Mr. Godfrey Marera
Dean of Studies – Faculty of Philosophy
St. Bonaventure University
Someone once told me that what is worth doing is worth doing well. Education in one of those human undertakings which are worth doing well. Do we also not say that education makes the person? It is from this understanding that Rousseau would say that part of what we are is as a result of nature while most of what we are is the effect of education, whether formal or informal. It is because of this that I regard the teaching profession which is intentionally designed by society to realize education, to be a noble profession. It makes the person!
What do you teach at St Bonaventure? That is the question that I have always been asked to answer by many people. To be honest there are times when I feel uncomfortable responding to the same question because it opens the door to a plethora of other questions like: What is philosophy? So do you study how people think? Is it true that you can convince people that black is in actual fact white or vice versa? Do you know everything that is in the bible? What do you do with philosophy? What I have realized is that all these questions are precipitated by misinformation about St Bonaventure College which has in turn bred misconceptions about it. Also, many people do not know what philosophy is all about.
Martin Heidegger, a contemporary philosopher, once said that any inquiry presupposes some knowledge about that which we inquire about. That is, no question is asked in a vacuum. There is always some preceding knowledge. However, because what we already know is insufficient to quench the insatiable human desire to know we succumb to our nature and ask questions.
The human person, says Aristotle, naturally desires to know. People know that St. Bonaventure is a Catholic College designed basically for people who are in formation for priesthood. They, therefore, associate priesthood with the bible or with theology hence the questions about the bible and their kith. If these interlocutors are corrected that St. Bonaventure’s main objective is the teaching of philosophy they then change to asking about philosophy. Underlying all their questions is the question; What is philosophy?
It sounds ludicrous to say that I teach philosophy yet find it discomforting to answer the question – what is philosophy? Isn’t it that definition is one of the first things that everyone in every discipline learns when he is being introduced to the field? As a teacher I always want people to understand what I say and explaining what philosophy is in a sentence is something I find quite challenging. Take these definitions, for example, philosophy is the love of wisdom/truth or philosophy is the human attempt to inquire into the fundamental nature of reality. While these and related definitions are what you get in introduction to philosophy texts and lectures, they sound superfluous to utter to somebody in an ordinary conversation.
Philosophy has reality/truth as its subject matter. A philosopher is one who loves truth and shows this by his or her unceasing inquiry into human existence. As far as human existence (God, the world and the other) is concerned the philosopher’s field becomes indefinable in the sense that he or she can ask anything which pertains to it and in relation to it, culture, politics, education, religion, art, war etc. The objective is to understand human reality in its fundamental nature. What is the human person? How is everything else related to it? Many philosophers, after gaining some understanding of human existence have come up with speculations of the ideal systems in education, government etc.
There have been many criticisms about philosophy. In one criticism philosophy is said to be barren and cannot bring food to the table. The other criticism is directed towards the philosophers themselves. They are said to be practitioners of sophistry (making people believing that white is black) and unconstructive in their arguments. Philosophy offers personal education hence the expectation that it should bring food to the table is a wrong one.
Heidegger once said what do you do with philosophy is the wrong question about the discipline. The right question should be; what does philosophy do with you? Philosophy is supposed to change someone’s perspective about reality by leading him or her to loving truth/knowledge. The philosopher is not the one who plays fandango on the minds of the people to produce phantasmagoric images of reality that conforms to his needs. That one is cannot be said to be practicing philosophy but sophistry. The philosopher has a sustained inquiry into what is the best possible way of existence and is appalled and repelled by manipulative systems that make human existence undesirable.
The aim of St Bonaventure College is produce such kind of people. People who are not satisfied with ready-made answers but find justification to what they believe in as the truth. This conforms to the ancient definition of knowledge by Plato as justified true belief or true belief with an account. Philosophers do not simply believe but they can account to what they believe in. They have a logos to belief. Philosophy should offer an indelible imprint in one’s education so that with Peters we can say that to be educated is not to have arrived but to travel with a view.
Mr. Godfrey Marera
Dean of Studies