn world. The concept of "rahmat" requires that the sumtotal of human happiness be increased by all the means at our disposal. Avoidable sufferings should be prevented and the extent of unavoidable sufferings be lessened much as possible. It also requires the elimination of all forms of exploitation, oppression, depersonalisation and subjection.

The second question, `Who am I?' is one of the most difficult questions in the domain of philosophy. Psychology first of all banished the idea of soul, then of mind or self, and then of person in order to talk in terms of reflexes and conditioned reflexes. Hume spurned the idea of self, and the logical positivists who follow in his wake (even Gilbert Ryle who had outgrown logical positivism) have outlawed this idea. In this connection as linguistic philosophy seems of no value one turns to existentialism for the concepts of choice, responsibility and freedom. As Descartes said, 'I think, therefore, I am', similarly the existentialists say, 'I choose, therefore, I am'. The fundamental idea is that a person is what he makes of himself through his choices as a free, self-responsible being. His spiritual life consists in self-transcendence which should be creative and not simply repetitive; and one should add to the stature of life and the world through one's choices. One should feel that one is bearing the burden of the world with responsibility as unlimited as one's freedom, in spite of the fact that there are limiting situations in life. It is said that God will judge us on the final day in terms of what we have become through our actions and choices during our life. Hence, the only tangible and positive thing that I can say about myself, or about who I am is that I am what I am through my choices, direct or indirect, conscious or unconscious. Metaphysical notions about the nature of the human self seem no better than fairy tales; they have poetic value, an may provide solace and satisfaction, but that is immaterial to one who gives one's life to the search for truth.

In conclusion:

- no philosophy can ever be final, much less that of a person who is still growing;
- one function of philosophy is to elucidate and clarify ideas, though clarity is not enough;
- many mistakes in the past occurred because philosophers did not take due care in the use of language, though philosophy cannot be confined to sorting out linguistic mistakes and teaching people the proper use of 'if', 'can', 'but' and so on;
- for problems of culture and the most intimate and personal questions such as for those of life and death, existentialism is more helpful than the philosophy of language;
- for the inner being of a person, what is most appropriate is a new technique which is found in the practice of meditation, in prayers, in obedience and in complete surrender to the ultimate reality;
- for the peace, amity and concord of the world a world philosophy is needed in which East and West will meet and better understand each other; and
- finally the great questions of life can be understood better by changing both their wording and their shape.
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