Tuesday, 17 November 2009


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World Philosophy Day on Thursday:

Help people think rationally

Philosophy is the eye to all disciplines. Every study sums up a philosophy. This philosophy in a nutshell comes from Prof. S.G.M. Weerasinghe in his foreword to Dr. A.D.P. Kalansuriya’s book “Philosophy - An Introduction.” Philosophy and human culture are seen as two faces of the same coin.

Ananda Coomaraswamy

20th Century American philosopher
Herbert Marcuse

19th Century German Philosopher Wilhelm Hegel

19th Century German philosopher Karl Marx

17th Century French Philospher Rene Descartes

20th Century French
philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre

Lynn de Silva

Prof. K.N. Jayatilleke

Kelaniya University Philosophy Department
Acting Head Prof. Daya Edirisinghe

World Philosophy Day
The Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences organizes UNESCO’s international celebrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg (November 16-19) on “Philosophy in the dialogue of cultures.” Freeing from historic stereotypes, dialogue of rationalism, cultural self-consciousness in globalization, philosophy for children and teaching philosophy in a multi-cultural context are some of the topics. UNESCO Paris head quarters will have a symposium on French anthropologist Pierre Clastres’ book
“Society against State” and his view that primitive societies are alternative modes of social organization.
A congress will mark the 150th anniversary of John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty”, a major work of modern political philosophy.
Innovative philosophical practices will be presented in a variety of settings.


Kelaniya University Department of Philosophy Acting Head Prof. Daya Edirisinghe, the country’s most senior professor of philosophy, reasons the relevancy of applying philosophy to daily life.

“To profess philosophy,” defines Prof. Edirisinghe, “is to help people to think rationally.” Rationalism is an essential part of the mind that helps people to behave logically in society. “The rationale of doing something is to ask why we want to do it, the easiest way to do it and the benefit to the society by doing it.”

Philosophy in Greek origins means “love of wisdom”, philo meaning love and sophia, wisdom. “We mistakenly thought of philosophy as Western whereas we must identify our own cultural connections,” clarifies Prof. Edirisinghe, citing that we tend to absorb only the religiosity of Buddhism, or any religion.

Of the three great world philosophical traditions, the Western stands on logic, ethics, rational system and systemology, bent on materialism and benefit giving.

Irrepressible quotes
Karl Marx: Man is born free but he is everywhere in chains.
Jean-Paul Sartre: We are condemned to be free. Hell is other people.
Protagoras: You have one truth, I have another.
Bertrand Russell: Love and knowledge led me upward to heaven but always pity
brought me back to earth.
Wittgenstein: Its impossible for me to say one word about all that music has
meant to me in my life. How, then, can I hope to be understood?
Rene Descartes: I think, therefore, I am.

The Indian is based on Upanishads, Vedanta and Buddhism concentrating on spirituality and developing the innermost mind. One-fourth of the world follows the Laotse and Confucius-introduced, ethics-driven Chinese philosophy.

Chinese thinking avoid Heaven and Hell and introduce moral conduct or ethical development of human beings. Prof. Edirisinghe points out China as retaining its character of a well-organised, calm and ethical society. He himself authored 20 books, with “Scientific Knowledge”, “Philosophical Attitude” and “Philosophical Analysis” among them.

“In Sri Lanka, philosophy is not used much for logical and critical thinking,” he analyses. “Often, people do not know ‘why’. Philosophy helps clear people’s minds as only that discusses origins, nature and limits of knowledge.”

Prof. Edirisinghe strongly upholds his views on developing the discipline of philosophy to encourage economic, social and moral development. “Free thinking is important. Countries developed because of great thinkers.” Currently, the discipline of philosophy is offered only to Liberal Arts and Social Sciences students while other university students can choose it as a selective subject. “But lack of facilities prevent a common time table for lectures being worked out.”

The human code of conduct in Aristotle’s “Nichomachean Ethics”, separation of rational thinking from mysticism and mythology, Rene Descartes liberating philosophy from religion, Immanuel Kant’s duty for duty’s sake theory, phenomenologist Husserl’s human rationality, G.E. Moore’s analytic tradition and Derrida’s deconstruction are among notable thinking which catalyzed change over centuries. Prof. Edirisinghe credits Karl Marx as being the first person to change minds using philosophy, saying, “Bertrand Russell said Hegel put man’s head into the earth but Marx uprighted man.”

Sri Lankan philosophers

* Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877-1947) Metaphysician, historian, philosopher on Indian art history and symbolism. Authored many publications with “Rajput Painting” among them.

* Lynn de Silva (1919-1982)Theologian, Methodist Minister, foremost practitioner of Buddhist-Christiandialogue. Author of “The Problem of Self in Buddhism and Christianity.”

* Prof. K.N. Jayatilleke (1920-1970) Researched to verify rebirth scientifically. Maintained that Buddha upheldthe value of analytic reason than speculative reason. His “Early BuddhistTheory of Knowledge” is described as an outstanding philosophicalinterpretation of the Buddhist texts in Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

* Prof. David Kalupahana Encouraged Theravadin Buddhists to sympathetically re-evaluate legitimacy oflater Mahayana texts. Student of the late Prof. Jayatilleke.


Russell, a Nobel Laureate for championing humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought, identified philosophy as being in-between science and religion.

Linguistic philosophy on using natural language in a discussion is a new trend that Prof. Edirisinghe perceives.

Peradeniya University Philosophy and Psychology Department Head Dr. M.S.M. Anez remarks that “Human language problem is the biggest philosophical hurdle in the 20th century.

Everyone has his own understanding of words, causing unwanted problems.”

Fallacies over “federalism” or “democracy” provoked political issues. “The world is full of pseudo-problems,” Dr. Anez observes. “The 20th century philosopher G.E. Moore used the tool of common sense to solve problems.”

Another new trend is the philosophy of films which Dr. Anez says examines how a film deals with human nature. Philosophy also relates to computer science, built on symbolic logic and mathematics.

From Socrates to Wittgenstein, solving problems of human kind has been the task of philosophers. “Philosophy is the questioner in any area of study,” explains Dr. Anez. “A philosopher has a problem for which he must find information and an answer. In Sri Lanka, philosophy can help common people and the youth to develop an open mind that inquires everything.”

The broad range of philosophical inquiry covers the human environment of ethics, aesthetics, mind and consciousness, time, language, science and environment and also, family, community and society.

Dr. Anez acknowledges that the United Nations programs released philosophy from being an elitist theoretical study and brought it down to the common man. Sri Lankan universities have not celebrated World Philosophy Day for several years, hampered by fund dearth.

The decision is between trusting our senses and our reason. Our senses may deceive us but we can trust our reason. In UNESCO ethos, philosophy fights against dogma and manipulation, giving people a critical and independent spirit and a concept to induce thought, listening and exchange of views.

(Additional sources: www.unesco.org; www.sparknotes.com)

Free thinking is important. Countries developed because of great thinkers

Currently, the discipline of philosophy is offered only to Liberal Arts and
 Social Sciences students while other university students can choose
 it as a selective subject. “But lack of facilities prevent a common
 time table for lectures being worked out

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